"Crepes are a bitch." This universally acknowledged fact was thus stated by a friend recently as we tried with mixed success to turn out perfect, golden crepes in her kitchen. Crepes are a bitch, but if you can master them, they will bend over backwards for you. Their flexibility is amazing; you can use them to line cupcake tins and make little custards or tarts, you can serve them with fresh fruit compote and a dusting of maple sugar for breakfast, and you can make wonderful savory, creamy fillings for dinner crepes. You can even layer them with a sweet, nutty filling, press them, and cut them into a cake reminiscent of baklava. I think, however, that blintzes are among the best ways to use the mighty crepe.
The Yiddish word blintz describes a thin pancake (a blini) stuffed with filling and pan-fried into a little packet; the food itself, however, seems to predate Yiddish by quite a while, having its origins in pre-Christian Eastern Europe. Blintzes were championed by American Jewish immigrants, and have since become a part of our national heritage. Traditional blini are often made with a yeasted batter, though the ones below are not. Buckwheat blini are a Russian tradition that I am looking forward to trying out. My blintzes are served topped with a mushroom gravy, though you could do a million other things - a sour cashew cream would be de-licious. Allison Bradley collaborated on this recipe and provided my opening quote, and Rachel Sharp provided moral support, acted as taster, and did the dishes. Thanks, guys!
Mushroom, Potato, and Cabbage Blintzes
This can be prepared pretty easily as you make the other parts; the key is keeping the temperature low to moderate so that you don't end up burning it while you work on other things. Once you've got the basics together, give it a stir once in a while and it should be fine. I'm more...impressionistic...when it comes to gravy than with other recipes. I always taste it as I go, adjust seasonings, add more flour or broth or whatever, and I suggest you be prepared to do the same. I think it's really more about method.
1-2 cups cremini or your favorite mushrooms, sliced or chopped, as you prefer
3 cloves fresh garlic
Flour, about 1/4 c.
Veggie broth, at least several cups
Salt, about 1/2 tsp.
Black pepper, about 1/4 tsp.
Sage, about 1/2 tsp. dried
Rosemary, about 1/2 tsp. dried
Thyme, about 1/2 tsp. dried
Any other herbs you like
Earth Balance or your favorite vegan margarine
Coconut, rice, or soy milk, or a little cashew cream (optional - the recipe will still work beautifully without it)
Saute garlic in some Earth Balance, and after it begins to sizzle, sprinkle a little flour over it (sifting would be an ideal method), not more than about 1/2 tsp. at a time. Stir and repeat the process until it begins to create a paste. Add a little veggie broth, along with the dried herbs and a little bit of salt and pepper. Mix them in, then begin to alternate between adding a little flour and a little more broth, stirring and letting your gravy cook a little in between. When you have about 1/2 cup of your herbed paste, mix in a more significant amount of veggie broth and add your mushrooms, bringing the mixture to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning, then add flour or broth as needed to adjust for texture. If you like, you can start to use coconut or rice milk (or soy, but I can always taste that almost-vanilla-y flavor and I don't want that in my gravy) instead of more veggie broth.
3-4 medium potatoes, cut into 1-2 inch chunks
4 c. cremini or your favorite mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/2 large head cabbage, sliced into thin strips about 2 inches long (or however you like it)
1 small to medium yellow or white onion (really anything except a red onion), diced
1/2 cup veggie broth (keep a little extra around to use as needed)
1/2 tsp. grated fresh nutmeg (super-easy to do, just buy the whole nutmeg instead and use a little grater - this is the one I have)
4-5 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
Olive, canola, or other cooking oil
Cut potatoes into chunks and bring a pot of salted water to boil. Boil the potatoes until soft but not crumbling, and set aside. It would probably be smart at this point to test your veggie broth to see how salty it is, so that you can adjust the amount of salt you use as you season the veggies.
Melt some Earth Balance or your favorite vegan margarine in a pan and lightly saute the garlic, then add the mushrooms. Sprinkle the mushrooms lightly with kosher salt and then give them a dusting of nutmeg, probably about 1/2 teaspoon. Saute until soft, keeping in mind that they'll be cooked further when added to the onion and cabbage mix. Set mushrooms aside.
