February 24, 2020

Silky Butternut Squash Soup

I love soup. This is an easy-to-make, one-pot, puréed vegetable soup that is so satisfying, you'll look forward to the next bowl even while you're finishing the first one.

The curry powder is optional, but does not give a pronounced flavour and complements the soup very nicely. You could substitue a Thai red curry paste, if you wish, for a different character.

If you don't want any potato in the soup (for whatever reason), you can simply use more squash instead. I note that the potato does contribute to the silky texture of the soup.

The croutons made from a toasted cheese sandwich are of course also optional, but such a good idea!

Note about butternut squash: butternut squash has an enzyme just beneath its skin that has a peculiar effect on the skin of your hands when you handle it, leaving your hands feeling very tight and dry afterward. This feeling is not solved by simply washing and moisturizing; to avoid this unpleasantness, I recommend that you wear rubber gloves (such as for washing dishes) while you peel. I use a sturdy Y-peeler, which has no difficulty tearing through the tough skin.

Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 4

15 mL (1 tablespoon) canola oil
1 small onion, chopped (about a cup/250 mL)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 small dried bay leaves (or 1 large)
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, or two sprigs of fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
500 grams peeled butternut squash, diced
150 grams waxy potato, peeled and diced
750 mL (3 cups) vegetable broth/stock or water
250 mL (1 cup) coconut milk
salt if needed (1/2 teaspoon coarse salt if using water)

Start by peeling and chopping the onion, garlic, butternut squash, and potato. You don't need to worry much about the size of the chopped vegetables, because it will all be pureed in the end. Prepare the broth - I used a bouillon concentrate - (or measure out the water), and open/measure out the coconut milk.

In a good-sized soup pot (a 2 litre pot works great), heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and stir. Cook the onions and garlic for about three minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the onions are tender and translucent. If they start to turn brown, lower the heat slightly. Add the bay leaves, white pepper, thyme, and curry powder, and stir through. If you are using water instead of stock or broth, add the salt now. Add the chopped butternut squash and potato, and stir around to coat them with the seasoned onion mixture. Add the coconut milk right away, and stir again. Add the vegetable broth (or water), and stir through to make sure nothing is stuck to the bottom of the pot. Everything should now be in the pot.

Turn up the heat and bring the proto-soup to an almost-boil, and then reduce the heat and cook at a gentle simmer (with the lid off) for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing gets stuck to the bottom. Adjust the heat as you go, if necessary, to keep the liquid bubbling gently. Test the potato and the squash to make sure they are soft. Remove the soup pot from the heat.

Use a ladle to remove at least half of the liquid (no chunks!) to a separate bowl, and reserve. Remove the bay leaves from the pot entirely, and discard - their work is done. There should be just enough liquid left in the pot with the vegetables to help purée everything to luscious smoothness. You can use an immersion blender right in the pot itself, or you can transfer the vegetables and remaining liquid to a blender or food processor. Blend/process until very smooth. Return to the pot (if necessary), and add back in the reserved liquid, stirring to integrate. Taste the soup, and add salt if needed. If the puréeing process has cooled the soup down too much, return the pot to a medium-hot burner, and reheat gently until ready. This would be an excellent time to toast some sandwiches or cut some slices of crusty bread.

Serve immediately, or remove from the heat and allow to cool, before storing in the fridge for up to 2 days, or freeze in an appropriatee container for up to 2 months.

February 17, 2020

Sausage & Butternut Pearl Couscous

This is an intensely fragrant supper dish with a unique and heady spice signature. It's not quite a one-pot meal, because you roast the vegetables on a tray before adding them in the final cooking stage, however, it is still a simple and delicious meal and the leftovers reheat well. The roasted vegetables lend a subtle sweetness that balances out the spices really beautifully.

Sausage & Butternut Pearl Couscous

Adapted from A Little and a Lot

Serves 4 - 6 depending on hunger and whether or not there are side dishes.

Note about Pearl Couscous: this recipe uses moghrabieh, the largest version of pearl couscous (sometimes called Lebanese Couscous). If you are using a smaller pearl, such as ptitim (aka Israeli couscous), the cooking time for the couscous can be reduced to about 6 or 7 minutes. Test as you cook, to be sure!

