Tag Archives: Recipes

Halva. When you just gotta halva something sweet.

Halva you ever had halva?
(***Forewarning: We will set the record for substituting “halva” for “have” in this blog post. Apologies in advance. It’s a punny world.)

If you just read that sentence with an Italian accent, you halva (geographically speaking) missed the mark, but it’s fun to do.

Anyway, after a long evening of food and drink last week that didn’t feature a dessert, we were craving something sweet. I turned to the woman to whom I am married (I’ve been told it’s sexist to say “my wife” as it implies ownership and women shouldn’t be treated like chattel, but I digress) and said, “I’d like to halva something sweet.”

She didn’t get my pun, as she had never heard of halva before.

After all, it’s not like we can just run down to Abilene’s Jewish, Persian or Greek market (or restaurant for that matter) and just pick some up.

The versions we’ve had most are Tahini-based, sweetened with honey and loaded with nuts such as pistachios. And, we’ve had textures that range from an extremely dense, chewy taffy to a crumbly, dry and sweet nut butter.

Halva is a dessert that takes on a couple of different forms (nut butter based or flour/vegetable based) and any number of flavor combinations. Confectioners who sell it – most commonly in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and parts of Europe – add all kinds of extracts and ingredients to tantalize their customers’ palates.

And, it’s ancient. There are indications that forms of it halva existed since about 3,000 B.C.E., although the first written recipes for it show up in the early 13th Century in the Kitab al-Tabikh (Arabic cookbook: The Book of Dishes).

The Yiddish word “halva” is derived from the Urdu word “halwa,” which means “desserts” or “sweet.” The recipe we halva for you today is similar to a Jewish version that we have eaten, meaning that it is of the nut butter variety (nut butter and honey cooked until it is a candy).

The other branch of the halva family tree is flour- or vegetable-based and usually involves semolina flour, butter and sugar that is cooked into what folks in our part of the world (The South) identify as a roux that is eventually formed into a cake/pudding.

For your edification (eatification?), our recipe today will be an interpretation of a nut-based halva, utilizing honey and peanuts, which are much more abundant and available in our part of the world than sesame butter (Tahini). Not to mention, that peanut butter will likely serve as a better gateway drug to the “real thing” for our audience.

If you like peanut butter and honey, you are going to want to halva some of our halva.

Our peanut butter, honey and pretzel halva recipe follows all of the Halva puns that Julie (the woman to whom I am married) edited out of the main body of this post but that I sneaked in here at the end.

Perhaps we have been misinterpreting/mishearing some of these. What did they really mean?

I halva dream – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
Halva nice day – Harvey Ball, 1963
Halva. Coke. And A Smile – Coca-Cola, 1979
Halva nice life – My girlfriend in high school
Halva blessed day – Every Wal-Mart cashier ever
“B**** better halva my money” – Rihanna song, 2015 (something tells us these aren’t the civil times of Harvey Ball)

Peanut butter and honey halva with whole roasted peanuts.

Peanut butter and honey halva with whole roasted peanuts.

Halva Recipe
1.5 cups of all-natural peanut butter (If you want the best quality, buy some peanuts, roast them and then grind to a paste/butter in a Vitamix)
2 cups of honey
2 cups of filling (peanuts, crushed pretzels, etc.)

1. Using a candy thermometer, heat honey in a heavy-based saucepan to at least 240-degrees Fahrenheit. This is known as the softball stage. The higher the temperature, the more solid (less chewy) the halva will be. We stop in the 260-degree range. Reserve. (We really shouldn’t have to make this warning, but hot sugar burns. It also has been known to sputter. Please wear appropriate clothing. Today isn’t your day to cook in the buff.)
2. Heat peanut butter to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Add peanut butter to honey and stir until incorporated.
4. We like to pour our mixture into a Vitamix and run on “high” for a few seconds until the mixture is very smooth. (Warning: If you have a low-end blender, be careful. You will burn up its motor in no time because the mixture is so thick).

