November 23, 2016

Moroccan Eggplant Salad/Dip: Zaalouk

One of my favourite dishes from Marrakech was an eggplant salad called Zaalouk (also spelled Zalook, amongst other variations). Moroccan cuisine is very big on salads, both raw and cooked, and this is a particularly popular one. Although you can find zaalouks made from other vegetables than eggplant, it does seem to be the one most commonly seen in the wild. Sometimes it simply showed up unannounced alongside whatever tagine I had ordered, and sometimes I selected it (along with one or two other options), from a menu. Every time it was a little bit different, and every time it was delicious.

It's pretty easy to make although it does take a bit of time, but since it is usually served either cold or at room temperature, you can make it in advance. The preparatory stages up to frying the eggplant are pretty much the same as the Turkish Eggplant Casserole that I was raving about last summer (and still make often), and it's not impossible that both dishes are related to the Afghani dish Burani Bonjon. It's flavour profile is quite different from Baba Ghanoush, the eggplant dip/spread that North Americans seem most familiar with these days, but it can fulfill a similar role.

This recipe was adapted from Fleur d'Oranger, Masala & Co's traditional recipe. I made mine a bit coarser, because that was the way I usually received it in Marrakech, but really you can make it as coarse or as smooth as you like. This makes a small batch, but can be easily doubled.

Eggplant (Aubergine) Zaalouk

Serves 2 - 4

1 medium, firm eggplant
Kosher or coarse sea salt
Olive oil (about a quarter of a cup, total)
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup canned diced tomatoes with juices
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 tablespoon (sweet) paprika
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (or other smoked paprika)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
small handful cilantro leaves (optional)

Prepare the eggplant by removing the cap and slicing lengthwise into 1/2 centimetre thick slabs. 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 (cover them with a plate or otherwise keep them submerged in the brine as much as possible). Drain, rinse, and press the slices firmly with paper towels or fresh linen towels to dry them out.

In a large 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. Brush the first few (dried, pressed) slices of eggplant with olive oil, and fry them in batches, repeating with a little extra olive oil added between each batch, until golden on each side and very soft - about three minutes per side, depending on your heat level. Remove them to the nearby plate as they finish to make room for the next pieces.

Into the empty skillet, heat a bit more olive oil, and add the diced onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Add a good pinch of salt, and stir through. Add the tomato paste and stir through. Add the spices and the tomatoes with their juices, and stir through, lowering the heat to medium-low, and continuing to stir, scraping the bottom of the pan clear as you go. Cook and stir for about another five minutes. If you want to add a hot chile pepper or even just a pinch of pepper flakes, now is the time to do that.

Place the fried eggplant on a clean cutting board, and chop roughly. Add the eggplant back into the skillet, along with any accumulated juices/olive oil that might cling to the cutting board or plate. Add the cilantro, if using. Stir everything together and continue to cook, breaking up pieces and mashing lightly with your spoon or spatula. If it looks too dry, add a bit more olive oil.

When everything is nice and tender and any excess water has evaporated, about 10 minutes if you fried your eggplants thoroughly, remove from the heat and scrape into a serving bowl (taste-test a piece of eggplant to make sure it's cooked through with no hint of raw flavour). If you prefer a smoother dip, you can blitz it quickly in a mini-prep or with a stick blender or even vigorous use of a potato masher. Add a tiny drizzle of olive oil to the top, and set aside to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate if not using within an hour or so.

Excellent on flatbreads or crackers, or on any plate-side. I tend to use it almost like a chutney, dolloping it onto my plate alongside other dishes.

November 13, 2016

Salisbury Steak: Hamburger patties in gravy

This was a fairly common meal for us, when I was a child. Easily made, relatively quick to prepare, and tasty. My mother would have had at least one more hot vegetable on each plate (or a salad), as well as a dish of pickles or radishes on the table. She was ahead of her time in making sure we got our vegetables in. Sometimes we'd have mashed potatoes, sometimes merely boiled and left whole (or chopped), sometimes baked.

While there are some ingredient differences between Salisbury steak per se and a simple hamburger patty in gravy (the Salisbury steak is named after Dr JH Salisbury, a proponent of low-carb diets), the method is essentially the same: create a meat patty and fry it up in a skillet, in which a gravy is then built after the patties have browned. There are of course similar dishes all over the world - everything from Japanese hambagu to Russian Koteleta to German Hacksteak, and doubtless many more. Salisbury Steak also holds the perhaps dubious honour of being one of the iconic meals available as a Swanson brand TV Dinner (although it was not the very first offering thereof).

At home in Canada I generally used all beef (or occasionally bison) for the patties, but here in Germany I use either beef or a combination of beef and pork (which is the standard most economical offering of the region). While a certain amount of filler material is apparently acceptable, mine are always just meat and seasoning spices. I make the gravy with either just onions or onions and mushrooms, depending on what I have in the house. The gravy is a bit variable in terms of thickness, because I don't tend to measure the amount of flour that I use. This one is a bit thinner than it often is, but it was equally delicious on the patties and on the mashed potatoes. I use lean meat for these - extra lean makes for a bit of a drier patty.

