Tomato, Caramelized Onion, and Spinach Pie

Happy National Pie Day everyone! This morning while reading through his morning news, Hec informed me it was National Pie Day. I told him, “No, that is March 14th”. But he meant pie and not pi. So he asked me to make a pie.

I’m sure he meant a sweet pie, but we had lots of tomatoes, so I decided it would be a savory pie with tomatoes. Caramelized onions never did anyone wrong either. And we happened to have some swiss chard we bought a week ago (so it is not actually spinach, as I put in the title), so that was going in as well.

I don’t like to make pies often. I have a great respect for a high quality pie crust, but I don’t like to use lots of butter and I never use shortening. Never. So I googled some recipes and settled on an olive oil whole wheat crust. I used all whole wheat flour instead of half and half. I wish we had white whole wheat flour in Guate. I’ve yet to see it though.

It actually took quite a while to make this, but it was really easy. The time input didn’t bother me though. All week I was excited for Saturday so that I could stay at home, rest, and finally do some experimenting in the kitchen. The pie was delicious. We actually only have one tiny piece left.

Tomato, Caramelized Onion, and Spinach Pie
makes 1 8×8″ pie

Ingredients:
1/2 pie crust recipe of choice
2 t olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1/2 t salt
pinch of sugar
1 t olive oil
1 bunch swiss chard, kale, or spinach, chopped
pinch of salt
6 roma tomatoes, seeded, salted, and squeezed of juices
1 egg plus 1 eggwhite
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup grated hard cheese, such as parmesean. I used queso seco, but thats hard to find out of Guatemala
1/4 cup fresh basil, or 1 t dried

Directions:
1. Caramelize onions. Heat pan on medium heat and add onions. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar. Stir occasionally and continue cooking until deep brown, about 30 minutes.
2. Seed and dice tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and place in collender. Allow juices to drain, about 10 minutes. Squeeze with a dishtowel or cheese cloth. If not, the pie may be soggy.
3. Once the onions are caramelized to your liking, remove from pan and add 1 teaspoon of oil, greens, and a dash of salt. Cook until wilted. If any juices form, squeeze them out.
4. Put pie crust in oven for 10 minutes at 400ºF.
5. Beat the egg. Mix in the cheese and garlic.
6. Assemble pie. Fill the crust with onions first, following the greens, then tomatoes. Sprinkle with basil. Spread egg-cheese mixture over top.
7. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF and bake about 40 minutes until cheese has melted and egg has set.

Pan Tumaca

We go to this Catalonian restaurant quite a bit — La Bocaria. It is fabulous in all ways: ambiance, staff, to the menu, the sangria. The prices generally are not what I would call fabulous, although there are a handful of affordable nutritious dishes that will fill your belly without breaking your wallet (although we don’t usually get them). We go there primarily for the sangria, and on very special occasions, the lechon. We love the dimly-lit, old-fashioned feel of the place, and Oscar is always happy to see us and seats us in our usual spot. On days when we are not too hungry and only want something to munch on while enjoying our refreshing fortified beverage, we order pan tumaca (this is my strategy for saving money). They always bring a small portion of it when we order the drinks, but the two tiny slices just tease my taste buds and I have to order another portion.

The first time we tried it we were baffled over what exactly was on the bread. The bite of the garlic was intensely clear. We could tell there was tomato in some form, but that was not so obvious.  It was almost jelly-like, but thin and not sweet. Finally we asked the waiter if he knew what it was. Just like the secret to the sangria, he gave it to us straight and simple. I wonder if the owners know he gives away their prized recipes…. perhaps its not that big of a secret,but in our household this allows us to transform lame bread into a masterpiece we don’t want to stop eating.

This is also where Hec took me the night he proposed. !

Pan Tumaca

Ingredients:

  • Bread, generally something dense and crusty, although whatever you have will work.
  • Garlic cloves, peeled. One per large slice of bread.
  • Ripe tomato, cut in half and seeded
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Directions:
1. Toast the bread
2. Rub the peeled garlic clove over the bread. It will dissappear as you rub.
3. Rub the tomato flesh on the bread until it turns pinkish.
4. Drizzle with olive oil, as much as you want.
5. Salt to taste.

This is a great appetizer, and great for when you have guests. Let them do it themselves (unless you want to keep the secret to yourself). They’ll enjoy it.

A Mediterranean Meal: Babaganoush, Balsamic Tomatoes, and Lemon Pepper Parmesan Chickpeas

Med

A wonderfully light and well-balanced, yet rich Mediterranean meal that might cost you a good $30.00 at any restaurant in Chicago serving similar stuff. And its good for you. Beat that.

Babaganoush - Shriveled EggplantBabaganoush - Finished

Babaganoush:
2 Eggplans
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1.5 tablespoons tahini (I heard suggested once my Mark Bitten to use peanutbutter as a sub, but never tried it)
Juice of half a lime
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika

Directions:
1. Roast the eggplant. There are many methods for this. Grill it (30 minutes, rotating), bake it (30 minutes), roast it in the pan (30 something minutes, also rotating), and I’ve even heard of microwaving it. Use the method easiest to you. The times are estimates. You want it (if you are grilling or roasting in a pan) charred on the outside, and heavy and completely shirveled. It will look very sad compared to its fresh form, but thats what you want.

