Lekerli – German-Swiss Honey-Spice cookies from Basel

Basler Lekerli (or Läkerli) are glazed rectangular or diamond-shaped spice cookies that my family love around Christmas. The cookies are tedious and tricky to make, and thus are particularly special for the holiday. It has become a tradition with us, though not because of any Swiss background. The cookies keep for weeks, and improve in both flavor and texture with storage.

Lekerli are the German-Swiss counterpart, developed in Basel, to the originally Bavarian Nuremberg honey-spice cookie, Lebkuchen. Both date back about seven centuries. I found the recipe in a small Swiss cookie cookbook at the book store at World Health Organization in Geneva, where I was doing a work project in the mid-1980s. The book, fortunately, was the French translation, which I can read, of an originally German language regional cookbook, which I could not have read. With some adaptations that I made to the recipe for our local conditions and preferences, it became a favorite, which I baked nearly annually for decades.

When we moved to Athens from Atlanta, the recipe, typed on a single page of paper, disappeared in transit. My wife, Christina, tracked down a copy through a complex communication and locating an old friend of hers who, she recalled, had liked our cookies and photocopied the recipe. Our new copy is a printout of the pfg-transmitted copy of our original, which Sylvie had photocopied. Having just made the Lekerli as a project with several of my grandchildren, I’m now getting it on my recipe blog to keep it accessible.

Basler Lekerli

Mix together in a large bowl:

3 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

2 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg (fresh grated is best)

2 teaspoons ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon baking soda


In a separate bowl:

2 1/2 cups chopped almonds (with skins)

6 tablespoons candied orange rind, coarsely chopped

6 tablespoons candied lemon rind, coarsely chopped

Grated rind (zest) of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons orange juice


In a large pan, bring to a boil:

3/4 cup honey (strong flavored, such as wildflower honey)

3/4 cup sugar

Once the mixture has boiled, remove pan from the heat and stir in the almond mixture. Then transfer this all to the bowl with the flour mixture and combine using a strong wooden paddle. This can be difficult. The dry mixture can be kneaded with the hands once it is cool enough to touch.

Place one half of the dough (broken up and scattered) on the bottom side of a greased cookie sheet or greased parchment (not waxed paper) on the cookie sheet bottom. Roll the dough 1/4 inch or thinner, using a waxed paper sheet on top of the dough or lightly dusting dough with flour while rolling. Cut off ragged edges and fill in any gaps so as to get a large rectangle of dough. 

Repeat for the other half of the dough. 

Bake in a 315-degree oven until golden brown, 15-17 minutes. Remove from oven. While still hot, run the edge of a sharp knife underneath the edges of the dough to separate it from the parchment or the pan.

For each sheet of cookies, make the glaze (recipe below). This can be done separately for each sheet of dough, or together (glaze recipe doubled) once you’ve done this a time or two. When glaze is cooked, quickly paint the top of the still-hot baked dough (stick it back in the oven for a minute or so if needed) evenly with glaze using a pastry brush. The glaze will get cloudy and look like icy snow.

Using a sharp knife, cut the still-warm cookies into diamonds (1 1/2-inch wide lengthwise strips then 1-inch wide strips on a diagonal) or cut crosswise into rectangles 1 1/2 inches by 2 inches. Allow cookies to cool thoroughly. Lift them off the pan or parchment with a sharp spatula. Let them dry for a little while. Store in tightly covered tins,

Let ripen for at least a week for best flavor and texture. 

GLAZE for each half of the dough:

6 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons water

Boil in a pan without stirring (but gently swirl the pan occasionally) until the syrup first begins to spin a thread when a little is dripped from a spoon. Do not overcook. Brush quickly on a baked sheet of Lekerli.   



Sweet Peppers Sautéed with Chopped Meat: Easy farm-style late summer supper

Gardens in Athens are full right now with late summer produce, and days are still warm and lazy, and our movement is still restricted by Covid. Hunkered down and cooking a lot is one of the activities available.

Our son-in-law, Jason, gave us a bunch of sweet long peppers, both red and green, plus sweet potatoes from his garden. I was not inclined to long or fancy cooking at home. I do plenty of that at the restaurant.