Salisbury Steaks

Serves 4

500 grams lean ground beef (or beef and pork)
1/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of ground cumin
Pinch of ground cayenne
1 shake of Tabasco pepper sauce
a bit of all-purpose flour to dust the patties
1 teaspoon butter or oil for frying

For the gravy:
1 medium onion, either sliced pole-to pole or diced
6 button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (or chopped) - optional
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 shakes Worcestershire sauce
pinch of whole mustard seed (optional)
1.5 cups beef broth (or stock from a prepared base, such as Better than Bouillon)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (shaken together with 60 mL water to make a slurry)

If you're making the family style of dinner above, put the potatoes on to boil first. Once they are going, mix together the meat and seasonings with your impeccably clean hands, and shape into four flat patties. Sprinkle the patties with flour on each side, and shake of any excess. Fry them in a large, hot skillet (in which you have melted the butter or heated the oil) over medium heat until well-browned on each side. Don't worry about cooking them through, they will finish cooking in the gravy.

Once the patties have been browned, stack half of them into twos and push them to the side. Add the onions and garlic, and stir through the fond. Add the mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard seeds (if using), and stir and cook until the onions turn translucent and the mushrooms give up some of their liquid. If the pan is too dry, add a tablespoon of water or so at a time until there's no danger of scorching.

Add the beef broth and stir through. Make a slurry of the flour with just enough cold water to make a smooth, thick liquid, and add it to the skillet. Stir it through carefully until it is thoroughly combined with the onions, mushrooms, and stock. It will start to thicken the gravy immediately, but it will take about 20 minutes for the flour to cook through and lose its raw taste, so don't be impatient if it doesn't taste great right away. Spread the patties out in the sauce, lower the heat, and continue to stir periodically, until the gravy has a delicious meaty flavour. You can cover the pan if you like, but I don't usually find it necessary.

If your patties didn't brown very much, your gravy will be pale in colour. It should still taste good, though, but you can get a nicer colour by adding a few drops of dark soy sauce (not regular). This will make it a touch more salty, though, so be aware of that, especially if you're using a salty meat broth or stock.

At this point, the patties can be held for a while if necessary to let the potatoes finish cooking, or to wrangle any other vegetables that you want to include in your meal. Put the lid on if you like to keep to much liquid from evaporating.

Serve up the patties with a spoonful of the gravy over them. These reheat very nicely for lunches the next day, and also make very good sandwiches (I usually slice them horizontally for sandwiches, and add a slice of cheese).

November 01, 2016

German Cream of Chanterelle Soup: Pfifferlingrahmsuppe

Fall is Pfifferling (chanterelle) season. They're all over the farmer's markets in glorious colour and ridiculously low prices. They're also all over the menus about town -- amongst them, pasta with chanterelles, spätzle with chanterelles, salads with warm chanterelle dressing, chanterelle toasts, schnitzel with chanterelles (a slightly fancier version of the old standby Jägerschnitzel) and of course, chanterelle soup.

I was inspired to make this one after having a really excellent version at Zum Goldstein, here in Mainz. I fully expect to eat a lot more chanterelles before the season winds down.

I've now made two versions of this soup - the first one partially thickened with potato, which is a common recipe in these parts, and the second thickened with a bit of flour and use of a stick-blender. The first one was too potato-forward for my taste - it obscured the delicate mushroom fragrance and flavour. The second one was beautiful. Nothing but rich, creamy mushroom goodness.

German Cream of Chanterelle Soup: Pfifferlingrahmsuppe

Serves 3 - 4

300 grams fresh chanterelles, cleaned and chopped
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
300 - 400 mL vegetable broth, at room temperature
300 mL whole milk
100 mL whipping cream

Clean the mushrooms really thoroughly, and slice a few for garnish, chopping the rest roughly.

Melt half the butter in a medium-large soup pot and fry up a few of the nicest looking slices of mushroom until dark golden. Put aside to use as garnish. Add the rest of the butter, melt it, then add the onion and garlic. Cook and stir until translucent, then add the chopped mushrooms, fresh thyme sprigs, celery salt, and white pepper. Cook and stir until the liquid boils off and the mushrooms are tender but starting to catch on the bottom of the pot. Deglaze with the brandy, and scrape the bottom if necessary. Add the milk and stir, and bring the temperature up to a bare simmer.

Shake together the water (cold, or at room temperature) with the flour until it makes a smooth slurry. Add the slurry to the soup, stirring it through and continuing to stir as it heats and thickens. Continue to cook the soup on the lowest setting, with the soup bubbling a tiny bit, stirring frequently for about 20 minutes or until the taste of raw flour is gone, and the soup is thick. Add the cream, and stir through again.

Remove from the heat, remove the now-naked thyme stems, and puree the soup with a stick blender until smooth and golden. Taste and adjust for salt if necessary. If the soup is too thick, thin it with a little extra water or vegetable broth. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the reserved fried mushrooms and an extra bit of fresh thyme, if you have it. I placed a tiny raft of toast under the fried mushrooms to keep from them sinking into the soup, but it's of course not entirely necessary.

For those who aren't vegetarians, I can also recommend the local way of serving this - instead of fried mushrooms, sear small cubes of blood sausage and use that as a garnish. The salty, meaty, soft texture of the sausage goes perfectly with the soup.

Looking for more chanterelle recipes? Check out my post from last year for Chanterelle Risotto.