Peanut butter and honey halva with pretzels.

Peanut butter and honey halva with pretzels.

5. Quickly incorporate your mixings (peanuts, crushed pretzels, etc.)
6. Pour into an oiled loaf pan or Pyrex dish and allow to come to room temperature before wrapping in plastic and placing in your refrigerator.
7. Let it sit 24-36 hours in the refrigerator so that the honey is well-crystallized.
8. Remove and cut.

***Note: Halva will remain good for a few months in the fridge, provided it is wrapped and in an airtight container so that it doesn’t start to take on the funk your refrigerator has developed from not cleaning it often enough.

And, you don’t necessarily have to refrigerate it if you are going to eat it within a week or so and you don’t live somewhere like Texas where the temperatures approach those of the sun, melting it and leaving a puddle on your kitchen counter (lesson learned).

Czech yourself before you wreck yourself – Povidla (plum) Kolaches

A friend of ours of Czech descent brought us a bag of extremely ripe plums from his backyard tree last week and said he had run out of ideas of what to do with this year’s bumper crop.

Plum sorbet? Plum jelly? Plum skillet cake? Plum compote? Broiled plums with Moscarpone? Plum Crostata?

Povidla!

The second we thought of it we knew that was what the doctor had ordered. We were transported to Central and East Texas where my mom’s family hails from and where Czech mothers and grandmothers of our friends (all whose names seemed to end in “ek”) once let us gorge ourselves on the fruit butter/sweetener/spread that they had tucked away in their cupboards with neat rows of other preserves in Ball and Kerr jars.

Never had it? Think of the apple butters or other fruit butters you are used to but made from sweet, sweet plums.

Sweet nectar of the old Slavic gods. We had forgotten about this everyday preserve that today we consider a delicacy (primarily because we have no idea where we can find any of it).

Slather it on biscuits, pancakes, toast. Bake it into cakes. Top kolaches with it.

Mmm. Kolaches.

Povidla is literally the original kolache topping.

And, unless you are going to travel to East or Central Texas, Czechoslovakia or Moravia, you are going to have to make it yourself.

After making ourselves a batch of Povidla one night last week, we got a hankering for the kolaches of our youth.

Instead of making a dough that we knew would require three separate rises, we set off to town to purchase one from a bakery.

Now, we didn’t expect to find a Povidla Kolache, but we figured apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese might be within spitting distance of where we live. After all, we know a lot of folks with Czech surnames in West Texas.

Trips to three donut shops – all of which claimed to have kolaches – left us “Novak – ing” (the Czech equivalent of the surname Jones) for the real deal.

And thus begins the rant and an open letter to the proprietors of local bakeries, pastry and donut shops.

A Kolache consists of a dollop of fruit filling (and only fruit filling – unless it is cheese or poppy seed based) rimmed by a pillow of enriched yeast dough. It is round – the word ‘kolache’ coming from the word ‘kola’ which is wheel in Czech.

What it isn’t:

A pig in a blanket. It is not croissant dough, biscuit dough or even yeast dough wrapped around a link sausage or ‘Lil Smokie.

The Czechs do make a baked good that consists of a link sausage surrounded by the same kind of dough used in making kolaches. It is a klobasnek. (Even Czech kolache shops do sometimes call these kolache because it easier to ask, “what kind do you want” than to teach ‘Muricans a knew language).

Please don’t advertise kolaches if you don’t have them. It hurts our hearts.

End of rant/open letter.

Long story short. We came home and made our own, which is what we should have done in the first place. And unless you are around Caldwell during its Kolache Festival or West during West Fest or any number of East Central Texas towns where there is a Czech bakery (Calvert, West and even Houston), you’re probably going to have to make them yourselves.

Povidla formula

The Povidla we grew up eating was simple but time consuming.

