Sarma- Balkan Specialty Comments Off on Sarma- Balkan Specialty

Sarma- Balkan Specialty

Posted by on Apr 1, 2016 in Food, Sarma

Last week I decided to  try out something new and prepare a meal from a region I have never visited , which I heard of just a few of times in my life and that presents a total mystery to me. However, being a fan of mysteries and new experiences, the decision was quick and it meant visiting the mall for some ingredients. In the case you are wondering, the meal I am preparing is called sarma (or dolma in Turkey) and it is a staple food in the whole region of Balkans in the southwestern Europe.

However, I decided to go for the Mediterranean version of the dish, prepared mostly in Greece and Turkey, but it is not unknown to other parts of the Balkan Peninsula, like Bulgaria, Serbia or Macedonia. The Greek version of sarma (which is basically minced meat rolled up in sour kraut, vine leaves or some other green leaf) is made with vine leaves and it is a spicy (but not as spicy as the sour kraut version) and fresh meal, usually presented as an entree dish in Greek tradition.

So, the first thing you need to do is get yourself some vine leaves, which might be a mission if you live in Manhattan (although I am sure there are more than a few Greek restaurants whose owners will be willing to lend a hand), but, if you have an uncle who lives in the country and has a small vineyard, this will be a piece of cake. The other necessary ingredients are minced meat – lamb is a staple in Greece, although it will not be a mistake to prepare sarma using beef – onions, rice, dill, parsley, mint, olive oil, salt and pepper and a bit of fresh yogurt to serve. All these ingredients are easy to find in any store.

You will need to prepare the meat before rolling up the sarmas in the leaves. Mix up the minced meat with chopped up onions, herbs and spices and a little bit of oil. My grandma used to pour just a little bit, maybe 3 or 4 tablespoons, of mineral water with gas, just to make the mixture „fluffier“, so to speak. After that, your job will be to put meat in the vine leafs (which you’ve washed, of course) and roll them up into a tight log. Then, use a deep and wide pan to arrange your sarmas and pack them together tightly. Now you have to prepare the sauce. Mix up the remaining oil with some water and pour it over the sarmas, just enough so the water covers them up. Cook them on medium heat for about 40 minutes and serve them hot with some yogurt and crusty bread.

I am sure you will enjoy this meal as much as I did. It is simple to prepare – it’s fresh and tasty and it has that power to transport us to another place. From the first bite you will feel as if you teleported to a sunny Greek beach, enjoying the smell of the sea and pines, having a bite out of your vine leaf treat!

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Grandma’s Bread Comments Off on Grandma’s Bread

Grandma’s Bread

Posted by on Apr 1, 2016 in Food, Grandma’s Bread

Some of us have had the opportunity to see our grandmother preparing homemade bread and if you were really lucky, you saw your grandma bake the bread in a wood burning furnace. And when the golden loaf came out, smelling delicious, just a little bit of butter and salt made such a wonderful meal! And your entire grandmother started from is a bit of flour, water and yeast.

This sounds so easy, just three ingredients to combine and you have your bread. But, the art of creating the perfect loaf of bread is not just step one, two and three… There are many details to watch for, details which can be crucial. I will try to fill you in on a few secrets my grandmother told me, which will help you create a loaf of wonderful bread for your family.

Make sure you get all the best ingredients before you start the whole process. When it comes to flour, you can always get the all-purpose flour. This is actually a blend of different kinds of wheat’s, both hard and soft, creating a compromise between the two. On the other hand, if you like the rustic, sturdy loaves with a crunchy crust, go for the bread flour, made with a protein rich hard wheat. There are other kinds of flour you can use (rye, spelt and whole wheat), but I like the traditional wheat flour the best.

The one thing my grandma always told me is to always use fresh baker’s yeast! And a little tip: take a quarter cup of warm milk and add just a little bit of sugar, then add the yeast – crumble it up in the milk and watch it rise! Once the cup is filled up with yeast, once it rose, add it to the flour and the keep adding warm water.

There are a few things to watch once you start kneading your bread. First of all, make sure you prepare your dough in a warm room. The room temperature should be above 20 C and, once you prepared your dough, you should place it next to the heater or the oven, so it is close (but not too close) to a source of heat. This will ensure a good rise. Kneading itself will increase the temperature of the dough, because of friction forces.

The rule of thumb is: the more kneading and mixing – the more developed gluten structure. The less mixing will give a more open crumb structure (that rustic feel of the bread). Also, make sure you keep an eye on the water; there must be enough water for the dough to be firm, but not too much water when the dough becomes too sticky. Once you prepared your dough, leave it to rise for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the effect you want to achieve. If the dough raises more the bread will be lighter and fluffier. Of course, be careful not to burn it and you can enjoy your perfect loaf of bread!

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Growing Herbs At Home Comments Off on Growing Herbs At Home

Growing Herbs At Home

Posted by on Apr 1, 2016 in Food, Growing Herbs

Have you ever wondered how much money you spent buying dry herbs in the store? Many of these, especially the exotic ones, are not cheap. Also, you never know what you are buying, how old are the herbs you bought in the bag and how aromatic are they, not before you open the bag. There is a cure for all this: growing aromatic herbs at home, which is not that crazy as it may sound!

Growing herbs in the comfort of your own home can be a money-saving hobby which will bring you loads of fun and, it so happens, will do wonders for your health. There are so many good ingredients found in aromatic herbs, ranging from antioxidants to many essential nutrients. The most important thing you need to remember with herbs is the fact that as many as 50% of a nutritional value of a herb is usually lost within half an hour after harvesting. But, if you have your own herbs, growing inside your apartment, or in your backyard, you can pluck them out of the ground and throw them straight in your meal.

One of the most common and most loved aromatic herbs is rosemary, herb popular in the Mediterranean. Rosemary will grow best if you give it a lot of sunshine and if you do not save on the water. Just rub a few leaves between your fingers and travel to Italy in your mind! Thyme is also a well-known herb which will easily grow on your shelf. It stays small and produces a lot of flowers – just make sure it has loads of sunshine. Lavender, grown in southern Europe, will grow just as good in your home as it does in Provence, but, being relatively large, it is best to grow it in your garden, with a good drainage.

No pesto can be made without it: basil. A good source of fiber and with a detoxifying effect, basil is a resistant, hardy plant, which will easily grow both indoors and out. You do not have to take much care – water it from time to time and that is it. Parsley is a common herb and you will find it in many meals. Containing many vitamins (A, C and K), parsley is easy to grow since it doesn’t need much maintenance. It will not ask for much sunlight, just make sure the soil stays damp.

Sage, found inside many beauty products, because of its antiseptic and antioxidant properties, is also used in a range of dishes. Sage will grow inside your home, but with a certain amount of effort and care. Sage demands a bit more maintenance, plenty of sunlight, quality soil and a good supply of water.

A herb which will remind you of onions – chives – will be good for your immune system, just like its cousin garlic. Chives will thrive indoors, without much sunlight and they will quickly grow to 15+ inches in height. One more super herb is dill – used in many fish dishes. Scandinavians love it and since it is used during colder weather, it will grow in your garden, too. Water it once a week and put it in a large pot so the soil is not too dense.

Plant as many herbs you like and enjoy the taste and smell that will fill up your kitchen!

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