September 20, 2015

Lye Water Bagels

Bagels always sounded like a lot of work. First you have to make the dough, then let it rise, shape, boil (!), and finally bake. And then there's the lye water, which is a separate sort of anxiety on its own. Lye is caustic and requires careful, safety-forward handling, which raises a additional barrier to being motivated enough to begin.

Happily, although there are lengthy-process recipes out there, you can absolutely make delicious bagels in only a couple of hours. I started these after breakfast, and we ate them for lunch.

I scoured around the internet for recipes, and finally hybridized the likely-looking ones into the recipe below. These are made partially with high-gluten flour, but you could as easily use only white bread flour instead. The extra gluten in bread flour helps these bagels develop their trade-mark chewiness.

These are somewhere between the aesthetics of New York style bagels and Montreal style. I make no claims to authenticity, so if you're a style hard-liner, this recipe may not be for you. If you happily eat any kind of bagel you encounter, I hope you'll give this one a try.

Lye Water Bagels

Makes 8 medium-large bagels

300 mL water, heated to wrist-warm
1/2 tablespoon honey
20 grams raw sugar
7 grams active dry yeast
10 grams salt
200 grams high-gluten or bread flour (such as German flour type 1050)
200 - 300 grams all purpose flour

For boiling:
1 tablespoon lye water* (I get mine from an Asian supermarket)
12 cups water

For baking:
Cornmeal as needed
egg wash (optional)

This dough will be a very firm one, and I caution you not to all all of the flour at once, lest you make it too firm. I was a little careless myself, and added a bit more flour than I should have. The end result was that I had a tough time shaping my bagels, and one of the hand-looped ones came apart during boiling (it was still delicious).

Pre-warm the oven so that the dough will have a nice warm place to rise.

Into a large mixing bowl, dissolve the honey and sugar in the warm water. If the water is a bit hot, let it cool until it's pleasantly warm but not hot against the wrist. Sprinkle the yeast over the sweet water, and wait until it proves itself by foaming up and smelling yeasty.

Add the 200 grams of high-gluten (or bread flour) and the salt, and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until it is nice and smooth. Add 200 grams of the all-purpose flour, and stir it in, turning it out onto the work surface eventually, to knead it all in. If needed, add the remaining 100 grams flour a little at a time until you have a stiff dough.

Knead the stiff dough for 10 minutes, either by hand or with a very sturdy stand-mixer. If you are kneading by hand and are having a tough time, clean your hands thoroughly and oil them before continuing to knead. After ten minutes, smooth the dough into a compact ball and return it to the mixing bowl, which you have cleaned and lightly oiled. Roll the dough around in the bowl so that the surface of the dough picks up some of the oil. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap, and let sit until the dough has doubled in size - about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 Fahrenheit, with a rack in the middle slot.

In a large pot (I used my Dutch oven) on the stove, heat the 12 cups of water until boiling, and then add the lye water just before you add the bagels.

While the water is heating, shape your bagels. Squeeze the excess air out of the dough, and then divide into 8 equally sized (more or less) pieces. You can shape your bagels by making a dough rope (or "snake") and looping it into a ring by wrapping it around your hand, pressing the ends together very firmly, or by making a smooth ball of dough and then forcing your thumb through the centre, gradually expanding the hole until the desired doughnut-shape is achieved. I tried both, but found the second method a bit easier than the first.

Prepare a plate or wooden cutting board with a thin layer of cornmeal. Also prepare a baking sheet with a thin layer of cornmeal for the oven stage.

When the water is boiling, add the lye water, and then immediately add 2 or 3 bagels, carefully, by hand, and time them for one minute. After the minute, turn the bagels over, and boil for one more minute. Use a spider-tool to remove the bagels from the water, onto the cornmeal-covered cutting board. Add the next bagels into the water and start the timer again.

If you want toppings on your bagels - poppy seeds, or sesame seeds, or whatever - now is the time. Brush the tops of the just-boiled bagels with an egg wash, and press them upside-down into a plate of seeds/toppings. Place the bagels topping-side-up on the baking sheet.

Move all the boiled bagels onto the baking sheet, cornmeal-side down. Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Allow to cool for at least 15-20 minutes before eating.