Note about butternut squash: butternut squash has an enzyme just beneath its skin that has a peculiar effect on the skin of your hands when you handle it, leaving your hands feeling very tight and dry afterward. This feeling is not solved by simply washing and moisturizing; to avoid this unpleasantness, I recommend that you wear rubber gloves (such as for washing dishes) while you peel. I use a sturdy Y-peeler, which has no difficulty tearing through the tough skin.

750 grams butternut squash, peeled, deseeded, and cut into large dice (about 3 cups)
2 large or three medium carrots, peeled and cut into large dice*
30 ml (2 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
300 grams sausage, such as Andouille, Krakauer, Kielbasa, or any pre-cooked grilling sausage
30 ml (2 tablespoons) butter
250 ml (1 cup) minced shallot (about 1 big banana shallot, or a small onion)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup (125 ml) dry white wine or dry vermouth
420 ml (1 3/4 cups) chicken broth or water
12 dried apricots, chopped into six pieces each
225 grams Moghrabieh pearl couscous (if using smaller pearl couscous, reduce cooking time)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oven to 190°C (375°F) degrees with a rack in the middle position.

Place diced carrot and butternut squash in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper, and toss gently to coat. Spread them out on a large, rimmed baking sheet, and roast uncovered for 15 minutes.

While the vegetables roast, slice the sausage into chunky bites. After the carrots and squash have been roasting for 15 minutes, add the sausage slices. Give the pan a shake if necessary to even everything into a roughly single layer, and return to the oven to roast for another 15 minutes. Test one of the larger pieces of squash and carrot to make sure they're tender (if not, roast another five minutes, but they should be fine). If the vegetables and sausage are ready before you need them, simply leave them on their tray on a cooling rack until you're ready for them.

While the vegetables and sausages roast together, combine the spices: cinnamon, star anise, ground ginger, turmeric, smoked paprika, and pepper flakes, together in a small bowl. Heat a large skillet, braising pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the butter and, once the butter has melted, add the minced shallots and stir through. Once the shallots are starting to soften, add the pearl couscous. Stir and cook until the onions are translucent, and the pearl couscous is picking up a hint of colour. Add the spices to the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Pour in the white wine or vermouth, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until much of the wine has evaporated. Stir in the broth or water, bring to a gentle simmer, then add the chopped apricots. Lower the heat enough to maintain a gentle simmer, cover the pan, and let cook for 10-12 minutes (a little less for smaller pearls - test a couscous pearl for doneness, and if necessary, continue to cook until tender). There should still be a little liquid in the pan when the couscous is ready, enough to dress the roasted vegetables once they're added. If your liquid is disappearing too quickly while the couscous cooks, be ready to add a little more - preferably hot water from a recently boiled kettle, so to not disrupt the cooking process.

Once the couscous is tender (or even while it's still a little bit al dente) add the sausage, carrots, and squash to the skillet with the couscous and stir to combine. Let cook gently for another 2-3 minutes to meld the flavours. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in half the cilantro, reserving some to garnish plates.

*Large dice = chunky bite-sized pieces.

February 09, 2020

Apricot and White Chocolate Blondies - Small Batch

This is a slightly different take on a popular lunchbox treat. An electric beater helps make this batter very smooth and well-aerated, which helps keep these blondies from being too dense. There is also a very small amount of baking powder to help offset the weight of the melted white chocolate, so some folks might not consider these properly blondies at all, but I'm not that picky about nomenclature here.

This is a small batch recipe, so it makes only eight blondies (or fewer, if you like 'em big) and you can bake it in a loaf tin. I note that I used an electric beater to mix this rather thick batter, but you could also whip these up by hand, and develop some nice Popeyesque muscles.

Apricot & White Chocolate Blondies
Small Batch

Makes 8 squares

1/2 cup white chocolate chips (80 grams)
1/4 cup butter (56 grams)
1/2 cup lightly packed golden brown sugar (90 grams)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (2.5 mL)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour (160 mL, dip & sweep method)
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
6 dried apricots, cut into eighths
extra white chocolate chips for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180˚C /350˚F, with a rack in the lower centre position. Line a large loaf pan - 24x14 cm (9.5x5.5 inch) - with parchment paper, leaving the edges overhanging enough that you can grab them to lift the finished blondies out of the pan. I usually leave the short sides bare of paper, but rub a little butter along the bottom inside edge to help prevent sticking. This means that I can simply fold a standard sheet of baking paper in half, and slide it into the pan without having to meaure or cut.

