Raw April has begun with its streams running across the pavement and the crazy sun blinding you after all the winter gloom and the wind blowing in your face trying to get inside your clothes. You can have got snow, rain and sun all squeezed into one hour. Those swings of weather can sometime be pretty tiresome but you won’t fool us, April dear, we know spring is here!
When spring turns into summer, there’s already that joy you have in your heart that you don’t really notice it. When summer turns into autumn there’s always so much drama. When autumn turns into winter… Well here in St Petersburg there’s hardly any (even fine) line between them. But when winter turns into spring there’s no drama, there’s plain happiness.
Children playing hide-and-seek outside (well, that’ll be the least loud of all their games at the moment), there’s light until almost 8 pm (already in April!) – and that after those long winter months with barely any light at all! Although the change in the nature is gradual process, the difference is so stark here in the North that you inevitably dedicate a post or two to this spring coming every year 🙂 Oh that city of contrasts, our glorious St Petersburg.
I haven’t done anything Easter-specific this year, although I am thinking of making some poppy seed roll sometime soon. It’s our family classic for the Easter time. No died eggs either. Instead I’m going to share with you an idea of a well-rounded vegetarian meal – a spicy chunky soup with a whole0wheat pita filled with baked falafel, salad and yogurt. Let’s start with the soup:
A year ago – Avant-Garde Architecture at Narvskaya Zastava
2 years ago – St Petersburg in March
3 years ago – Kaliningrad in Spring: Ships, Sea and Robots (I miss this city!)
4 years ago – Tea Muffins with Blueberry Jam
5 years ago – Crostata and Challah, United
6 years ago – Bring Some Artisan Bread to Your Life
Carrot Tomato Soup
- 3 medium carrots – roughly chopped
- 2 medium onions – roughly chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
- soy sauce
- 2-3 T tomato puree
- a handful or two of red lentils, rinsed
- stalks from coriander, dill and parsley – optional
- wheat bran
- dried thyme, basil, dill, marjoram
- paprika, pepper, curry powder
- salt, (brown) sugar
First, sautee your carrots and onions in a frying pan with some sunflower oil. I also add all the dry herbs and seasoning (except for the salt) at this stage. When the oil seem to be all gone I add a splash or two of soy sauce and continue cooking the veggies at low heat. Add your minced garlic and continue cooking. When the veggies are almost soft, I add some water (which also helps get all those dried herbs stuck to the bottom get into the soup and infuse it with their flavours while making washing up easier) and the tomato puree. As we don’t like our soups sour, I add a tablespoon of brown sugar to counterbalance the acidity of tomatoes. You’ll get sort of a ‘sauce’.
Meanwhile start heating you water for the soup – I use a medium soup pot, that’s about 2 liters. You can always add more water if you get too thick a soup. We have this thing of keeping the washed & cleaned stalks from fresh coriander, dill and parsley in a container which we put in the fridge for the next soup we’re making. As soon as the water starts boiling, we throw all these stalks in and thus make a sort of a ‘broth’, leaving the water to simmer for a while. We then remove the stalks before adding the rest of the ingredients. You can skip this step or make your broth with any other way you prefer.
Rinse the lentils and add them to the water (do not turn the heat off). Then pour in all the veggies together with the ‘sauce’ and season with salt. Continue cooking for some time. Then fish out most of the carrots, onions and anything that gets into the ladle. Blend the veggies until desired consistency and return into the pot. Reheat the soup a bit and check it for the consistency and salt. The good thing about chunky soups is that you can add more water (if needs be) and then just say you wanted a less thick soup 🙂
Remarks: I tend to leave some carrots and (mostly) onion ‘whole’ for a chunkier texture. Serve with fresh herbs and sour cream.
Result: Hearty, chunky and spicy. Also a tad sweet with all the carrots inside! By the way, the soup does not feel too carrot-y as it is pretty spicy.
And now on to the first Egyptian recipe on my blog – the traditional flatbread Aish Baladi that is made with 100% whole wheat flour. I was looking for a different recipe for pita bread and this seemed to be a nice one. Which it is!
Aish means ‘life’ and Baladi is anything ‘of the country’, traditional, rural etc etc. (By the way, a Wikipedia page leads to this very recipe shared by Karen, I found it out when googling what Baladi means 🙂 ). So you can imagine that this is going to be quite a hearty bread indeed!
Aish Baladi or Egyptian Flatbread from www.karenskitchenstories.com will make chewy flavourful pita-like bread. Follow the link to get the full recipe with all the instructions.
My changes: Did not make these 100% wholewheat – mixed in some plain all-purpose flour too. I didn’t bake both batches one by one, as the oven was occupied in between, so the other 4 balls of dough were waiting much longer for their turn. Interestingly they were much more pocket-like (not that flat as the first batch) and with a more developed flavour as well. I baked both batches for a bit longer than 8 minutes, flipping them upside down somewhere near the end of the baking time.
Remarks: I bet you won’t make pita out of just plain flour after this recipe anymore! There’s just so much flavour to it, that even if you eat it as part of a composite dish (as in falafel), you cannot miss it, you do pause for a while to contemplate this pita’s taste. Were pretty fine when I reheated them in the turned down oven (after I baked falafel there) the next day – there was those extra crusty parts to it as well.
Result: Sheer wholewheat joy. These flatbreads have a taste of their own. Can be used for falafels or gyros (I can imagine) or just enjoyed plain. The wheat bran really does make a difference!
As for the falafel part of it, I was using a recipe which is no longer online, although it did go wrong at the moment of frying (that’s why I rarely fry anything, I so much prefer baking!) – it just disintegrated into bits of chickpea puree and onions 😉 So instead I added an egg (which was optional) and more wheat bran and baked the lot instead. Today I used up the leftover chickpea puree and made more falafel straight in the oven, without even trying to fry them. I guess for me it’s just the best option. So here’s the baked falafel recipe:
- 250-300 g chickpeas
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- dried oregano, thyme, basil, dill
- curry powder, paprika
- salt, pepper
- 1 egg
- 1 T tomato puree
- 2 T wheat bran and / or buckwheat flakes (aka instant buckwheat)
- wheat bran for rolling in
Soak your chickpeas in water overnight or about 8 hours (I did it during the day, removing their skins all the while). Drain them, add fresh water to cover them and cook over medium heat. Remove all the foam that forms with a spoon and continue cooking until the chickpeas soften. This might take more than an hour and the water might disappear almost entirely. I forgot to add salt but you can add it towards the end. Drain (I retained some of the water) and then blend the chickpeas to the desired consistency. Finely chop the onions and add to the chickpeas. Add the rest of the ingredients and enough wheat bran to get a soft but pretty thick mixture. Place some wheat bran on a plate, take a tablespoon of the mixture and shape it into a sort of a patty, then roll it in the wheat bran. Place your patties apart on a greased baking dish (can use parchment paper instead). Bake in the oven preheated to 190-200 ‘C for about 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for several minutes more.
Remarks: Baking falafels instead of frying them has several advantages, like using much less oil, being free while the falafels are in the oven, and also making sure they do not disintegrate while cooking in the oil 🙂 I didn’t make all the falafel at once, leaving some chickpea puree for the next day. I guess any bran and flakes will do as long as they soak in some of the juices and help you for the falafels. You can also use flour instead.
Result: Crispy and flavourful, a tad on the dry side (typical for falafel) which can be aided by some yogurt.
To assemble falafel in pita: My version is to cut the pita ‘pocket’ leaving an edge uncut (if you know what I mean), put some yogurt on the bottom, then in any order – falafel, cucumbers, bell pepper, salad leaves and more yogurt.