We had ours with cream cheese, of course, and a heavy grinding of black pepper.

Once completely cool, bag up and store as you would any freshly baked bread.

*I should note that I may use more lye water next time, as I couldn't find a reliable guide to how much lye water to add to my boiling water. Most instructions assume you will be using a dry form of lye, which is more concentrated. A higher concentration of lye should make for a somewhat darker colour on the finished bagel.

September 13, 2015

Chanterelle Risotto

Late summer through fall is chanterelle season here in Germany. You will see market stalls piled high with Pfifferlinge, as they are called here, and you will see specials on the chalkboard of almost every restaurant: chanterelles with dumplings (especially a variety called Serviettenknödel), chanterelles with pasta, creamed chanterelles on toast, and of course, chanterelle risotto.

The secret to a nice mushroom risotto is not to overcook the mushrooms. I like to fry a few decorative ones in butter to set aside to use as a garnish, and then sauté the rest for the main risotto itself. By sautéing the mushrooms first, before anything else goes in the pot, it's easy to remove the lightly sautéed mushrooms to a plate to add back in later, so that they don't get that wrung-out squidgy quality that happens with overcooked mushrooms.

As always, everything that is not a feature ingredient in a risotto should be so finely chopped as to not exceed the size of a cooked grain of arborio.

Chanterelle Risotto

Serves 4

300 grams fresh chanterelle mushrooms
4 tablespoons salted butter, divided
2 shallots, finely minced (or small onions)
2 cloves of garlic, pressed or microplaned
220 grams risotto rice (I'm using Baldo here, but arborio is fine)
1/2 cup dry white vermouth (or dry white wine)
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or Kosher salt
4 cups warm vegetable stock/broth (or mushroom stock)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Clean your mushrooms and set aside the ones you want to use for garnish. Remove hard stem-ends from the rest, and roughly chop. Finely chop your shallots and press your garlic. Measure out everything else and have it standing at the ready.

In a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and quickly fry the chanterelles reserved for garnish. Set aside, and then add the rest of the mushrooms to the pot. Sauté briefly, then set aside in a bowl until the risotto is almost finished.

In the same pot, add one more tablespoon of butter, and then add the shallots and garlic. Stir and sauté until slightly translucent, and then add the rice, stirring well to make sure none of the grains stick and burn. When the grains of rice are all coated with the butter and they start to catch at the bottom of the pan and a little golden colour starts creeping in to the bottom of the pan, add the vermouth (or white wine), all at once. Stir vigorously to make sure everything is scraped up from the bottom. Add the salt, and stir through.

The vermouth will disappear pretty quickly, so be prepared to start ladling stock into the rice. Use a small amount at first, just adding a little at a time, stirring well over medium heat, and waiting until most of the liquid has been absorbed before adding more.

When you are halfway through your stock, stir in the lemon juice. Continue to stir and add stock until you have no more liquid to add, and then return the reserved chopped mushrooms to the pot and gently stir through. Add the final tablespoon of butter, and stir through. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the parmesan cheese. Spoon into shallow bowls and top with the reserved fried mushrooms, and maybe a little extra sprinkle of parmesan.

August 26, 2015

Chicken Tikka Masala

There are a lot of origin stories about Chicken Tikka Masala, and a lot of claims to ownership. As far as I can tell, there's no way to even verify which country the dish originated in, let alone the specific claimant.

Some folks will tell you that this is not a proper curry, but that is quite ridiculous. It may not be a historical dish, but it's in no way illegitimate because of that. It's delicious and acceptable and popular. At it's heart, it is derived from an Indian tandoori dish called Chicken Tikka - marinated chicken cooked in a tandoor (Indian clay oven), although according to Wikipedia, the Punjabi version is simply cooked over coals. The chicken is usually marinated in yoghurt and spices, and is typically cut into chunks and cooked on skewers. Where the masala bit comes in, is when you take a perfectly good (or maybe a little dry?) Chicken Tikka, and simmer it gently in a spiced tomato sauce, enriched with yoghurt at the end. There are, of course, many iterations, including one of the origin stories, which claims that an undiluted can of Campbell's Tomato Soup was the base of the sauce.

