November 12, 2017

Khichdi and Kheema

Khichdi (aka Khichri, and a number of other variations, खिचड़ी in Hindi) is a rice-and-pulse dish from India that is not only a vegetarian (vegan, in fact) staple, but also very likely the ur recipe for Kedgeree and possibly even Middle Eastern Koshary. It's been around for a long, long time, and is considered to be a very balanced meal on its own - even better, if you can serve it with condiments such as yoghurt or raita, chutney, or go all out for the famous Hyderabadi combination of khichdi, kheema, and khatta.

Kheema (aka keema, कीमा in Hindi) is essentially a simple, loose, ground meat gravy seasoned with accent vegetables and vigorous application of spices as pleases the cook. My kheema tends to vary quite wildly depending on what I have on hand, but is usually at least a bit spicy. Kheema is not generally by nature a vegetarian dish, but one could make it so by using the ground-meat substitute of your choice, or even simply finely minced vegetables. This one has a mixture of ground lamb and beef, as prepared by our local Turkish butcher. The recipe is below the recipe for the khichdi.

I didn't have the necessary sour ingredients on hand to make khatta, but we enjoyed the khichdi and kheema together.

There are different styles of Khichdi, ranging from the dry, pilau-like separate grains you see here to a more risotto-like dish, more of an extremely thick soup or congee than its drier pilau cousin. Because I was using a lentil that holds its shape very tenaciously, I decided to go with the drier style.

Khichdi can be made with any lentil, but this one is made with whole black urad dal - the same pulse that I use to make Kali Dal (black dal), and this dish is therefore Kali dal ki khichdi. Because the lentils give off a lot of dark colour when boiled, I discard the water used to boil the lentils, but if you don't mind a grey dish, you can certainly use the cooking water to also cook the rice.

Kali Dal Ki Khichdi

Serves 4

150 - 180 mL whole black urad dal, picked over and rinsed well
approximately 6 cups cooking water for the dal
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons oil or butter or ghee
1/2 teaspoon kosher or other coarse salt
1-3 dried red chilies, left whole OR 1 long fresh chili, seeded and chopped.
200 grams basmati rice
310 mL water for the rice, rinsed well

You don't need to soak the dal, but you can if you want to. You do need to wash them well, or your dish will be gritty.

In a moderately large pot, bring six cups (or so) of water to a boil. Add the well-rinsed dal, the cumin seeds, the chilies and the minced ginger, and let simmer gently for about 45 minutes, stirring from time to time. The water will be very dark and murky looking. If your dal is a bit old, or you're not convinced of its freshness (mine was rescued from the back of the cupboard), a small pinch of baking soda can be added to the water to encourage the dal to soften nicely as it cooks.

When the dal is tender, drain through a colander, and set briefly aside while you get the rice going: in a medium pot, bring the rice-cooking water and the well-rinsed rice to the barest of bubbles rising to the surface. Add the oil or butter or ghee, the salt, and the drained dal, stir through, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Turn the heat immediately to the lowest setting, and cook undisturbed (no peeking!) for 15 minutes. Transfer the pot to a cold burner (or pot holder) without lifting the lid, and set the timer again for 15 minutes. When the timer goes, you may open the pot and fluff up your rice with a fork or rice paddle.

You'll notice that the dal have congregated in the top third of the dish, so give it a nice fold with a paddle or spatula to disperse them throughout the rice. If you want to serve it in a tidy shape, you can pack it into a small bowl or measuring cup and upend onto the plate or bowl. Otherwise, just spoon it into a bowl and enjoy - with or without accompaniments.

Plain yoghurt is a very common side, and if the khichdi is being eaten on its own, you may want to consider a tempering made from heating a little mustard oil (or butter or ghee) in a small pan, and adding some chili flakes, swirling them about until fragrant, before pouring over the khichdi. Because we were serving this with kheema, we didn't do that extra step.

* * * * *

A note on kheema vegetables: One of the most popular and traditional vegetables to add to kheema is green peas. If you're not using the peppers and/or tomatoes.