Melt the white chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over low heat. Remove from the stove and transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl, and then beat in the brown sugar. Beat in the egg very thoroughly, and then add the vanilla extract. Continue beating until the batter is light in colour and thick. Add in the flour, salt, and baking powder (I dump them all together into a sieve and quickly shake it over the wet batter) and beat again, but just until combined. Stir in apricots pieces with a spoon or spatula.

Pour the batter into the parchment-lined loaf pan and sprinkle extra white chocolate chips over the surface. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean or with a few crumbs (but not wet). Using the overhanging parchment paper, lift the blondies straight up out of the pan, and transfer to a cooling rack. You can leave the paper on until the blondies have cooled for about ten minutes or so, and then gently peel it away. I like to use the clean part from the underside to line the storage tin.

Let the blondies cool completely before cutting into squares and storing.

January 21, 2020

Zucchini Mustard Relish (Small Batch)

Sometimes I just want to make a single jar of relish without committing to an entire pantry full, and this great-tasting tangy little number does just the trick. If the ratios look familiar, it's because I based the recipe on my Jamaican Tomato Relish, but swapping out the tomato for zucchini and changing up the seasonings. That's it! It's just as quick, and just as delicious, but with a completely different flavour profile. Want it hot? Simply add a finely chopped fresh chile pepper of your choice along with the bell pepper, or a half-teaspoon of chile flakes with the other seasonings.

Best of all, it's not too sweet, so you can enjoy it on sandwiches (or sausages/hotdogs), as part of a ploughman's lunch, or alongside Sunday dinner.

Zucchini Mustard Relish
Small/Micro Batch

Makes approximately 500 mL/ 2 cups

300 grams zucchini
125 grams yellow onion
100 grams red bell pepper
60 mL (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
125 mL apple cider vinegar
7.5 mL (1/2 tablespoon) coarse salt
5 mL (1 teaspoon) ground mustard seed
2.5 mL (1/2 teaspoon) ground turmeric
.75 mL (1/8 teaspoon) allspice
2.5 (1/2 teaspoon) cornstarch
15 mL (1 tablespoon) cold water

Finely dice the vegetables, and place them in a medium sauce pan with the sugar. Bring up to a simmer (don't add water - the sugar and the juices from the vegetables will provide ample cooking liquid), and let simmer, covered, over a low temperature for 20 minutes. Add the vinegar, salt and spices, and simmer another 20 minutes (uncovered) over medium heat. Combine the cornstarch and water and simmer two minutes more, to thicken. Allow to cool slightly, and store in a sterilized, sealable glass jar. Let cool completely at room temperature, and then store in the fridge. Use within 6 weeks.

Note: The first cooking stage smells kind of off-putting, because green peppers cooking in sugar is not the nicest smell in the world. Wait it out, it gets better. Also, try not to breathe in the vinegar when you pour it into the dish - the fumes are choke-inducing. Use your kitchen fan, if you have one, and open a window during and after the process, if you can. The smell of zucchini boiling in sugar is not a good one.

SAFETY NOTE This recipe is NOT intended for canning, but rather for immediate consumption. The proportions of ingredients have not been calculated for preserving purposes, and it may not be safe to do so. Additionally, the recipe calls for cornstarch, which is considered a problematic ingredient in canning safety. Please do not attempt to use this recipe for canning.

November 14, 2019

Halloumi Stroganoff

This is, unexpectedly, a Swedish dish. Sweden has a long history of trade with the eastern mediterranean, and it is no surprise that, lovers of cheese as they are, Swedes have embraced not only the salty feta of that region but also the (also salty) halloumi. Halloumi is available everywhere -- huge in salads and sandwiches, particularly wraps, and it's the standard vegetarian option for burgers. Even the big American chains have a halloumi burger option.