There is likely no place on earth where Chicken Tikka Masala is more popular than the UK, where it appears to be fast approaching (or even edging out) the traditional Sunday roast as most beloved national dish. You can get Chicken Tikka Masala pre-packaged sandwiches in the Tesco, which gives you an idea of the market penetration of the dish.

Versions of Chicken Tikka Masala that are made using commercial Tandoori paste often have a pink tone to the gravy and the outer surface of the chicken itself. Since that is derived using a food colouring that I don't usually have in my kitchen, I skipped it and simply went with a turmeric-forward spice mixture that is often used for Chicken Tikka. If yours must be pink, skips the spices listed below in favour of the commercial paste, and slather the chicken pieces liberally with it.

I don't have a tandoor oven, which is probably no surprise, nor do I have a kitchen set-up conducive to cooking with coals. This is my home kitchen version, adapted from many different sources, but this one from Palachinkablog in particular.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Serves 4

2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil, divided
400 grams boneless chicken, in chunks
2 tablespoons turmeric
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large onion, grated
4-5 cloves garlic, pressed
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
500 mL tomato passata (or unseasoned tomato purée)
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 cup full-fat plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon cornstarch

As always with Indian food, prep your mise en place completely before you start cooking. Put your basmati rice on to soak in its cooking water, too. Start to cook the rice just before you start to cook the chicken (unless you are using a rice cooker, in which case, time it to be ready when the chicken is done - about a 35 minute total cook time).

Combine all of the dry spices except the salt, and toss the chicken pieces in the mixture until they are all nicely coated. Set aside. You can do this in the morning, or at any point during the day, but bring back up to room temperature before cooking.

In a large skillet or a dutch oven, heat half the oil or ghee very hot and sear the chicken in batches, without cooking through, and remove the chicken to a holding plate as you go. When all the chicken is seared, add the rest of the oil and the grated onion, pressed garlic, and grated ginger, and any accumulated juices therefrom. Stir and scrape the pan, add the salt, and continue sautéing the onion mixture for about 5 minutes or so until just tender. Turn down the heat to medium-low and add the passata, and stir and scrape to ensure that the bottom is free of any stuck-on bits. After a couple of minutes, taste the sauce. If it is a little bitter from the tomato addition, add the sugar. If not, just proceed.

Add the seared chicken (and any residual spices) into the sauce, and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Let the chicken simmer very gently for 15 - 20 minutes. Take the pan off the heat. Combine the yoghurt and cornstarch and stir until smooth. Add a bit of the tomato sauce to the yoghurt, and stir it in, before adding all of the yoghurt mixture into the dutch oven. Stir through, watching to colour lighten and turn orangey. Cover and let the residual heat cook the cornstarch for about five minutes - just enough time to fry up some Indian-spiced Cabbage on the side, or make a fresh chutney or maybe a grated carrot salad, since your grater is already out. Your rice should also be done (and waiting patiently). If you happen to have some cilantro on hand, that would make a very nice garnish.

August 03, 2015

Southern Spoon Bread

It has been a long time since I last made Southern Spoon Bread, which is an egregious oversight. This is one of the few recipes that I still have from my teen years, handwritten on a 3x5" index card, from when I realized that I should make my own copies of all of my favourite recipes. After making it today, I'm reminded how much I like it, and what an interesting option it can make to round out a dinner. Or a breakfast. Or a snack.

Southern Spoon Bread is a kind of cornbread, or a kind of baked polenta, or maybe a kind of soufflé; maybe it's all of these things.

It is leavened solely with beaten egg*, which gives it a moist, wobbly, delicate texture when it first comes out of the oven, as well as a soufflé's tendency to deflate almost immediately. Made without wheat flour, it is naturally gluten free (check your own cornmeal supply to verify, of course, if that's a concern), and it is so tender and soft that you need a big spoon to serve it up -- it won't hold its structural integrity well enough to slice in a more conventional manner.

Southern Spoon Bread

Serves 4 - 6

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons butter
1 cup milk
2 eggs, separated, whites beaten to soft peaks

Preheat your oven (rack in the middle slot) to 375 F / 180 C. Butter a 2 quart capacity shallow baking dish - I used a 7x11" Pyrex dish.