The peppers, cored, sliced and fried with a little onion, garlic, chopped meat (pork in this case, but lamb would be my preference if it were available) and simple seasoning sautéed up into a very bright and satisfying dish served with the roasted sweet potatoes plus some sliced fresh local tomatoes. No exotic seasonings, much as I love them, seemed appropriate to this farmhouse super. It was a bit like what my mother made decades ago when I was a kid.

The recipe will serve 4-6, depending on the amount of starchy side dish. Roasted sweet potatoes worked well, but so should baked potatoes, or a rice dish or a noodle dish – or quinoa?

6 large long sweet peppers, half green and half red (or 2 each red and green bell peppers)
1/2 small onion
1 large clove garlic
1 pound ground pork or lamb, not too fatty
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar

De-stem and remove cores and seeds from peppers. Cut into thin (1/8-inch) strips and cut to no longer than 1-inch long. Dice onion. Mince garlic.

Combine vegetables with ground meat in a frying pan and cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan, until meat changes color. Add pepper, salt and lemon juice or vinegar. Stir and fry for several more minutes. Taste and add a little salt, if needed, to taste.

If desired, spoon meat mixture off with a slotted spoon so as to leave excess grease behind. The dish can be served now or refrigerated and reheated for serving later.

Serve hot with roasted sweet potato or potato (quickest cooked in the microwave), or a rice dish or noodles. Accompany with a fresh salad for a summertime supper treat.


Lentil Soup with Vegetables, a hearty meatless treat

A satisfying dish, originally from the Middle East, lentil soup is made from one of the earliest cultivated plants in the world. Such a dish shows up in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and allowed Jacob to wrest away the patrimony of his father, Isaac and his grandfather, Abraham, from his hungry older brother Esau. The recipe here is less auspicious, but very tasty nonetheless.

The recipe serves six with leftovers.

1 pound dry tan or green lentils
1 large bay leaf
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/4 of a red bell pepper, diced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced (or 1/4 cup canned crushed tomato)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 (2-inch) sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dry oregano)
3/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar for serving
A little minced parsley for serving, optional

Pick over and rinse lentils. In an uncovered pot bring them to a boil in water above the level of the lentils, then immediately drain (this eliminates the “muddy” flavor of American lentils and does not appreciably reduce the protein value of the soup).

Add water to cover the lentils by about 3 inches. Bring them back to a boil. Skim off any foam. Add bay leaf and simmer until lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely dice onion, carrots, celery, and bell pepper if used, and mince garlic. Separately dice the tomatoes if using fresh, and set aside. Fry all except the tomato gently in olive oil until onion becomes limp and translucent. Then stir in the diced or crushed tomato and fry for one more minute. Add fried vegetables to the simmering lentils, along with the rosemary or oregano, cinnamon, pepper, and cayenne. Stir from time to time until lentils are very tender and start to break up (10-20 minutes), skimming off any foam that collects. Add a little water if necessary to keep mixture from becoming thick. Add salt, then more as necessary. Remove from heat. Check salt again 5-10 minutes after finishing cooking.

The soup is best if made ahead and stored before serving. To serve: reheat, taste and add salt if needed. Just before serving, stir in lemon juice or vinegar. When serving, drizzle the soup with some olive oil and if desired sprinkle on a little minced parsley.


Fresh Fig Tart, Celebrating Local Figs

It’s been a remarkable season for figs. With no late frost to destroy the early buds, and enough rain to keep the trees from self-pruning, we – and the birds and even squirrels – have enjoyed many succulent fruits from the “Brown Turkey” and the even more fig-flavored “Celeste” fig trees planted near the restaurant and in our yard.

Not having a family recipe for fig tart, we turned to the recipe for the wonderful rhubarb tart my wife Christina makes from the unapologetically rich desert book, Rosie’s All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed Baking Book, by Judy Rosenberg. “Rosie” originally began baking professionally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, and probably kept the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Cardiology Department prosperous.

Figs are sweet and mildly flavored, unlike the assertive rhubarb, which I love and grew for years from plants my father started in my hometown up north. So Christina marinated the cut figs, harvested today, in lemon juice then cut back significantly on the sugar mixed into them.