So when I opened up the weekly flyer of recipe suggestions from my local ICA supermarket and saw Halloumistroganoff (no space), I thought why not? A quick scour of google suggested that this is indeed a uniquely Swedish concept, as every recipe I could find online was in Swedish. The search results turned up some significantly different versions, too. Although the red lentils featured here were also an ingredient in a number of other versions I found online, some looked closer to a stir fry than a stroganoff. And I confess, that this does look very much like a stroganoff in the traditional sense of the word at all. If anything, it looks like something that was developed by a well-meaning cook who had seen a picture of shahi paneer, but had no idea what it was made of and skewed mediterranean instead.

But that doesn't tell you how good it is! And let me tell you, this is good enough to go into rotation.

Halloumi Stroganoff

Adapted from ICA

Serves 6 (over rice)

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
400 grams halloumi cheese
1 yellow onion
1 long red chili (mild to moderate)
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary (optional)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon dried, crumbled oregano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
400 grams tinned crushed tomatoes
4 cups water, approximately
200 mL uncooked red lentils
100 grams lacinato kale
2 roasted, peeled red peppers (from a jar is fine)
125 mL heavy cream (such as whipping cream)
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

Set your rice to cook. You can use whatever rice you like - we used basmati, which was just fine.

Peel and finely dice the yellow onion. Mince (or crush) the garlic, and de-seed and mince the red chili. These will all go into the pan together, so you can set them aside together. If you are using the rosemary, strip the needles from the stems. Chop or mince the needles as you please. Add to the onion mixture.

Drain the peppers in a sieve, splitting them open with your fingers to remove any seeds or strings. Set them aside to finish prep later.

Open the tinned crushed tomatoes.

Rinse the red lentils well, to remove any grit, and let drain in a sieve.

Remove the thick stems from the kale and chop the leaves into thumb-sized pieces.

Open the halloumi package(s) and drain away any brine. Blot the cheese dry with paper towels, and then dice into bite-sized pieces. They will retain their size when cooked, so keep that in mind when dicing. Blot dry again.

In a large skillet (nonstick is easiest), preheated for a few minutes on low heat, raise the temperature to medium and add one tablespoon of the oil. Tilt the pan to coat the bottom with the oil, and let the oil heat up for about 30 seconds before adding the halloumi cubes in a single layer without crowding. Let them fry gently just long enough to get a bit of colour, turning with tongs or stirring carefully with a wooden spatula as needed, and then remove the cheese to a clean plate. Repeat until all the cheese has been fried and is a bit golden on at least two sides.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the now-emptied skillet, and let it heat for a few seconds before adding the onion/garlic/chili. Stir, sprinkle with about a 1/4 teaspoon of coarse salt, and let fry until the onion is translucent and tender. Add the oregano and stir through.

Stir in the tomato paste, and add a tablespoon or so of water to help loosen it up. Stir and fry the tomato paste for about a minute, and then add the crushed tomatoes (with their juices) and stir again.

Add the drained red lentils and two cups of water to the skillet, and stir through. Bring everything up to a gentle simmer and reduce the temperature to medium-low. Let it simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding more water as needed to get a nicely saucy texture. I used the whole four cups, but your mileage may vary.

While the lentils simmer, blot dry the roasted red peppers and slice lengthwise into thin strips, and then crosswise once or twice to give nice short strips of pepper.

After the lentils are tender, add the roasted red peppers, the kale, and the halloumi to the skillet and stir well. Bring back to a gentle simmer, and let cook for another five to ten minutes.

Add the cream and stir it through the lentils until the colour has become a uniformly paler version of itself. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if you like.

Leftovers freeze beautifully


If you follow the link above, and either read Swedish or plug it into an online translator and slog through, you will note that my recipe diverges quite a bit from the original. This is because the original recipe, as written, was kind of terrible. Right off the bat, there is an item (mangold, AKA the type of chard that is not Swiss) in the ingredient list, which appears nowhere in the actual directions. I've replaced the chard with lacinato kale, but you could use any sturdy green from beet greens to cabbage to collards. I chose to add it midway through the cooking process, to give it time to cook without necessarily robbing it of all texture.