  1. Remove the pits from as many ripe, ripe plumbs as you can get your hands on. If you don’t have at least five pounds (preferably 20 or so), it isn’t worth your time.
  2. Put the plums in a heavy bottom pot. Add half a cup of water. Bring to a soft boil (medium heat) and stir occasionally.
  3. Continue until your plums have broken down almost all the way to liquidy, pulp with skins (about 1-1.5 hours on a low simmer)
  4. Transfer the plums to a blender and blend until it is a smooth puree (this is my nontraditional take).
  5. Return to the pot and continue to cook and stir at a simmer until it is a thick batter/paste.
  6. Taste and add sugar to your liking (a half cup at a time), making sure to cook the Povidla until the sugar has melted off and become completely incorporated. (If you have extremely ripe plums, you don’t necessarily need sugar. It also depends on the plum’s variety and tartness)
  7. Can as you would a jelly. (I once ate Povidla from a jar without permission and my friend’s mother told me that it had been at least five years since she canned it/that she didn’t know there was any left in the cover. I never got sick/am still here).

Kolache recipe (makes 24)

2.25t yeast

1c warm milk

.5c unsalted butter at room temperature

2 large eggs

6T granulated sugar

1.25t kosher salt

zest from two lemons

4c bread flour

Egg wash

1 large egg

1t cream

1t water

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm milk with sugar.
  2. Add butter, beaten eggs, salt, lemon zest.
  3. Add two cups flour and turn it with a rubber spatula until it absorbs the liquid.
  4. Continue adding remaining flour in half cup additions until you have a workable dough.
  5. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes or until it is smooth and when allowed to sit for a second contracts.
  6. Place the ball of dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel and allow it to rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  7. Punch the dough down. Knead briefly. Return dough to oiled bowl and allow to rise for an hour or until it has doubled in bulk.
  8. Punch the dough down. Knead a couple of turns. Divide the dough in three equal pieces (about 390g in weight) and form three separate balls.
  9. Allow the dough to sit for 10 minutes (relaxing the gluten)
  10. Put parchment paper on a baking sheet.
  11. Cut each ball into eighths and roll the little triangles into balls before pressing them into half-inch tall circles on the baking sheet.
  12. Cover the dough with a moist towel or plastic wrap that has been oiled and allow to rise for an hour.

    Use a spoon to create a well for your Povidla or other fruit/cheese filling.

    Use a spoon to create a well for your Povidla or other fruit/cheese filling.

  13. Using a spoon, create a well in the center of each piece of dough, leaving a half-inch rim on the outside.
  14. Brush the rim with the egg wash.
  15. Fill the well with 1-1.5T of Povidla or fruit/cheese filling of your choice.
  16. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.
  17. Cool on a rack and eat within a day or freeze for up to three months.
  18. Reheating instructions from room temperature product: place in a preheated 350-degree oven for 5 minutes.

If it’s ‘yucca,’ it’s got to be good

The flower of the yucca plant is completely edible, but it tastes best with a little bit of preparation.

The flower of the yucca plant is completely edible, but it tastes best with a little bit of preparation.

How is it that I have been on earth this long and never thought of cooking with and/or eating yucca?

You know – that spiny evergreen desert plant that looks like it would rather stab you than nourish you (flashback to several past relationships).

I’ve spent my life walking this earth and putting things I’ve picked up in my mouth – many of them much more menacing than yucca (prickly pear glochids anyone?), but somehow I’ve skipped over this culinary opportunity.

I’ve been missing out and, I’m just guessing here, but so have you (unless you are from El Salvador, Guatemala or certain parts of Mexico).

So, don your chef’s toque (even if it’s the 10-gallon variety), cowboy up and yucca it up with us. We have three recipes for adventurous souls to try.

A couple of notes about the plant and preparation

The yucca chips, yucca mash, yucca this and yucca that you find in restaurants of late don’t come from the yucca that dots the landscape of the southwest (and urban gardens in the last 15 years or so). Those items are cassava/manioc. Don’t, I repeat, don’t dig up a desert yucca, remove its root and try to prepare like the yucca root you find in some markets. You will get sick.