Here’s the recipe for an 8-inch square or 9-inch tart, enough to feed six to eight a fantastic, rich seasonal dessert. (And while we haven’t tested it, this method should work also for the moist dried apricots that come from Turkey, and possibly even pitted dates.)

The Base (a shortbread crust):
1 cup flour
5 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 8 pieces
1 egg white for glazing (use the yolk in the topping)

3 cups halved fresh figs
Juice of one large lemon
1 whole egg plus the reserved yolk from glazing the base
3/8 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan or a 9-inch pie pan.

Process the flour and confectioner’s sugar several seconds. Add butter and process until dough comes together, 20 to 30 seconds. (Or do all this in a bowl with a pastry knife.) Pat dough into the greased pan. Glaze the crust with egg white by pouring the white on the dough and tipping pan from side to side so the white coats the surface. Pour off the remainder of the egg white.

Bake the base until golden, about 25 minutes. Cool base completely (refrigerate to speed this up).

Prepare the topping. Mix the figs with lemon juice. In a bowl mix together the egg, egg yolk, sugar, flour and salt. Add the figs with their lemon juice.

Spread the fig mixture over the cooled, baked base. Bake the tart until set and slightly golden, about 50 minutes.

Cool completely before cutting into squares or wedges.


Turkish Meatballs stuffed with Apricots: Köfte Dolmasi

I learned these stuffed meatballs from Turkish chef friends while hanging out as “Guest Chef” at Café Istanbul when they were getting started in Decatur several decades ago. “Köfte” (kouff-TAY) means meatball in Turkish while “dolmasi” means stuffed.

Turks, as well as Kurds, Iraqis, Syrians, and others in the region stuff many kinds of foods, from phyllo pastry sheets, to onions, to cabbage, to eggplants, to peppers, to grape or cabbage leaves, to zucchini. They even stuff chicken breast and meatballs. The meatball stuffing can be dried fruit, feta or other cheese, chopped nuts, or a combination.

Meatballs are one of my favorite forms of food, as you might guess from checking some of the other recipes in this blog. Meatballs called kufta, kofta, kefta and köfte throughout the region along the ancient Silk Road have extraordinary variety, exotic yet delicate fragrances -- and occasional surprises. Lamb is the favored meat there, but beef, or even chicken can be used too.

The original version appears to go back to ancient Persia, as do many other classical meat, rice and yogurt dishes that now reach from Greece and the Balkans all the way east to India. In Persia they were named for “kuftan,” meaning chopped or pounded in a mortar,

Various sauces or condiments would traditionally accompany this type of meatball, the simplest being lemon to squeeze on. Other options include lightly salted garlic-scented yogurt, cucumber-yogurt sauce (cacik/tzatziki), lemon-tahini sauce, or lightly cinnamon-scented tomato sauce. The traditional accompaniment would either be a rice dish or flat bread.

The recipe will serve four people.

2 tablespoons finely minced onion
1 teaspoon olive oil for frying onion
1 pound ground lamb (or beef or a combination, including chicken), not too lean
2 tablespoons quick oatmeal (or mince old fashioned oatmeal on cutting board with chef’s knife)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 to 6 dried apricots (depending on size), finely chopped
Olive oil for glazing
Minced parsley for garnish

Mince then fry onions until softened. Transfer to mixing bowl.

Combine with remaining ingredients other than apricots, oil for glazing, and garnish. Knead ingredients together well.

Divide meat into 8 equal portions. Divide chopped apricots into 8 portions.

Form a portion of meat into a flat patty. Place one portion of apricots in middle. Fold meat over and gently seal together to keep apricots in middle. Shape back into round ball, rolling gently between your hands. Place on baking sheet, jointed side down.

Rub a little olive oil on top of meatballs. Roast in 375 degree oven about 12 minutes (a little longer if chicken is included among the meats).

Serve dusted with minced parsley. Accompany with lemon wedges to squeeze on, or see the sauce ideas in the background notes, above.


Neapolitan Spicy Cauliflower with Garlic and Lemon

I learned this deceptibly simple, savory dish from a cooking demonstration at Dekalb Farmers Market years ago. The woman who demonstrated it (using fresh hot pepper rather than dried, crushed pepper, which I use) told me it was the way her grandmother fixed cauliflower. Both her mother and grandmother were originally from Italy from near Naples.

