May 31, 2014

Himmel und Erde (Heaven & Earth), plus International Bento (German)

Himmel und Erde (Heaven and Earth) is a classic regional meal popular in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz (also called the Rhineland-Palatinate), among others.

This is really more of a serving suggestion than a recipe - I'm assuming that you know how to make simple mashed potatoes, and can source decent sausage, onions, and applesauce. A basic sort of peasant dish, Himmel und Erde is simply mashed potatoes, served with sausages, applesauce, and fried onions. Himmel, or Heaven, is invoked by the apple, which grows high in the air, and Erde, or Earth, is invoked by the potato, which in some German dialects is Erdapfel ("earth apple", not unlike the nomenclature for French pommes de terre, which also means "apples of the earth"). But where do the sausage and fried onions come in? Well, short answer is, that the sausages are pork, and Germans seem to serve pork with almost everything. Fried onions are just a bonus.

The classic iteration of this dish that I can find is with blood sausage and bratwurst, and that's what I've done here. The blood sausage is a smokier version of the United Kingdom's blood pudding, which you could also use in a pinch. The applesauce I made by peeling and dicing some pie-making apples into a saucepan with a pinch of salt and some water, and then simmering and stirring until they became sauce, but you could use any applesauce you like (I would avoid overly sweetened ones myself...but a lot of Germans probably wouldn't). Then, it's just a matter of cooking it all up and getting it onto the plate.

So, boil your potatoes to make the mash, and warm up your applesauce. While that's happening, sauté your onion rings in the same skillet that you're using to cook up the bratwurst. When the applesauce is ready, turn it off with a lid on to keep it warm. Push the onions and bratwurst to one side of your skillet, and add the slices of blood sausage to the pan. Let the blood sausage cook over medium heat (turning once) for about five or six minutes, while you mash the potatoes. Once the potatoes are mashed, the onions and sausages are fried and standing by, assemble as desired.

I'm contemplating a slightly more elegant version of this dish using roasted potatoes and apples in wedges, in some sort of clever baking-dish assembly, but that hasn't happened yet.

I sent the leftovers to work with Palle the next day as a German bento. There are extra onions acting as a bed for the blood sausage, and no bratwurst (this seemed plenty filling for a lunch as it was). His co-workers seem to find it amusing when he arrives with home cooked German food for lunch, while many of them head out for pizza and Burger King.

May 24, 2014

Almond Chile Chicken

I almost called this "Not-Quite Kung Pao Chicken" as the primary difference is the use of almond slivers instead of crushed or whole peanuts. However, it turned out much too tasty to burden with a name that suggested it was not living up to its full potential. Another significant difference is the absence of Szechuan pepper, although it would be a great addition. This recipe makes no claim to authenticity, but it is delicious. With three sources of chile, it's also very hot.

It's helpful to allow the chicken to marinate for a little while, at the very least while you prepare the peppers and toast the almonds, but ideally at least for half an hour. You can easily add in another vegetable for an all-in-one dish green bell pepper, for example, or diced baby corn, or even finely chopped celery (to stay true to its Kung Pao roots), but don't crowd the chicken with a lot of other things. Maybe serve a simply steamed gai lan with a shot of oyster sauce, or sautéed baby bok choi with a nice dressing on the side. Serve the chicken over rice.

Almond Chile Chicken

4 Servings

400 grams boneless chicken (breast or thigh)
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
handful of dried red chile pods
3 — 4 fresh red chiles (long, preferably)
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon peanut oil

Marinade and cooking sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese mushroom sauce (or oyster sauce)
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry (or Chinese wine)
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar (or black vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

green onion, thinly sliced
cilantro, stems removed

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, and stir until thoroughly combined. Cut the chicken into bit-sized pieces, and add it to the marinade, stirring well until the chicken is completely coated in sauce. Cover and let rest in the fridge for a few hours (if possible).

Thinly slice the red onion and mince the garlic, and set aside. Toast the almonds gently in a dry skillet until they are fragrant and golden brown, and set aside. Remove and discard the seeds from the fresh chiles and julienne the pods into nice, long matchsticks. Prepare the dry chile pods by removing the stem end, shaking out excess seeds, and breaking longer pods in half (or thirds).

Prepare any additional vegetables (either for this dish, or for a separate side), and slice the green onion and roughly chop the cilantro for your garnishes.

Have a half-cup or so of room temperature (or hot) water standing by once you're ready to fry.

Heat a large nonstick skillet (or wok, if you're set up for it) over high heat, and add the peanut oil. Using a slotted spoon or spider-tool, remove the chicken from the marinade (reserving the marinade to add later). Add the chicken in a couple of batches to the hot peanut oil, and let the pieces sear for a moment before giving it a quick stir. Add the red onion and stir through, and continue to sauté for another minute. Add the fresh chiles and the dry chile pods, and stir again. If you're adding diced baby corn, now is the time to add it, otherwise add any quicker-cooking items along with the marinade in a couple of minutes.

If the chicken starts to stick, or the marinade starts to burn, add a tablespoon of your stand-by water to loosen it up. Don't add too much water, or you'll be steaming your dish instead of frying it. You can get around this by simply using more peanut oil than indicated, but that makes for a much richer dish. Continue to sauté for another minute or so, and then add the reserved marinade along with another splash (ahem, tablespoon) of water, and stir rapidly to allow the sauce to cook through thoroughly and coat the chicken once more. Give it another couple of minutes sauté time, and add the almonds. Stir though, adding another tablespoon of water if it seems too dry, although you probably won't need to. Plate immediately, and garnish with the green onion and cilantro.

May 18, 2014

Kohlrabi Carrot Coleslaw

This salad is best made a bit in advance, as the kohlrabi has a bit of a starchy flavour when raw. Once it has had time to marinate for a little while, that off-note completely disappears. I liked this salad just fine on the first day, but on the second day it was absolutely fantastic.

While a lot of salads are at their best when prepared just before eating, this dish not only keeps well in the fridge, but actually improves with a bit of time. That makes it a perfect choice for any dinner where the other dishes demand all of your attention (or workspace, or time, or last-minute fiddling), and also works beautifully as a take-along or picnic dish.

Kohlrabi Carrot Coleslaw

Serves 2 - 4

1 large kohlrabi
1 large carrot
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
black pepper to taste

Peel away the thick skin of the kohlrabi, remove the fibrous top bit and trim the root end (as though you were trimming an onion) and grate on the large-hole side of a box grater (or equivalent). Peel and trim the carrot, and grate it too. Combine the grated vegetables in a bowl.

Make the dressing by combining the olive oil, wine vinegar, mustard, and salt in a small bowl, and whisk (or beat with a fork) until it is emulsified. Pour the dressing over the grated vegetables, and mix until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or better still, overnight.

Stir through once again, correct for salt (you may need a little extra on the second day), and add the black pepper just before serving. The starchy rawness will have disappeared, and overall the dish will appear a bit more...pliable, but the vegetables will retain a lovely, delicate crunch in the middle.