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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, on September 29th, 2016.

Yoghurt & Spinach Dip, 'Borani Esfanaaj', in the Persian Manner

A really fabulous yogurt and spinach dip. Not hard to make. I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish, so am using the one from the original recipe. Photo: Food52

Every summer my family gets together to celebrate 4 birthdays within a 2-week period (used to be 5 birthdays in a 3-week span when my DH was alive). I offered to have it at my house providing everybody brought dishes to round out the menu. I dug into my freezer and brought out various chops, sausages and steaks to grill. Sara brought a mango chutney and a lovely salad which I’ll write up soon. Karen brought a farro salad and her home made tomato-cashew jam. I ordered a big, fancy decorated cake (lemon with strawberry filling). Barbara brought a kale and cabbage salad. I made this delicious spinach/yogurt dip and I made pineapple salsa to go with the various grilled meats.

Since I knew we were eating heartily, I wanted to make an appetizer that was somewhat healthy, and this recipe seemed to be the one. I’d read it over at Food52, as I mentioned above, and it won one of their contests as “Best Spinach Recipe.” So that gave this one a leg-up over any number of other spinach type appetizers I might have made. Commenters said it was just SO good.

persian_yogurt_spinach_dip_ungarnishedExpecting 10-12 people for dinner, I knew I needed to double the recipe, which meant 24 ounces of baby spinach (just that was $8.00; yikes), and it’s amazing once it wilted down how little there was of it! I chopped it up first (so I wouldn’t have to do it afterwards when it was wet). I suppose you could use frozen spinach – it would simplify this dish some, but I wanted to make it authentically.

It’s a Persian recipe called Borani Esfanaaj. I found similar recipes at other websites with other slight variations in ingredients and in name, but they’re all very similar. What makes this one different, I think, is the crushed walnuts on top AND the use of dried mint. According to the background on this recipe, Shayma, the recipe’s author, said:

“A borani is a cold yoghurt-based dish from Iran. But that is a bit of a boring piece of info, right? Well, apparently, it has been said that Poorandokht, the daughter of the Sassanian Persian King Khosrow Paravaiz, loved cold yoghurt-based dishes. When she was proclaimed Queen, the name Poorani was given to yoghurt-based dishes. Later on Poorani turned into Borani. I so do like to believe this story 🙂 I love spinach and how it melds so well with yoghurt.”

persian_dip_mixingShayma suggests in the recipe that the use of dried mint gives this a more earthy, woodsy taste – I like that aspect of it. I sprinkled some of the mint IN the mixture, then more on top with the walnuts. You can certainly use your own discretion. I added one ingredient – a bit of lemon juice.

There, at left, is the mixture before I mixed it up very much. I used very little oil to wilt the spinach, so I added in a couple of T. of oil into the dip itself and put just a tiny drizzle on top to serve it. I could just kick myself for not taking a photo of my finished dish, with the sangak bread I served with it.

Do try to make this a few hours ahead so the flavors can chill and get friendly before you pull it out to serve it.

What’s GOOD: this was SO tasty. Loved the spinach, and using Greek yogurt (thicker than regular) gave the dip a nice consistency. Although you can’t taste the garlic, there are some added flavors in this (lemon juice for sure, the walnuts and definitely the dried mint). Well worth making. Easy to mix up ahead too. My family devoured it. Definitely one to make again.

What’s NOT: really nothing. A bit of a nuisance to chop up and wilt all the spinach, but it doesn’t take all that long to do.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Persian Yogurt & Spinach Dip, ‘Borani Esfanaaj’

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a recipe at Food52
Serving Size: 6

12 ounces baby spinach
1 clove garlic — minced and divided into two separate batches.
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 ounces Greek yogurt, full-fat
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
GARNISH:
1 tablespoon dried mint — do NOT use fresh mint
1 handful walnuts — crushed
EVOO to drizzle on top
Flatbread, crackers, or Middle Eastern soft flatbread, like sangak, to serve

Notes: do use regular inexpensive olive oil for the cooking and to add into the dip; for the garnish, use EVOO, your best stuff, to drizzle on top. The spinach quantity seems like a lot – it’s not, as it wilts down to next to nothing! This dip must have dried mint – it imparts a woodsy kind of flavor to this, which makes it very authentic.
1. Chop the baby spinach finely.
2. Heat a very large saute pan, add a drizzle of olive oil, then add the small amount of garlic. Do not brown it. Add the chopped spinach and over low-medium heat toss until the spinach is completely wilted. Add a bit of salt. Drain well, then using your hands, squeeze out all the liquid.
3. In a bowl, add yogurt, the remaining minced garlic, a bit more olive oil, the squeeze-dried spinach and lemon juice; stir gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Transfer to the bowl you are serving it in (shallow, round bowl) and sprinkle with dried mint, crushed walnuts and a lazy trail of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours for the flavors to blend.
7. Serve with sangak bread, flatbread, pita chips or flat crackers.
Per Serving: 255 Calories; 22g Fat (75.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 68mg Sodium.

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