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THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for NutriNibbles/Organic

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Blue Isle Mediterranean Yogurt Spread

Following on the heels of the burgeoning Greek yogurt market, ready-to-eat yogurt dips and spreads are finally raising their hands.

While some people like to putter over dips and spreads, making their favorite recipe or seeing what new flavors they can add to cream cheese, Greek yogurt or sour cream, others like to grab and something already made. We belong to both groups, depending on how hungry we are at the moment.

For the latter group, Blue Isle Mediterranean Yogurt Spreads will be welcome. The product’s stated goal is “to raise the bar in the retail cream cheese category with superior flavors, functionality and nutrition.”

The brand differentiates itself by promoting its healthy probiotics (or “good bacteria”) and their calcium-rich yogurt spreads as “the new cream cheese.”

It is spreadable, like cream cheese. It’s also dippable.

Compared to the leading cream cheese (that’s you, Philadelphia), Blue Isle has nearly 40% fewer calories and fat, with only 60 calories and 6g of fat per two-tablespoon serving. Like Philadelphia, it is certified kosher by OU. The company says that Blue Isle contains 180% less sodium per serving than the leading cream cheese. Who knew cream cheese was salty?

Blue Isle is available in savory and sweet flavors:

  • Blueberry
  • French Onion
  • Honey
  • Original
  • Spicy Vegetable
  •    

    blue-isle-yogurt-spread-stack-230

    The new spread in town, made from probiotic Greek yogurt. Photo courtesy Karoun Dairies.

     

    In its debut year, Blue Isle Original won the 1st Place award from the American Cheese Society in the Labneh, Greek Style Yogurt, and Other Strained Yogurt Products category. It is made by family-owned Karoun Dairies.

     

    blue-isle-yogurt-spread-crudites-230

    While developed as a spread, Blue Isle is easily dippable. Photo courtesy Karoun Dairies.

     

    We enjoyed all of the flavors, alternately spreading them on bagels and using them to dip crudités. The sweet and savory flavors—a opposed to the plain Original—were equally beguiling. We look forward to experimenting with canapés and dessert canapes (using our Stackable Appetizer Maker device, loaf cakes with Honey Blue Isle and raspberry jam were a good start).

    Made from rBST-free California milk, you can:

  • Spread it on bagels, flatbread and toast
  • Blend it into deviled eggs and mashed potatoes
  • Thicken or garnish soup
  • Use it as a sandwich condiment
  •  

    The line is available at better supermarkets and natural food stores nationwide (partial list: Central Market, Fiesta Mart, Fred Meyer, The Fresh Market, Harmon’s, H-E-B, Jon’s Marketplace, Lucky’s, Mollie Stones, New Seasons, QFC, Strack and Van Til).

    The suggested retail price is $3.29 for an 8-ounce tub.

    Discover more at BlueIsleSpread.com.

     

      

    Comments

    NEW YEAR: Consider Better-For-You Resolutions

    Before making New Year’s resolutions, plan ahead. Start by reminding yourself that the stats are bleak. Some surveys indicate that only 8% of people who set New Year’s resolutions stick to them.

    In a recent poll conducted by ORC International for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Americans said that some of the more challenging resolutions to keep include:

  • Losing a significant amount of weight, or approximately 30+ pounds (86% of responders)
  • Going to the gym regularly, or approximately 3+ times per week (68%)
  • Giving up dessert completely (66%)
  •  
    Rather than going all-in with high-demand resolutions, set smaller, more realistic goals for yourself, say the experts. Poll respondents indicated that the following resolutions are easier to stick to:

  • Spending more time with family (79%)
  • Eating more healthy foods (72%)
  • Paying off credit cards (52%)
  •    

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    A “super” skim milk tastes like 2%, but still has 0A% fat. Photo courtesy Farmland Dairy.

     

    Case in point: We’d resolved to lose weight every year for decades. Like most inveterate dieters, sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t; but it always found its way back.

    Twelve years ago, we switched our strategy to healthier eating. Each year, we resolved to make one better-for-you switch. And it’s easy!

    Our switches to date follow, with the disclaimer: We’d never hold ourself up as a paragon of good eating. Our job is to taste lots of food, including the sugar laden and the fat laden. But we do feel good that we’ve made one of these swaps every year, and have never once felt deprived.