The discerning eye might also notice that the amount of water suggested as necessary to cook 200 mL of raw red lentils is a mere 300 mL. Anyone who has made a red lentil dal knows that is not nearly enough, but I optimistically started with that amount the first time I made it, and was forced to add quite a bit more, in order to make something other than a thick paste. Now, in the original recipe, there is a full cup of Half-and-half (or coffee cream or whatever you have that is about 15%). I've switched to heavy (whipping) cream, which integrates better into cooking food, and reduced the amount by half. However much cream you want to use, or which kind, I note that the picture shown alongside the recipe does not appear to have had any cream of any kind added at all, based on the colour.

And finally, speaking off cream of any kind, the following are the suggested swap-outs to Veganize the dish: exchange the halloumi for extra firm tofu, and switch the cream for a plant-friendly version, such as oat cream. Otherwise, continue as written, although I would suggest tossing the diced tofu with a bit of cornstarch before frying, for best results.

April 24, 2019

Äggakaka med Zucchini - Swedish Egg Cake with Zucchini

Äggakaka is the Swedish cousin of Yorkshire Pudding, and is typically served for lunch (or possibly as a light supper). However, the close kinship of the pancake/popover oeuvre suggested itself as breakfast to me, so that's how we had it. The most traditional versions do not contain zucchini - that appears to be a more modern option - and the garnish is generally thick slices of sidfläsk - fried, salted but uncured pork belly, and of course the ever-popular lingonberries. Adding zucchini gives it a character reminiscent of an oven frittata or firmly set quiche.

I've used chopped bacon for convenience, par-cooked on the stovetop and added straight on top of the äggakaka batter before it goes into the oven, but if you are using full slices of pork belly, you'll want to cook them separately, and simply lay them over the finished dish before serving.

Äggakaka med Zucchini

Serves 2-4 depending on appetite and other dishes

3 large eggs (at room temperature)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup whole milk
pinch kosher salt
300 grams zucchini, shredded
1 tablespoon butter
125 grams chopped bacon (or 4 thick slices of uncured pork belly).

Place a 23cm/10" skillet on the middle rack of a cold oven, and set it to preheat to 225°C/425°F. Set a second skillet (for the bacon) to preheat over low heat on the stovetop.

In a mixing bowl, whisk/beat the eggs until smooth (whisk or electric beaters are fine) and add the flour. Whisk/beat again until smooth. Add the milk and salt, and stir through again. Grate the zucchini using a box grater on the large hole side. I like to slice the zucchini lengthwise, stopping just short of the stem-end, and then holding it together to grate into shorter strands, but you can use longer strands, too. Squeeze the excess water from the zucchini, and stir it into the batter.

Let the batter stand while you cook the pork. If you are using uncured pork belly, start frying it over medium temperature now, and it will continue to cook through while the äggakaka goes into the oven. If you are using bacon, turn the heat to medium high and stir fry the bacon pieces until they are about half-cooked. Drain the excess fat, and use a slotted spoon to remove the meat from the pan.

When the oven has come fully up to temperature, remove the skillet (carefully, of course, it's very hot) and add the butter to the skillet. Let the butter melt and swirl the pan to coat the entire bottom of the skillet. Pour the batter into the hot pan, giving it a shake to level the zucchini. Add the half-cooked bacon to the top of the batter (avoiding, if possible, about a couple of centimetres around the edge of the pan), and return the pan to the preheated oven. Cook for 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden, and then serve with lingonberry preserves. If serving for lunch or dinner, a green salad would be a good addition.

It is very easy to slice the äggakaka into portions with the side of a firm spatula.

April 15, 2019

Cracked Barley Spring Salad with Asparagus

Springtime in Europe means asparagus season is upon us. When we lived in Germany, it was 90% white asparagus (also delicious, but needs to be handled a bit differently), but here in Sweden I've seen mostly green. Green asparagus makes a terrific salad ingredient - blanched and shocked to stop the cooking, it retains its fresh flavour and tender-crisp texture beautifully.

I accidentally bought cracked barley (aka barley grits) instead of pearl barley, whilst navigating the aisles of a Swedish supermarket. Relatively undaunted, I carried on with using it in different ways, from plain side dish to jambalaya, to salad. Salad was the clear winner here. You could use whole pearl barley instead, or even couscous or quinoa or bulgur, if that's what you've got on hand. Similarly, you could swap out the chickpeas for white beans, if the fancy takes you.

