November 22, 2014

Lentil, Mushroom, & Walnut Shepherd's Pie

One of the first German recipes that I made once I moved to Germany was Linseneintopf, a thick and hearty lentil stew, often served with sliced or whole sausages as one of the components. We were really taken with the original dish, but it has been nagging at me for some time that it would make a wonderful vegetarian (or vegan) main course as well.

Just for the sake of variety, I made this one into a Shepherd's Pie rather than making the potatoes simply part of the stew, but you could do it either way. This is the sort of hearty, vegetarian dish that shows it European heritage in its flavours, and is intensely satisfying to eat.

As this is a compound dish that is baked in the oven, I suspect German cooks would classify this as an Auflauf (casserole), rather than an Eintopf (one-pot stew).

Lentil, Mushroom, & Walnut Shepherd's Pie

Serves 4 (generously)

250 grams dry brown lentils
400 grams fresh mushrooms
1 cup toasted walnut pieces
1 medium onion, diced finely
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, diced finely
3/4 cup celery, diced finely
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 bay leaves
pinch of marjoram
4 cups vegetable broth or water
pinch kosher salt
Black pepper

4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled
1/4 cup milk or non-dairy "milk"
1 tablespoon butter or mild-flavoured oil

To toast the walnuts pieces, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes, or until fragrant. If the skins are too bitter, you can rub the warm walnut pieces with a towel, which will remove much of the skin. You can also toast walnuts on the stovetop in a dry skillet, but you need to watch them very carefully, and stir frequently, or they will burn. If you have walnut halves, chop them roughly.

Wipe the mushrooms clean, remove any gnarly bits or tough stems, and coarsely chop. I used a mixture of chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms, because my farmers market is awesome, but you can use any fresh mushrooms you like -- to be honest, really fancy mushrooms may get a bit overwhelmed by the robust flavour of this dish.

Wash and pick over the lentils. In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, celery and carrot briefly. When onion turns translucent, add the garlic, bay leaves, marjoram (you can substitute oregano if need be) and pinch of salt. If you are using water instead of broth, increase the salt to a half teaspoon.

Add the chopped mushrooms, and stir through. When the mushrooms start to give off a little liquid, add the walnuts, and stir through again.

Add the (washed, drained) lentils, the broth (or water), and bring to a low simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes, or until nicely thickened. Taste, adjust for salt, and if necessary, add a small pinch of sugar to balance the flavours. If it tastes a little flat (for example, if your lentils were a bit old, this can happen) you may wish to add a teaspoon of red wine vinegar, to brighten it up and provide a little acidity. Finish with with freshly ground black pepper.

While the lentils simmer, make your mashed potatoes. Boil or steam your potatoes until tender, and drain. Keep the potatoes in the same, hot pan, and break them up with a spoon (or the edge of your masher) so that excess moisture can evaporate. That's advice from Julia Child, folks, and ever since I adopted it, my mashed potatoes have had a more awesome texture. Add the butter (or oil) and milk (or "milk") and mash until smooth.

Dollop the mashed potatoes carefully over the lentil stew, and smooth the top down (or crenellate it with a fork, whatever you like). Brush the top with a little extra butter or oil if you like it to be a bit crusty on top. You could also sprinkle it with a bit of paprika. Bake the stew at 350 F for about 20 minutes, or until the top is golden and inviting. Use a large serving spoon to dish into serving bowls or plates.

Leftovers heat up fairly well in the microwave, or in an oven-proof dish in a regular oven.

November 15, 2014

Grilled Cheddar & Mango Chutney Sandwich

It is my understanding that every food blogger must at some point commit a post to a cheese sandwich. This is one of my favourites.

Okay, okay, it's not really grilled, it's panfried in a skillet. We called these "toasted cheese sandwiches" when I was a kid. You could absolutely grill it, though.

In my mind, I invented this recipe, a natural outgrowth of my favourite childhood cheddar-and-pickle relish (non-grilled) sandwiches, but honestly I was not at all surprised to discover that plenty of other people had already invented it. It's a winning combination and, if not original, utterly delicious and well deserving of widespread enjoyment.

You make it exactly as you think you do:

Grilled Cheddar & Mango Chutney Sandwich

2 slices sandwich-type bread
Sufficient aged cheddar cheese to cover at least one of the bread slices
Sufficient mango chutney (I prefer the spicy version) to cover (thinly) one of the bread slices

You may wish to finely chop any extra-large pieces of mango in your chutney, for ease of eating.

Assemble the sandwich exactly how you'd expect by spreading one of the slices of bread with chutney, covering the chutney with cheese, covering the cheese with the other slice of bread. Butter the outside slices of bread, and fry the sandwich over medium-high heat until golden, then (carefully) flip and repeat.

Serve with soup. Again from my childhood, a Simple Tomato Soup (recipe in the comments below) is a clear winner. But might I also suggest a Mulligatawny, or Brown Lentil & Tomato Soup?

November 06, 2014

Züricher Geschnetzeltes (Zürich-style Meat Strips in Mushroom Cream Sauce)

Geschnetzeltes is a wonderfully complicated word to say, especially if you're trying to say it with a Swiss-German accent ("Züri-Gschnätzlets") for the first time. Essentially, it means thinly sliced meat, and would probably be classed as a "stir fry" cut in North America. Supermarkets carry them both seasoned (for Gyros or Kebab) or unseasoned. The unseasoned ones are likely destined to become Züricher (aka "Zürcher" or "Züri") Geschnetzeltes. But what you really need to know about this dish is that it's delicious, and pretty easy to make.

The most traditional Swiss version uses veal, but Germany seems to more often use pork, so that's what I'm making here. I've seen chicken and turkey versions, too, but in these parts, unless the meat is otherwise specified, there's a pretty good chance it'll be pork.

Züricher Geschnetzeltes are usually served with Rösti (in Switzerland) or Spätzle (Germany), but can also be served with potatoes, noodles, or rice. You can see from the photo that we went with Rötkohl as a vegetable side dish.

Züricher Geschnetzeltes

Serves 4
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 30 minutes

500 grams Geschnetzeltes (your choice of meat, thinly sliced)
1-2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 small onion, finely chopped
200 grams fresh mushrooms, chopped
1/2 tablespoon paprika (sweet)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup white wine (dry)
2/3 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
Kosher salt
Lemon Zest (fresh - about half a lemon's worth)
Parsley, freshly chopped for garnish (optional)

Toss the meat strips in the flour with a good pinch of salt, and shake off (discard) any excess flour. Finely dice or mince the onion. Slice the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Quickly sear the meat strips over high heat, stirring or turning as needed to brown both sides, but not cooking all the way through. Remove the meat to a plate.

Add the other tablespoon oil to the emptied skillet, and add the minced onion and the mushrooms. Fry until golden, and then add the paprika. Stir through, and then add the white wine and let it boil until almost dry. Pour in the cream. Lower the heat and simmer until the sauce is creamy. Combine the cornstarch and cold water and stir until smooth. Add to the sauce and stir through until the sauce is thickened slightly.

Return the meat and its juices to the skillet and cook for two or three minutes until heated through and tender. Taste the sauce, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Grate fresh lemon zest over the pan, reserving a little to top each plated serving. Garnish with parsley if you wish.

Serve over rösti, spätzle, rice, boiled potatoes, or wide egg noodles.