     

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    Whole wheat instead of refined white flour is another easy switch. We love a Whole Wheat Everything bagel. Photo courtesy Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company.

     
  • Bloody Marys, Martinis or on the rocks drinks for sweet cocktails. After we realized the sugar levels in most cocktails, we’d rather have ice cream and drink alcohol with no sugar added.
  • Brown rice for white rice. We’re big sushi eaters, and try to patronize restaurants that offer the brown rice option.
  • Cheese for cheese less often. We had a daily craving for fine cheese, and we could eat half a pound at a sitting, eight times the recommended portion, eight times the calories and cholesterol. We had no interest in reduced-fat cheeses. Instead, we opted for a “eat all the cheese you want” day once a month.
  • Club soda for diet soda. After reading scientific studies on the impact of artificial sweeteners on the endocrine system, we bought a SodaStream and drink lots of club soda with wedges of citrus.
  • Fish and tofu for red meat. We made this choice not because of cholesterol, but to do our small part to save the environment from the ravages of raising meat.
  • Fresh fruit every day. It really helps cut down on the yen for cookies and other processed sugar. In the winter months, there are plenty of apples, bananas, grapefruit, oranges and strawberries. In the summer months, we revel in the explosion of choices.
  •  

  • Nonfat Greek yogurt for sour cream. We had a bad sour cream habit—we could eat it from the container with a big spoon. Now, we eat plain Greek yogurt and use it instead of sour cream—with cottage cheese and other foods. It’s so thick that we even use it as a bread spread, instead of cream cheese.
  • Oatmeal and other whole grain cereals. So long, Corn Flakes and Snap, Crackle and Pop. Our breakfast cereals now focus on whole grain oatmeal and Cheerios. (We discovered that, while corn is a whole grain, the manufacturing process used to make Corn Flakes over-processes the corn to the point where little fiber is left.) A trick for enjoying our favorite oatmeal, steel cut oats, daily: Instead of spending 30 minutes stirring every day, cook a large batch on Sunday and reheat a portion each morning.
  • Olive oil instead of butter. From sautéeing to bread dipper, heart-healthy olive oil is our go-to fat. We did compromise on baking, however. We love the buttery taste of olive oil in brownies, cookies and cakes. On the other hand, an Italian-style olive oil cake works.
  • Salad every day, no matter what. We love a big salad, but some days our food journey doesn’t lead us to one. We now have a Plan B: Snacks of crudités (raw vegetables). It’s easy to carry baby carrots around, and we pay extra for ready-to-eat broccoli and cauliflower florets so we have no excuse.
  • “Super skim milk” for regular skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk. We can drink two glasses of milk a day. We got rid of the whole milk and the half and half for “super” skim milk, a premium variety that removes more of the water so that the 0% fat milk actually resembles 2% (and has more protein as a result). Our local Farmland Dairy makes Skim Plus brand, which became so popular that it is now also made in variations with added Omega 3 or added fiber.
  • Whole wheat for white flour. Whether in bread, bagels or pasta, this was a surprisingly easy switch. We only miss the taste of white flour in pizza crusts, and pizza isn’t something we eat often.
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Rich Hot Chocolate With Fewer Calories

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    Just a few sips hit the spot. Photo courtesy Dolcezza Gelato.

     

    The headline is a bit of a tease, because the way to enjoy rich hot chocolate, laden with cream, is to have it in an espresso cup.

    A mug’s worth can be 600 calories or more. If you’re holding a cup with 12 ounces of delicious, high-calorie chocolate, you’ll finish it.

    So take this tip from Dolcezza Gelato in Washington, D.C.: Enjoy two ounces in an espresso cup.
     
    RECIPE: RICH HOT CHOCOLATE RECIPE

    The keys to rich hot chocolate are a rich chocolate bar and cream or half-and-half in addition to the milk. Cocoa powder adds extra chocolatey flavor.

    If you don’t have heavy cream, use light cream, half-and-half or milk with 1 tablespoon unsalted butter.

     
    Thanks to Art Pollard of Amano Chocolate for this recipe.