The recipe serves six as a starter, side dish or lunch dish.

1 medium-large cauliflower
3-4 large cloves garlic
1 large Roma type tomato (optional)
1 tablespoon minced flat (“Italian”) parsley
Juice of 2 small, or 1 large, lemon, about 3 1/2 tablespoons
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed dry hot pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Prepare vegetables and keep them in separate piles: Cut cauliflower into 1-inch flowerets, keeping pieces of stem attached to the “flower” parts. Coarsely mince garlic. Quarter tomato, if used, and cut off tough stem area. With finger push out seeds and juice. Dice tomato flesh. Mince the parsley. Squeeze lemon(s) into a cup. Have these ingredients ready.

Heat a large, heavy STAINLESS STEEL or enamel (not aluminum) pot to medium hot. Add oil and garlic. Fry very briefly, but do not brown. Add tomato, if used, and fry, stirring frequently, until tomato softens. Add cauliflower and sprinkle with the salt, hot pepper and black pepper. Toss and fry briefly. Add a few tablespoons water, cover pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower becomes crisp-tender.

Taste a small piece of cauliflower to test for doneness, and add salt if needed.

Remove from heat, add lemon juice, and toss cauliflower. Keep covered, but stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Taste one last time and add salt and/or lemon juice if needed, and toss well.

Serve sprinkled with a little minced parsley.


Quiche, a Versatile Wonder

The original “quiche,” a savory custard pie, appears to be French. But there are somewhat similar pies in both English and Italian culinary traditions. Probably the best-known classical version is Quiche Lorraine, from that northeastern region of France. It contains ham and leeks in the custard, with cheese as a more recent addition.

Basil, feta, sun-dried tomato and mushroom quiche
Nowadays, almost any meats, fish, vegetables, specialty cheeses, herbs, and even almonds or walnuts can go into quiche. Restaurants, unapologetically including ours, Donderos’ Kitchen in Athens, GA, vary the ingredients so as to feature a “different” specialty quiche each time.

Here’s my basic recipe, which was influenced by my culinary hero Craig Claiborne, the long-time food editor of the New York Times when I was younger. His recipe appeared in the book, “Craig Claiborne’s Herb and Spice Cookbook,” in the chapter on green onions.

The recipe makes several quiches, depending on size. Leftovers keep well and reheat easily in a toaster oven or oven (microwave makes the crust rubbery).

Pastry for 2 (9-inch) or 3 (8-inch) pies (homemade or purchased refrigerated)
6 medium-large scallions (green onions)
*1/2 pound thick sliced smoked turkey (or turkey salami, ham, pastrami, smoked salmon, or mixed meats, including a little thinly sliced pepperoni) and/or blanched, steamed, or lightly microwaved vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower) or thawed, squeezed out (but not further cooked) frozen spinach
2 cups coarsely grated Swiss cheese, or cheddar
6 eggs
2 1/4 cup whole milk (or part cream)
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon salt (3/4 teaspoon if using a salty ingredient like feta, salami, etc)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
A pinch of cayenne
2 teaspoons Dijon or whole grain mustard for painting inside of pie crusts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll crusts lightly and line pie pans. Paint inside the bottom and sides of crusts with mustard.

Slice scallions into 1/8-inch lengths. Distribute them over the bottoms of the crust. Cut the meat(s) or salmon into small pieces, and distribute it over the scallions. Or if using vegetables, add them with or without meats over the scallions. Spread the Swiss and/or cheddar over these ingredients.In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. Add the milk, grated Romano, horseradish, salt, nutmeg, pepper and cayenne, and whisk briefly to combine. Pour it into the piecrusts. If using disposable aluminum pie pans, place them on cookie pans for security.

Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to 310 and continue baking until the center doesn’t wiggle and a sharp knife inserted an inch from the center comes out clean (25 to 35 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature.

A salad accompanies quiche well for a lunch or supper.

*Other possible quiche ingredients: bacon (fried and crumbled) plus blue cheese (along with the regular cheese); chopped canned artichoke hearts with chopped walnuts on top; sliced black olives, green olives, moistened and heated sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, baked chicken; chorizo out of casing and pre-fried, jalapeño, and roasted red pepper; Italian sausage, out of casing and fried, roasted peppers plus olives.


