Saturday, 12 May 2012

Spinach and feta rice-crepsies

Spinach pancakes (sorry, recipe in Finnish) are a traditional Finnish dish, hated by many school-children but also loved by many. The pancakes are cooked small (about 6-7 cm in diameter), often served in a stack on the plate, and always, always, always served with lingonberries. You can even get them ready made from the grocery store, but the flavour has nothing on the home-made ones.

I have always liked these pancakes, but back home I always made them from frozen spinach. During the last half year or so, I have come to love fresh spinach. In fact, it is one of the few things (together with organic, full fat yoghurt, eggs and tomatoes) which I buy every single time on my weekly trip to the grocery store. I like to buy organic spinach, and I always feel like my world is tilted slightly off it's axis if I can only get the regular stuff. Last week I worked my way through two 200g bags of spinach, I eat it almost at every meal. In smoothies or effins in the morning, in my salads for lunch, and often I serve my dinner on a bed of spinach if I can't find a way to incorporate it into the dinner dish itself. Spinach is healthy, although I'm not sure I believe all health claims, at least those without a reference (anything from burning fat to curing cancer...) According to Wikipedia (yes, I'm too lazy to actually look up proper references) "It is a rich source of vitamin A (and especially high in lutein), vitamin Cvitamin Evitamin Kmagnesiummanganesefolatebetaineironvitamin B2calciumpotassiumvitamin B6folic acidcopperproteinphosphorus,zincniacinselenium and omega-3 fatty acids." It's also virtually calorie free, so you can indulge as much as you want. However, spinach also contains oxalate, which will inhibit the absorption of the iron. The amount of oxalate can be reduced by boiling the spinach quickly. Be it this way or that, I'm sure at least part of all the goodies in spinach will be absorbed, oxalate or not. 

As I said before, the Finnish spinach pancake is always served with lingonberries or lingonberry jam. However, it seems it's absolutely impossible to get lingonberries on this godforsaken island. Well, actually you can get them from Scandinavian kitchen in London, and I have to get around there next time I'm down to London. As I had no lingonberries, I thought I could do some tweaks to the recipe. First tweak is adding something with a lot of flavour to replace the lingonberries. Instead of going for something sweet and tangy, I went for salty and added feta cheese. Then I wanted to make it dairy free (well, as dairy free as something with feta can be...) as well as wheat free, so instead of doing a pancake batter with milk and wheat flour, I substituted with rice milk and rice flour. I have become a huge fan of rice flour, it works really well in pancakes as it gives a more crispy texture than wheat flour. 

The batter is rather runny, therefore these are more like crepes than pancakes. Don't even think you can cook them to be small pancakes without a proper pancake pan (which is another thing that Brits apparently don't do, need to bring one with me from back home next time I go), the batter will spread to fill the whole pan. I didn't let that bother me, I just cooked them big in a regular pan. You also need to have some patience cooking the crepes, as they benefit from being cooked slowly on medium heat, and should not be flipped until properly cooked on one side to stay whole through the flipping process. If you have a bit of patience, you will be rewarded by some great tasting and almost healthy (apart from the huge amount of carbs...) crepes.

Rice-crepsies (makes 6 big crepes):
500ml rice milk
166g rice flour
3 eggs
1tbsp butter
200g spinach
100g feta cheese

Be patient and let the underside cook well before flipping the crepe.

The howto:
Mix rice milk, eggs, melted butter and rice flour. To give the batter a better consistency and making the crepes easier to cook, let the batter stand for at least an hour, stirring every once in a while. This allows the rice flour to puff up in the liquid. If you use wheat flour, you don't need to let the batter rest for such a long time. Chop up the spinach, and cook quickly in a pan until it has started to wilt a bit. Then add the wilted spinach and crumble in feta. Cook on a non-stick pan on medium heat, letting the crepe cook well on one side with lots of small bubbles forming on the surface before turning it over. 

1 serving (2 crepes) contains 500 kcal, 19g fat, 64.6g carbs and 16.8g proteins. It also contains 133% of your recommended daily amount of Vitamin A!

The verdict:
The crepes require a bit of work to cook, but are definitely worth it. Substituting regular milk and wheat flour with rice milk and flour give the pancakes a bit of a different taste from what I would expect from a traditional Finnish spinach pancake. Of course if you never have had them, you don't know what to expect so you might not be as impressed as I was. I personally think the substitutions were very successful (but I'm admittedly a bit biased...), and this is a very different dish from the original, which was my intention. I also think the combination of spinach and feta is absolutely lovely (although not very original), the salty feta and the mild taste of the spinach just work so well together. I didn't season with salt or pepper, as I think the feta is salty enough, and the dish doesn't need pepper, but you can add some if you want. Thanks to the rice flour, the crepes have a great crispy texture despite being cooked on a non-stick pan with no oil or butter. I will certainly be making this again, but I'm also going to experiment a bit with substituting part of the flour with quinoa flour or rye flour to see what it does to the taste. Oh and if you can get your hands on fresh nettles, replacing or partly substituting the spinach with nettles is amazing. Just wear gloves if you are picking them yourself!

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