    Ingredients Per Cup

  • 2 ounces quality chocolate bar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon premium Dutch process cocoa powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk plus
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons of heavy cream
  • Optional garnish: whipped cream
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE 2 to 3 ounces of chocolate in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Chop into the size of chips.

    2. ADD sugar and cocoa powder, as well as a few grains of salt. Cover; process in ten second “bursts” at high speed just until finely ground (a few larger chunks of chocolate are O.K.).

    3. HEAT milk and cream in a small, nonreactive saucepan. Stir frequently with a small whisk, until the mixture is steaming hot.

    4. ADD the chocolate mixture. Whisk in well until dissolved. Serve immediately, preferably garnished with lightly sweetened whipped cream. Yields one large or two more reasonable servings.

     
    MORE LUSCIOUS HOT CHOCOLATE

  • The Best Hot Chocolate & Cocoa Mixes: our reviews.
  • The history of hot chocolate
  • The difference between cocoa and hot chocolate
  •   

    Comments

    GIFT: Madécasse Artisan Chocolate Bars

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    Madécasse chocolate bars can be gifted individually or in boxed sets. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    If you’re looking for something special for a chocolate lover, check the chocolate section of Whole Foods Markets. In addition to other fine brands, they carry Madécasse chocolate bars, made in Madagascar from locally-grown cacao and vanilla beans.

    The fairly traded chocolate is made with a rare native heirloom cacao, so people who really like to taste the differences in cacao by terroir will have a field day.

    You’ll find flavors such as:

  • Espresso Bean Chocolate Bar, made with 44% dark milk chocolate that has caramel notes, and blended with a coffee crunch.
  • Salted Almond Chocolate Bar, 63% semisweet chocolate, sprinkled with roasted almond nibs and sea salt for.
  • Sea Salt & Nibs Chocolate Bar, 63% semisweet chocolate with added crushed cocoa bean nibs and a light dusting of sea salt. It was the winner of “Best In Show” at a recent Paris Salon du Chocolat.
  • Toasted Coconut Chocolate Bar, made with a 70% bittersweet chocolate with fruity notes, topped with crunchy flakes of toasted coconut.
  • Special Holiday Bars, Orange Cranberry and Hazelnut, both 63% semisweet chocolate.
  •  
    Other options include plain 70% and 80% cacao bars, Cinnamon & Chile Pepper, Citrus & Pink Pepper. There are gift sets at Madecasse.com. Each bar retails for $4.99.

     
    For holiday gift giving, you can replace the straw tie in the hole punched in the top of the package with a festive ribbon, tie a bar onto a larger gift box, or even hang it from the tree!

    ABOUT MADÉCASSE

    Madécasse Chocolate is a Brooklyn-based chocolate manufacturer established in 2006 by two Peace Corps volunteers who served in Madagascar. Their mission was to improve economic opportunities for farmers and villagers in the region. The name Madécasse refers to an inhabitant of Madegascar.

    Madécasse is the only company producing bean-to-bar chocolate and vanilla products that are grown, harvested and hand-wrapped entirely in Madagascar. The chocolate is made from the world’s last remaining genetically pure cacao beans.

    All Madécasse products are Fair for Life certified, a certification similar to Fair trade, but which offers four times the economic impact.

    Learn more at Madecasse.com.

     
      

    Comments

    STOCKING STUFFER: Justin’s White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

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    Get them while you can! Photo courtesy Justin’s.

     

    Justin’s makes delicious organic peanut butter cups in dark, milk and white chocolate. The salty peanut butter is a tasty counterpoint to the creamy, quality white chocolate. We’re hooked!

    The white chocolate cups are available at Whole Foods Markets and other major retailers, as well as at Justins.com.

    Learn more about Justin’s line of organic nut butters and PB cups at Justins.com. Peanut butter flavors include:
     
    Almond Butter

  • Maple Almond Butter
  • Classic Almond Butter
  • Chocolate Almond Butter
  • Honey Almond Butter
  • Vanilla Almond Butter
  •  
    Hazelnut Butter

  • Chocolate Hazelnut Butter
  •  
    Peanut Butter

  • Classic Peanut Butter
  • Honey Peanut Butter
  •  

    The line is gluten-free and certified kosher by OU.