Artichokes with Easy Dipping Sauce

With the COVID-19 disruptions I have been less active with the food blog, and busier cooking for delivery dinners from our restaurant, Donderos’ Kitchen, in Athens. No home entertaining or cooking classes during this time has reduced the opportunities for posting recipes on line. But I explored and learned a lot while trying to create the dinners we sell and that I expect will start showing up on this blog when I can scale the recipes down to my target of six servings.

Meanwhile, however, I do some cooking at home, even if just for Christina and me. Here’s an appetizer I made today. When I occasionally see large, plump fresh artichokes available at a price more modest than what has been typical in recent years, I tend to get some for appetizers at home.

Boiled until tender such that the leaves (technically petals, since the artichokes are huge thistle flower buds) pull off easily, the individual leaves are then dipped lightly into a savory sauce and with the teeth the soft flesh on the upper end of each leaf is pulled off and the fibrous leaf discarded – ultimately at my house to the compost heap. When all the edible leaves are removed, pull off the fine remaining leaves and with a spoon, scoop out the fine fibrous “choke.” Cut the remaining tender “heart” into four pieces. Dip them in the sauce and enjoy possibly the best treat of the artichoke.

The recipe is for two large artichokes, which will serve as an appetizer for four to six people. Increasing the quantities is, obviously, easy.

3 tablespoons cider or wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
2 plump fresh artichokes

Bring plenty of water to boil in a large pot. Add the vinegar and salt.

Cut off all but about one inch of the stem of each artichoke and drop the artichokes into the boiling water. Cover the pot, and turn the artichokes from time to time as they cook. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until a lower leaf can be pulled off fairly easily (use tongs).

Remove to a plate to cool. Artichokes can be eaten slightly warm to room temperature or if stored in the refrigerator warmed up a little from cold. Place on a platter with a shallow bowl of the dip (see below) nearby, and another bowl for discarding the leaves into after eating the soft part on the upper part of the leaves.

1 small clove of garlic
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon cider or wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Peel then partially crush the garlic clove and rub the inner surface of a small mixing bowl well with the garlic flesh. Discard the remnants of the garlic.

In the garlic-rubbed bowl, place the sour cream, mayonnaise, vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix well until smooth. Taste, and add a little salt if desired. Transfer sauce to a small shallow bowl for dipping the artichoke leaves.


Red (or Green) Kale braised with Apple

Two days ago I harvested some decorative red kale from the little garden at the back of the restaurant. It had been a visual mainstay during the winter in the ornamental but edible garden that my son-in-law, Clyde, of Hungry Gnome, planted. Before it bolted to seed, and before it was overgrown by the snapdragons that were now bursting forth, I turned it into a savory braised vegetable.

Restaurant garden after red kale picked
This is the way I have been preparing kale for some time, in the northern European manner rather than stewed as a Southern US “pot herb” green. The leaves and stems of the kale are cooked just until they become tender and are not stewed. (The decorative variety this time, though very tasty, was tougher and needed a little more cooking to become tender.)

Regular curly green kale works well. But even better is the “Red Russian” variety grown locally around Athens by organic farmers in the colder months.

Using a smoked meat, such as bacon or ham is optional. I generally do not use it if the kale is to accompany a meat or cheese main dish.

The recipe serves six.

2 bunches (about 8 ounces each) kale, ideally locally grown such as “Red Russian”
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1/2 of a small onion, minced
1 strip smoked bacon or 1 (1/8-inch) slice smoked deli ham, optional
2 tablespoons olive oil (3 tablespoons if bacon not used)
1/4 teaspoon salt plus to taste
A sprinkle of black pepper
Water as needed
1/2 teaspoon vinegar

Rinse kale well in basin of water to eliminate sand or grit. Cut stems, if tender, into 1/2-inch lengths and set aside. Cut leaves in half lengthwise, then cut across into 1 1/2-inch wide strips. Prepare apple and onion.

If using bacon, cut raw strip across very thinly (chill in freezer 5 minutes for easier cutting). For ham, cut into 1-inch wide strips, stack them up and cut across into narrow threads.

Heat large frying pan or pot to medium high. Add oil and bacon or ham, if used, and stir and fry 1 minute. Add apple and onion. Fry, stirring frequently, until they are softened.