Simple Kheema

Serves 4

500 grams ground beef and lamb (both or either)
1 tablespoon butter or oil
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about a cup's worth)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher or other coarse salt
3-4 roma-type tomatoes, cored and seeded, sliced into strips
1-3 red or green hot peppers, cored and seeded, sliced into strips
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
Water, as needed
1 teaspoon cornstarch or 1 tablespoon flour as a thickener (optional)
Cilantro to garnish (optional)

In a large skillet, heat the butter (or oil) over medium-high heat, and when it has melted and foamed out, add the ground meat. Stir and cook the meat, breaking it up with your spoon as you go (it can be as fine or coarsely broken up as you like) until it is thoroughly browned (not just no-longer-pink, you want some golden, flavourful searing on about half of it). Add the salt and the spices (except the garam masala) and stir through again. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger, and continue to stir and fry until the onions are translucent.

If you want a thicker gravy, choose either the cornstarch or wheat flour option (see instructions below) add it now and simmer for about 15 minutes. If you want a thinner gravy, simply add an extra half cup of water now simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the hot peppers and the tomatoes (if it looks like it needs more water to be a nice gravy texture, go ahead and add a little more), and cook a few minutes longer, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are just tender. Garnish with cilantro if you like.

Thickener Options:

Cornstarch: mix the teaspoon of cornstarch with a half-cup of room temperature or cold water, stir until smooth, and then add to the pan. Stir throughout, and watch it thicken the gravy as it comes up to a simmer.

Wheat flour: mix the tablespoon of flour with a cup of room temperature or cold water by shaking together in a tightly lidded cup. Pour the liquid into the pan and stir throughout, and watch it thicken the gravy as it comes up to a simmer.

November 05, 2017

Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf

Pumpkin puree brings a wonderful tenderness (not to mention some vitamins) to this loaf. Glaze it if you must, but it really is perfect just on its own. Great for lunch boxes or as a deluxe side to a cup of tea or coffee. Or brandy.

While I'm a big fan of pumpkin spice, and there are some components of that in this loaf, the chocolate is the main star here.

Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf

Makes one 9x5x3" loaf pan (23x13x8 cm)
Total Prep & Cooking time: approximately 60-70 minutes

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (125 mL) canola oil
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
1 cup (250 mL) mashed pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) cake flour (dip and sweep method)
1/2 cup (125 mL) dutch processed cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher or other coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 175°C/ 350°F with a rack in the middle (or lower middle) slot. Prepare your loaf pan - either lightly oil (or spritz) or line with parchment paper. I oil the ends, and create a parchment "sling" that covers the long sides of the loaf pan, and helps me easily remove the loaf from the pan once it's cooked. The parchment can then be peeled off (or used to help keep the loaf moist, once it's cooled and put away).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beaten eggs, canola oil, sugar, and milk, and stir well with a whisk or mixing spoon. Stir in the mashed pumpkin and vanilla extract and stir again, until smooth.

In a second, smaller bowl, combine the cake flour, sifted cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Whisk to thoroughly mix these dry items.

Add half of the dry mixture into the wet mixture, and stir gently but thoroughly with a fork or large whisk. Add the rest of the dry mixture and stir through just until there are no more dry spots streaking the batter. Handle gently, so as to not overmix and toughen the batter.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf tin, and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Bake for 50 - 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean (or with a couple of crumbs). Test it at 50 minutes, and then monitor if it needs more time. The top may form a craggy surface, like the one you can see here, or it may rise smoothly, depending on whether your oven has hot spots.

Let the loaf stand in its pan on a cooling rack for ten minutes after you take it from the oven, and then remove the pan and let the loaf finish cooling on the rack. If you are using parchment, leave the parchment on the loaf until it has completely cooled enough. Wrap well once completely cooled, and store in the fridge after a few days (if you still have any left!).

October 29, 2017

Lamb Ribs

I'd never really seen lamb ribs for sale until I moved to Europe, and discovered the Turkish grocery store in our small city. I imagine one could get them in Canada from a butcher, but it would likely need to be a special request item, as I've never noticed them on display. Happily, I can get them here any day that I happen by the Turkish grocery - which is also where I get my other lamb cuts - usually cutlets and ground, but they also have whole neck, neck slices, front shoulder, and hind leg. The quality of their lamb is superb, and our intake has gone up significantly since we came here.