While the salad is a complete vegan meal in itself, we had some eggs to use up, so I made devilled eggs with feta as a topper. You could also add crumbled feta into the salad itself, if you wanted the extra protein without the extra effort.

Double the recipe if you like - it will keep well in the fridge, and make a terrific work/school lunch.

Cracked Barley Spring Salad with Asparagus

Serves 2

1/2 cup cracked barley
115 grams drained, cooked chickpeas (about half a 400 gram can)
1 scallion
10 spears green asparagus
8 cm English cucumber
2 - 4 tablespoons lightly chopped dill


3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, pressed

Lemon wedges for squeezing (optional)

Cook the cracked barley according to directions. I used 2:1 (water:barley), bringing the mixture to a full boil and then covered tightly and reduced the temperature to low heat to cook for 35 minutes, followed by 10 minutes resting off the heat before opening the lid.

While the barley cooks, you have plenty of time to drain and rinse the chickpeas and prepare the vegetables and dressing. If you find tinned chickpeas have a metallic flavour, try rinsing them with boiling water, and then draining thoroughly.

For the asparagus, trim the woody end from the stalk and slice them on the diagonal into bite-sized pieces. Bring a pot of water to the boil, and blanche the asparagus pieces for no longer than 2 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with a fork. Drain immediately and plunge into cold or iced water to stop the cooking process. Leave them in the cold water (replace the water if it gets warm) while you make the dressing.

For the dressing, combine all of the ingredients and beat vigorously with a fork or whisk until you have a smooth emulsion. Set aside until ready to use.

You can also add the dill into the dressing, but for some reason I usually add them separately. Either way, remove the heavy stalks from the dill and give it a rough chop. Slice the scallion finely on the diagonal and set aside.

Slice the chunk of cucumber into quarters, lengthwise. Stand each piece on its end to easily trim away the seeds with your knife, before dicing the cucumber flesh into small pieces. If you have a field cucumber, you will need to remove the skin as well, which you should do first off.

Once the cracked barley has finished cooking and resting, remove the lid and stir through with a rice paddle or fork to fluff up the texture and keep it from clumping. Then, add the dressing to the still-hot barley, and stir through. The hot barley will soak up the dressing very quickly, and it will help separate the grains a bit more. Drain the cooled asparagus, and add to the barley, along with the chickpeas, cucumber, scallion, and dill.

Gently mix everything together, and turn out of the cooking pot into bowls or a fridge-friendly sealable container. (You can serve it still slightly warm, or chill first.) Serve with extra lemon wedges for squeezing over individual portions.

This keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for a few days, and makes an excellent packed lunch or light supper.

March 26, 2019

Wagon Wheel Skillet Dinner

I love skillet dinners. They are a terrific way to get a home-cooked meal on the table with minimal cleaning up required, tend to be quick and easy to make, and are always well received. This Wagon Wheel Skillet Dinner hits all three of those points with ease. Of course, you can also use any other short pasta shape, but these rotelle seemed perfect to the southwest theme. If you like a saucier texture, more like a chili mac, feel free to double the salsa, or add a cup of crushed tomatoes.

This recipe relies heavily on the fresh chorizo for its seasoning, but you can always add additional cumin, chipotle, ancho, and Mexican oregano if your sausage is very mild.

Wagon Wheel Skillet Dinner

Serves 4

300 grams fresh Mexican-style chorizo
200 grams short pasta, such as rotelle/wagon wheel shape
2 cloves garlic
2 jalapeño peppers
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
250 mL frozen corn kernels/niblets (about a cup)
250 mL prepared tomato-based salsa, heat level of your choice
3 tablespoons tomato paste
500 mL water or chicken broth/stock, plus extra water if needed
225 grams cooked black beans (eg. a 400 gram can, drained)
1 red bell pepper
Tabasco pepper sauce to taste
Shredded cheese of your choice, to finish
Cilantro and/or avocado to garnish, if you like

Set a large skillet to warm on the lowest burner setting while you prepare the ingredients. Remove the chorizo from its casing and chop roughly. Mince or crush the garlic and set aside. Remove seeds from jalapeños and finely chop. Measure the cumin. Measure out the corn and the salsa. Drain the black beans in a sieve, and rinse them well if using canned ones. Measure the tomato paste. It's a time-saver to heat the stock or water, but not essential.