In a large, heavy pan, saute onions in a small amount of oil, about one tablespoon, for 1-2 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add shredded cabbage, and cook until cabbage is soft, though you don't want things to start falling apart, so don't overdo it. Mix in mushrooms, then gently fold in potatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning - you want enough just salt for it to be savory, but let the nutmeg be the star. Also, when salting, think about how salty your veggie broth is; some broths have plenty of salt for this recipe and you may not need to add any at all.
Turn your oven on to warm, because from here on in you're going to have lots of things to keep warm in there.
Once your blintz filling is mixed thoroughly, drizzle about 1/2 cup of veggie broth over it and mix a little more so that the moisture is evenly distributed. Let simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the extra liquid has cooked down. Once the filling is done, transfer to an oven-safe dish or bowl and keep in a warm oven while you make the crepes.
This is the third crepe recipe I've tried in the last week...the other two were from vegan cookbooks, and I got so frustrated that, after throwing out almost an entire batch of crepe batter (chickpea flour was a failure), I turned to the only person I knew I could trust on the topic - Julia Child. I've adapted this from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Simone Beck and Luisette Berthole.
1 cup cold water
1 cup coconut milk (I'm going to try soy and rice milks too, but I anticipate that the coconut provides more richness without adding an obtrusive flavor)
Egg substitute equivalent to 4 eggs - I used the powdered Ener-G egg replacer, prepared according to the instructions on the box
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c. flour
4 tbsp melted Earth Balance
Put the water, coconut milk, prepared egg replacer, and salt in the blender jar. Start blending on low, then slowly add the flour, then the melted butter. Blend for about a minute on high, then refrigerate covered for at least 2 hours but as long as overnight.
The first tricky part is finding the right pan. A small skillet or omelet pan often works well, though I haven't had much luck with the plain stainless pans or cast iron. I have a little 7-inch Revere Ware copper-clad stainless pan that works very well, but after all this, I'm going right out to buy a real crepe pan. Make your best guess, and if it doesn't work and your crepes stick, just abandon it and try another.
The next tricky part is the technique. Spray your pan with a little canola oil, then heat it to medium-high. When it begins to smoke, pour in a little less than 1/4 cup of batter and quickly swirl it around to fully cover the base of the pan. Don't take more than a couple of seconds to do this. Put the pan back on the stove and leave it there for about a minute. When the top of the crepe is dry and the edges are beginning to curl and brown, slip a rubber spatula under the edge to loosen the crepe a bit. If the center seems to be sticking, it is probably not done enough, so give it a bit longer. When the crepe slides around easily, flip it over in the way that seems best to you (though, personally, I never feel more like a chef than when I'm flipping things with the pan). Give the crepe another 30ish seconds on this side, then transfer to an oven-safe dish that you can keep warm in the oven while you work on the other crepes. You may need to make crepes a little thicker than you would normally so that they stand up to the blintzing process
Blintz Construction - a.k.a. "Blintzing"
When all the crepes are done, take one out of the oven and lay it on a clean, dry working surface. Leave the others in the warm oven until you need them.
Melt a little bit of Earth Balance in a pan - you can use your crepe pan if you want, but you may want to use a larger one so you can fry about 4 blintzes at a time. Put a large blob of filling in the middle of the crepe (on the ugly side, so that the better-looking side shows in the final product), then fold it into a little packet with the seam running down the middle of the blintz and no holes for the filling to creep out. Prepare as many little blintzes as your pan will hold with enough room to scoot them around and to turn them (probably 4-5). Note that if you have a crepe that is a funny shape, you can make a workable blintz by leaving the top open, like the center blintz in the picture above. As long as there is enough crepe above the blintz filling so that it doesn't come tumbling out, you can turn our a pretty, golden, fluted blintz.
Once the pan is hot (fully heated to about medium), place your blintz seam-down into the pan, then repeat with the other blintzes. While they begin to cook, you can prepare the next batch. After about 20-30 seconds, scoot them so they don't stick, but take care to scoot them by their little butt ends rather than the smooth sides so that they don't unwrap. After about a minute, it should be safe to check them and see how they're browning without having them fall apart on you. When all your blintzes have golden-brown bottoms, turn them over and brown their tops a bit, too. When they are finished, put them on a cookie sheet and keep them in your warm oven while you finish the others.
When they're all finished, plate the blintzes and serve drizzled with mushroom gravy.