Easy to do savory crepes with a spinach and cheese stuffing, and a review of Julia Child’s My Life in France.
You grow up on chocolate on bread and you grow up on crepes, if you grow up near my part of Europe.
We call them palačinke (pah-lah-cheen-keh) and the batter is more or less the same as the French crepe batter. (Although, if you follow the blog, you may’ve read about my encounters with a Belgian crepe maker who insisted crepes come from his country.)
According to wiki, main difference between palačinke and crepes is that crepe batter chills in the fridge for a few hours before frying. Not a huge difference then as palačinke batter can be left in the fridge too.
Ingredients are also almost the same. Should the use of butter in crepes versus oil in palačinke constitute enough of a difference for them to be considered cousins, not brothers? Does the small pinch of sugar some add to palačinke drastically divide these two?
I don’t think so. They’re the same thing. Thin pancakes if you will.
At some point, someone somewhere whisked up a batter. Thicker batter (plus a raising agent like baking soda) allowed for formation of thicker patties. That’s how pancakes came to be. Meanwhile, runny batter went straight onto a scorching pan to be swirled into thinness. These became our crepes, aka palačinke.
That’s all there is to it.
Since, we’ve found a million ways to make crepes and pancakes decadent. We smear them with jams, marmalades and chocolate. Maple syrup, honey and molasses. Whipped cream. Fruit.
But then at some point, someone somewhere filled crepes with savory fillings thus making the world’s first savory crepes.
I had my issues with savory crepes. If you’ve had crepes with sweet fillings all your life, it’s challenging to imagine them differently. But a crepe – observed as an entity separate from its sweet filling – as soft, elastic and lacy as it is, is also bland.
Once I understood this, it changed my perspective on savory.
We don’t eat crepes to eat crepes. We don’t eat pies to eat crust, or empanadas because of the dough. These are just wrappers.
We eat them because of what’s inside.
For crepes, the filling and flexibility with which they welcome that filling is what places them into a class of their own. Not the batter.
Top a pancake with bacon and it’s still not quite a meal. It can’t be what a crepe is or do what a crepe does. A crepe you can fill up with meats, cheeses and veggies. Fold it every which way. Bake it further in the oven.
You can’t do that with a pancake.
There are a few crepe recipes on Balkan Lunch Box, including two for savory crepes. One is for crepes with a mushroom stuffing plus tartar sauce. The other is for fried crepes filled with ham and cheese.
Today we’re adding another savory crepe recipe to the repertoire: those with spinach and cheese.
SAVORY CREPES WITH SPINACH AND CHEESE
The trick to making crepes into a meal is a hearty filling.
My vegetarian followers will have to forgive me.
I love vegetables. They’re the most important food group in the world. But at least once daily I love a substantial piece of meat in my dish.
Beans, legumes, eggs, tofu and avocado don’t do it for me. They’re a delicious, albeit a short-term substitute.
I like biting into meat. I like feeling it under my teeth. Chewing its substance down.
I’m like my father that way. I’m not full until I can feel the heaviness of food in my stomach. A satisfying heaviness. I almost never feel full after eating a salad no matter how rich it is.
There is one exception to this. Balkan pies. A good cheese or spinach pie will keep me full.
It can go either way with savory crepes. I am full after I eat fried ham and cheese ones, but mushroom tartar crepes – while delicious – still require a piece of chicken, or something on the side if I’m to stay full.
Recently I was on a Julia Child binge and crepes popped up on my radar again. Synchronistically, soon after I also saw a crepe pie somewhere.
The dots connected so I tested a few out, and decided to go with a savory crepe pie with spinach and cheese. The stuffing is reminiscent of the one used for Balkan pies, but the topping is similar to the heavy cream and egg moussaka topping.
The result is a soft, thick and generous golden crepe pie. A hearty dish! Similar and dissimilar to phyllo dough pies. It doesn’t congeal the same way phyllo does when stuffed. Crepes are still relatively independent, but spinach and cheese add a nice dimension to it.
It’s separate – yet combined – with a perfect final touch achieved by baking connecting everything into a nice meal. Like a good marriage.
JULIA CHILD CREPES
My brother makes the best crepes in the family. But his instructions are cryptic. I rang him to get his recipe.
“Take 500g or so of flour, eggs, sugar, salt. Some milk. Some water. Then add a little more water. Plus a little more. Then if it’s too thin a little more flour. A little more water. A little flour. A little water. A little…”
It didn’t work out well for me.
I then got used to using Aleksandra’s volumes, as her crepes are good too. Pretty sure we used hers for blog recipes before.
In honor of Julia Child, this time around we’ll use her crepe recipe. It’s from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When I first made them, they were exactly what I expected: perfectly French crepes.
Also, the crepes I’ve been eating all my life. Aka palačinke.
I did a couple of things differently. She used a 6 inch pan, I used a 9 inch. Instead of her 25 crepes, I got 12-13. I also found my soup ladle, which holds 1/2 cup, is the perfect amount of batter for my pan.