Turn up the heat under the skillet, and let it come up to medium-high. Add the chopped, skinless chorizo, and fry it in its own fat, stirring periodically, until the meat starts to turn golden brown (about six to eight minutes). Add the minced/crushed garlic and stir through. Add the jalapeños and the cumin and stir through. Cook and stir for about a minute, and then add the frozen corn kernels, and stir them through, too. Give them about a minute on their own, and then add the prepared salsa and the tomato paste, and stir through. You can immediately add the pasta and the broth or water, and stir everything carefully together.

Bring the mixture up to almost boiling, then cover the pan and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 10 - 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until the pasta is tender. The length of time is really going to depend on which pasta you are using, so test the pasta as needed. While the pasta cooks, dice the red bell pepper and grate the cheese.

When the pasta is almost tender, add the drained black beans and the diced bell pepper, and stir through. Bring the temperature back up to a simmer, and if it is looking too dry (it should be just slightly saucy) add extra water - maybe half a cup or so, as needed, to get a pleasingly consistency. Reduce the heat again, and simmer for another five minutes to heat the peppers and beans through. Remove the lid and sprinkle Tabasco sauce over the skillet, and then gently stir it through. Turn the burner off. Taste the pasta to confirm that it is cooked through, and if necessary add 1/4 teaspoon salt (probably not necessary if you have used broth - it depends on the existing saltiness of the chorizo, the beans, and the salsa).

Sprinkle with cheese and cover briefly cover again to let the cheese melt. Serve with cilantro if you like (we were out, and so we served it with diced avocado to squeeze in an extra vegetable.

This dish heats up very well in the microwave (add a bit of extra cheese if you're feeling frisky) and so makes an excellent lunch.

March 05, 2019

Black Bean Soup

This is based on a Mayan recipe for a very simple black bean soup with big, striking flavours. It is easy to cook the beans the day before, and start from there. It is quite filling as a main dish, but half-sized portions make a terrific starter. The soup shown in the picture above includes finely diced ham, which is a purely optional add-in to a recipe that is otherwise completely plant-based.

Black Bean Soup

Serves 4

1 cup dried black beans (no need to soak)
water to cover beans
5 cups water (extra) or stock of your choice
2 tablespoons canola or corn oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
1 teaspoon dried pequin (aka piquín) chiles, crushed
1 medium or large tomato, peeled, seeded & diced
1/2 teaspoon dried epazote
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup dry sherry
Freshly ground black pepper
cilantro to garnish

Part 1 - Cook the beans

Rinse the beans well - you don't want grit or dust in your finished dish. Also give them a quick look-over to make sure there aren't any cunningly disguised little rocks in there - sometimes you find little tiny stones or other debris in dried beans.

Cover the rinsed beans with fresh water, up to about 5 centimetres above the beans. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the beans are quite tender, stirring occasionally. This can take as little as an hour or as long as two or two and a half hours, depending on how old your beans are. Play it by ear, but don't let the beans boil hard, or they will split and turn quite mushy. Most of the time, I find that dried black beans are ready in just one hour. Once the beans are tender, you can add a little salt - if you will be using stock in the second part, make sure you don't over-salt at this stage. You can also skip salt entirely until Part 2 and then adjust to taste. Note that if you have hard water (or beans of dubious age), a scant pinch of baking soda added to the water when you begin to cook the beans will help soften them more quickly. You can make the beans a day ahead, and then proceed from this point when you want to serve them. If you will be making the soup at a later date, allow the beans to cool and then refrigerate in their cooking liquid. Once they are completely cold, you can freeze them if you like.

Part 2 - Make the soup

If you are making the soup straight away after cooking the beans, you can prepare and sauté the vegetables while the beans simmer in Part 1 above. 

Remove two thirds of the beans to a blender or food processor and puree. If you have an immersion blender, you can certainly use it right in the pot, but in that case you will want to remove about a third of the whole beans before pureeing (they will be stirred back in later, after the vegetables are added).

