March 18, 2017

DDR Wurstgulasch mit Kartoffeln: East German Sausage Stew (with potatoes)



This is a classic dish from the days of two separate German states, using cheap, variable ingredients and single pot preparation. The type (and amount) of sausage used depended on availability and one's position in society, and the tomato-y base could be anything from fresh vegetables, to ketchup, to tomato paste mixed with water, to letscho (AKA lecsó in Hungarian and leczo in Polish, amongst others), a prepared sauce made primarily from tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Availability of such things was unpredictable, although it should be noted that wartime East Germany's tables didn't suffer quite the same extreme shortages common in the Soviet Union or economically squelched areas like Romania. For those who had it, this was one of its uses.

This recipe is both filling and strangely satisfying, and I imagine that for folks raised on the stuff it is either a slightly guilty comfort food, or a horrifying memory of childhood. Possibly both.

There are a number of recipes online, most of which have a very similar basic recipe, with whatever additions the author fancies, from mushrooms to eggplant. I've chosen a minority version of the dish that incorporates potatoes, to make it a one-pan meal. More commonly, the dish without the addition of the potatoes would be served over noodles (a classic school lunch version), or over mashed potatoes.



DDR Wurstgulasch mit Kartoffeln

Serves 4

4 Frankfurter Würstchen (aka European Wieners in North America) or equivalent sausages, such as Bockwurst, sliced
1 large onion, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced (optional)
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 cup letscho OR canned diced tomatoes with their juices
1 tablespoon butter, vegetable oil, or bacon fat (margarine or bacon fat would be classic from the era)

If you are using larger sausages, you will want to dice them rather than just slicing them.

In a large skillet, heat the butter (or oil, bacon fat, or margarine) over medium-high heat and gently fry the sausages, onion, and bell peppers until the onions are softened and the sausage pieces are at least a bit browned, and then add two or three tablespoons of water, and stir through. Let cook for a couple of minutes until the water is mostly absorbed/evaporated, and the mixture is still a bit loose (not sticking to the pan).

Add the tomato paste and ketchup, and stir through, adding a bit more water if you like to achieve a sauce consistency. If you are using the letscho or tomatoes, add them now and stir them through. Add the diced potatoes (if using). Continue to cook and stir until the letscho is bubbly and integrated into the sauce (about 10 minutes without potatoes, 20 minutes with potatoes), or the tomatoes have cooked down. Tomatoes will take a bit longer than letscho to cook down. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water to thin it out. If it is too thin (should be unlikely), add a slurry of cornstarch and water (1/2 teaspoon cornstarch in a tablespoon of water) to the dish and cook until thickened. Test the potatoes for doneness, and when they are ready, it's time to serve.

If you are making the non-potato version, you might serve this over short noodles (school-canteen-style) or over mashed or separately boiled potatoes.

A final optional ingredient is finely sliced or diced sour pickles (cucumbers), whose sourness give the dish a bit of a Soljanka flavour - perhaps the Soviet influence? Some recipes include the pickles with the letscho, and other add them at the end, so if you want to use them, take your pick. Of course, they would be a bit softer in texture if cooked into the dish.

Most recipes for this dish are merely a list of ingredients without proportions, as it is based on affordability and would be customized by what one had on hand at the time, in whatever quantity was available.

March 09, 2017

Dutch Pannekoeken


Let's start by clarifying that this is not at all the same as a "Dutch Baby" pancake. This pancake is cooked entirely on the stovetop, and has more in common with the French crêpe than the puffy, popover type of pancake. It is notable for its silky texture, which is derived from beaten egg and not a chemical leavener, and famous for the variety of fillings and/or toppings, both sweet and savoury.

Yes, fillings and/or toppings. At it's most simple, the pancake is topped with the ingredients of choice after cooking, but there are other versions that require you to cook the fillings right into the pancake. The ones with fillings are accomplished by laying the (paper thin) filling ingredients in a single layer on the raw side of the pancake while the first side cooks, which then sink a bit into the batter until the pancake is flipped, and they cook right into it. Some recipes call for adding a little extra batter once the fillings have been laid, but this makes a much thicker pancake, and you don't get to see the various toppings at the end.