Add kale stems, and stir and fry 1 minute. Add kale leaves, salt and pepper, and a tablespoon or so of water. Fry, covered but stirring very frequently, until kale is wilted and tender to the bite, adding a little more water as needed to keep a bit of liquid in pan.

Remove from heat. Taste and add salt, if needed. Stir in vinegar and toss to combine well.


Easy Cauliflower-Cheese Bake

As we suddenly spend lots of isolated home time with the coronavirus everywhere, cooking and eating are one of the freedoms we still have. But to minimize public exposure at supermarkets, we’re using everything in our fridges.

Christina and I were given a slightly old cauliflower by one of our kids in Athens as they headed off to spring break camping ten days ago, back before everything changed in our lives. This evening I quickly turned it into our vegetable dish for dinner, using a simplified cauliflower gratin approach and taking advantage of items on hand.

If I had more interesting cheese available, this could have been even more special. But even using a fairly dull mild cheddar, the dish still turned out very tasty. My “breadcrumbs” were matzoh meal left over from a cooking class (Hanukah latkes in my holiday food class in December). Here’s my impromptu “Cauliflower-Cheese Bake.”

The recipe serves three to four.

1 medium head of cauliflower
1/4 pound or more cheese, grated (Gruyère or sharp cheddar preferred)
Grated nutmeg, optional
2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs, cracker crumbs, or matzoh meal
2 tablespoons olive oil

Cut the cauliflower into small flowerets and place in a microwaveable dish, such as a glass pie plate or a small casserole. Sprinkle lightly with water and cover with a sheet of waxed paper. Heat in a microwave until cauliflower becomes crisp-tender, about 5-6 minutes, testing every two minutes.

Remove waxed paper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, plus optionally a little grated nutmeg. Mix well to distribute seasonings. Spread shredded cheese over the cauliflower, then breadcrumbs (etc.) and finally the olive oil.

Bake in a hot oven (375 degrees) until cheese is well melted and cauliflower browns a little on high points.

Serve hot.


Homemade Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Recently at the restaurant I had to make turkey sausage meat to put into a breakfast casserole for a catering order. It turned out to be a more chaotic process than expected, but that story is below.

The sausage itself worked out well. I based it on the pork sausage meat I make for the traditional sausage dressing we prepare every Thanksgiving for customers and family. The main difference with the turkey sausage is that since ground turkey has much less fat than ground pork, I add some olive oil to add that rich juiciness.

I made my first casserole, a breakfast strata with added sausage meat, on an already busy day several days before the early-morning catering. It got over-baked. I was out of the kitchen when the timer went off and no one else mentioned the timer and I was distracted. The flavor of the casserole was fine, but the top and bottom crusts were too crisply baked to send out to a customer. (One of our staff and his family enjoyed it for dinner that evening.) The next day I made another batch of sausage meat and another casserole, and it was looking good. But then the customer cancelled their catered breakfast for the next day since their visitors from the corporate office in Michigan were grounded from flying due to corona virus travel restrictions.

Ah well. I at least had the chance to refine my recipe, and subsequently also made sausage patties from the recipe at home and had them with dinner.

Here’s. It can be made as fried crumbled sausage meat for adding to a casserole or turkey dressing or sprinkled on mashed potatoes or maybe a homemade pizza. Or fry it up as small patties for breakfast sausage.

1-1/8 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry marjoram
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon crushed dry red pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground celery seed (not celery salt)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground turkey (85% lean)

In a large bowl, mix all seasonings plus olive oil. Add ground turkey and mix well with a fork so the meat is evenly seasoned but not compacted. The mixture can be refrigerated for up to a day at this point, or cooked now.

For crumbled sausage meat, fry in a frying pan, stirring and breaking the meat up into small lumps as it fries. For sausage patties, form into six large or up to 12 smaller patties, and fry over medium heat on both sides, turning several times during frying.


Vegetarian Cheese-Potato “Meatballs” for Spaghetti Sauce

My granddaughter Clara has tended away from meat for some months now. These cheese-potato “meatballs” are what I developed recently for her and those others in the family who eat some meat but also seek out vegetarian dishes. Using a double batch of the same sauce as for meat meatballs (which was in an earlier blog post on 7/30/2019), but splitting it and cooking the meatballs in the one half of the sauce in another pot, I made a pasta dinner for the crowd with options of beef-pork meatballs or cheese-potato “meatballs” to cover the preferences.