Separate your eggs, putting the whites into a large-enough bowl that you can use a whisk or mixer to beat them until they are soft peaks, and setting the yolks aside into a separate small bowl.

In a medium saucepan or cooking pot, heat the water over medium heat until just simmering. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking constantly, until smooth. Add the salt and continue to whisk and cook until the mixture becomes stiff and thick. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter and roughly half of the milk, and continue to whisk until smooth.

Add the remaining milk to the egg yolks, and whisk until smooth, and then add the yolk/milk mixture to the cornmeal mixture, and whisk it in until the mixture is completely smooth and everything is integrated.

Add the beaten egg whites to the cornmeal mixture, and fold the mixture gently with a wide spatula until the egg whites are thoroughly incorporated without any clumps. Bake, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes, or until puffed up and golden on top.

Serve immediately, spooning the bread onto individual plates.

If you have any leftover spoon bread, once it cools and sets more firmly you can slice it and fry it up in a skillet. You can serve it for breakfast (with or without syrup) or dinner alongside your main course.

*My original recipe is hardcore Southern-style, and does not call for the eggs to be separated, simply beaten well. If you choose this method, you might want to bump your oven temperature up to 400 F/200 C to ensure it puffs up nicely.

July 18, 2015

Chickpea & Carrot Salad with Tahini Dressing

We're well into salad season. Every thought of actually cooking something when the temperature keeps spiking outside is accompanied by a shudder, and a look around for alternatives. Alternatives such as letting someone else do the cooking, perhaps, or maybe just preparing something that doesn't require heat.

This simple salad works really well as a dinner salad, or as a take-to-work/school lunch, takes very little time to prepare, and lets me continue my love affair with tahini unabated.

You could, of course, cook the chickpeas yourself, in which case do that however you like best. In the interests of a no-heat meal, however, this recipe is made with canned chickpeas (or, if you've got some home-cooked ones stashed in the freezer, by all means use those instead).

Chickpea & Carrot Salad with Tahini Dressing

Serves 2

1 400 gram can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
50 grams of grated carrot (about 1 medium)
1 green onion, finely sliced
1 cup loose-packed cilantro, washed and roughly chopped

Tahini Dressing

3 tablespoons tahini (stirred well)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, pressed or pureed
1 tablespoon olive oil
cold water, if necessary, to made a thick salad-dressing consistency

This should all be pretty self-explanatory. In a large bowl, combine the salad ingredients (I hold the cilantro to the very end, though, and add it after the dressing).

In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients, mixing well with a fork (or one of those mini-whisks, if that's what you like). I didn't need to add water, here, but if you find your dressing is too thick or is clagging up (as often happens if you're down at the bottom of the tahini jar), add a little cold water, a tablespoon at a time, and stir until it becomes creamy again.

Add the dressing to the chickpeas, carrots, and green onion, and stir through. Add the cilantro, and stir through again. Serve immediately, or transfer to a sealable container and chill until you're ready to eat.

If you happen to live near a Turkish bakery, or are feeling extra industrious and unafraid of baking during the heat, I highly recommend picking up a nice cheese or spinach gözleme (soft flatbread with baked-in filling) to have alongside this.

July 12, 2015

Chicken Plov — Chicken and Rice, Uzbek Style

I always associated plov with Russian cuisine -- partly because it has been adopted as the pilaf of choice for much of the former USSR, and partly because there were very few restaurants in my hometown (or, later, the city of Vancouver) featuring cuisine from Eastern Europe or Central Asia. Russian, you might be able to find in the city (or more likely, a blend of Russian and Ukrainian dishes), but not much luck trying to find restaurants featuring Georgian, Kyrgyz, or Uzbek food.

Plov, as it turns out, is ultimately a traditional Uzbek dish. By any other name, it might be palov, polov, or pilav, or perhaps more recognisably pilau, pulau, polow, pilaf, or almost any other spelling imaginable. It is considered a manly sort of dish to cook, the making of which can take on similar cultural overtones (sometimes similarly proprietary) to the idea of the masculine art of barbecue in North America. Traditional Uzbek plov is made with lamb (or mutton), which necessitates a long simmering time before the rice is added, to ensure that the lamb is tender and the connective tissues have all melted into an unctuous, satisfying texture. However, you can also make it with beef, and increasingly it is being made with chicken, whose speedy cooking time means the dish is on the table much, much faster. It is also easy and delicious, which are the only reasons that you need, to decide to make it.

