I was in college the first time I tried crab. There are two reasons for this. The first was I didn’t come from a seafood eating family. My sister and I both believed that Red Lobster commercials were the grossest thing on TV, and we had no desire to eat crustaceans. (We have since both repented of this.) The second was I was the pickiest eater alive as a child. Today, I am excited by new foods but once upon a time, new foods gave me anxiety. I also rejected things based on smell, and seafood is nothing if not smelly. When I married into a family of picky eaters, I couldn’t help but feel that this was punishment for what I put my mother through when I was a child.
Therefore, I was 21 and a senior in college the first time I tried crab. Reader, it was instant love. Nevermind, that it was merely crab cakes I tried as an experiment while on spring break in Florida (I tried actual crab legs soon after), I immediately understood that I had denied myself something delicious for two full decades of my life.
These tostadas are a casual weeknight-friendly way to eat crab. If your grocery bills aren’t giving you as much pain as mine are, feel free to increase the amount of crab in the recipe and decrease the veggies. As written, this recipe is fairly mild. For a spicier version, add more jalapeno and use a hotter pico de gallo. Like all of the recipes to be posted in June, these tostadas will pair perfectly with Albariño.
Cheesy Crab Tostadas
Servings: 4 dinner portions or 8 appetizer portions
I don’t know much about my great-grandmother and great-grandfather in Ukraine. I knew my maternal grandparents, who lived in Ukraine in their youth, then emigrated to Paraguay and many years later to the U.S. But when I try to go back farther than my grandparents, the only thing I can say with any confidence is that I am the descendent of Eastern European farmers. Farmers from Ukraine on my mom’s side and farmers from Belarus on my dad’s.
Family names and family stories have not been passed down to me. My parents did not know their own grandparents, as they were both raised in Paraguay, while my great-grandparents remained in what would become Soviet territory after the Second World War. At the time when both sets of my grandparents emigrated, it was not yet Soviet land. All of their documentation declared them to be Polish, even though no one in the family considered themselves to be Polish.
Ukraine as a conquered land is an old story, but that never makes it less terrible. We are not Russians; we are not Poles; we are Ukrainians. We have our own language, culture, etc. Of the people taking refuge or walking to Poland or taking up arms against Russian invaders, I don’t know any of them, but some of them might be my second or third cousins. But I am comfortable in my own home, consumed by my own problems, as I was saved from this predicament due to the actions of the generations that came before me.
I don’t know much about my ancestry, but what I know is the food. My connection to my ancestors and to modern day distant relatives is in what I eat, the food I was raised on. This is my comfort food, and my mom’s, and I’m sure it was my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s comfort food. If you try, I am sure it will become your comfort food, even if you aren’t Ukrainian.
*16 oz cottage cheese
*1 package farmer cheese (mine was 0.64 lb)
*5 cups sifted flour
*2 teaspoons salt
*1 ⅔ cups water
*¼ cup sour cream
*Melted butter to keep vareniki from sticking together
Combine all ingredients for the cheese filling in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together egg and sour cream until well combined, then whisk in the water.
Add in the flour and salt and knead until it is the right consistency. If it seems too sticky, add some flour. If too dry, add more water. Divide the dough into 3 parts.
Fill a large pot with water and salt and bring to a boil.
While your water is heating, roll out your dough on a well floured surface until it is 1/8" thick.
Using either a cookie cutter or an upside down coffee mug, cut the dough into circles.
Add a spoonful of filling in the center of each circle. Carefully fold in half and pinch to seal the vareniki shut. (My mom’s tip: Get your fingers damp with water if the vareniki are not sealing properly.)
Once your water is boiling, drop your first batch of vareniki (6 to 10 vareniki, depending on size) into the water.
Boil the vareniki until they float to the top, then remove from the water with a slotted spoon and brush with melted butter.