Cheese-potato balls with "trotole" pasta
These are a somewhat firmer variation on potato dumplings or matzo balls, and contain cheese for extra flavor and protein. I poached (cooked) the veggie balls in water before putting them in the prepared sauce.

The recipe for the cheese-potato balls and sauce serves six, enough for a pound of pasta.

Make cheese-potato “meatballs” first:
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk or water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 cups matzo meal (from Kosher or International section of supermarket)
1 cup dry instant mashed potatoes (such as Idahoan, from supermarket)
1/4 cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons grated or finely minced onion
1 medium clove garlic, finely minced or put through press
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon dry oregano
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice
Pinch of cayenne

In large bowl, beat eggs and mix in liquid ingredients. Add remaining ingredients and mix then knead well to make a dry dough. Shape and roll into 1-inch balls, moistening hands from time to time, setting the balls on a baking sheet or large platter.

Boil a large pot of water, at least 3 inches deep, and salt it with a tablespoon of salt. Drop the balls into the boiling water. They will sink to the bottom initially then start to float after a few minutes. Stir them gently from time to time. Once they float, reduce heat and simmer them 15 minutes. Lift them out of the water with a slotted spoon.

When sauce is made and still simmering, add the cooked cheese-potato balls and heat a few minutes. Serve over pasta as you would for real meatballs, adding some sauce and sprinkling with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Use a favorite tomato “Marinara” sauce, or the one below:
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon whole fennel seeds (optional)
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 large (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (I prefer Hunts or Kroger, among American brands)
1/2 cup water (rinse the tomato can with it before adding it to the tomatoes)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Large pinch thyme or oregano
6 fresh basil leaves (optional)

In large wide pot (not cast iron), gently fry garlic and fennel seed, if used, in oil until garlic is softened but not golden. Stir in tomatoes, water and all other ingredients except basil. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, scraping bottom of the pan well. Taste and add salt if needed.

Add the cooked, drained cheese-potato balls. Heat to simmering, stirring carefully.
Taste sauce. Add salt if needed. Stir in basil leaves, if used. Remove from heat.


Lima Beans prepared like Greek Fava Beans

This dish, based on a traditional Greek way to prepare fresh fava beans, works extremely well with frozen Fordhook limas, which are available at supermarkets. I’ve compared the limas side by side with true favas, and they come out very close.

Bowl: Nancy Green, Watkinsville, GA
True fava beans are Old World beans common in the Mediterranean, while limas are New World beans (from Peru originally, indicated by their name). Favas are tediously difficult to shell from their pods, need to have the skins individually removed from around the beans, and are limited in season plus expensive. Fordhook style lima beans can be bought frozen relatively inexpensively in the supermarket.

I’ve taught the recipe several times to classes in Athens (GA) that had pretty extensive international experience, and the dish was very popular.

The recipe serves six as a side dish.

3 tablespoons minced onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt
Large pinch black pepper
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen Fordhook (large) lima beans
1 tablespoon tomato paste or 1 Roma tomato, diced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill (strongly preferred) or minced flat parsley

In cooking pot, gently fry onion in oil until it softens but does not start to brown. Add water, salt and pepper.

When mixture boils, stir in frozen limas. Bring back to a boil, stirring frequently. Then cover pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans become tender, 15 minutes or so.

Add tomato paste or diced tomato, plus a little water if becoming dry. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, five minutes. Taste a bean. It should be fairly tender and creamy. If salt is needed, add a little. Add a little water if too dry.

Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and dill or parsley.


Meatloaf, Large and Gluten-Free

This meatloaf, which I the kind I would make for a crowd or to have many meatloaf sandwiches over subsequent days, is based on a French meatloaf with finely chopped olives in it. But it has a variation from the usual meatloaf, and includes neither eggs nor breadcrumbs. And since it is eggless, the baking temperature does not need to be as high for safety as if eggs were used (unless part ground chicken or turkey is used with the meat).

