A more apt title for this post might have been a step backward, but somehow that just didn’t seem right. You see, after last week’s minor pity party (colds and dissertations don’t mix well), I decided that humanity had to be restored. So I cut back on my library hours and got down to the business of living. My toenails are now a bright, sunshine-y yellow, I finished The Interpreter of Maladies, I cleaned the dusty-dog hair bunnies that had built up during my “absence,” the Greek and I went out for some sweet corn ice cream (inspired by Melissa Clark’s latest column) and I also picked up my camera for the first time since I made butter mochi. It seemed only right that I capture one of the meals that has been a favorite this summer: the vibrantly colored and flavorful saffron chive crepes that I stumbled upon in Vegetable Literacy back in June. Not only are these things a breeze to make but, even better, they are nothing short of restorative. Isn’t it true that saffron has magical powers?
Saffron’s magical powers aside, I’m still not quite free of the dissertation. I know, I know. At this point, there should have been pictures of fireworks and champagne with some cheesy phonetic play on Ph.D. (don’t put it past me; it’s clear I’ve been thinking about this carefully) as a title, but this past week was simply not the right time for milestones. In addition to juggling the demands of ending my seven years as a student (i.e. never sitting down and returning stacks and stacks of library books), all I’ve managed to do is badly draft the first page of the introduction on and off all week. Although it goes without saying, it’s more than a little difficult to sit down and write when you simply don’t have time to sit down. As a wise friend suggested to me, planes are a good place to do some writing: there’s no place to go and you’ve got endless stretches of time before you. In short, it’s the perfect time to face your writing demons and to purge your adviser’s words from your head about the significance of the introduction in any scholarly work.
But let’s forget about writing demons and get back to the business of living, i.e. the business of eating. A long, long time ago in what now seems like another lifetime, the Greek bought me a fabulous birthday gift, one that, admittedly, I was not all that shy about hinting that I wanted on a weekly basis. This gift was Vegetable Literacy. For months I had watched other bloggers post about exciting recipes from the book–marjoram pesto, braised fennel with saffron and tomatoes, peas with baked ricotta and breadcrumbs, cabbage panade–and often I cooked along with them. This is the wonderful thing about food blogging and the internet; you can easily sample a cookbook through the blogs that are tasked with promoting it. For me, if I like what I’m seeing and eating, then I’ll more often than not buy the book. In the case of Vegetable Literacy, all of these dishes (full disclosure: except for the cabbage panade, which was such a sad and flavorless mass that neither the Greek nor I was particularly excited about eating the leftovers) were vibrantly flavored and what I considered to be interesting ways of cooking vegetables–some so easy that I wondered why I didn’t think of it first. Another thing that appealed to me about the book was its sheer readability. Madison writes about her personal gardening experiences and explains each herb and vegetable so thoroughly that you can’t help but be fascinated. As a budding gardener, I wanted all the help I could get.
That, in fact, is how I ended up finding the recipe for Chive and Saffron Crepes. My cilantro plant was wilting before my eyes and seemed to be infested with either aphids or spider mites, which according to all wisdom about cilantro seems impossible (any gardeners out there with knowledge of creepy crawlies who prefer cilantro?) and I turned to Madison’s book to see if I could save it. While the plant never quite made it (a new batch has been planted in new soil), I did, upon flipping through the book, get a wonderful idea for lunch. And, thus, a love affair was born.
These crepes turn a lovely golden shade and, with the flecks of green chives and burnt orange strands of saffron, they’re really something to behold on the table. We’ve had them several times this summer, for both lunch and dinner, and I imagine they would be a welcome addition to any brunch spread in any season. While they are obviously best when they are just out of the skillet, they’re just as good reheated. Madison gamely suggests three flour alternatives for the crepes–all-purpose, white whole wheat or spelt–but my personal preference is the spelt flour. Although a flour with nutty undertones, the nuttiness is essentially lost when combined with the other ingredients. It’s the chives and the saffron that are the stars here and they let you know it; I should add, however, that despite their strong personalities, they play nicely together. The sharpness of the chives contrasts the depth of flavor that a pinch of saffron adds to any dish. I’ll admit that I have no better way of describing this meal, especially since I can never quite put my finger on saffron’s exact taste. I feel that it’s a bit of a culinary chameleon, which makes everything taste better, but whose dominant flavor depends on its surroundings. You can eat the crepes plain, stuff them with ricotta, or with whipped cream cheese with pepper and an additional sprinkling of chives. However you choose to eat them, you won’t regret it.
I’ll be back soon from Europe–and hopefully, once and for all, dissertation free.
Chive and Saffron Crepes
Slightly adapted from Virginia Madison’s Vegetable Literacy
Yields 12-15 crepes
2 pinches saffron threads
1 tablespoon hot water
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup (120 grams) spelt flour (or all-purpose or white whole wheat or a combination of any of the two)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons butter (I used Kerrygold; I think a high quality butter is essential here since there are few ingredients)
1/3 cup (10-15 grams) finely chopped chives
-Cover the saffron with 1 tablespoon hot water (Madison calls for just boiled water, but, after the Persian cooking class I took in May, I would recommend letting the water sit for at least 10-15 minutes after boiling. There’s no reason to “kill” the saffron).