Not that you are 100% reassured and not at all suspicious, I will tell you why you should put hummus (and beet hummus, specifically) in your pasta. Hummus adds creaminess to pasta dishes without full-fat dairy products, and it increases the protein in vegetarian meals. Ever eat something, and think, “There is a tasty and familiar ingredient in here that I just can’t place”? Well, that’s the role of hummus in pasta, to be a delicious mystery. It sounds like it should be heavy, but it’s not, partly due to the addition of reserved pasta water transforming it to the perfect creamy consistency.
I used beet hummus here because I liked the idea of using traditional Greek salad ingredients (tomato, beets, olives, and feta) in a hot meal. If beets aren’t your thing, I get it. Not everyone is a borscht slurping Slavic like me. Just use whatever hummus flavor (original, roasted garlic, roasted red pepper) you do like.
Not convinced by hummus pasta? I have a baby step for you. The next time you make spaghetti marinara, add a scoop of original hummus into the marinara sauce. Once you taste and find it is delicious, you will be ready to make this.
16 oz box pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves minced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
6 oz baby spinach
10 oz package beet hummus
1 cup reserved pasta water
For topping: dill, feta crumbles, and sliced kalamata olives
Cook pasta according to package directions. Don’t forget to salt your pasta water!
When your pasta has been boiling for a couple minutes, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and tomatoes and cook until tomatoes are softened, stirring as needed.
Add baby spinach a handful at a time, stirring until wilted, then adding the next handful.
Reserve a cup of pasta water.
Drain pasta and add to skillet. Stir in hummus.
Add reserved pasta water ¼ cup at a time until you like the consistency of the pasta sauce. You may not need the full cup.
Add desired toppings and serve.
Variation: For a vegan pasta, instead of adding feta, incorporate nutritional yeast into the sauce in step 6 for a bit of cheesy flavor.
I developed my love of artichoke hearts in the usual fashion: I ate my body weight in artichoke spinach dip at chain restaurants in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. I’m not sure if artichoke spinach dip is technically considered a retro food, but to me, it’s as retro as low rise jeans and dial up internet.
Retro or not, I would happily demolish it if you put it in front of me, but at 42, I’m probably too old to eat chips and dip for dinner. Eating artichokes in pasta for dinner, however, is perfectly respectable. Consider this a fresher, more grown up take on artichoke hearts and spinach. The artichokes really are the star here as they melt perfectly into the orzo, and the feta crumbles add just the right amount of creaminess.
It’s delicious and my terrible photos don’t do it justice. I’m currently studying food photography tutorials, so my photos will no longer look like they came out of a cookbook from the eighties, but clearly I’m not there yet. Amazon just delivered a ring light and tripod, so that’s one step closer to better pictures.
8 oz shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup orzo
2 cloves garlic minced
⅓ cup white wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
8 oz artichoke hearts, diced
5 oz baby spinach
Zest and juice of ½ a lemon
1 tablespoon dill
3 tablespoons parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet. When melted, add shrimp and salt. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
Transfer shrimp to a plate and clean out the skillet with a paper towel.
Heat remaining tablespoon of butter and olive oil in skillet. Add orzo and garlic and saute until just lightly browned.
Add wine to orzo. Once it is absorbed, add the broth, salt, and the artichokes, stirring occasionally.
When the broth is nearly absorbed, add in the spinach one handful at a time, adding the next handful when the previous one is wilted.
Add shrimp, lemon juice and zest, dill, parsley, and black pepper.
Taste to see if it requires more salt, lemon, or broth. Adjust, if needed.
Serve with feta crumbles.
Vegetarian variation: In place of the shrimp, use roasted chickpeas. Preheat oven to 400. Toss a drained can of chickpeas with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes. While the chickpeas are roasting, start making your orzo, beginning with step 3.
Winepairing: Sauvignon Blanc. I suspect that Assyrtiko (a Greek white that pairs well with seafood and feta) would also be a great match for this, but given that I that I didn’t have a bottle on hand to test, I can only confidently say it goes well with a Sauvignon Blanc. Mine was a Pouilly-Fumé.