     
      

    Comments

    PRODUCT: Harvest Pumpkin, Seasonal Tortilla Chips From Food Should Taste Good

    How delicious are the fall flavor tortilla chips from Food Should Taste Good?

    Very delicious! You can enjoy them plain, with a savory or sweet dip, or as “fall nachos.”

    • Harvest Pumpkin tortilla chips are as good as eating a cookie. Deftly spiced with cinnamon, clove, allspice and nutmeg (and a touch of cane sugar), stone ground corn is mixed with pumpkin, spices, sea salt.
    • Sweet Potato tortilla chips, which are made with a touch of sugar, can be served with fruit salsa, raspberry jam or apple butter; served with ginger snap dip, or instead of cookies with vanilla ice cream.

    The all natural line is certified gluten free, certified vegan and OU kosher. The snack contains 19 grams of whole grains per serving. (The USDA recommends 48 grams of whole grains daily.)

     
    RECIPE #1: GINGERSNAP DIP

    This recipe, adapted from Taste Of Home, makes a “dessert dip.” For a less sweet dip, cut the sugar in half or eliminate it entirely.

       

    sweet-potato-pumpkin-kaminsky-230

    Sweet Potato and Harvest Pumpkin tortilla chips from Food Should Taste Good. Photo by Hannah Kaminsky | THE NIBBLE.

    Ingredients For 3 Cups

    • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
    • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
    • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice*
    • 1 carton (8 ounces) plain Greek yogurt
    • 1 package (16 ounces) gingersnaps

     
     
    *You can combine equal amounts of allspice, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg or adapt the spices and proportions to your preferences.>
     
    Preparation

    1. BEAT the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and pumpkin pie spice in a small bowl until fluffy. Beat in the yogurt.

    2. REFRIGERATE until ready to serve.

     

    gingersnap-dip-tasteofhome-230

    Gingersnap dip for cookies or seasonal tortilla chips. Photo courtesy Taste Of Home.

     

    RECIPE #2: BISCOFF SPREAD DIP

    Biscoff Spread looks like peanut butter but smells like gingerbread and is nut-free. It is made from spice cookies, called spéculoos cookies in Belgium, where they are the national cookie—a variation of gingerbread. (The cookies are called Belgian spice cookies in the U.S.)

    The name Biscoff is a combination of “biscuits and coffee,” a nod to enjoying the cookies with your cup of java. The spread, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week, was the winner of a recipe competition in Belgium that was held by the largest producer of the cookies. The winning concept: Grind the cookies into a “cookie spread” that can be enjoyed an alternative to Nutella or peanut butter.

    Biscoff Spread is available at supermarkets nationwide and onlineonline; Trader Joe’s sells a private label version called Cookie Spread. In Europe, the generic version is called spéculoos spread.

    This recipe, which was originally developed for dipping fruit and cookies, is equally delicious with pumpkin and sweet potato tortilla chips.

     
    Ingredients For 4 To 6 Servings

    • 1/4 cup Biscoff Spread
    • 1 container plain lowfat yogurt (6 ounces or 3/4 cup)†
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

    Plus

  • Pumpkin and/or sweet potato tortilla chips for serving
  •  
    Optional Fruit To Serve Alongside The Chips

    • 1 red apple, washed and cored, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
    • 1 small banana, peeled, cut into 1-inch slices
    • 1 cup whole or halved strawberries, washed and dried
    • 1 ripe pear, washed, dried and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices, or other favorite dipping fruit

     
    †Or, use lowfat vanilla yogurt and omit the vanilla extract.
     
    Preparation

    1. WHISK together the Biscoff Spread and yogurt until smooth.

    2. WHISK in vanilla and cinnamon. Place in small serving bowl. Serve with chips and optional fruit.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Genmaicha Tea

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    Genmaicha, green tea mixed with toasted
    rice. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

     

    Genmaicha, pronounced gen-my-cha with a hard “g,” is one of our favorite green teas.

    The flavor of the sencha green tea base is secondary to the nutty, toasty flavor of kernels of toasted and popped brown rice that scattered among the tea leaves.

    The name translates as “brown rice tea”; it is also called roasted rice tea and popcorn tea, because a few grains of the rice invariably pop during the roasting process and resemble popcorn. To further confuse matters, different American tea packagers bestow names of their own. At Mighty Leaf it’s Kyoto rice tea; at Numi it’s toasted rice tea.

