The simple question, "Where are you from?", has been a source of anxiety for me my entire life. My typical response to this question has always been, "Uhhh not really anywhere". For some reason, in my younger years, I felt gypped that I did not have a singular place to call home. I was born in New York City to southern parents, and moved about every five years from there on out. My family lived in some wonderful places, New Orleans, Brazil, New England, North Carolina and the beautiful South Carolina low country. Each locale, rich with it's own distinct character and food culture. But where was I from?
Fast forward to present day, and the question I am asked most frequently, now that I cook professionally, is "What is your favorite dish to cook?". In the beginning, this inquiry stirred up as much anxiety as the "Where are you from?" question of my youth. For some reason, I felt that if I was a true professional, I was required to have a set focus, a dish or distinct cuisine that I could focus all of my energy towards. Some people devote their whole lives to perfecting one specific dish. What was my dish? What was my cuisine? I often envied cooks and cookbook authors who's name evokes an immediate knowledge as to what their book or restaurant is about. Flay, Batali, Child, Yan and Lagasse all have a culinary identity. But what was mine?
Over the past several years, I have been focused on "healthy" or "better for you" cooking. This is a nice large umbrella that can encompass my chameleon-like culinary tendencies. One can take a classic, Brazilian, Creole, or Southern recipe and most often find some way to make it a bit better for you. This is my passion and focus now and while "healthy" and "better for you" do not immediately conjure up a specific cultural identity, I hope it incites curiosity. You never know if you will getting French, Brazilian, Creole or Southern influences in one of my recipes, but you can be assured, that there will always be something about it that is better for you.
This week I had the pleasure of teaching a Brazilian vegetarian class at The Cook's Warehouse, with my partner in crime, Chef Nancy Waldeck. Alas, Brazilian vegetarian seems like an oxymoron, but truly it epitomizes the marriage of my love for multicultural cuisine and healthier eating. My recipe for today is one that we prepared in class. I have taken a decadent fried, meat and cheese filled Brazilian snack called a Pastel, and morphed it into a lovely baked, veggie filled treat that can be enjoyed guilt-free.
Baked Veggie Pastéis:
2 Cup WW Pastry Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Sea Salt
1 TB Unsalted Butter
1 TB Cachaça or Vodka
1 Egg White
1/3 cup Warm Water
1 cob fresh Corn, cut from cob
1/2 cup Tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chopped Hearts of Palm
1/3 cup finely chopped Yellow Onion
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack Cheese
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add butter, alcohol and eggs. Beat on medium speed until incorporated. Turn off mixer and scrape down sides of bowl. Resume medium speed and slowly drizzle in warm water. Mix until soft dough forms.
Turn out dough onto a floured surface and form into a rectangle and wrap in saran wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
While dough is chilling, prepare the filling by placing all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Roll chilled dough to a 1/8 in thickness. Cut dough into rectangles that are approximately 3 inches x 6 inches.
Place 2 TB of filling in center of dough and brush washer along edges of dough to seal. Fold dough over filling and crimp edges with a fork.
Brush top and bottom of pastry with egg wash and place on a parchment lined sheet pan that has been brushed with olive oil. Sprinkle a pinch of course sea salt on top of pastry and spray or brush with olive oil
Bake at 400 deg for 20-25 minute, until golden brown and crispy
|Beautiful chopped veggies for the filling|
|A pizza cutter is an easy way to cut out your rectangles of dough|
|Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on one end of the dough and rub outer edges with water, using your finger or small pastry brush|
|Fold dough over filling|
|Crimp edges with a fork to seal in the filling|
|Brush the top and bottom of pastry with egg wash|
|The finish product!|