Chickpea or channa dhal flour (“Besan”) is used in Indian cooking and replaces egg in batter for religiously vegetarian dishes. But it also by coincidence replaces wheat flour in the batter, conveniently making the batter gluten-free. I recently used this chickpea flour in a Pakistani meatball curry, where it replaced the usual egg for binding and breadcrumbs for extending the meat. It worked so well that I tried besan in meatloaf. I and members of the family who tried the meatloaf, thought the results were great.

Here’s the recipe, for a large (three-pound) gluten-free and eggless meatloaf. The recipe can be halved to use 1-1/2 pounds of meat for a smaller roast.

Besan or chickpea flour is available at Indian grocery stores or at some health food stores

3 pounds ground beef (or 2 pounds beef plus 1 pound ground pork or lamb)
1 cup pitted green or stuffed olives, very finely chopped
1 small onion, finely minced
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup ground chickpea flour (“besan”)
1/2 cup water
2-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and knead well to mix everything evenly.

On a large baking pan or cookie sheet that has edges, shape mixture into a loaf about 2-1/2 inches high and fairly flat across the top. Pat this well so there are not air pockets.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes until an internal temperature of 155 degrees is reached on a meat thermometer (or when oils come out from the loaf, the surface browns somewhat, and a skewer stuck into the top does not cause pink juices to flow out).

Serve hot, or cool and refrigerate for later use (slices can be microwaved) or for meatloaf sandwiches.


Bolognese, Italian Meat Sauce for Pasta


I was once a purist on Italian pasta sauces, or so I thought. I liked either a clean, meatless, tomato-based marinara or a rich red sauce with Italian sausage or meat balls. I grew up around southern Italians.

Served on Spaghetti Squash; Plate by Maria Dondero, Athens GA
In contrast to the precise, elegant red sauces, the “meat sauce” of my childhood seemed clunky, like dull loose hamburger cooked up with tomato. However, as an adult I encountered really excellent “Bolognese” and learned how subtle and luscious a meat sauce can be. Local, freshly ground meat makes it even better.

“Ragù alla Bolognese” [bo-lohn-N(Y)AY-zay], named after the Northern Italian city Bologna, is a regional specialty commonly served with tagliatelle there and with spaghetti elsewhere. Bologna, less auspiciously, also gave its name to baloney, that greasy cold cut which on Wonder Bread makes the gummy, horrible sandwiches downed by generations of kids at school and homeless people at soup kitchens.

Although the real Bolognese would generally contain ground beef or veal, or sometimes pork, I frequently use ground turkey, which gives a light-bodied richness. The sauce often has a little cured pork cooked into it, like pancetta or bacon.

A “short” pasta, like penne rigate or rigatoni, or even vegetable spaghetti squash, is good with Bolognese, despite long pasta’s typical role. And although in general I prefer the hearty sheep’s milk cheese, Pecorino Romano, with pasta (showing my culinary exposure to Sicilians), the lighter and more elegant Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano), a Northern Italian cow’s milk cheese, is more traditional for Bolognese.

The recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta.

1 medium-large carrot, finely diced
1 medium stick celery, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
1/4 of a red bell pepper, diced
2 thin strips of bacon or slices of pancetta (optional), finely diced
3 tablespoons olive oil (4 if not using bacon or pancetta)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 pounds ground turkey, pork or beef
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or a pinch cayenne
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup red wine
1 large (28-ounce) can crushed tomato (Hunt’s or Kroger’s is good)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt, plus to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 pound pasta (such as penne rigate)
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

In a heavy stainless steel or enamel pan, gently fry diced vegetables and bacon or pancetta in the olive oil, stirring occasionally, until carrot is tender. Stir in garlic, and fry 1 minute.

Ragù alla Bolognese simmering
Raise heat and stir in ground meat, breaking it up as it heats. Add herbs and spices. When meat color has fully changed, add wine and simmer 10 minutes, covered. Add crushed tomato plus a little water for rinsing out the can. Simmer 10 minutes, covered. Add sugar and salt. Simmer 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste, and add salt if needed. Add parsley and simmer another minute. Remove from heat, but keep warm.

When sauce is done, cook pasta in a large amount of boiling salted water, stirring frequently at the beginning, so pasta will not stick together. When just tender to the bite, drain pasta well in a colander, but do not rinse.

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