Lamb ribs, though, I had no idea what to do with, but I knew that I wanted to try them. The first time I made these, I spread wild garlic leaves (ramsons, or Bärlauch (Bear garlic) in German) and over the ribs, seasoned the meat with salt and pepper, and wrapped them in foil before cooking them in a slow oven for three hours. They were amazing. So, of course I decided to do it again. Wild garlic isn't in season, though, so I went with rosemary. We roasted an extra rack, too, just so that we'd have leftovers to make into sandwiches. I'm so glad we did.

This is easy - quick prep, and little to do but sit around and drink wine while the oven does all the work. It's barely a recipe, and more of a procedure.

You might want to ask the butcher to cut the lamb ribs into two chunks each, for ease of serving later.

Oven-braised Lamb Ribs

serves 2 - 4

1 - 2 slabs lamb ribs, skin on
Fresh herbs - wild garlic, ramps, rosemary, thyme (your choice)
2-4 dried bay leaves
Salt and pepper
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 165°C/300°F with a rack set in the middle. On a large baking sheet (with sides, in case of leaks) lay out enough aluminum foil to enclose the lamb ribs and seal all the edges into a large packet. If you are doing two slabs of ribs, it might be easier to package them separately, depending on your equipment.

Place half of the fresh herbs and a couple of the bay leaves on the foil.

Pat the lamb dry if necessary, and brush lightly with olive oil. You don't need much, because the lamb is a bit fatty and will release quite a bit of fat itself as it cooks. Season each side with salt and pepper (I use ground white pepper) and lay them on top of the herbs laid upon the foil. Add the rest of the herbs to the top of the lamb, and seal the packets - crimping the foil edges as neatly as you can to seal the packet tightly.

Transfer the lamb packets on their baking sheet into the oven, and let cook undisturbed for three hours. You will start to smell the lamb after the first hour, which is your cue to add a tray of veggies to the oven, if that's your plan. Mashed potatoes also go very nicely with lamb ribs.

When the three hours are up, pour yourself a nice glass of wine. Then, take the tray from the oven, and carefully slit the foil open (carefully! The steam that will be released is extremely hot and will burn you if you don't take steps to protect yourself. Use an oven glove, or position your hand away from where the steam will come out).

Push aside the spent herbs, and lift the meat out of the pooled juices. The meat is so rich, you'll want to give it a moment to drain a bit of the fat away before serving, so pile it onto a warmed plate to rest for a couple of minutes while you sip your wine and possibly organize the rest of the meal. Careful, though, the meat will be practically fall off the bones. Divide the lamb chunks between plates, and you're ready to go.

October 22, 2017

Cottage Pie

Cottage pie, in case you're not familiar with it, is a casserole of meat stew with a rich gravy, topped with mashed potatoes and baked. Whereas shepherd's pie is made from lamb, cottage pie is made with beef. In this case, it's made with a mixture of beef and pork, the all-purpose German ready-mixed ground meat, but you can use all beef or pork (or even ground turkey or chicken).

I had some Lilac potatoes from the market to use up, which is why the potato topping is purple, but you can use any good mashing potato. Yukon Golds are one of my favourites for this dish.

Cottage Pie

Serves 6

Stew with gravy

500 grams ground beef and/or pork
1 medium yellow onion, diced medium
2 stalks celery, diced medium
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 large carrot, diced medium
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2-3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch dried thyme leaves
1-2 teaspoons beef stock base
1 1/2 cups water, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup frozen peas (or corn)

Mashed Potato Topping

1 kg potatoes, boiled and peeled
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
pinch ground white pepper
pinch ground nutmeg (optional)

Put the potatoes on to boil or steam first, however you like to do that. I generally simmer my potatoes in an inch of water (starting from cold), for about 25-30 minutes over medium-low heat in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Then I peel them, add them back into the warm (drained) pot, crush them with a spoon, add the other ingredients, and mash them until smooth with a steel masher. If you make mashed potatoes differently, go ahead and make the however you like them best. It's helpful to make them a bit loose (ie, adding a couple of tablespoons more milk), because if they are too stiff they will be difficult to spread over the gravy.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the ground meat. Stir and fry, breaking it up with wooden spoon or cooking spatula as you go, and giving it a few minutes undisturbed between stirring to brown properly. If you don't allow the meat a chance to fry, rather than simply turning greyish as its moisture boils away, it won't develop a good deep flavour, so make sure you see a bit of golden brown on the meat before you add the other ingredients.