We're big fans of savoury toppings, so that's my usual go-to, but you can of course also deploy syrup or even the classic combination of a dusting of confectioner's sugar and a squeeze of lemon.

If you're making them filling-style, you should precook any fillings that will take longer than a few minutes in a hot pan to cook, or they might still be partially raw when the pancake is finished. Thinly sliced mushrooms don't need to be precooked, but bacon probably should be.

This recipe makes two large pannekoeken, which is perfect for two people. Double, or even triple the recipe if you're cooking for more (and keep the finished ones warm in the oven until ready to serve).

It's a good idea to pre-warm the plates so that the pancakes don't go cold the instant they're plated.

Dutch Pannekoeken

Serves 2

1 egg, beaten
250 mL milk
1 cup flour
pinch of salt

butter for frying

Toppings of your choice (sausage, mushrooms, cheese, in this case)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg until very frothy. I use a whisk, but you could use a food processor or blender, too. Slowly add in the milk, continuing to whisk, and then slowly whisk in the flour and salt. Unlike most pancake recipes, where you need to be careful not to overmix or risk toughness, you can beat these ones until your arm tires, if you like, as long as you add the ingredients in the right order.

You can make the pannekoeken right away at this point, or you can let the batter rest a bit (good time to take a shower, for example, or even just use the time to prepare your toppings).

When you're ready to cook, heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add a little butter (a couple of teaspoons or so is fine) and swirl it around to slick the bottom of the skillet. Add half the batter, and swirl the pan again to distribute the batter to the edge of the pan.

If you are filling your pancakes, as opposed to topping them after they're cooked, now is the time to lay your ingredients in a single, sparse layer over the wet surface. Continue to let the pancake cook a few minutes until the bottom is nicely dark golden brown, and then flip to cook the other side. When the second side is also done, flip the pancake onto the plate so the filling is showing. Here's one made filling-style, with ham, mushrooms, and green onion. It's not quite as pretty, but it's just as delicious (cheese was added post photography):



Otherwise, simply slide the plain pancake out without flipping it again and, if topping, arrange your topping ingredients immediately.



Serve, or keep warm whilst you cook the other pancake.



March 04, 2017

Zhajiangmian: Beijing-style "Fried Sauce Noodles"


This is a delicious and simple dish (炸酱面, zhá jiàng miàn) that appears in a variety of styles within China, as well many iterations and similar dishes in other parts of Asia, from the almost black Jajangmyeon in Korea to the dry-style ramen dish Ja Ja Men in Japan.

It's easy to make if you have a well-stocked Asian pantry, and it's good enough to warrant picking up any ingredients you might not already have on hand. I like spicy food, so I've added a bit of heat that may or may not appear in restaurant versions (some will serve it either way, and some will simply bring you a jar of chile oil if you ask). The amount of umami in this is ridiculous.

The uncooked vegetable garnishes are an important part of this dish, bringing a fresh crunch and brightness to the dark heat and intensity of the sauce. The use of dark soy sauce instead of regular brings depth to the colour of the fried sauce.

This serves two generously.

Zhajiangmian

Lightly adapted from The Woks of Life

Serves 2

175 grams thick wheat-based dry noodles

250 grams ground pork
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon peanut oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3 slices ginger, minced finely
4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely grated
6 fresh mushrooms (shiitake, if available), finely chopped
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoon chile bean paste
2 tablespoons yellow soybean paste
1/2 tablespoon sambal oelek or 1/2 - 1 teaspoon chile oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 cup water

Garnish
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup julienned cucumbers
1/2 cup julienned scallions

In a mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, salt, cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon peanut oil, and white pepper, and stir well until completely integrated. Set aside.