As a rule, I don’t pour oil onto the pan when frying crepes. I first heat the pan. When scorching hot, I carefully coat it with oil dabbed on a paper towel, or napkin.
Perfect technique to avoid overwhelming the pan with oil, but greasing it just enough for that perfect, non-sticky crepe.
One of Julia’s steps I did follow was leaving crepe batter in the fridge. Instead of recommended 2-3 hours, the first time I left it overnight. Due to (I assume) butter, it thickened. It necessitated addition of 1/2 to 1 cup of water once before I fried them.
When I added water, I whisked fervently to get a smooth consistency. Fat separates from the rest of the batter when left for a while. (Note: when I tested leaving batter in the fridge for just a couple of hours it didn’t need more water.)
Crepes came out great. The filling did too. And baking sealed it perfectly.
So for the next time I’d like to test crepes with stuffings other than spinach and cheese. Meat maybe? Ground beef? Marinara and mini meatballs?
Endless possibilities indeed.
JULIE AND JULIA
Julia Child was an established part of American culinary discourse by the time I arrived to the shores of the US as a teen. Twas hardly the period to be learning the art of cooking.
My mom, an excellent cook, didn’t need pointers on French gastronomy. Partially because Balkan cuisine is just as abundant and varied. And partially because she already knew all she wanted to know about French cuisine.
So, no BS tear jerk story here about me growing up watching Julia Child with my mom which later inspired me to blog.
Nope. Julia Child was not a name I recognized. And when I took notice of her, it was shallow – peripheral glances catching a homely, towering woman with high-pitched voice who was always stirring something or other in a pan.
I realized just how big deal Julia Child was to my native friends only around the time Julie & Julia came out.
I watched the movie because of Meryl Streep. I almost stopped watching because of Julie. F*ck she was irritating!
Maybe I’m unsympathetic. Everyone’s personal problems to them are the greatest problems in the world. Maybe you’d like Julie. As for me, I couldn’t even watch Amy Adams in other movies for a while.
But the movie planted a seed of curiosity in me about Julia. After taking a closer look I finally got her.
This homely, towering woman with high-pitched voice single handedly ushered traditional, high-quality French cuisine into homes of an entire nation. That nation wasn’t even France. Julia wasn’t even French.
Julia Child – I understand now – was the world’s first food pornographer.
REVIEW OF JULIA CHILD’S MY LIFE IN FRANCE
My Life in France was written after a series of conversations between Julia and great-nephew Alex Prud’homme. It depicts her life in Paris and Marseille in 1950s. This was the last book she’d participate in, dying before it was finished.
The book is about Julia’s relationships. With food. With Paris. And with men. Because, her pragmatism and success aside, Julia craved a father.
She and her father never achieved an adult relationship as she insisted on a pubescent “parents just don’t understand” attitude which guided their contact for the remainder of his life.
He wasn’t exactly a cup of pudding either. Epitome of the old-school rich conservative – the boring kind – his interests included a small circle of friends and few unoriginal hobbies. Julia, to him, was a wayward daughter who married a leeching progressive.
Because, she kind of did. While Julia bemoaned her father’s republican ways, she was all too happy to spend his money. The old curmudgeon bankrolled her and Paul (the husband), a lot.
Shallowness of these relations was perfectly depicted in her surprised proclamation – after learning he was liked by other people – that he must “have something in there.” And also the ending coverage of his death: a pathetic “oh well, case closed.” Burn.
Paul Child had a love affair with France and an inferiority complex on the account of his less-talented and egocentric twin brother. A decade older than Julia, he spent much of his youth in Paris, with his brother and their interesting, independent, emancipated mother.
His pre-Julia love years were almost fully defined by the relationship with an older, sophisticated lover. He was enamored by her culturedness, polish and intellect. Her death shook Paul to where he developed thanatophobia.
He later found himself working overseas, employed by the government and pursued by persistent Julia.
It was an unlikely match. Julia couldn’t have been more different, in stature or personality, than the ideal of a woman Paul felt he should be with. Clumsy, loud, protruding. Unintellectual as they come.
Also quirky, sweet, funny and curious.
She wondered at times if she were too plain. She worried about her weight. She wanted to feel beautiful. She was human, that Julia Child.
Their relationship began with her obsession of him which mellowed into a mild co-dependency. For the first period of their life together it was as if Paul got used to Julia, rather than fall in love with her. This later changed as Paul became the one supporting and loving her more.
They shared real warmth and found ways to accommodate each other. Paul, for example, was an insomaniac. Julia snored. They slept in separate bedrooms in their French summer home. But his bed was a double so they could cuddle in the mornings.
He designed her kitchens. She moved around the world with him.
(Funny, charming, sometimes even insecure, yes. Sentimental, though, Julia was not. When later in life she couldn’t – or wouldn’t – take care of him, she chucked Paul into a nursing home. She was more like her father than she’d ever admit.)