Chicken Plov

Serves 4

400 grams boneless skinless chicken
1 head garlic plus 2 cloves
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 large or 2 medium carrots, grated
2-3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
pinch ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon duck fat (or more olive oil)
200 grams long grain rice
2 cups (500 ml) heated chicken broth or stock
1 - 2 tablespoons vodka

Finely chop the onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Slice the chicken (thigh is best, breast is also fine) into bite-sized chunks. Peel (if necessary) and grate the carrot coarsely. You could julienne the carrot if you prefer. Remove the outer layers of paper from the head of garlic, leaving the head whole, but the cloves still encased in one layer of skin. Use a very sharp knife to slice off the tip of the head of garlic, and set the whole head aside (tips can be added to the onions and chopped garlic).

In a medium-large pot or wok (the one I used is probably a little too big for this amount of food, and would have been perfect for a double recipe), heat the olive oil over a medium heat until just shimmering. Add a third of the chicken in a single layer, and let sizzle for 30 seconds or so before you stir through once, push the cooked pieces to the outside edge, and add the next third of the chicken. Continue until all the chicken has been lightly seared on at least one side, and remove to a holding plate.

Into the emptied pot, add the duck fat, the onions and minced garlic, and the salt (if your broth or stock is quite salty, you might want to omit the salt). Sauté until the onions start to change colour, and then add the carrots. Continue to sauté, and add the bay leaves, turmeric, white pepper, ground cumin and coriander. Stir and cook for a few minutes, until the carrots are wilting down nicely. Deglaze by adding the vodka to the pot, and scraping up any flavourful bits that might be stuck to the bottom.

Return the chicken to the pot, along with any juices that have accumulated on the holding plate. Pour the uncooked rice evenly over the chicken, smoothing it flat, and then gently pour the hot broth/stock/water over the rice, being careful not to disrupt the surface any more than is necessary. Smooth the rice a little again, if you need to.

Take the prepared head of garlic and plunge it cut-side down into the rice, leaving the root-end sticking up just a little. As soon as the liquid is starting to bubble a little, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, turn the heat to the lowest possible setting, and let cook undisturbed (no peeking!) for 17 minutes. When 17 minutes is up, still without lifting the lid/peeking, turn the heat off completely, and remove the pot to a resting place (a pot holder, or an unheated burner) for another 17 minutes. This time, when the 17 minutes is up, you are ready to serve.

You can upend it onto a fancy platter, or you can simply stir it through and spoon it into shallow bowls.It should be moist and fragrant, but not overly wet. Remove the garlic first, and squeeze the tender, fragrant cloves of garlic out of their skins by putting pressure around the base, scattering the cloves over the rice or dividing them amongst serving dishes. Some preparations call for a whole head of garlic per person being served, but I'll leave that up to your discretion. I've served it here with Ukrainian pickled tomatoes.

Leftovers reheat beautifully.

June 25, 2015

Bacon, Egg, & Mustard Scones

Breakfast muffins and breakfast biscuits have become a very dependable item for casual and fast food restaurants, and I know a surprising number of people who make them at home. Me, for example. It's a pretty easy breakfast that one can make with a minimum of fuss, although items such as bacon will of course add to the dirty dish count. Sometimes, however, you might want the convenience of a homemade biscuit without the need for actually cooking anything right at that minute. If you have a stash of these charming, bite-sized scones - where the bacon and egg and already incorporated right into the dough - you're just that much closer to the grab-and-go breakfast of your dreams.

Okay, okay. These do not fully replace the kinds of biscuits (or English muffins) stuffed with freshly-fried or scrambled egg (plus cheese and/or bacon), which of course have a different character than these scones. But they're quite satisfying, and a nice change from sweet, fruit-studded scones if that's your usual fare.

These are adapted from the Australian Women's Weekly Home Library publication "Muffins, Scones & Breads". As with the Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes, the heavy lifting here was done by my friend James, while I stuck to my moderately autocratic, slightly bossy, kitchen maven routine.