Prepare the mushrooms, ginger, and garlic. In a small bowl, combine the Hoisin sauce, chile bean paste, yellow soybean paste, sambal (or chile oil), and dark soy sauce, and mix well.

Set a large pot of water on to boil for the noodles. Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a medium or large skillet, and add the meat mixture. Fry and stir, breaking up the meat with a spatula, until the meat is well browned, and then add the chopped mushrooms. Continue to fry over medium high heat, adding a tablespoon of water if necessary to prevent sticking or burning. When the mushrooms have softened and shrunk a bit in size, add the sauce mixture and stir through until the pork is thoroughly coated. Add the water, stirring it in slowly, and simmer gently until the sauce is thick. While it simmers and the noodles are cooking, prepare the fresh vegetables - julienne the carrots, cucumber, and scallions.

When the noodles are cooked, drain them divide between two bowls. Spoon the meat mixture over the noodles, and garnish with the julienned fresh vegetables.

February 25, 2017

Black Beans & Rice with Sausage


This recipe takes inspiration from those dry packet mixes for black beans and rice, but using fresh ingredients and a lot less salt. It's a fairly quick meal to make, labour-wise (about 45 minutes, most of which is unattended cook time), and while there's a bit of chopping involved, there's not a lot of clean up: cutting board, knife, skillet, spatula, bowls, forks. It's easy, it's delicious, and it reheats well for lunch the next day.

If you want a more Cajun-y version, replace the seasonings listed below with a Cajun spice blend.

Vegetarians/Vegans could either replace the sausage with a similarly styled plant-based sausage, smoked tofu, or simply increase the amount of black beans.

Black Beans & Rice with Sausage

Serves 4

140 grams Cabanossi sausage (or Kolbassa)
2 medium stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 medium red or green bell pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable base (I use reduced sodium)
2 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup parboiled rice
2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste!)
2 dash Tabasco pepper sauce
1 3/4 cups water, from a recently boiled kettle
sliced green onions for garnish (optional)

Prepare the sausage by slicing it once lengthwise and then slice cross-wise into half-coin pieces. Prepare the vegetables by peeling or trimming as needed and dicing into thumbnail-sized chunks. I like to string my celery, if it's particularly tough. Mix the seasoning spices in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large skillet, sear the sausage slices, then push to the sides of the skillet and add the diced onion, garlic in the olive oil until it starts to turn translucent. Add the diced pepper, beans and spices, and stir through gently. Let cook, stirring, for about a minute, and then add the Tabasco sauce, rice, and 1 & 3/4 cups boiling water. Bring the mixture back up to a simmer, stirring, then immediately cover. Turn down the heat to a bare simmer and leave undisturbed (no peeking!) for 25 minutes. When it is done, stir through gently. Sprinkle with sliced green onions and serve.

February 17, 2017

Buffalo Chicken Pasta


There are oh-so-many recipes for buffalo chicken pasta casseroles out there, and they're all surprisingly different. This is not a casserole, however, but a pasta sauce made from chicken and a buffalo-wing-style sauce, layered with blue cheese dressing and onto cooked long noodles, and topped with crumbled blue cheese. As you eat, the sauce and cheese combine to coat the pasta so that each bite is rich, delicious, and extremely satisfying.

If you are using the crumbled blue cheese, I recommend a mild style, such as Danish Blue. I used a German blue cheese called Kornblume, which is similar in flavour profile. I don't recommend gorgonzola or roquefort for this, as delicious as they are. The gorgonzola has the wrong texture and flavour, and the roquefort is a bit strong in this context. Maytag would work well for people who like their blue cheese a bit more intense.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta

Serves 2

150 grams dry linguine
1 tablespoon of butter

250 grams chicken breast, poached gently and shredded
125 mL Frank's Red Hot sauce (original style)
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

125 mL blue cheese dressing
4 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese (optional)

Cook the linguine to your preferred doneness and drain. Toss with a tablespoon of butter, and divide between two pasta bowls. While the linguine cooks, combine the hot sauce, butter, and Worcestershire sauce in a small skillet, and stir to combine. Add the shredded chicken and stir through to ensure that all of the chicken is nicely coated in the hot sauce. Keep it warm over low heat with the lid off, to let the sauce thicken a bit.