My Life in France also covers Julia’s closest friendships, like the one with Simca. Simca – Simone Beck – co-authored Mastering The Art of French Cooking with Julia. (There was a third petty and vapid woman, Louisette Berthole, who also authored The Art. In the MLIF, Julia implies Louisette’s contribution was not as significant as hers and Simca’s.)
Simca was loyal to Julia; an equal partner and a lifelong best friend. Also, stubborn and envious. Ultimately, Simca had become a sister of sorts – thus family – to Julia.
Family, of course, is where all kinds of issues come to head.
Many arguments with Simca happened due to Julia’s demands for exactness, which in intensity paralleled Simca’s stubbornness. Simca was unwilling to admit Julia was a better chef; sometimes it’s not enough to be born into a family with tradition for good food.
Then there was the envy regarding Julia’s popularity. Julia was the one with a cooking show and most TV appearances. This was decades before Internet, thus no direct way existed for Simca (living in France) to know just how loved Julia was in the States.
However when success followed Julia back to France from the US, it was hard to hide the celebrity factor. Simca was continually pushed to the background by uninformed journalists unaware of Simca’s contribution to the fame of Julia.
No one can blame Julia for her success. She deserved every morsel of it.
Yet, the feigned naivety of her notoriety cloaked patronizing of Simca. It didn’t help Paul hated Simca with vigor of a spurned 80-yr old spinstress and encouraged his wife’s passive aggression..
Something becomes clear by end of the book. Julia grew up to be a fantastic parent to Julia.
(And you thought you came here for savory crepes with spinach and cheese!)
JULIA CHILD AND FOOD
Majority of My Life in France explores how Julia discovered herself in food. She married food the way she married Paul. It was a passionate, precise, exciting, flavorful, rich, intense love.
Career in food was something Julia waited for her entire life. At moments it felt as if she worried she had little time, so there was a sense of urgent hurry in the way she jumped into learning everything there ever was to learn about French cuisine.
We are the lucky beneficiaries of her appetite!
She was a meticulous chef. Brave. Unassuming. Questioning. She had a fantastic memory coupled with an unparalleled work ethic.
She inquired about every ingredient. She tested, really tested food. She acquired the knowledge, and where she lacked it she employed infinite curiosity.
So precise she was, to this day when you make a Julia Child recipe, there is almost nothing to add or subtract.
Something about Julia delighted me.
She was unapologetic. If a dish came out wrong, she knew people eating her food would never say it. Meanwhile, she was above apologizing for the effort she put into preparation regardless of how it came out.
How liberating is that?
As the book wraps up, it’s hard not to find her endearing. Julia Child belongs to the best America has to give the world.
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote of hers:
“Good results require that one take time and care.”
BACK TO OUR SAVORY SPINACH AND CHEESE CREPESPrint
Easy to do savory crepes with a spinach and cheese stuffing.
Crepes (Julia Child’s recipe):
- 1 cup water (cold)
- 1 cup milk (cold)
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- A rubber scraper
- 9-inch crepe pan
- 1/2 cup oil
- 14 ounces baby spinach (washed and cut into thin strips)
- 4 eggs
- 6.5 ounces feta cheese
- 9 ounces ricotta cheese
- 7 ounces sour cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 round 10-inch baking pan
- 3–4 eggs
- 8 ounces sour cream
- In a medium mixing bowl combine all crepe ingredients (except oil). Blend on high with a hand mixer for 2-3 minutes, or until smooth. Turn the mixer off and use the rubber scraper to scrape bits of flour from bowl sides. Blend again for 1-2 minutes. (Optional: leave batter in fridge for a couple of hours before frying crepes.)
- Heat the crepe pan on high. When the pan is hot, dip a paper towel in oil and coat the pan with it. Using a ladle, pour 1/2 cup batter onto the pan and quickly swirl it around until batter coats the pan evenly. Fry on medium to medium high for about 1 min and 15 seconds on each side. Transfer to a plate.
- Repeat until you run out of batter. You should have 12-13 crepes.
- Make the filling by combining all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and whisking until completely integrated.
- Heat oven to 395°F (200°C). Coat baking pan with oil and place one crepe on the bottom. Spread 2-3 tablespoons of the filling over the crepe evenly. Repeat until you run out of crepes and filling. (Do not put the filling on the top crepe.) Whisk up the topping in a small mixing bowl.
- Place the crepe pie in oven and bake for 15 minutes. Pour the topping over it evenly and return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes. If it starts to blush cover with foil and add another 2-3 minutes. Serve hot.
If you leave the batter in the fridge for longer than a couple of hours, whisk it well before use. If it’s too thick, add some water a tablespoon at a time and whisk it in well.
- Serving Size: 1/6 of the pie
- Calories: 808
- Sugar: 4.3g
- Sodium: 1273mg
- Fat: 63.1g
- Saturated Fat: 28.4g
- Carbohydrates: 35.3g
- Fiber: 2.3g
- Protein: 27.2
- Cholesterol: 378mg
Keywords: crepes, crepes with spinach and feta