Stick with the flowers of the desert yucca. (Other parts can be used to make everything from shampoo to chord, but they aren’t recommended for eating.)

To harvest:

1. Take a pair of loppers (hedge trimmers, etc) and cut off the flowering stalk of the yucca plant. Choose one that doesn’t look like it has started to wilt. (If the plant is in your neighbor’s garden, or on the other side of a fence line, you might ask first or do your harvesting very late at night).

Remove any yucca flowers that have started to wilt or brown.

Remove any yucca flowers that have started to wilt or brown.

2. Remove the flowers. This can be done by simply pinching them with your fingers. Discard any that have started to wilt. Expect bugs. There are some that are teeny tiny and almost imperceptible unless you have a very white counter or piece of paper that you can put them against. My advice is to pick your flowers on your porch.

3. Prep the flowers. We have experimented with two variations below. The boil and the soak. Eat one petal. At first, it is all about the texture and then a bitter taste follows. You obviously don’t want that bitter flavor in your dish. Some of the resources we have found say to remove the stigmas, pistil, anthers and stamens (reproductive organs in the center of the flower) because that is where the “bitter” really resides. Not from our experience. The petals aren’t any less bitter and, in our opinion, getting rid of those parts negates most of the benefits of the plant – being able to achieve varying levels of crunchy texture.

The boiling method: We like this one for the huevos revueltos (scrambled egg) recipe that follows. Dissolve one tablespoon kosher salt in a couple of quarts boiling water. Boil flowers for three minutes. Strain. Rinse. Repeat as many as two times. Taste the flowers and check for very little or no bitterness.

The soaking method: We like this method for the steak and iguashte recipes. Fill nonreactive metal bowl (stainless) with water. Add a tablespoon of salt and dissolve. Add flowers. Add water to cover (should taste as salty as the ocean). Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours. Repeat and leave flowers overnight. Rinse and check that flowers have a very slight, if any, bitter aftertaste. If they have little to no bitterness, put in a plain water bath and refrigerate until you are ready to use. (***This method allows you to really adjust the level of cook on your flowers at a later time. The boiling method makes petals really slack with a slight crunch left in the reproductive organs).

One final note before the recipes

The test kitchen at Out of Abilene (namely Julie and Barton on Friday night) think, after a couple of weeks of playing with the plant, that its strong point is its adaptable texture. It’s flavor is extremely subtle and it will adopt the flavor profile of whatever it accompanies. The way that we have prepared it, and the level of cook we place on it (keeping all of its reproductive organs intact), really reminds us of an artichoke heart. We change the texture oh so slightly depending on the dish/application.

An Anytime Recipe: Flor de Izote con Huevos Revueltos (Yucca Flower with Scrambled Eggs)

Flor de izote con huevos revueltos. (Yucca flower with scrambled egg)

Flor de izote con huevos revueltos. (Yucca flower with scrambled egg)

Ingredients (Serves 2-4)

4 semi-packed cups of yucca flowers

2 medium roma tomatoes

6-8 green onions

One clove garlic

1T olive oil

Salsa ranchera

Tortilla chips or Homemade tortillas (flour or corn)

1. Prepare flowers using the boiling method described above.

2. Seed and dice tomatoes (1/4-inch dice)

Tomato, green onion and garlic. We like approximately equal portions of tomato and green onion.

Tomato, green onion and garlic. We like approximately equal portions of tomato and green onion.

3. Chop green onions (1/8-inch width – using both the green and whites)

4. Mince garlic. (fine mince)

5. Beat two eggs in a small bowl.

5. Heat olive oil in saute pan at medium high heat and saute garlic, tomato and onion for about 10 minutes.

6. Add drained flowers, mix thoroughly, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes.

7. Add well-beaten eggs. (This should look like very little egg for the amount of flowers in the pan. The point is to have very little egg. The star is the yucca (see recipe photo). This isn’t a frittata or a quiche where there is usually more egg than filling. There should be just enough egg to fill in the space between the flowers.