    The good news is that this tea, which for a long time was only available loose, can now be found in tea bags. And people who want to drink green tea for its health benefits, but don’t like the grassy and vegetal flavors, can try it and possibly really enjoy the nutty flavor (from the roasted rice).

    As a stocking stuffer or small gift, you can buy a box for as little as $5.49, on Amazon.com.

     

    ABOUT GENMAICHA TEA

    Genmaicha was originally drunk by poor Japanese. The rice was used as a filler and reduced the price of the tea; which is why it is also known as the “people’s tea.” Today it is enjoyed by everyone.

    Genmaicha is also sold with matcha (powdered green tea) added to it, called matcha-iri genmaicha (literally, “genmaicha with added powdered tea”). The flavor is often stronger and the color more green than pale yellow green of regular genmaicha. Rishi sells an organic version.

    DISCOVER THE MANY TYPES OF TEA IN OUR TASTY TEA GLOSSARY.

     

    numi-toasted-rice-aka-genmaicha-230

    Thinking ahead to stocking stuffers? How about a box of genmaicha tea? The organic Numi line is certified kosher by Natural Food Certifiers. Photo courtesy Numi Tea.

     

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: barkTHINS Chocolate Bark

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    barkTHINS: thin and rich. Photo courtesy
    Ripple Brands.

     

    There are several reasons to love barkTHINS:

  • The delicious varieties, crammed with inclusions* (see the list below).
  • The thin pieces that, unlike conventional bark, let you have half as much.
  • The Fair Trade certification (FairTradeUSA.org) that helps poor farmers.
  • The everyday affordability (yet it’s great for party favors and stocking stuffers.
  •  
    October is National Fair Trade Month, the perfect time to feature barkTHINS as a Top Pick Of The Week (here’s more about Fair Trade certification).

    The line debuted in 2012. Unlike traditional chocolate bark that is thick and hard to break, barkTHINS are thin slivers of chocolate that are easily snap-able—easier to eat, fewer calories in your chocolate fix, more flexibility as a dessert garnish (well, that probably wasn’t their intent but it’s a use we employ regularly, by crowning a scoop of ice cream or breaking into pieces for mix-ins).

     

    *The industry term for what many people call “mix-ins.”

     

    barkTHINS FLAVORS

    Each variety is as delicious as the next, depending on your flavor preferences. We were personally thrilled with Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel, a limited edition for holiday season. The packages have a shelf life of 12 months, so if you can’t live without it, you can stock up until the new batches arrive for the next holiday season).

    Feast upon:

    • Dark Chocolate Almond With Sea Salt
    • Dark Chocolate Blueberry & Quinoa (sweetened with agave)
    • Dark Chocolate Mint
    • Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel (Limited Edition)
    • Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed
    • Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut With Almonds
    • Milk Chocolate Peanut
     

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    A great party favor, stocking stuffer, teacher gift, etc. Photo courtesy Ripple Foods.

     
    The bags stand upright for presentation as party favors. You can stick a place card on the front; you can tie a ribbon through the shelf-hanger opening at the top for added festiveness or to hang on the tree.
     
    Check the store locator for a retailer near you (including Costco, H-E-B, King’s, Stop & Shop, Wegmans, Whole Foods Market and numerous others), or head to Amazon.com.
     
    WHAT IS FAIR TRADE CHOCOLATE?

    A Fair Trade certification guarantees consumers that the farmers who grow the product are getting paid a fair price. In many areas of the world, middlemen buy up crops at a price that often is the same or less than what it cost the farmer to grow it, resulting in a cycle of poverty. Under Fair trade, farmers can increase their incomes and gain afford education and healthcare for their families.

    When you make a conscious decision to seek out Fair Trade products, you are helping hard-working people raise their standard of living. You can feel good about every bite and every sip (look for Fair Trade coffee, tea and hot chocolate, too).

    Fair Trade certification also means that the farmers are following good agricultural practices and are investing in their farms and communities. To learn more, visit FairTradeUSA.org.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Medjool Dates, Nature’s Candy

    Foodies who like lusciousness—not to mention fitness fans looking for a natural source of post-workout muscle recovery—may want to reach for one of the world’s oldest-cultivated fruits: Medjool dates.

