The Winter Olympic Games: unparalleled talent, spirited competition, and of course, a spread of delicious spectating snacks.
Chef Boris Portnoy shares a few of his walnut-filled favorites that bring us a taste of Eastern Europe with their earthy flavors and unexpected ingredient combinations. Pomegranate, fenugreek (a sweet and slightly bitter spice), and plenty of mint infuse these recipes and allow us to discover and experience this region with our taste buds despite the thousands of miles that separate us.
To celebrate the hosting country, why not add a taste of Russia to your game party with these unique and tasty dishes: Spinach and Walnut Dip (Green Pxali), a Red Kidney Bean Stew (Lobio) and Chicken and Walnut Soup (Kharcho). Walnuts are featured prominently in each one and effectively showcase their versatility from an herbaceous spinach appetizer, to a hearty stew. We can’t think of better cold weather party food!
The complete recipes follow, along with their images and nutritional information.
Green Pxali (Spinach and Walnut Dip)
Pxali is a general term used to describe this dish, which can be made from a variety of vegetables but is always bound by a rich walnut paste. Pxali can be red from the use of beet leaves, green if spinach is used, or white if young cabbage leaves are chosen. Pxali can be made from virtually any vegetable, but spinach is used in this recipe, as it is traditional. Pxali should resemble a thick mass, which can be used as a side dish at dinner or a main dish for lunch served with lavash or other bread.
This dip is best made a day ahead, as the spices work their magic and the flavors develop even more fully.
- 3 cups walnuts
- 1 pound spinach leaves (available in supermarkets, bagged and ready to use)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1/3 cup water, plus more if needed
- 2 tablespoons red wine or white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek*
- 1/2 - 1 teaspoon chili flakes or red pepper flakes (the more use, the spicier the dip will be)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
- 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- salt to taste
- pomegranate seeds, for garnish
- flat-leaf parsley sprigs, for garnish
- Crisp flat bread or crackers, or a rustic country-style bread, thinly sliced, for serving
*Ground mustard seed can be substituted. Fenugreek can be found in ethnic markets.
In a food processor, chop the walnuts finely until they are the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. Transfer the walnuts to a large bowl.
Put the spinach in a large pot, cover tightly and cook over moderate heat, stirring once or twice, until the leaves are wilted. (Alternately, microwave the spinach in a covered bowl until wilted.) Rinse the spinach with cold water, to cool it and stop the cooking. A handful at a time, squeeze the moisture out of the spinach.
Chop the spinach finely in the food processor as well, and add to the walnuts. Stir in the garlic and water. Add the vinegar, coriander, fenugreek, chili flakes, cilantro and parsley to the mixture and blend thoroughly. Season with salt to taste. If it seems too thick add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve a dip-like consistency. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with pomegranate seeds and parsley. Serve with flat bread or crackers, or with a thinly sliced rustic loaf.
Makes about 3 1/2 cups dip, serves 8.
Nutrition information per serving: 300 calories, 9g protein, 9g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 29g total fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 4g monounsaturated fat, 21g polyunsaturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 50mg sodium
Lobio (Red Kidney Bean Stew)
This dish is served at every table in the Caucasus (the border region between Europe and Asia) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is traditionally served in a clay pot with lavash bread along pickled cabbage, cucumbers and cucumbers. Bakeries also sell bread stuffed with lobio for a delicious snack on the go.
- 1 pound dry red kidney beans or cranberry beans*
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- Pinch of saffron threads, or a pinch of saffron powder
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro (coriander), chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 bunch fresh mint, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
- 1 tablespoon ground fenugreek**
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 – 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 – 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
*Note: Dried beans make the best stew, but if you don’t have time to soak them, four cans (15 – 16 ounces each) kidney beans, drained and rinsed, may be substituted. Then, rather than bean cooking liquid, use canned vegetable broth to complete the dish.
**Ground mustard seed can be substituted. Fenugreek can be found in ethnic markets.
Rinse the beans well and put them in a large pot. Add enough water to cover them by about three inches and soak the beans overnight, or for at least 6 - 8 hours.
Bring the beans to a boil, cover the pan partially, and boil gently until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. Drain the beans in a colander, reserving the cooking liquid. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pan over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 – 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until soft. Add the drained beans and about 1 1/2 cups of the reserved cooking. Using the flat part of a spatula, or a potato masher, mash some of the beans to a rough paste. Stir well, and repeat the mashing once or twice more. You should have a thick, rustic, stew-like mixture, similar to refried beans. If necessary, add a little more of the cooking liquid to achieve the right consistency. (Any remaining bean-cooking liquid may be used in another soup, or a vegetable stock.) Add the walnuts, saffron, cilantro, mint and fenugreek then season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the vinegar and pomegranate molasses and stir well. The beans should have a pleasant sweet and sour balance.
Serve the stew, directly from the cooking pot if you wish, accompanied by flat bread, or a rustic country bread to mop up the juices.
Nutrition information per serving: 460 calories, 23g protein, 58g carbohydrate, 19g fiber, 16g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 2g monounsaturated fat, 11.5g polyunsaturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 10mg sodium
Kharcho (Chicken and Walnut Soup)
This soup is famous all over Russia even though its origin is Georgian. The consistency of the soup resembles a thick stew and should be spicy and acidic, with most of the acid coming from tomato paste and plums. A special component of this dish is the liberal use of walnuts, which act much like dairy to round out the acid flavor of the stew and create a richer and silkier texture.
- 2 pounds, skinless, boneless chicken thighs (6 – 8 thighs, depending on size)
- 2 quarts chicken stock*
- 5 pitted prunes (dried plums)
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1 cup long grain rice
- 3 large or 4 small- to medium-sized red onions, finely chopped
- 2 bunches fresh cilantro (coriander), finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 bunches fresh parsley, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
- 3 - 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 fresh green chili pepper (such as a Serrano or jalapeno)
- 1 fresh red chili pepper (such as a Fresno pepper), or another green pepper
- 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, or 1 tablespoon dried mint
- 1 tablespoons ground fenugreek**
- 2 bay leaves
- Black pepper to taste
*Note: If using canned stock, which tends to be salty, dilute it with an equal amount of water.
**Ground mustard seed can be substituted. Fenugreek can be found in ethnic markets.
Cut chicken thighs into 1 inch pieces and put into a large pot of at least 6-quart capacity. Add the chicken stock, prunes and tomato paste. Bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the rice, red onion, half of the chopped cilantro and half of the chopped parsley, and simmer for 15 minutes longer.
Meanwhile, sprinkle the garlic cloves with a pinch of salt and chop them finely. Halve the peppers, removing the seeds, and chop the peppers finely as well. In a bowl combine the garlic and peppers with the walnuts, and add the remaining chopped parsley and cilantro. Add about 1 cup of the hot soup broth to the chopped mixture and stir to combine. Stir the chopped mixture back into the simmering soup and add the coriander, mint, fenugreek and bay leaves. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes longer, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Makes about 4 1/2 quarts soup, serves 8.
Nutrition information per serving: 460 calories, 33g protein, 40g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 19g total fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 5g monounsaturated fat, 9g polyunsaturated fat, 120mg cholesterol, 490mg sodium
Recipes Courtesy of Chef Boris Portnoy for the California Walnut Board
Contact: Torme Lauricella Public Relations
(415) 956-1791; firstname.lastname@example.org@torme.com