While the meat fries, you can busy yourself dicing the vegetables. Once the meat is properly browned, add the onions, celery, carrot, and garlic. Stir well, add the salt, and stir again. Add the bayleaves, and cook and stir for a few minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the tomato paste and stir through again. Add the Worcestershire sauce, dark soy sauce,
black pepper, and thyme, and stir through. Add the beef stock paste with about half a cup of water, and stir through. Let simmer for a few minutes.

Combine the flour with the final cup of (room-temp) water, and shake it together to create a smooth slurry. Add the slurry to the skillet, and stir it through, watching as it magically thickens the gravy. Add the peas and wait until the temperature returns to a gentle simmer, and then turn the heat to low and let it continue to simmer until the potatoes are ready.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 200°C / 400°F, and have a 28x18cm (7x11") baking dish standing by (you don't need to grease the dish). It's also helpful to have a tray or pizza pan to put under the baking dish, because this recipe has a tendency for a bit of gravy to bubble up and escape the dish.

When the potatoes are ready (by which, I mean mashed and ready to go) it's assembly time: Spoon (or pour) the meat gravy into the bottom of the baking dish, and smooth it out evenly. Use a tablespoon to dollop small mounds of mashed potato evenly over the gravy, and then use a fork to spread the mounds together into a single surface. I like to leave the ridges from the fork tines showing, because it makes for crispy bits of topping once it's baked.

Place the casserole into the oven, and bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the ridges of potato are golden, and everything is satisfactorily bubbling. Depending on how thick your gravy is, you can serve with either a lifter-type spatula or a large serving spoon (or both, as you like).

This is quite a filling dish, so it quite easily serves six people, especially if you have a salad on the side. If the people you are serving are particularly ravenous, it would serve four.

It also reheats well! Be sure to poke some holes in the mashed potato topping for even heating, whether you're using a microwave or conventional oven.

October 15, 2017

Braised Jumbo Turkey Thigh

There are a lot of turkey thigh recipes out there, but most of them don’t envisage a single thigh that weighs over a kilogram. This is specifically for those big, huge, gigantic turkey thighs, and yields crispy skin, succulent meat, rich gravy. It takes a long time because it is rather dense meat with a big bone in the centre, and therefore benefits from a low-and-slow braising technique, finished with a higher-heat, skin-crisping. The slow braise allows the meat to cook very gently, but thoroughly, melting potential toughness into delicious, unctuous texture. The meat slices well, but also shreds very easily, making this recipe an excellent choice for pulled turkey applications - from sandwiches to salads to tacos, to meal prep bowls and more.

Braised Jumbo Turkey Thigh

Serves 4
Total Prep & Cooking time: 4 hours (mostly unattended)

1 jumbo turkey thigh (1 to 1.3 kg, bone in, skin on)
1/2 tablespoon canola oil or chicken fat
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
2-3 celery stalks
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, sliced lengthwise
1 clove garlic
300 - 400 mL turkey stock or broth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cold water (or cold stock)

You will need a Dutch oven or similar pot with a tightly fitting lid for this dish. It should be big enough to allow you to add the turkey stock without covering the thigh. It should come up 1/3 to 1/2 way up the thigh.
The thigh must be fully thawed to start. Rinse the thigh and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the paper towels and place the thigh on a clean plate. Season the turkey with the salt on both sides. If you want to get fancy, you can add a tiny bit of ground sage or thyme or white pepper – or all of the above.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F.

On the stove top, heat the empty Dutch oven, and add the canola oil or chicken fat. Swirl to coat the bottom of the pan with the fat, and give the fat a moment get hot. Add the turkey thigh skin-side-down, and sear until golden brown, turning the thigh with tongs every few minutes to ensure the whole surface of the skin gets nicely golden. Next, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the turkey to a clean plate.

