Meat Free Mondays – Spinach Artichoke Flatbread

Flatbreads are like pizza in the same way paninis are like grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s pretty much the same thing, except a little classier.

I like flatbreads on a number of different levels. For one, they are a lighter alternative to heavy pizza, making them perfect for outdoor dining or a light appetizer.

For two, they are really inexpensive to make, but people are willing to spend money on them. In some restaurants I’ve worked, flat breads were a popular seller and they only had about a 12% food cost. Compare that to the industry average of 27% and you can see why they are an appealing item to put on a menu.

Plus they are very simple to make because you usually don’t make the flatbread yourself. In most places, I’ve bought lavash bread, which is a Middle Eastern bread that is sort of like a cross between a pita and a tortilla.

In this recipe, however, I found these wonderful spinach tortillas. They gave just the right flavor to this flatbread, plus they crisped up wonderfully in the oven. It was like eating off of giant spinach-flavored crackers.

One of my favorite appetizers of all time is spinach and artichoke dip. The flavor of this flatbread reminded me of that dish, with its tart artichoke, iron-rich spinach and sweet grated parmesan.

But the beautiful thing about flatbreads is that you can make them with anything. I’ve used pulled barbequed chicken, beans and corn, even flaky fish. They are pretty much fool-proof and a consistent crowd pleaser.

So now that the weather’s warming up and soon we will be able to dine outdoors occasionally, start thinking about what kinds of flatbreads you can make for your family. They are fast, easy, inexpensive and, most of all, delicious.

Spinach Artichoke Flatbread

2 spinach tortillas

1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and rough chop

4 oz crumbled blue cheese

1/2 cup fat free blue cheese dressing

1/2 cup fat free ranch dressing

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1/2 cup green onions, sliced thin

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Lay tortillas out on sheet pan and spray with pan spray. Flip and spray other side. Bake in oven until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. This can be done up to a day ahead of time.

2. Combine ranch and blue cheese dressings in a mixing bowl, then brush mixture on the bottom of both tortillas. Arrange spinach, green onions and chopped artichoke hearts in an even layer, then sprinkle with blue cheese. Finally, sprinkle with parmesan.

3. Return to oven and bake until slightly browned, about 12 minutes. Cut into four large peices for an entree, or eight smaller peices for an appetizer and serve immediately.

What kinds of dishes do you make when the weather starts to get warmer? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Budget Cooking – Homage to Hummus

Traditionally, hummus is a Middle Eastern dip made from mashed chick peas, tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds), olive oil, garlic, honey and lemon. But really hummus is an easy and inexpensive way to show your friends or family that you are a culinary genius.

Almost everyone who has tried it loves hummus. It’s yummy, it’s fun because you eat it with your hands, and although it’s slightly exotic, it is also eminently approachable. It doesn’t taste at all weird. What I love about it is that it’s super easy to make, and you can add any flavors you want. You can even change out some of the key ingredients and it’s still amazing.

Hummus usually is served with flatbread, such as pita, or with fresh vegetables like celery or carrot sticks, or green or red pepper slices. It’s 100 percent natural and is high in iron and Vitamin C. It will stay fresh in your refrigerator for at least a couple of days. If the liquid starts to separate, just  give it a stir.

Bring it to a party and your friends will be amazed. Serve it at your family’s table, perhaps with grilled shish-kabobs and couscous, and they will be impressed how multi-cultural you are.

It’s easiest if you have a food processer, but you can make it in a blender, or people have been mashing it by hand for thousands of years. I prefer the food processer, though.

The main ingredients of hummus are available almost anywhere. Chick peas, also known as garbanzo beans, can be bought fresh, dried, canned or frozen. For me, canned is easiest and cheap. With a little searching, I can usually find them for $.75/can or less.

Tahini, or a beige-colored paste made out of ground sesame seeds, is available in a surprising number of mainstream chain grocery stores. A 12 oz jar – enough for several batches of hummus – is usually about $4.00, and will keep in your refrigerator for months. It tends to settle, however, so be prepared to stir it up if you haven’t used it in awhile.

Garlic, EVOO, honey and lemon, of course, are cheap and available year round anywhere. I’m going to give you the standard recipe, then some amazing variations. For bonus points, serve three or four different kinds of hummus at the same time.

Getting ready to make hummus

Getting ready to make hummus

Basic Hummus

1 can chickpeas, drained (save the can)

¼ cup tahini

1-2 cloves garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

3 TBS EVOO

1 tsp honey

Salt and Pepper to taste

Pinch of cayenne or a couple drops of hot sauce

Complicated? Not. Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and mix until smooth. Use the can from the chickpeas to pour a little tap water into the mixture as it blends (preserving any residual flavor) to thin the hummus out to a smooth consistency, about that of like cream of wheat.

That’s it. Transfer to an airtight container and let rest in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can meld. The hummus will also thicken a little during this time. Serve the pita whole and let your guests tear it up with their hands, or cut it  into wedges for a nice presentation.

For an extra visual pop, you can serve with a lemon wedge dipped in paprika (Hey, color!). I’ve also seen the hummus piped onto the plate to form a ring, forming a little pool in the middle, which is then filled with EVOO for dipping.

Okay, here are some cool variations:

Charring a red pepper

Charring a red pepper

Roasted Garlic Hummus – For a sweet, succulent hummus, use the same recipe as above, except substitute one head of roasted garlic for the raw garlic. For roasted head of garlic, cut off the top of a whole head of garlic, drizzle with EVOO, place inside foil and roast for about 35 minutes at 350F. Or alternately, peel all the cloves from a head of garlic and cook in a saucepan in a shallow pool of EVOO over a low flame for about 15 minutes or until light brown, stirring once or twice. This will fill your kitchen with sweet, nutty aroma. Also you can save the cooled leftover EVOO and use it as a garlic-infused oil in future recipes. Bonus points for also using it in the hummus.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus – For a brilliant-hued, nuanced variation, add a few slices of roasted red pepper to the recipe above. Jars of roasted red pepper are available in most chain supermarkets, and certainly in ethnic markets or produce stores. They are handy to have around and will keep in your refrigerator for several weeks. Or, if you are really ambitious, roast your own red peppers by placing fresh red bell peppers directly onto the flames of burners of your stove, turning them frequently until all sides are charred black. Then put into a small mixing bowl and cover immediately with plastic wrap. Allow them to cool, about 25 minutes, then use a paring knife to gently scrape off the charred skin, ribs and the seeds under cold running water.

Kalamata Olive Hummus – Add a handful of pitted, marinated kalamata olives to the recipe above for a great tasting variation. You will need to reduce the amount of salt in the recipe since kalamatas already are pretty salty. Don’t forget to take out the pits, very important. I buy marinated kalamatas at a local ethnic deli, and they are pretty inexpensive and delicious in salads or even to eat on their own.

This is one of those dishes where you can really make it pop with the plating. Try making the basic recipe, then divide it into thirds, then make 1/3 of the Roasted Red Pepper, and 1/3 of the Kalamata variations. Serve all three side-by-side in little bowls with any kind of garnish (a couple whole kalamatas work well), surrounded by the pita wedges
pointy-side up. Sprinkle a little paprika and green chopped parsley or cilantro over it and you got yourself a standing ovation at your next get-together.

I’ve also made this with white beans instead of chickpeas, a little French twist, served with toast points. Also very good. Bon appétit (That’s French)!

Traditional, Roasted Red Pepper, and Kalamata Olive Hummus

Traditional, Roasted Red Pepper, and Kalamata Olive Hummus