Bacon, Egg, and Mustard Scones
Adapted from Australian Women's Weekly

Makes 16 - 20

4 rashers bacon, fried, drained and crumbled
335 grams cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
90 grams butter
2 hardboiled eggs, finely chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons extra
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon wholegrain Dijon mustard
1 cup (250 mL) whole milk

We made these in a cast iron skillet, which is pretty old school.

Preheat the oven to 450 F / 220 C. Warm your cast iron pan gently on the stovetop to take the chill of it (it should be a little warm, but not hot.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender (or a fork, or two knives, as you see fit), until the bits of butter are no larger than the size of a small-ish green pea. Add the bacon, egg, Dijon, chives, and 1/4 cup of parmesan, and stir through with a fork, making sure everything is evenly distributed.

Make a well in the centre, and pour the milk in. Stir very rapidly with a fork until it all comes together. If it is too wet, add a bit more flour until it's not quite so sticky (a little bit sticky is okay). Turn it out onto the counter. Mix with your hands, until you can gently massage it into a thick, flat dough.

Use a biscuit cutter to cut out the individual pieces (do not twist the cutter, or you will inhibit the rise of the scone as it bakes - straight up and down is the way to go). Use a knife if necessary to loosen them from the counter so you can move them into the skillet, arranging them so that they're close to each other but not quite touching. You might need to do two batches, depending on the size of your skillet.

Brush the tops of the biscuits with a little milk (or cream - not listed above), and sprinkle with the remaining bits of grated parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until tall and golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Because these have meat in them, store them in the refrigerator (in a sealable bag or airtight container) after they've cooled completely. They're not a good item to hold at room temperature for long.

If you prefer them warm, pop a cooled one in the microwave for about 15 seconds.

June 15, 2015

Imam Bayīldi - Turkish Eggplant Casserole

Traditional recipes for Imam Bayīldi involve stuffing hollowed out eggplants (or halved eggplants) with onions and spices, and braising them in a surfeit of best quality olive oil until tender. I've made some serious versions in the past, but they've always felt like a lot of work for something that is primarily a side dish to me (although I acknowledge that it makes a terrific main course for lunch). So, naturally, I was very excited to see this streamlined casserole version from Feed Me Phoebe.

The slightly scandalous name, which translates "The Priest Fainted" has entertaining stories as to why exactly, the Imam keeled over - everything from swooning at the deliciousness to fainting at the cost (or sheer amount) of the olive oil. Various other versions abound in the Eastern Mediterranean, varying the spices, or in some cases the vegetables. I assume that there are versions of this that date back to considerably before the introduction of the tomato, but it seems that the tomato-and-onion version is one of the most popular.

Imam Bayīldi

Serves 4

2 small (but not baby) eggplants
Kosher or coarse sea salt
Olive oil (about a third of a cup, total)
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon chile pepper flakes
Dash of cinnamon
Dash ground white pepper
400 mL canned diced tomatoes, with juices
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, divided

Prepare the eggplants by removing the cap and slicing lengthwise into 1/2 centimetre thick slabs. If you cut them into coins, it's much harder to get even coverage of the pan without gaps, so lengthwise is by far the better way to go for this dish. Dissolve a generous tablespoon of salt in hot water, and then add cold water until you have about six cups in a large bowl. Add the eggplant slices and allow them to brine for 10 minutes, or up to 8 hours. Drain, rinse, and press the slices firmly with paper towels or fresh linen towels to dry them out.

In a medium skillet (this one is a 24 centimetre steel skillet), heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until it just shimmers. Tilt the pan to ensure the bottom of the pan is well coated. Have a receiving plate standing by. Fry the dried-off eggplant slices, in batches, with a little extra olive oil added between each batch, just until golden on each side - about one or two minutes per side. Remove them to the nearby plate as they finish to make room for the next pieces.

Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F) with a rack in the middle.