    Sure, they’re delicious. But dates and other foods rich in potassium are linked to reduced exercise-induced muscle soreness and connective tissue damage, and enhanced athletic performance going forward. Nutritionists are touting the health and muscle-recovery capabilities of dates as a natural replacement for sports drinks and energy bars that are loaded with processed sugar.

    According to Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness and Eat Your Way to Sexy, dates are one of nature’s best recovery foods.

    “A serving of dates speeds recovery after exercise, replacing needed potassium and other electrolytes, and helping to restock glycogen stores,” explains Somer. “In addition, the potassium and manganese help balance blood-sodium levels that support muscle contraction, reduce fatigue and stimulate recovery.”

    Who knew? We’ve been eating them plain and with cheese simply because we love them. But now, we’ll look at them a guilt-free sweet snack! For those watching their sugar intake, Medjools rate low to low/medium on the Glycemic Index (GI).

       

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    A great anytime snack. Photo copyright Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association.

     

    ABOUT DATES

    Among the sweetest fruits in the world, with a concentration of natural sugar that has earned them the sobriquet “nature’s candy,” dates are one of the earliest crops to be cultivated, in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East.

    Dates are the fruit of the date palm (photo below), a tree that thrives in desert conditions—including the Bard Valley of Southern California, which produces premium Medjools.

    Several varieties are easy to find in the U.S., but the best are Medjools, larger, plumper, moister and more tender, with caramel notes. They are are considered the best-tasting, most luscious dates in the world, and have long been called the “Fruit of the Kings.”

    You may also come across Deglet Noor, Halawy and Khadrawy, all chewier varieties. We like them all, but prefer the larger, softer Medjool.

    In addition to sweet recipes—cakes, compotes, cookies, fruit breads, ice cream, puddings, smoothies, etc.—dates add a sweet accent to braises and roasts, and can be substituted for prunes. (Unless otherwise specified, date varieties are interchangeable in recipes.)

    One serving of Medjool dates (two whole dates) provides 8% of the daily recommended value (DRV) for potassium, 12% for dietary fiber and 4% for magnesium, as well as important vitamins and minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, niacin, potassium, and vitamin B6.

     

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    Here’s how the fruits grow on the Date Palm.
    Photo copyright Bard Valley Medjool Date
    Growers Association.

     

    HOW TO BUY DATES

    Dates are harvested according to stages of ripeness. Once fully ripened, they need to be picked: The longer they stay on the tree, the drier they become.

    Delicate, just-ripe dates are sold fresh at some farmers markets and Middle Eastern grocers, but they’re most commonly sold partially dried, often with the pit removed.

    Choose dates that are plump and glossy. They can look wrinkled, but shouldn’t feel hard. A thin coating of sugar on the outside is okay, provided it’s not crystallized. If the dates smell sour, pass them by.

    Like dried fruits, dates have a long shelf life and will keep at room temperature for about two months if sealed in plastic.
     
    The Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association (BVMDGA), a consortium of family growers in the southwest, is responsible for more than 60% of the Medjool dates grown in the U.S. For more information, visit NaturalDelights.com.

     

      

    Comments

    FOOD 101: Pastilla, Bastilla, Bisteeya, B’stilla

    pastilla-moroccan-kaminsky-230

    Alluring and delicious. Photo © Hannah
    Kaminsky | Bittersweet Blog.

     

    Pastilla, pronounced “bastilla” in the Arabic of North Africa, is a traditional Moroccan dish that crossed the Straits of Gilbraltar from Andalusia, Spain. It is transliterated from the Arabic pastilla, bastilla, bisteeya, b’stilla or bstilla.

    It all means “delicious,” says Hannah Kaminsky.

    Traditionally served as a first course of a special meal, this squab pie with flaky, crêpe-like dough is more often made with chicken these days. Fish, offal and vegetarian recipes are also made.

    In traditional recipes, the meat is slow-cooked in broth and spices, then shredded and layered in the pastry with toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon and sugar.

    “I may have never known about the wonders of pastilla, the mysterious pastry with a half-dozen different spellings, if not for the ethereal prose of Fatima Mernissi,” says Hannah. “So inspired by her lavish, unrestrained words of praise, this was my call to action, to secure a literal piece of the pie for myself.”