Once the linguine is plated, spoon a little of the blue cheese dressing over each bowl, and then divide the chicken between the bowls (use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken from any excess sauce). Spoon the rest of the blue cheese dressing over the chicken, and then add the crumbled blue cheese. Add a final drizzle of the hot sauce mixture over the top, and devour immediately.

To keep the buffalo wing theme going, we had this with a salad of finely sliced celery and carrot, topped with another bit of the blue cheese dressing. It made a refreshing contrast to the richness of the pasta, and is highly recommended.

Finally, I should note that if you make a bit more chicken than you need for this recipe, the leftovers make a fairly stunning grilled cheese. Yeah.

February 11, 2017

Kasha Varnishkes: Buckwheat & Bowties


I know it looks as if it might be a ground meat sauce coating those farfalle noodles, but it isn't; those are buckwheat groats. This dish may seem a bit unusual to the uninitiated, but this staple of modern Ashkenazic Jewish cooking is a beloved comfort food favourite for many as either a side dish or a meal in its own right. Meat eating families might have it next to brisket or roast chicken, but it is easily made ovo-lacto vegetarian replacing the chicken schmaltz with butter or vegetable oil, and replacing the chicken stock with mushroom stock or vegetable broth. Even on its own, it is a hearty, filling meal.

According to my *ahem* extensive internet research, this dish is likely a deconstructed take on vareniki, a Ukrainian small, filled dumpling (similar to Russian pelmeni or Polish pierogi). Instead of the time-consuming process of forming the dumplings, the buckwheat filling was just mixed with regular noodles, and a new classic dish was born, with the new name, varnishkes.

Since most recipes start with simply cooking the buckwheat (kasha), I referred back to the successful kasha recipe from a Polish cookbook, then added onions and mushrooms sautéd until darkly golden in chicken fat (collected from a previously roasted chicken) to add layers of flavour to the kasha. Once that was done, I quickly stirred in some cooked pasta, and it was ready to go. This did not take very long to make, but it did use a lot of pots and pans, so a fair bit of washing up was required.

Kasha Varnishkes

Serves 4 - 6

225 grams farfalle (bowtie pasta)

2 medium-to-large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10 large cremini mushrooms (or equivalent), halved and sliced
2 tablespoons chicken schmaltz
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup toasted buckwheat groats
1 beaten egg
2 cups strong chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon salt (if your stock is not already salty)
ground black pepper

If your buckwheat groats are not toasted, you can toast them yourself in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until they smell lovely and toasted. Let cool before proceeding with the recipe.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg well. Add the cooled, toasted buckwheat groats, and stir until very well integrated.

Heat the chicken stock until boiling.

In a sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat, add the buckwheat/egg mixture. Stir continuously, until the grains start to separate themselves from the mass of eggy/buckwheat goo. Then, add the chicken stock, the salt and pepper, and give it one last stir before turning the heat to low, covering, and letting cook for ten minutes. After ten minutes, remove the pan from the heat (leave it covered) and let stand on a cool burner or other safe place for another ten minutes.

While the kasha is cooking, heat the water to boil the pasta, and get started on the onions and mushrooms.

In a large skillet, melt the chicken schmaltz and fry the mushroom slices, in batches, until deeply golden brown. Scrape them to the side of the pan, and add the chopped onions and garlic. Continue to fry, stirring frequently now, until the onions are also turning brown. Taste, and adjust for salt and pepper.

While the onion, garlic, and mushrooms are frying, boil the farfalle until it is cooked to your preference.