When all the eggplant has been fried, start building the sauce in the same (now emptied) skillet. Start by adding a little more olive oil (this is the last addition of olive oil), and then add the onions and garlic. Add a pinch of salt (not much, especially if your canned tomatoes are salty) the chile flakes, the cinnamon, the white pepper, and half of the parsley. Sauté until translucent and tender, and then add the diced tomatoes and their juices, and the tomato paste. Cook altogether until it starts to resemble a sauce, about four or five more minutes. Then remove about 2/3 to 3/4 of the sauce to a nearby bowl, wipe down the edges of the skillet, and start layering the eggplant into the skillet, on top of the bit of sauce that should nicely coat the bottom of the pan. Alternate the layers of eggplant with the layers of tomato sauce, and try to stack the eggplant slices in so they cover the surface of the pan in a neat, jigsaw like fashion. Make sure the top layer is sauce (ideally a thin layer of sauce so you can admire the prettiness of the eggplant slices), and place it, covered, in the preheated oven. If I use small eggplants, I only get two layers from them, but that works nicely with the amount of sauce.

Bake covered for 25 minutes, and then remove the cover and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove and allow to cool somewhat before serving. Garnish with remaining parsley.

This dish is often served at room temperature or even chilled, so it makes a surprisingly good picnic dish (or take to work dish). Paired with a nice chickpea salad, it's a beautiful, satisfying lunch.

June 08, 2015

Ayam Pedas Asam - Indonesian Sour Spicy Chicken (and International Bento: Indonesian)

Although there is a version of this dish called Ayam Goreng Asam, Sour Fried Chicken, where the chicken is first fried in oil before the sauce is added to the pan, this one has zero added fat. This suggests to me that I can pair it with a richer side dish without the overall meal feeling heavy, but in this case I was in a hurry to use up some cauliflower, so I just roasted that with some curry powder (and a bit of oil) instead.

The butchers and supermarkets here don't offer boneless chicken thigh, for some reason, and it turns out I'm too lazy to bone them out myself, so I've made this with breast. Thigh would be juicier, of course, so if you can get it, go for it.

While this dish is essentially just a meat-and-gravy dish, I think that a bit of Asian eggplant would go beautifully with the other flavours here, so I may try that next time.

Ayam Pedas Asam

Serves 4

500 grams boneless chicken thigh or breast
2 lemongrass stalks
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup tamarind concentrate (soaked, pulp squeezed & pureed, or prepared)
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon palm sugar (or date sugar, or raw sugar)
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
3 star anise stars
3 Makrut lime leaves (fresh or frozen)
1-2 hot red chiles (such as Thai bird chiles), sliced or minced (or sambal oelek to taste)

Cut the chicken into large chunks, and set aside in a stain proof, non-reactive bowl.

Trim the ends of the lemongrass, and remove the outer tough layers. Slice one into thirds, and cut a vertical slit down to the core along their whole lengths,. Chop the other lemongrass up fairly finely, and put it in your blender or mortar.

If you are using a blender, add the garlic, salt, water, and sugar to the lemongrass, and blend until as smooth as possible. If you are using a mortar, grind the lemongrass with the salt. When mostly smooth, add the garlic, and continue until you have a smooth paste.

In a bowl, mix the lemongrass/garlic paste with the tamarind concentrate, coriander, turmeric, white pepper, chile(s), and anise stars. Scrape the mixture over the chicken, and stir well to thoroughly coat each piece. If you used the mortar method, add the water and sugar at this stage, too.

Let the chicken marinate for 20-30 minutes, or overnight, covered, in the fridge.

Place the chicken and marinade into a large skillet over medium heat, and add the lime leaves. Continue to heat until the liquid is quite bubbly, and then reduce the heat and let cook very gently, turning the chicken pieces occasionally, until cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.

If you still have a lot of liquid in the pan, remove the chicken pieces to a plate, and vigorously boil the sauce until it has thickened and reduced. Add the chicken pieces (and any accumulated liquid) back into the pan, turn the heat off, and gently stir around so that the thicker sauce now nicely coats each piece of chicken.

Serve over scented rice or basmati, with the vegetable side dish of your choice.

May 27, 2015

Orange Blintzes with Warm Strawberry Sauce

Blintzes, either sweet or savoury are ultimately a particular handling of the ever-so-versatile crêpe. They are a bit decadent and a little fiddly to make, but can be prepared a day in advance (or frozen, if you have the freezer space for it), and a wonderful item to look forward to - especially for breakfast or dessert. Their origin appears to be central and eastern European, with the Russians, Hungarians, and Poles (and maybe more) all laying claim (and infinite regional variations). They were popularized in North America by the Jewish population, where they are a holiday favourite (particularly for Shavuot) and are also a Shrove Tuesday classic for Christians.