-Put the eggs, milk, flour and salt in a blender and mix together for 10-15 seconds. Stop and scrape down the sides and then blend again briefly (5-7 seconds).
-Pour the batter into a large measuring cup and stir in the melted butter, the saffron mixture, and the chopped chives.
-At this stage, the batter should have the consistency of heavy whipping cream, but if it is too thick, thin it with additional milk or water.
-Heat an 8 – 8 1/2-inch crepe pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tiny bit of butter and and let it melt so as to grease the pan.
-Pour roughly 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet and swirl it around the pan. When the batter starts to dry on the top, lift the crepe with your fingers and flip it over.
-Cook the second side briefly, just until set, then slide the crepe onto a plate. Remember that the first crepe is often less than ideal, so don’t lose heart!
-Repeat with the remaining batter and stack the crepes as you go.
-Carry the stack of cooked crepes to the table and enjoy the fruits of your labor! Fold the crepes into quarters and eat with a small mountain of ricotta cheese, or enjoy them plain or with any other topping that strikes your fancy.
10 thoughts on “A Step Forward”
Hurray for saffron and chive crepes and for your trip! Dissertations have a way of hunting down and killing all your available moments until the bitter end, but it will be upon you before you know it! And then you can have ridiculous dreams like this one I had last night: I met Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad, and I stuck my hand out and said, “Hi, My name is Cameron. I have a PhD in Russian literature, and I'm you're biggest fan.” 🙂
These look lovely and I have chives growing on the back porch, so how easy is that? My cilantro did not fare well this summer, either – the only reason it is still in the potter is because I don't have the heart to tear it out. But I am certain it's beyond repair.
Simply beautiful. Sometimes a step backward is a step forward. We need to remember that we're human beings, not writing machines. Sometimes you have to give yourself a pass. Much love, J
Thanks for the introduction to another gorgeous cookbook! These crepes sound delicious and I can't wait to experiment with spelt flour!
Thank you! I am well and truly almost there. While it is true that the end is bitter, I know that there will be many sweet times ahead!
And you know how I have always admired the vivid quality of your dreams. I have yet to watch Breaking Bad (why I am so behind the times is beyond me), but come this fall I will live, read, watch TV and go to the movies like a person making up for lost time. 🙂 Just the thought buoys my spirits! Thank you for all of your support!
Thank you, Lisa! I hope to grow some chives when I come back; they are so tasty and so useful. I love them so much more than I do onions….
And cilantro must just be hard to grow; I really can't fathom how or what killed mine, but I hope to have more luck with the new batch! Perhaps it's all a matter of trial and error?
Thanks, Jess! And I agree about steps forward and backward; it's sometimes hard to tell which way we're going, but I think we often end up exactly where we're supposed to be. How we get there is maybe of little consequence.
Cheers to being human beings, rather than writing machines! Sending you sunshine and love from Greece! 🙂
You're more than welcome, Ann! I am always happy to oblige. And I hope that these crepes make it onto your table at some point; they are lovely!
As for spelt flour, I've found that it works well mixed with all-purpose; the ratio seems to be 1:1, which makes experimentation quite easy.
Ah, I still don't have a copy of Vegetable Literacy yet. It has obvious appeal, since I garden, but I guess I've just been putting most of my energy into berries and stone fruit lately and haven't felt the need to do new things with vegetables. I'm going to have to try these crepes and see what I think of the book. I love saffron. The only way that I'm ever able to describe it is as round-tasting. I don't know if that really makes any sense.
Do you think these crepes would work with garlic chives? I grew some from seed this year and haven't gotten to use them yet.
I'm also going to have to try the butter mochi you wrote about awhile back. There's a sushi place here in Chicago that serves their ice cream with little squares of mochi that have been pan-fried. They are so, so good. I even stumbled into some mochiko at the grocery store down the street recently. I thought I'd have to look much harder to find it!
And congratulations on almost being done with the dissertation! I'm only at the very beginning. Being done, making real progress, seem like faraway notions.
Katie, hello, and thank you for your comment!
As for Vegetable Literacy, I was also a bit dubious about it at first; I have so many cookbooks that are devoted to vegetables that I really didn't think I needed another, but then once I looked at it and cooked from it (via other food blogs), I really felt it would be a book I would turn to again and again. And this has definitely turned out to be the case! I hope you like these crepes, and I think the garlic chives sound like a nice substitution. The flavor will be a little different, but I think this will complement the “roundness” of the saffron nicely (I do think I understand your meaning; saffron is a very full and broad flavor–kind of all-encompassing).
And if you like pan-fried mochi, you will love butter mochi. It's definitely best right out of the oven (it's nice and gooey), but it also heats nicely in the microwave. The sushi place you mentioned sounds like it would be right up my alley; when I lived in Japan, I would buy bags of mochi and toast it in the oven with cheese on top and then wrap it in seaweed. In the fall, this is a real treat; I guess it's kind of the Japanese equivalent of grilled cheese.
Thank you for the congratulations; I am now officially done and, even though it's been only a few hours, it is a lovely feeling. It's a slow process, but it does have its rewards. I think cooking and taking care of yourself really help one to finish in a timely manner, so my advice is to keep canning and try butter mochi!