    Looking for a vegan substitute, she turned to chickpeas, noting:

     
    “Most curious with pastilla is the incongruous addition of powdered sugar right before serving; a light dusting of confectionery snow, frosting a decidedly savory main course.

    “Humbly, I must admit, it does work, tempering the hot, bold and intense spices without turning the pastry into a dessert. Though it could still taste equally delicious without the sugar, for those as hesitant as myself, I must urge you to just give it a shot.”
     
    RECIPE: CHICKPEA PASTILLA

    Ingredients For 3-4 Servings

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 can (14-ounces) chickpeas (1-3/4 cups cooked), drained
  • 1/2 cup coarse almond meal
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8-10 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
  • Optional: confectioner’s sugar to garnish
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a 6-inch round springform pan.

    2. HEAT 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar; cook for 8-10 minutes while stirring frequently, until lightly golden and aromatic. Add the ground cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne, cooking for a minute or two longer to gently toast the spices.

    3. ADD the drained chickpeas and almond meal, stirring to combine, before slowly pouring in the broth and lemon juice together. Cook for another minute to heat through and slightly thicken the mixture. It should be thoroughly moistened but not soupy. Season with salt to taste. Remove from the heat and let cool for 15 minutes before proceeding.

    4. LAY 1 sheet of phyllo across the bottom of the prepared springform pan, allowing the excess dough to hang over the edges. Lightly brush with the remaining olive oil, and then place another sheet of phyllo on top, turning it slightly so that the points stick out at different angles. Repeat this process so that you end up with 4-5 sheets lining the pan, covering the sides completely.

     

    baklava-wiki-star-230

    This baklava, made in a star-shaped cup, shows the numerous layers of phyllo dough. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

     

    5. SPOON the chickpea filling into the center, smoothing it out so that it fills the pan evenly. If you end up with a bit too much filling to comfortably squeeze in, you can always use leftover sheets of phyllo later, to make individual parcels.

    6. COVER the filling with another sheet of phyllo, brush with olive oil and repeat the same process as before, ending up with another 4-5 sheets on top. Fold the overhanging dough back over the top, smoothing it down as neatly as you can. Give it a final brush of olive oil before sliding it into the oven.

    7. BAKE for 15-18 minutes, keeping a close eye on the pie until it is golden brown (it cooks quickly at this high temperature). Let cool for 5 minutes before unmolding. Sift a fine dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top right before serving.

    THE HISTORY OF PHYLLO DOUGH

    Phyllo (FEE-low), fillo or filo is the traditional dough of the Greek, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines. It is used for pastries from the sweet, like baklava (with honey and nuts) to the savory, like spanakopita (spinach and feta).

    Phyllo means “leaf” in Greek, and refers to the many tissue-thin leaves (so thin you can read through them) of unleavened flour sheets that comprise the dough. The paper-thin layers are separated by a thin film of butter.

    The earliest form of the dough was made in the 8th century B.C.E. in northern Mesopotamia, when the Assyrians made an early version of baklava, layering very thin pieces of dough with nuts and honey, and baking them in wood-burning ovens.

    The practice of stretching raw dough into paper-thin sheets is believed to have evolved in the kitchens of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, based on Central Asian prototypes.

    Greek seamen brought the concept home, and Athenian bakers created phyllo, the leaf-thin layers of dough, as early as the 3rd century B.C.E. Given the labor required, it was served in wealthy Greek households for special occasions.

    The dough (flour, water, oil and white vinegar) was made by gently rolling, stretching or pressing into the ultra-thin sheets. This takes time and skill, requiring progressive rolling and stretching into a single thin and very large sheet. A very large table and a long roller are required, with continous flouring between layers to prevent tearing.

    Machines for producing phyllo pastry were perfected in the 1970s. Today, phyllo is made by machine and available in the freezer section of most food stores, or fresh in some specialty markets.

    In preparation for baking, the dough is brushed with butter or oil; it must be worked with quickly as it dries with exposure to air. It can be cut into sheets and layered in a tin, cut into individual rolls or rolled up as one large roll.

    In any form, it is delicious!

      

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