8. Season with salt and pepper

9. Plate with some salsa ranchera and eat with your tortillas/tortilla chips.

Iguashte de Flor de Izote (Yucca flowers in a rich, tomato and pumpkin seed sauce)

Iguashtes are Guatemalan dishes that use sauces that are made from a type of pumpkin seed that has been browned, ground and incorporated into the sauce to provide a certain nutty and earthy flavor. We've used pepitas in our recipe.

Iguashtes are Guatemalan dishes that use sauces that are made from a type of pumpkin seed that has been browned, ground and incorporated into the sauce to provide a certain nutty and earthy flavor. We’ve used pepitas in our recipe.

This dish is good as a side or as an individual course.

Ingredients (Serves 2-4)

4 semi-packed cups of yucca flowers

1/3 cup of pepitas plus two tablespoons

1.5 pounds of tomato

1 medium sweet onion

1 clove garlic

2 cups of chicken broth (or water)

1T olive oil

Salt and pepper

1. Prepare the flowers using the soaking method. Rinse, drain, reserve.

2. Brown the pumpkin seeds. Reserve two tablespoons. In a spice or coffee grinder, grind 1/3 cup to a powder, but don’t go so far as to make a paste/nut butter.

Cut your tomatoes in half and your onions in thick rings, roast them and then char them under the broiler.

Cut your tomatoes in half and your onions in thick rings, roast them and then char them under the broiler.

3. Cut your tomatoes in half, your onion in fourths (rings) and peel your garlic. Place them in a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. Change oven to broil and place them on the top shelf under the elements for 7-10 minutes or until they have some charred coloring.

4. Put your tomatoes, onion, garlic and chicken stock/water or into your blender and liquefy as fine as you can.

5. Heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium high heat and add your sauce. Boil gently for five minutes. Add your ground pepitas and stir well. Continue to cook until it is a thick sauce.

6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

7. Add flowers, stir, coat and cook to desired consistency. (We like the flowers to be slightly wilted, retain some body and have a nice crunch.)

8. Plate and top with remaining two tablespoons of pepitas.

(Thank you Euda Morales at entrecocinasyrecetas.blogspot.com)

New York Strip with Yucca Flower in a Cinnamon-Ancho Adobo Sauce

Mid-rare New York Strip atop a bed of yucca flowers in a cinnamon-ancho adobo.

Mid-rare New York Strip atop a bed of yucca flowers in a cinnamon-ancho adobo.

Ingredients (Serves 2)

1 New York Strip (1lb.)

4 cups of Yucca flowers (semi-packed)

1 large ancho chile (dried poblano)

half pound lb roma tomato (or other saucing tomato)

1 large clove garlic

half of a large sweet onion

half stick of cinnamon

five black peppercorns

2 teaspoons sugar

2T olive oil

1. Prepare flowers using the soaking method. Rinse. Drain. Reserve.

2. Salt and pepper steak and let it sit.

3. Cut tomatoes in half. Cut onion in fourths (rings). Peel garlic. Cook in preheated 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. Switch to broil and place under broiler for 7-10 minutes or until you have good color.

4. Grind five black peppercorns and half stick cinnamon in spice/coffee grinder until powdery.

6. Liquefy vegetables in a blender. Add peppercorn cinnamon spice mix.

7. Grill steak to desired doneness. Set to rest for 10-15 minutes.

8. Heat oil over medium high heat in a saute pan. Add sauce. Incorporate with oil. Add sugar a little at a time to taste. Thin sauce as desired with some chicken stock/water. (We like something between sauce and gravy). Salt and pepper to taste.

9. Add flowers. Stir. Cook to desired consistency. (We like petals well wilted with some discernible body and a nice crunch from the center of the flower)

10. Cut steak across the grain.

11. Shape bed of flowers and plate with steak and a few raw yucca flowers as garnish.