Fluff the kasha with a spatula, and add it to the skillet with the onions and mushrooms, and stir through. Drain the farfalle (or use a spider to retrieve them from the water and scoop them directly into the skillet with the kasha mixture. If you happen to have any chicken gold available to you, stirring in a spoonful or two is a wonderful way to add a depth of flavour and sense of luxury to the finished dish. Stir well to coat the noodles with the kasha "sauce" and serve.



We had ours with baked sweet potato coins, and sliced pickled beets.

February 04, 2017

Rice Noodle Rolls: Chee Cheong Fun (and two pan-fried variations)


If you have access to a good Asian grocery store, you might never need to make the noodles from scratch although it's not at all difficult - merely time consuming. Just buy a nice fresh package and proceed below to the serving suggestions. But if, for example, you live in a small European city that doesn't seem to have really figured out yet that Asian cuisines are in fact plural, I hope that you will find this useful.

The time consuming aspect of this recipe lies in the fact that the noodles can only be cooked one at a time, and this makes 13-14 noodle sheets (at least, using the size of pans I have), each of which take 6 - 7 minutes to steam. If you have a better steaming rig than I do, one with stackable layers, you might be able to reduce the time by quite a bit.

Fortunately, you can make these a day or two ahead of when you want to serve them, and just keep them in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.

Chee Cheong Fun (Chinese Rice Noodle Rolls)

175 grams pyramid dumpling rice flour blend (or 150 grams rice flour plus 25 grams tapioca flour)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
200 mL cold water
300 mL hot water (from a recently boiled kettle)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon canola oil

Combine the flour(s) and cornstarch with the salt, and whisk in the cold water. When there are no more lumps, add the hot water, and whisk well, until thoroughly integrated. The batter will look way too thin and watery, but it’s fine. Add the oil and whisk again.

Let the batter rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Set up your steamer, and two or three trays that you can use to shape the noodle sheets. I use foil trays, the same kind used for baking or take-out containers. Make sure the trays can lie flat in the steamer, so your noodles are even. Lightly oil the trays, using a pastry brush or similar. Prepare a cold water bath - something large enough to put your steaming trays in, such as a baking dish or larger aluminum pan. Prepare a plate for the finished rolls, by brushing it very, very lightly with oil.

Place the first tray in the steamer (with steam already rising) and (after stirring the batter well) add a very thin layer of batter to the tray. Make sure the bottom of the tray is just barely covered. Cover, and steam for 6 - 7 minutes, or until it looks set. Remove tray from steamer and place it in the cold water bath. Place the next tray in the steamer, and repeat, being sure to stir the batter vigorously before ladling into the tray (it will separate, otherwise).

Let the tray with the cooked noodle rest in the water bath for a minute or two, and then lift it out and use a spatula to free the sides and slowly, with the pan tilted toward you, use the spatula to peel the noodle sheet down from the top, bit by bit, causing it to roll into a tight cylinder. Remove the noodle roll to your resting plate. Brush lightly with oil, especially if you will not be using the rolls until later.

Repeat until all of the batter is used up. How many noodle rolls you get depends very much on how big your trays are, and how thick your noodles. Once they are at room temperature, you can refrigerate them to use later, or even the next day.

As you can imagine, at about seven minutes per noodle, it takes a while to cook all of the batter. Using trays that measure approximately 16x10 centimetres, I got 13 or 14 rolls, and it took over an hour and a half to complete the steaming, because I could only steam one tray at a time. If you have a multi-tiered steaming rig and can handle more trays at a time, that will speed up the process a lot.

Pan fried rice noodle rolls with XO sauce

In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of peanut oil until very hot. While the oil is heating, slice the rice rolls into smaller pieces - from the 10 centimetre rolls I made, I cut the rolls into thirds, but you could also do halves or quarters. I cut them on an angle, to make them look pretty.

The amount of sauce here is for 7 noodle rolls (half a batch), so double it if you're going to fry up the whole amount.

Lay the noodle rolls pieces in the hot skillet, and let them sear lightly. Use a spatula or tongs to flip them over to get both sides. If you are frying all the noodles, maybe go through the searing stage in two batches, so to not overcrowd the pan and remove the finished ones to a holding plate while you fry the second batch.