Place the celery stalks in a single layer in the bottom of the Dutch oven (I cut mine into halves to make them fit nicely). Lay the turkey thigh, skin-side-up, on top of the celery. Add the bay leaves, garlic, and onion slices around the sides of the turkey. The pan will still be hot, so be careful to avoid clouds of steam as you pour the turkey stock around the thigh, only coming 1/3 to 1/2 way up the thigh. Place the Dutch oven back on the heat, and bring the liquid up to a simmer. Turn the burner off, cover the Dutch oven, and place it in the preheated oven. Let the thigh cook for 2.5 hours, and then remove the lid and turn the heat up to 180°C/350°F and cook for 30 minutes more. Use this time to clean up every dish, tool, or surface that touched the raw turkey, and then have a nice relaxing beverage. You’ll still have plenty of time to prepare some vegetables or other side dishes, if you like.

Remove the Dutch oven from the oven, and place it on a stove top burner. Carefully lift the thigh from the braising liquid and place it on a clean plate for carving shortly. Cover loosely with foil if you think necessary, but don’t cover it too tightly or it will steam away the crispy skin. The meat will be much easier to slice once it has rested for twenty minutes or so.

Gravy: Remove the bay leaves and the limp celery stalks from the braising liquid. You can leave the onions, if they haven’t fully melted, and in fact you can use a fork or a potato masher right in the pot to quickly turn them into a tasty puree to further flavour and thicken the gravy. Turn the heat on under the pot and bring the liquid up to a simmer.

Make a slurry of the cold water (or stock) and flour, and shake/whisk vigorously until smooth. Add the slurry to the simmering braising liquid, stirring (or whisking) constantly, as it comes back to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to let it simmer, lid off, stirring periodically, for twenty minutes to half an hour – just enough time to roast a tray of vegetables to go alongside your turkey. The gravy will thicken fairly quickly once the liquid comes back up to a boil, and will thicken further as it simmers. The simmering time is necessary to thoroughly cook the flour, which otherwise has a bit of a raw aftertaste. Taking the time to cook it through will make your gravy at least twice as good.

The finished gravy should be a light colour – more tan than brown, but if you want it darker, you can add a couple of drops of dark soy sauce (don’t go overboard: in this case, more is not better). It won’t make the gravy taste like soy sauce, but it adds a little extra flavour and deepens the gravy slightly.

As the gravy finishes its simmer, go ahead and carve the turkey thigh in the same direction as the bone. The meat should be very tender, almost falling apart (it makes excellent pulled turkey, of course). When you’ve carved all you can manage easily, turn the thigh over and grasp the bone. It should come mostly away from the meat on its own, but it may leave a bit of cartilage or sinew behind, but that can be easily cleared away with your impeccably clean fingers. Set aside the bone to make stock for the next time around. The remaining piece of meat can be turned skin-side up once more, and sliced further if necessary.

This thigh was 1.2 kg and, despite the big bone running down the centre, gave us three generously sized dinners-for-two, plus a big lunch for one: Roasted and sliced with gravy and vegetables on the first night, then Stuffing-Topped Turkey Skillet Dinner (which further yielded the (big) lunch), and finally, the last bit of meat was chopped up and made into a quick creamy pasta with turkey and sautéed zucchini.

October 08, 2017

Fiesta Tomato Soup

This is my take on tomato-rice soup, packing it with more vegetables, Mexican seasonings, and a couple of chile peppers for extra oomph, not to mention the added bonus of sinus-clearing properties. The name "Fiesta" comes from the finely diced colourful vegetables looking a bit like confetti. It's not actually a Mexican recipe, although it would probably work very well with a garnish of diced avocado and a squeeze of lime juice.

This is a moderately light soup, without any significant source of protein, but perfect for a light meal. If you wanted a slightly heartier version, I recommend adding a cup of cooked pinto beans. You could round out the meal with a toasted sandwich, but if you're wanting a lighter affair it's perfect with just a couple of crackers or hunk of bread (or tortilla) on the side.

You could add still more vegetables if you like - finely diced zucchini would be a good choice - and if you simply can't picture a vegetable soup without carrots, they'd be good here, too.

