Ashure: Sweet Grains with Orange, Strawberries and Nuts

This recipe is a variation, inspired by the pudding I once had at Hi Life, a fish restaurant in Faliron, south of Athens.  The orange pieces and the fresh orange juice in the grain mixture make a thick, soupy ashure. We love it on its own, or served together with fresh, creamy or aged cheeses, especially with manouri, or any semi-hard goat cheese from Crete or from the Cyclades.

READ more about this ancient dessert. 

 

 

Serves 12-14

 

1 cup farro (see note) soaked in warm water overnight, and drained.

 

Pinch of salt

 

2 cinnamon sticks

 

1/3 cup cooked chickpeas (optional)

 

2/3 cup bulgur (fine or medium)

 

2/3 – 1 cup sugar, to taste

 

1/2 cup lemon or orange marmalade (optional)

 

2/3 cup almonds or hazelnuts (toasted if you like) coarsely ground

 

2/3 cup walnuts or pecan, coarsely ground

 

1/2 – 1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, as many as you like

 

8 dried figs, diced with scissors

 

6 dried apricots diced with scissors

 

1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

 

1/2 -1 teaspoon ground pepper

 

Zest and juice from 2 oranges, plus 2 more large oranges, one peeled and diced and the other sliced thinly for topping the pudding

 

1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other citrus-flavored liqueur –I use my own Lemon Liqueur

 

1 cup or more strawberries for topping, or about 2/3 cup pomegranate seeds

 

 

3-ashure-nut-mix-half-s
4-ashure-orange-s

 

In a pot bring to boil 2 quarts of water with the drained farro, a pinch of salt and the cinnamon sticks. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or more, until the grains are tender; be careful not to overcook them. Drain the farro, keeping the cinnamon sticks and the cooking broth; you need 6 cups of it.

In a mixer or blender process the cooked grains with some of the cooking liquid to get a coarse pulp. Transfer to a saucepan and add the chickpeas, if using, the reserved broth (6 cups minus what you used in the blender), the bulgur, the cinnamon sticks, and 2/3 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or more, until the bulgur is cooked.

 

5-ashure-mix-pot-s

 

Remove from the heat, discard the cinnamon sticks and stir in the marmalade, if using, the almonds or hazelnuts, the walnuts or pecan, the figs, the apricots and the pistachios, keeping 1-2 tablespoons for topping the pudding. Add the ground cinnamon and pepper, the orange zest, the orange juice, the diced orange and the liqueur. Stir gently to incorporate all the ingredients, taste and if you want, add more sugar, stir again and transfer to a large bowl.

 

6-ashure-bowl-1-s

 

Arrange the orange slices and the strawberries, or pomegranate seed on the surface of ashure and sprinkle with the reserved pistachios. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight before serving.

 

NOTE: I used Anson Mills Slow Roasted Farro in the US, both for my Kollyva and for Ashure. The wheat berries we use in Greece are similar to this particular farro, and very different from the American wheat berries, which I don’t recommend.

 

 

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Quince, Raisin, and Walnut ‘Sharlotka’

As I wrote in our November Newsletter, Apple Sharlotka had become our favorite winter dessert. This “…labor-saving, timesaving and space-saving [cake]” is how author Darra Goldstein, author of  “Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore” described sharlotka to Olga Massov, who wrote about it in the Washington Post.

This wonderful cake has become our go-to early winter treat and I was making it all the time.  To the apples I often added a cup of last year’s quince preserves, before making the new batch. Now that we have plenty of quince from our trees, I adapted Darra’s basic recipe for these fragrant fruit.

 

It takes a bit more time, since the quince need to be poached or slow-baked to soften, but the result is worth the extra effort, as you can attest if you try it…

 

For a 9-inch round cake –or equivalent square, or 1 large or 2 small loaves 

 

(more…)

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The Most Delicious, Lemony, and Frugal Pie

This for me is the epitome of lemon pie and the simplest one to make.