It only takes a couple of minutes to sear the noodle rolls on each side. Use that time to slice some red chiles and green onion, and to make the finishing sauce:

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons less-sodium soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, pressed

When the noodle pieces have seared on both sides, add of the seared noodles back into the pan just before you add the sauce. Add the finishing sauce and the red chile slices, and gently stir and fry until the noodles have a glossy brown coat. Plate the noodles, and top with green onions and a nice spoonful of XO sauce. Serve immediately.

Pan fried rice noodle rolls with prawns and snow peas

To make a meal of it, simply add some prawns and snow peas. You can sear them either before or after searing the noodle rolls, making use of a holding plate, and then just add it all together into the skillet (or wok!) before you add the sauce.

Proceed as above. Serves 2.

January 28, 2017

Pumpkin Muffins


These were actually made with Hokkaido squash (aka Red Kuri, amongst other names), rather than what we might usually think of as a pumpkin in Canada, but the net effect is the same. You could also use butternut squash. I made this recipe because I had a cup of mashed, roasted squash to use up, but you could also use canned pumpkin. The raisins are optional, but if you like raisins at all, they are a delightful little burst of extra sweetness in a muffin that isn't trying to be a cupcake. Cranberries might be nice, too.

Great for the lunchbox, if that's a thing you do.

Pumpkin Muffins

Adapted from Muffins & More, by Jean Paré (Company's Coming)

Makes 10 - 12 muffins

1.5 cups (375 mL) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (125 mL) raisins (optional)

1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup (90 mL) canola oil
1/3 cup (90 mL) sugar
1 cup (250 mL) pumpkin or squash puree
1/4 cup (60 mL) milk

Pumpkin seeds for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with a rack in the middle. Lightly oil or grease the wells of a 12-cup muffin tin, or line with paper or silicone muffin liners.

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, spices, and raisins in a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg, and the sugar and the oil and beat again. Add the pumpkin, beat until smooth and, finally, add the milk and stir until combined.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and pour the alarmingly coloured wet ingredients into the well all at once. Use a spatula or broad spoon to fold the mixture gently together, until there are no more dry patches. Be careful not to mix too vigorously, or you will get tough muffins. Be gentle.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, coming just barely to the top of each cup. Don't smooth the tops or press the batter down, just let it be lumpy. I got 10 muffins out of this, but the original recipe claims to get 14, so your mileage may vary.

Top each muffin with a few pumpkin seeds, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick (or strand of raw spaghetti) comes out clean.

Let stand for 5 minutes in the tin, and then remove to a rack to cool. These keep well at cool room temperature for a couple of days. After that, put them in the fridge or freezer (well wrapped, of course).

January 21, 2017

Matar Paneer


This is my version of the famous northern Indian vegetarian curry featuring peas (matar or mutter, amongst other spellings) and fresh cheese (paneer). It is a little less rich, and a little less complex than a lot of the versions out there, but that just makes it easier to put on the dinner table on a weeknight.

Obviously it is much more time consuming if you make the paneer yourself, but since I was able to find some in a shop here (hurrah!) I've gone the easy route. You can make the paneer cubes any size you want, although if they're much smaller than sugar-cube, it will be more troublesome to fry them. The cubes shown here are actually a bit on the large side, and probably could have been halved. The recipe works either way. You can also skip the frying stage, but it does lose some of the flavour and texture that make the dish special.

I think it's one of the better things you can do with frozen green peas.

Matar Paneer

Serves 4

350 grams paneer, diced
3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1 inch fresh ginger root, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons garam masala, divided
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1-2 hot green chiles, minced
250 - 325 mL water
200 grams green peas, rinsed under warm water if frozen
3 tablespoons heavy cream

As usual with Indian cuisine, I find it essential to complete all of the prep before starting cooking. Mise en place is peace of mind.