Fiesta Tomato Soup

Makes about 8 cups

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 cup frozen corn kernels (or kernels cut from one fresh ear of corn)
1/2 bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow), diced
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely diced
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
400 mL (1 1/2 cups) canned crushed tomatoes
500 mL (2 cups) vegetable stock or broth
500 mL (2 cups) water
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
100 grams (1/2 cup) parboiled rice, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano (or marjoram)
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
parsley or cilantro (optional)

There's nothing surprising about the method here - standard soup-making business. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and add the bay leaves. Add the onion and celery, and cook, stirring periodically, for about five or ten minutes until they vegetables become translucent. Add the garlic and the corn, and stir through again. When it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add the vermouth and stir through again, scraping up any stuck bits. Right away you can add the crushed tomatoes, the cumin, oregano, and white pepper, and stir through.

Add the stock or broth and the water, and bring it up to a simmer. Stir in the bell pepper and jalapeño peppers. Taste the soup to see if you need to add any salt - I didn't add any, because my stock cube was quite salty, but add some if you think it needs it. The soup won't taste great yet, because it hasn't had time for the flavours to come together, so if it's a little thin at this point don't be disappointed.

Finally, add the well-rinsed rice. Parboiled is the best rice to use for this, because it doesn't turn to mush in longer cooking times. That characteristic makes parboiled rice a poor choice for congee, but an excellent choice for this soup, because the grains stay whole even after a spell in the freezer, if you make enough for leftovers. Stir the rice through, and turn the heat to low. Cook the soup for 15 minutes on the lowest setting, without lifting the lid, and then turn the heat off completely and leave it (still without lifting the lid) for another fifteen minutes. Don't worry, it's still going to be plenty hot. When the timer goes off, your soup is ready. Stir in a little parsley or cilantro, and start ladling it into bowls. The rice and the corn should be perfectly cooked but not mushy, and the soup will have thickened a bit.

If you're going to freeze the soup, cool it completely before putting in the fridge overnight, and then transfer to the freezer the next day.

October 03, 2017

Amethyst Perogies

Okay, this is kind of cheating, because it's not really a new recipe. I just wanted to share with you all the amazing thing that is these Amethyst perogies I made recently from purple potatoes from my local farmers' market.

The dough recipe that I used is essentially the same as for the Šaltinosiai, although made with warm water instead of cold, which coincidentally happens to be exactly the same as the pierogi dough recipe in my Polish cookbook. You could, of course, use whichever perogy dough you like (including this potato-dough recipe from my friend Sandi's family).

Once you have a good dough, you need to make the filling. Whole books have been written on the endless possibilities of fillings for perogies (not that you'd guess from Canada, where potato, onion, and cheese appear to reign supreme, with or without bacon).

These ones, of course, are potato. Specifically, they are a purple sort of potato varietal called "quartz" - probably from the veins of white that run through the potato in its raw state. Once cooked, however, the dark purple overwhelms the paler parts of the flesh for a consistent, deep violet colour. The ones for this recipe were steamed in their skins, which were peeled off after the potatoes had finished cooking and allowed to cool. You could use any purple potato, of course, but the colour will depend on both the type and any additional ingredients you use for the filling. To keep the filling as vivid as possible, I used red onions - sautéed in a little butter, and just a whisper of parmesan cheese. The ratios you will use is completely up to you, but think along the lines of fancy mashed potatoes or twice-baked potatoes.

Cook the fresh perogies in plenty of simmering water (salted, as you would for pasta) for about ten to twelve minutes, then use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer them to a hot skillet with melted butter (bacon and/or onions optional), and fry them until lightly coloured on each side. Serve plain or with sour cream. They look quite typical, before you cut them open!

Since this recipe actually made quite a few, I had a big dinner from them and then froze the rest. To freeze them, spread them out in a single layer on a cutting board, plate or baking sheet, if you can fit one in your freezer, and freeze for a few hours until hard. Then bag them up in thick freezer-bags, and store frozen until needed. To cook, add the frozen perogies directly into simmering water, and give them an extra few minutes of cooking time.

September 24, 2017

Pulla — Finnish Cardamom Bread

This recipe is from one of my mother's sisters, my Aunt Linda, who had married into a Finnish family. The word pulla technically just means "buns" but often refers to this somewhat sweet, rich bread, also known as Kahvileipä (coffee bread), or even just nisu (wheat). I've been making it since I was quite young, and no longer have any sense of how close my recipe, with my penchant for adjusting things, has remained. It scores big points with every Scandinavian I've fed it to, though - cardamom breads are highly appreciated there.

