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Just finished reading The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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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