2. Scrape out the insides, it should come easily. Don’t use the charred skin. Add the rest of the ingredients and puree in your blender or hand mixer until very very smooth. Fix salt and hot paprika to your taste. Serve with crackers or toasted pita bread.

Marinated Tomatoes

Tomatoes:
6 Roma tomatoes (or any that look really good and ripe)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Basil and Thyme, about a teaspoon of each
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions: Chop and seed tomatoes. Mix with all ingredients and let marinate for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

Lemony Chickpeas

Lemony Pepper Parmesan Chickpeas:
1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted dry
1/4 cup freshly shredded salty cheese (parmesan or romano is good)
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
Salt
Fresh ground pepper (be generous here, it’s important. Maybe 1 teaspoon?)
A drizzle of olive oil if you desire.

Directions: Roast the chickpeas in the oven or in a pan until browned on the outside. Let cool to room temperature. Add lime, salt, and finely grated cheese, and toss. Cover generously with black pepper.

Moroccan Fava Beans

Moroccan Fava Beans - Plated

You know, I had never had fava beans before Guatemala. I’m sure they exist in the U.S., because I encountered a number of recipes written by U.S. based authors. However, they were never served in my family, my friends families (that I know of), nor in any restaurant or school cafeteria I ever visited. Perhaps its because in appearance they resemble lima beans. I don’t know. But they are delicious and praised for their extremly nutritious content. Low in sodium, fat and cholesterol, yet have extremely high protein and iron content for a bean. Theses “nutrition superheroes” were often called the “meat of the poor” . I hope they are becoming more prevalent, for all ya’lls sake.

In Guatemala I started noticing them because of the vendors selling boquitas (snack foods, usually to accompany alcoholic beverages) on the streets. When my friend Katie (hola pic!) was living in Guatemala last year we would frequent a local cantina situated a perfect distance between our apartments. After work we would walk down there and share a liter of beer to shake off the day. Often a boquitas vendor would stop into the pub offering spiced peanuts, caramelized nuts, cashews, and fried fava beans. I was crazy about these. They were deep fried and still had their shells on, but I enjoyed peeling them away before enjoying the crunchy salted beans. Not exactly healthy.

After this initial encounter I started researching the beans and finding recipes I wanted to try…but I could not find any fresh beans! How could there be the fried version but not the fresh? Grr… Once I found a  canned variety at a Mediterranean market, but they were a different variety. Delicious but lacked the freshness I had read about. Finally last week Héc and I went to the market and I saw a bag of fresh fava beans. For 10Q we took them home, and I made this concoction.

Moroccan Fava Beans - BoilingMoroccan Fava Beans - Pan fried with cebollines

When I told Héc that we would be having fava (faba in Spanish) for dinner he sounded less than thrilled. I even think I caught some eye-rolling. But since we had eaten tenderloin the night before I figured it was a vegetarian night. I came across a number of dishes, mostly calling for a simple herb and lemon mixture, or for a puree similar to hummus. They all sounded lovely in their simplicity, but I settled on a Moroccan version with a spicy tomato sauce, to which I made a few adjustments of my own. Let me just say for the record that Héc cleaned the pan.

A novice’s note on paprika: I tend to forget how spicy my hot paprika is. My lack of reverence for this spice originates from the memory of my mom’s delicious twice-baked potatoes. The red paprika-flecked top, I imagined, was only for color, as I could detect no noticeable taste.  This memory, despite my updated knowledge of the varieties of paprika, must remain stronger than my pain-sensors’ ability to form new memories of my current reality. So I tend ot over-use the paprika. Needing cool this batch down I added a few tablespoons of yogurt, which was the touch. In the recipe below I scaled back the amount of hot paprika from what I actually used, so taste it yourself  and adjust to you liking.

Moroccan Fava Beans

Ingredients:
1 lb fava beans (fresh or frozen. canned is ok, but skip first step)
6 Roma tomatoes, diced or one 14oz can diced tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1.5 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 additional garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons greek style plain yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste, and generous amount of fresh black pepper

Directions:

1. Place fava beans in a large pot, add some salt, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until tender but not mushy. Drain immediately and run under cold water. Set aside.

2. Tomato sauce: Sauté garlic and onions in a little olive oil until beginning to brown. Add tomatoes and spices, and a few pinches of salt, and let simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes until tomatoes break apart. Remove from heat and blend with hand blender until smooth but still fairly chunky, OR let cool and blend in processor or blender. Set aside.

3. About 15 minutes before ready to serve, heat a little more oil in a pan, and sauté remaining cloves of garlic. Add fava beans and green onions and sauté on high heat until the beans become golden brown and crispy.

4. Warm tomato puree and stir in the yogurt. Toss the sauce with the beans, and sprinkle on fresh cilantro. Serve with crusty bread, pita, or crackers for sopping up the sauce.