In a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil until shimmering. Add the cubes of paneer, quickly placing them one at a time rather than dumping them all in at once, and sear until slightly browned. Use tongs or a fork to turn the cubes over to brown the other sides. I confess to being lazy, and that I only browned three or four sides for each piece, so that works, too. Remove the finished cubes to a holding plate.

In the emptied skillet, still over medium heat, add the remaining tablespoon of oil, and also add the whole cumin and coriander seeds. Stir them around a bit, and let them toast in the hot oil for a minute or so before adding the onion, ginger, garlic, and salt. Stir and fry until the onion bits are well browned, and then add the turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander seed, and half of the garam masala. Stir the spices through, and then add the tomato paste, and stir that through, also. You can add a tablespoon or so of water if it's really getting difficult to stir. Add the diced tomatoes, and stir and cook for about ten minutes or so, or until the oil starts to separate out from the mass of vegetables. Slowly stir in 250 mL water, and stir and cook until it is a grainy gravy.

If your pan is deep enough, you can use an immersion blender right in the skillet, but if not, remove the coarse sauce to a blender-cup or food processor and process until it becomes a smooth gravy. Return to the skillet (I don't bother to wipe the skillet out in between), and let it return to a gentle bubble. If the mixture is too thick, you can add the extra water but go slow, just adding a bit at a time until you get a gravy consistency you're happy with.

Add the peas to the skillet and stir through. Add the fried paneer cubes, and gently stir through. Cover the pan and turn the heat to low, and let simmer for about ten minutes, or until the peas are cooked and the paneer cubes are heated through. Remove from the heat and stir through the heavy cream. Garnish with cilantro if you wish. Serve with or over basmati rice.

A note on recipes calling for only a tablespoon or two of tomato paste: if you normally buy tomato paste in cans, you might want to consider picking up a tube of tomato paste instead - unlike the cans, they can be stored in the fridge once opened and are perfect for dispensing only a small amount of tomato paste at a time. You can usually find tomato paste in large tubes in Italian delis or specialty shops, if they're not on your usual supermarket shelves.

January 14, 2017

Japanese Ginger Salad Dressing


Ginger salad dressing is so fresh and delicious tasting that it can make even the saddest pile of limp iceberg lettuce palatable. It turns out that it's even better when homemade and you can control the sweetness, so you may need to forcibly restrain yourself from just drinking it down like a smoothie.

I find a lot of the ginger salad dressings I've a had in restaurants to be a bit too sweet for my taste, so I've put very little sugar in this one. If you like your dressings sweet, you might want to taste it after it's made up and then add a bit more sugar and give it a final blitz. This recipe was synthesized from myriad online sources, but none in particular. There are some surprising ingredients, but go with it.

Japanese Ginger Salad Dressing

Makes 2/3 cup

1/4 cup peanut oil*
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1 - 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger root (or finely minced)
1/4 cup sliced green onion - white parts only (about 3-4)
2 tablespoons finely grated carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
1 teaspoon less-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch of ground white pepper

*If you don't use peanut oil, for whatever reason, be sure to use a neutrally flavoured vegetable oil. Strong-tasting oils like olive or walnut are out of place here.

I used a microplane-type grater for the carrot and the ginger, and everything else was just finely chopped by hand. I like a strong ginger flavour, so I used the full 2 tablespoons, but you can scale it back to one if you're feeling mild.

Place everything in the order given in a cup suitable for an immersion-blender (or the cup of your blender or food processor), and blend on high until mostly smooth. This dressing has a lot of body for a vinaigrette, so it will still have a little bit of texture, but that's fine - it's how the dressing is usually served in restaurants, too.

Cover well and refrigerate for a couple of hours before use if possible - but use it up within three days.

To use, simply give it a stir (or a shake, if it's in a jar) and spoon over your composed salad. It can also be used to dress thinly sliced cucumber on its own, or plain, finely shredded cabbage to make a sort of gingery coleslaw.