In a medium frying pan, preheated over medium heat, heat the oil and sauté the finely chopped onion, chopped garlic, and the pequin chiles until the onion is soft. Add the prepared diced tomato, epazote and cumin and stir until well blended. Add the onion mixture to the black bean purée and purée the mixture again until as smooth as possible. Combine the whole beans and the puréed mixture in the soup pot and add the five cups of extra water (or stock) and simmer gently, stirring frequently until the soup thickens and its components integrate. This takes only about five to ten minutes, in my experience.

If you want an even heartier soup, you could at this point add smoked tofu, diced ham, or diced chicken, as you wish, and simmer gently to heat the new additions through, stirring frequently. Remove any thick stems from the epazote that might have escaped the food processor. Add the sherry and stir through. Taste the soup and add more salt if needed, and it's ready to serve. Add cilantro to individual servings, or substitute finely sliced green onion if preferred.

I like to serve this with crispy baked flour tortilla-crackers, and sometimes a drizzle of contrasting hot sauce to add brightness. You can also top the soup with a scoop of salsa (preferably not cold from the fridge).

The soup also freezes very well, as do the cooked beans from Part 1.

January 28, 2019

Biff à la Lindström: Swedish ground beef patties

We've just moved to Sweden, and I am currently cooking in a furnished apartment with a minimalist kitchen, but I couldn't wait to dive into Swedish cuisine. This little gem caught my eye right away, and I'm really glad we tried it.

Biff à la Lindström isn't an ancient dish by any means, but it has become a beloved classic nonetheless. Its origins trace unanimously to an artillery captain named Henrik Lindström, whose family purchased the Hotel Witt in Kalmar, in Southeast Sweden. This dish was added to their menu shortly thereafter. Henrik Lindström was raised in Russia, which is suggested by the inclusion of chopped beets and pickles in the meat mixture, but as far as I know there isn't an analogous Russian dish. Those of you familiar with the French dish Steak Tartare will note a number of similarities in the ingredients and preparation...up to the point where these ones are dropped onto a hot skillet (although the "aller-retour" version is indeed lightly fried). Interestingly, the term "tartare" also suggests a Russian heritage, but again, no true link In any event, these days it makes a frequent appearance on Swedish restaurant menus, and is just as frequently made at home. It's very easy.

You can choose to make small patties, as I have here, or larger, more hamburger-sized patties. In fact, there's nothing at all stopping you from turning this into a burger complete with bun and condiments (I think I'll give that a go myself, in fact). If you're serving it in the classic Swedish mode, with boiled potatoes, you can also add a fried egg on top.

Biff à la Lindström

Adapted from Tasteline

Serves 4

500 grams ground beef (or mixed beef and pork)
125 mL / 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh breadcrumbs (not packed)
45 mL / 3 tablespoons cold water
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons ground black pepper
100 mL / 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
3 cornichons, finely chopped
6 slices pickled beets, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup chopped)
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 - 2 tablespoons butter (for frying)

If desired, a cup of hot stock, broth, or water, and a spoonful of pickled beet juice to make a pan sauce.

Mix the breadcrumbs and water and let it rehydrate for about 10 minutes, while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Finely chop the onion and sauté in a teaspoon of butter for about 2 minutes, or until softened but not browned. Remove from the heat and let cool. Beat the egg with the salt and pepper in a small bowl. Chop the cornichons, beets, and capers, and set aside.

Combine the ground meat with the cornichons, beets, and capers. Stir in the seasoned beaten egg, and then the damp breadcrumbs. Shape into 4 or 8 patties. If you can, let them stand for an hour, covered, in the fridge, for the flavours to meld.

Fry the patties in a tablespoon of butter over medium heat for (about 3 minutes per side for small ones, 6 - 8 for larger/thicker patties).

If you are making a pan sauce, remove the patties to a platter.

Whisk the stock, broth or water into the emptied frying pan. Add a spoonful of the beet juice if you like, for extra colour. Add a teaspoon or two of butter and boil, whisking until slightly thickened. Spoon over the patties on each plate.

Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes and salad or other green vegetable.