It's easy being green with delicious pie

Spinach quiche provides the green for a Saint Patrick's Day brunch. BY JACK CLEMONS
March 16, 2012

It might have been an ad for the latest Dr. Seuss movie or the upcoming celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day, or maybe the bag of wilted spinach in the refrigerator - something inspired me to make green eggs. Notice, there’s no ham in this dish, just green and eggs (see photo).

I was looking for an alternative to the traditional Saint Patrick’s Day meal of salty and watery corned beef and cabbage. By the way, the name comes from the use of the word corn to refer to any grain and the phrase “grains” of salt; corned beef is simply salt-cured beef. Instead of purchasing an overpriced and shockingly pink package of corned beef in the supermarket, I wanted to make my own.

There are various recipes to corn a beef brisket, all calling for a generous amount of salt. No need to worry if you’re watching salt intake. Because the corned beef will be boiled after brining, most of that salt will migrate from the meat into the cooking water. However, that’s also a good reason not to boil your cabbage and potatoes in the same pot as the beef; cook them separately to control the salt level in your vegetables.

The key elements to a delicious corned beef are pink curing salt (sodium nitrate) and pickling spices. Sodium nitrate is the element in the brine that produces the distinctive red color and signature flavor of corned beef. You can omit the pink salt if you choose, but you’ll depend upon your pickling spice mix to provide the flavor interest. Also, without the bright coloring, your brisket will be a drab gray.

Commercially packaged corned beef usually tucks pickling spices in a small cellophane sleeve under the outer plastic wrapping. You’ll find it’s mostly inexpensive yellow mustard seeds, some caraway seeds, black peppercorns and stray bits of bay leaf. The brining step has already been completed, and the only thing left is to simmer the brisket.

If you plan to cure a brisket, you’ll need to begin at least a week before you want to serve the meat. The process is simple: make the brine; let it chill; add the meat; brine for a week; boil and serve. There’s a long list of ingredients in the pickling spices, some of which you may not have on hand. If you don’t want to mix your own, you can find decent pickling spice mixtures from mail-order sources like Penzey’s or in the McCormick spice section at the supermarket.

The recipe here is for a two- to three-pound brisket and uses a zip-top storage bag for the brining step. If you double the recipe for a larger piece of beef, you can use a large Dutch oven or soup pot for the brine and may need a plate or pot lid to hold the meat under the liquid.

To round out the Saint Patrick’s Day menu, serve the corned beef with parsley potatoes, steamed cabbage and brown soda bread. Unlike regular soda bread, this is made with whole-wheat flour, rolled oats and wheat germ to create a denser texture than with white flour. This version doesn’t include any sweetener or fruit; it’s designed to be eaten with rich Irish butter or cheese.

Now, to answer the question you didn’t ask - we wanted a holiday-themed dish, but I didn’t leave myself enough time to make a corned beef, so we’re just having green eggs (without ham) - so sorry, Sam.

Green Egg Pie
1 t butter
2 sliced leeks
2/3 C chopped mushrooms
1 lb steamed spinach
1/4 t nutmeg
4 eggs
1 1/2 C evaporated skim milk
1 C shredded low-fat cheddar
salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of a pie pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the sliced leeks. Sauté until they begin to soften. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Completely drain the steamed spinach, wrapping it in paper towels and squeezing to remove any trace of liquid. Stir the spinach into the skillet and sauté until all liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle with nutmeg; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and evaporated milk until smooth. Add the cheese and the vegetable mixture to the eggs; stir until combined. Pour into the prepared pie pan and bake for 50 minutes.

Corned Beef Brisket
2- to 3-lb. beef brisket
2 t pickling spices
Pickling spices:
2 t whole allspice
2 t mustard seed
2 t coriander seed
2 t red pepper flakes
1 t whole cloves
2 t whole black peppercorns
3 crumbled bay leaves
1 t ground ginger
8 C water
1 C Kosher salt
1 T pink curing salt
2 T pickling spices
1/4 C brown sugar
small piece stick cinnamon

Pickling spices: Place the allspice berries, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, cloves and peppercorns in a dry skillet. Heat on high until you start to hear the mustard seeds pop; remove from heat and place spices in a small bowl. Use the back of a spoon or mortar and pestle to crush some of the seeds; stir in ginger and bay leaves.

Brine: Combine ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then immediately remove from heat. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until well chilled.

Curing: Place the brisket in a large zip-top bag and add enough chilled brine liquid to fill the bag. Squeeze out air as you seal the bag. Place the bag in a pan (to catch any leaks) in the refrigerator for at least five days. Turn the bag over each day to evenly distribute brine over meat.

Brisket: Remove the meat from the bag and discard brine. Rinse brisket with cold water and place in a pot just large enough to fit the meat snugly. Add about 1 1/2 inches of water and 2 t pickling spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to keep barely simmering. Cook until the meat is fork tender, from 3 to 4 hours.

Irish Brown Soda Bread
1 C whole-wheat flour
1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C rolled oats
1/4 C wheat germ
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3 T melted butter
1 C buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Combine the flours, oats, wheat germ, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the buttermilk and butter. Keep mixing until blended and the dough holds together. Form it into a ball and place on prepared baking sheet. Cut an x across the top with a sharp knife. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

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