Because this is meant to be a luxurious, festive dish, I am using my recipe for the egg-rich French-style crêpes, but after consulting a lot of references, I decided to go with what appears to be the standard method, namely cooking the crêpe itself only on one side until the top becomes somewhat dry, and using that as the inside surface of the wrapped blintz.

Living in Germany, quark is the natural cheese of choice for the filling, although ricotta would also work nicely. These are sweet, with both sugar and orange marmalade in the filling, but not too sweet. I've topped them with fresh strawberries that have been warmed in melted marmalade, but you do run the risk of the strawberry flavour dominating. The solution for that would be to use peeled mandarin slices instead of strawberries, so that the orange flavour stays consistent. We were pretty happy with the combination of flavours, although the orange was a little overwhelmed.

Orange Blintzes with Warm Strawberry Sauce

Makes 6 Blintzes


1/2 recipe egg-rich crêpes
butter for frying finished blintzes


250 grams quark
3 tablespoons cream cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1/2 egg, beaten
zest of one orange (optional)


2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons water (or one tablespoon water, one tablespoon lemon juice)
6-8 fresh strawberries, sliced

First thing: I have not lost my mind when I call for half an egg in the filling. A half-recipe of the crêpes calls for one and a half eggs, and the filling calls for half an egg. I simply beat two eggs until smooth, and then remove 2 tablespoons of beaten egg to use in the filling, reserving the remaining 1 1/2 eggs for the crêpe batter. Easy. Of course, if you decide to double the recipe, you can operate in terms of whole eggs.

You can make the filling ahead and store it in the fridge while the batter for the crêpes rests, and then cook all of the crêpes before you start filling them. You do want to make sure the crêpes have cooled at least to room temperature before filling, though, or the filling will start to melt and slide around, and the rolled-up blintz will be super floppy and hard to transfer to a plate or skillet; I know this from curse-laden experience. Let your crêpes cool! Spread them on a cooling rack until they're all cooked, and then start with the oldest to fill them. By the time you get to the last crêpe, it should be cool enough to handle without melting everything.

Cook the crêpes according to the recipe in the link, but only cooking on one side. As soon as the top of the crêpe is dry looking, remove the crêpe to a cooling rack and start the next one. The dry "top" side of the crêpe will be the inside of the finished blintz.

Fill the blintzes by piling a couple of tablespoons' worth of filling on the lower third of the cooled crêpe. Fold the bottom up just to cover the filling, and fold the sides in, envelope (or burrito) style. Continue to roll up until the blintz is a tidy package. It may take a few tries to get the shape the pleases you most - longer and thinner, or shorter and squarer. Your choice.

Move the filled blintzes to a tray or plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill up to one day. At that point you could move the tray to the freezer until they are frozen solid, and then pile them carefully into a bag for longer-term storage. Or, you could fry them up right away.

You can make the sauce ahead, too, but it is best made just before you fry the blintzes. Melt the marmalade and water together and stir until smooth. Add the sliced strawberries (or orange segments) and stir gently until glossy and coated with the glaze. Turn off the heat.

Blintzes should be fried in butter, for the best flavour. They don't take very long, so make sure your attention is not needed elsewhere. If you're also making other items, or you're making a double batch, you can make the blintzes and keep them hot in a warm oven until you're ready to serve.

Heat a knob of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has foamed out, start laying your blintzes in a single layer in the pan. I find my 12-inch skillet works very nicely for 6 blintzes at a time. As soon as the blintzes are golden and starting to crisp on the underside, carefully turn them over using a spatula or flipper - don't try to use tongs, because they are far too delicate. When both sides have browned nicely, transfer to the tray in the pre-warmed oven, or serve immediately.

Just like with crêpes, there are many ways to finish blintzes. If you've made the strawberry sauce, go ahead and spoon that over the plated blintzes, but you could also go with powdered sugar with-or-without a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, or a pile of mixed fruit on the side, for example. A few curls of orange zest would be beautiful on these - I would have absolutely done that, if I had had a fresh orange on hand.