There are definitely some similarities between pulla and challah, although I tend to think of challah as a savoury or neutral bread, it does have its sweet versions, too. I took one of these loaves in to work with me, and one of my colleagues remarked on its similarity to German Hefezopf (yeast braid), but noted that the German version doesn't have the cardamom. This is a sharply distinguishing feature, though, as the Finnish variety simply must have cardamom.


Yield: 2 large braided loaves
Total prep and cooking time: 3.5 hours

15 mL (1 tablespoon) dry active yeast
60 mL (1/4 cup) warm water (warm, but not hot - test on your wrist)
180 mL (3/4 cup) warm milk
120 mL (1/2 cup) sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 eggs, plus extra for glazing*
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1.12 litres (4 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour (approximate - you may need more)
112 grams (1/2 cup) butter, melted
Cinnamon for dusting
Coarse sugar (or pearl sugar) for finishing (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast and warm water with a pinch of the sugar. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes, or until foamy. Blend in milk, sugar, salt, eggs, cardamom, and 2 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Add the butter, stirring until it all becomes incorporated and smooth once more. Then stir in the rest of the flour (the exact amount you need will depend on the humidity and they type of flour you have) and knead the dough until it is smooth and satiny - approximately 5 - 10 minutes. Place in a large, greased bowl to rise, turning the dough over so that the top is lightly greased. Cover the dough lightly with plastic or a tea towel and let it stand in a draught-free place (such as the inside of an oven, with the light on) for 1.5 - 2 hours, or until doubled. Knead lightly on a floured board, just enough to press the air out of the risen dough.

Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces, and roll each between your palms and counter top to make 6 14-inch "snakes." Braid into two loaves, pinching the ends to seal well, and folding the ends under the loaves. Place the braids side-by-side with room to expand on a greased baking sheet. Let rise for 1/2 hour only - bread should look puffed but not doubled - and gently brush the tops and sides with beaten egg. Sprinkle with cinnamon and coarse sugar. The bread will rise more in the oven, a phenomenon known as "oven spring".

Bake at 180°C / 350°F for 25 - 35 minutes or until the loaves are richly browned and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom (you will of course need to lift the loaf off the sheet pan for this test). Let the loaves cool completely on a rack before bagging. You can store them at room temperature for a day or two, but after that put them in the fridge.

As this makes 2 big loaves, I sometimes braid only one loaf, and turn the other half of the dough into buns by rolling it out to a 1/2" rectangle, sprinkling with brown sugar and extra spices, rolling up and slicing into 9 pieces. Place slices cut-side up in a greased 8" metal pan, let rise 1/2 hour, and bake for 25 minutes. These freeze beautifully: cool completely, break apart, and wrap individually.

* It doesn't take a whole egg to provide the egg wash for two loaves of bread. It uses maybe 1/3 of an egg. I usually put the leftover beaten egg in a small lidded plastic container in the fridge, and the next day fry it up to put on toast for breakfast. Your mileage may vary.

Last thing to mention - if you take more than a day or two to get to the end of the loaf, I note that pulla toasts up beautifully. I like it with a slice of cheese at that point, but butter, nutella, honey, or even just plain are all delicious options.

September 17, 2017

Salade Niçoise et Libanaise

Having recently come to appreciate a perfectly cooked green bean, I have been keen to find interesting ways to serve them. This dish contains the wonderful arrangement of Salade Niçoise, along with the Lebanese-type tahini dressing. It was a perfect confluence of tuna dishes that I wished to make, namely samke harra (a sesame-smothered fish dish from Lebanon) and the classic salade composée from Nice (whose ingredients are a hotly debated subject anyway).

I was sorely tempted to name it Salade Libaniçoise.

You can pretty much see everything in the picture, but I'll lay out the recipe for your entertainment, anyway. The tuna and the capers are the only elements served warm - I used the same skillet for both - the other parts can be prepared in advance. The purple potatoes are a type called Quartz, here in Germany, but you can of course use any kind of waxy potato that you like. These were too pretty not to showcase.