It all started with a reference to an old pie created by cooks who adored lemons but did not have plenty, so they considered them precious…

 

 

This fruit/condiment which for us is trivial and almost worthless, was truly precious for the Shakers, the early nineteenth-century religious group living in communities throughout New England. “Shaker lemon pie uses the entire lemon, from yellow peel through white pith […] This means slicing two whole lemons absolutely paper thin and macerating them for hours in sugar. If you can drape them over the knife blade like the watches in Salvador Dali’s surrealistic paintings, you’re on the right track. The resulting pie includes a subtle sharp flavor from the pith, and the texture tends toward the chewy side, but it all works for the aforementioned lemon-lovers like myself,” writes Nancy McDermott in her book Southern Pies.

 

Away from New England, Shakers also established “…a vibrant fellowship in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. Preserved as a living history museum, today’s Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill illuminates their traditions and creations […] Their restaurants serve this signature confection, Shaker Lemon Pie,” concludes McDermott in her introduction to the brilliant recipe that inspired me.

 

As soon as I came upon this incredibly simple, yet exquisite lemon cream, I felt compelled to try it. I had lemons, of course, and eggs from our neighbors’ hens. I wanted to make the pie fast, so I didn’t bother making a pie crust; just lined the pan and topped the cream with some leftover shredded phyllo (kunefe or kataifi) pastry that I happen to have in my freezer. Because it was not enough, I halved the recipe and after I baked the pie I didn’t even have the patience to wait for it to cool completely, and took a bite: it was even more delicious than I had imagined! And, strangely enough, the next days its flavor deepened and got even better.

Once I decided to definitely use the shredded phyllo, I followed the Serious Eats well described instruction for Kunefe, the traditional Middle Eastern sweet that basically uses it.

 

Knowing me and my affinity for substituting olive oil for butter –which I usually don’t have in my fridge– you probably have guessed that I rubbed the shredded phyllo well with olive oil before spreading it on the pan and topping the lemon cream. You can certainly choose butter if you like.

We have particularly sweet lemons, but the recipe works well with all kinds and, I assure you, it is foolproof.

 

Adapted from Nancy McDermott

 

Makes a 9-inch (23 cm.) pie (more…)

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The Seedy Grapes from our old Vines

Most of the grapes our vines produce hardly manage to ripen; wasps and all kinds of insects attack them as soon as they start to blush. Until this year, come harvest time, we just find a few bunches of rotten, half-eaten grapes which are sweet but filled with seeds and difficult to swallow.

 

Early this August, as we finished harvesting the almonds, we noticed quite a few nice bunches of grapes hanging from the old, robust vines that engulf the southern fence of our property, behind the lemon trees.  From these vines we mainly gather the tender grape leaves early in May, to stuff and make our trademark dolmades.

 

Usually the grapes our vines produce hardly manage to ripen; wasps and all kinds of insects attack them as soon as they start to blush. Come harvest time, we just find a few bunches of rotten, half-eaten grapes which are sweet but filled with seeds and difficult to swallow.

 

These vines are probably a remnant of the old vineyards our little valley was famous for; the dark grapes used to produce quite good wine in the old days, as I discovered researching the paper I wrote for the 2017 Oxford Symposium: (more…)

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Moustalevria: Grape Must Jelly

The two baskets of ripe grapes we gathered from our old vines were too few for wine and too seedy to eat; so Costas and I decided to press them and take the juice to drink, freeze some to make granita, and certainly make moustalevria, the traditional grape must jelly our mothers used to make each year. 

 

The old recipes ask for a lengthy process of simmering and clarifying the grape must with wood ash, which I always skip. I much prefer a fruity-tasting moustalevria, so I briefly boil the juice with the cornstarch, just until it thickens, much like I do when I make my orange ‘cream’ in the winter. You can use any nice grapes you like to make the juice, but I wouldn’t use the canned concord grape juice available everywhere in the US as I am not fond of its taste and aroma.

 

Serves 8-10 (more…)

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