Salade Niçoise et Libanaise

Serves 2

150 grams mixed greens (I've used lambs' lettuce with arugula and shreds of beetroot)
2 eggs, boiled
125 mL Niçoise olives, stones in
30 mL capers, rinsed & fried in olive oil
100 grams potatoes, boiled, cooled, & sliced
100 grams haricots verts, or other fine green beans, steamed and quick-cooled in ice water
a few cherry tomatoes, halved
200 grams of tuna steak, pressed with sesame seeds and lightly seared on all sides (do not overcook!)

Tahini Dressing

45 mL (3 tablespoons) tahini, stirred well
big pinch of coarse/kosher salt
Juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, pressed
15 mL olive oil
cold water, if necessary, to made a thick salad-dressing consistency

In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients, mixing well with a fork or stick blender. Add a little cold water, a tablespoon at a time, and stir until it becomes creamy and the texture of pourable salad dressing.

Layer the ingredients onto the platter. If you green beans are still wet, lay them on some paper towel to dry off, so they don't sog out the salad. Arrange the greens around the bottom, and then place the potatoes, egg halves, beans, and tomatoes, however you like, but leaving a space to put the tuna. Tumble the olives into all the nooks and crannies between the other elements.

As soon as the tuna and capers are added to the platter, drizzle the dressing as artistically as you can manage over the various elements of the salad. I see from this that I really need to invest in a sauce bottle with a nozzle, so that I can better control the flow - this one got a bit blobby-looking.

It was really quite filling, and completely delicious.

September 10, 2017

Farmer's Skillet Dinner: Bauerntopf mit Hackfleisch

This is a speedy one-pot meal of ground meat and potatoes that is also a perfect use for those small, new-harvest nugget potatoes that are just coming into markets now (my potatoes were a bit bigger than that, but still good). If you are chopping up larger potatoes, be sure to choose waxy ones that won't turn mushy when you stir them. It's also an excellent hiding place for a zucchini; none but the most dedicated of examiners will be able to find it in amongst the richly seasoned gravy.

Here in Germany, this dish is often made with a "fix" - that is, a prepared seasoning packet from a company such as Knorr or Maggi. However, when I looked at the ingredients in the packet and discovered that it really only contained powdered tomato paste, dehydrated onion, paprika and a few other seasonings (including way too much salt for my taste), I decided to make it from scratch - a "fix ohne fix" as it were. The zucchini was my own inspiration, but it adds another vegetable to make the dish more of a complete meal.

You can use any kind of ground meat you like, but here I've used the standard German mixture of beef and pork. In fact, you don't even need to use meat at all - you could easily cook up and drain some lentils to use instead (add them after the onions), or a mixture of finely chopped mushrooms and walnuts could also fit the bill.

Double this if you like - but you'll need to use either a very large skillet or a dutch oven.

Bauerntopf mit Hackfleisch

Farmer's Skillet Dinner

Serves 2

250 grams lean ground meat
1 small onion, finely diced
150 grams zucchini, grated
300 grams nugget potatoes, quartered into wedges
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
60 mL tomato paste
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 pinch smoked paprika (optional)
1/2 teaspoon marjoram (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (or coarse sea salt)
1 teaspoon beef or chicken stock base (optional, low-sodium preferred)
1 cup water

In a large skillet, break up and brown the ground meat (use a little oil if you don't have a non-stick pan). Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and zucchini (it will seem like a lot, but don't worry - it shrinks down) and stir through. Add the salt. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the zucchini wilts down and its water evaporates.

Next add the tomato paste and the paprika, marjoram, and white pepper, and stir through. The mixture will be quite thick, but stir it through until everything is coated. Add the quartered potatoes, and stir them through gently until they are coated with the seasoned tomato mixture.

As soon as the potatoes are added, add the water, and stir through gently until it is all incorporated. Bring the temperature up to a simmer, and then reduce to the lowest setting and cover the pan. Cook, stirring gently two or three times throughout, for 25 minutes. If your mixture is still very wet (it shouldn't be) leave the lid off and cook for another five minutes. Divide between bowls or plates, and tuck in.

Now, then, can you see the zucchini?