Bibimbap ETR

Bibimbap at Home (is possible)

One of the new dishes that I have added to my repertoire in the past few months, had no time to write about because I’ve been busy with my studies, but which has become an instant repeatedly-returning favorite in our house is bibimbap.

Bibimbap is a fairly well-known and loved Korean dish which is a favorite in just about any Korean restaurant in the West, sort of like a good fried rice is ordered repeatedly in Chinese and Thai eateries hereabouts.  It’s crunchy and spicy, and fresh, and endlessly customizable because you can make it with sliced steak, or bbq beef, or some pulled pork, or seafood, or vegetarian, and the number of the combinations (with or without homemade kimchi!) is limited only by your imagination.  And, in fact, we’ve been eating it in a lot of those permuations while I have been writing my dissertation, because in addition to its awesome culinary qualities, it’s also really quick to prepare, and does not necessitate much advance preparation.  It is one of those dishes you might decide to have, and be eating in about 45 minutes from the moment you made the decision.

I say 45 minutes advisedly, because while lots of books and blogs say that a ‘quick meal’ should be half an hour or less, I believe any hot meal that takes less than an hour from scratch is quick enough – there are things you can certainly make in under 10 minutes (halloumi or saganaki cheese salads come to mind!), but those aren’t what I think of when I think of a filling dinner, which bibimbap certainly is.

Unlike fried rice, however, bibimbap is less often prepared at home because as it is made in restaurants, it requires a specialized piece of cookware – a fairly expensive granite (stone) bowl which is heated until very hot and used to finish cooking the dish on the table in front of the eater.  Unless you have a gas stove and these bowls (and if you do, more power – and bibimbap! – to you!), you are obviously limited to the more conventional cookware.  But, with a bit of thought, that isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a limitation to your bibimbap dreams!  How so?  Well, the stone bowl in which it is traditionally cooked and served is nothing but a high-heat-capacity vessel that stays hot for a while.  What do conventional Western kitchens have that is similar to that?

If you answered ‘cast iron’, then bingo, you win (bibimbap, hopefully).  A cast iron skillet or, as it is in my case, a wok-shaped flat-bottomed cast-iron fondue pot (that’s what that wok-looking thing in the picture is – fondue pot with the lid removed!) works rather well.  If you have a large skillet or a cast-iron wok, or a wok-like thing like mine, it’s practical to cook bibimbap for 2-4 people in that, but if you are alone or have several smaller skillets, it’s entirely possible to make it in single portions like in the Korean restaurants.  It’s even more convenient than in stone because cast iron pots have handles, which make a lot of things in the kitchen easier.

Before we get to the how (which is really very easy, and if you’ve ever made stir-fry or fried rice, you know all the techniques!), let’s talk a bit about the ingredients.

Things you will definitely need:

  • Short-grain rice (sushi rice or Nordic porridge rice, uncracked, or any fat short-grain rice that stays whole and becomes gently sticky when cooked).
  • Untoasted sesame oil, peanut oil, or any other high-smokepoint cooking oil.
  • Korean chili paste (gochujang), although I have made this with sambal, too, with good results.
  • Eggs or egg yolks (I prefer yolks only) – raw if you live where it’s safe to eat those, or poached/pasteurized if you live in countries where salmonella isn’t eliminated in poultry and eggs.

Things which are all optional but you’ll need some of in order to avoid a miserably boring bibimbap:

  • Toasted sesame oil
  • Soy sauce (I use kikkoman brand)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Carrots, matchstick-cut
  • Cabbage, shredded
  • Green onions (scallions, salad onions) – green and white parts separated, white+light green parts halved or quartered lengthwise, green parts sliced into 2cm pieces
  • Yellow onion, french sliced.
  • Some seaweed (nori is fine), cut into small bits
  • Kimchi
  • Mung bean sprouts
  • Broccoli rabe or any other green vegetables, cut into smallish chunks
  • Chicken, steak, shrimp, pork, duck – cut into stir-fry sized strips.  I’ve also made this with seasoned browned ground beef of good quality, browned in large-ish chunks, and it worked well.
  • Shiitake or other mushrooms, thinly sliced.
  • Red chili, seeded and matchsticked, to garnish.
  • Whatever else you feel would look and taste good on the rice.

Here is what you do:

  • Steam the rice:  Take approximately 80-100g of dry rice per person (depending on how hungry the persons are!), and rinse thoroughly with cold water in a sieve till water runs clear.  Set to drain.
  • In meantime, measure out water into a pot in a proportion of 200g of rice to 265g of water.  You might have to do a bit of math to recalculate to your own amount of rice, but I trust you to do that.  Doing this by weight has given me consistent and good results for steaming rice without a rice cooker.  Obviously if you have one, steam as in the machine directions.
  • Once rice is drained, add it to the water, and bring to the boil, at which point you should turn the heat to low, cover the rice with a tight-fitting lid, and cook for 10 minutes.  When those 10 minutes are up, turn the heat off and leave the rice where it is (on the warm burner) for another 10 minutes or longer.  (As you deal with everything else, you can leave the rice on the turned-off burner for longer as needed.)
  • While the rice is steaming, prepare your vegetables by stir-frying them quickly in a hot pan or wok with non-toasted sesame or other neutral oil, and setting them aside.
  • Stir-fry your meat or seafood, or if you are having a steak, sear it on both sides, and slice across the grain.  Kimchi can be used as-is or quickly stir-fried as well if you like.
  • Mix the desired amount (I use a couple of tablespoons, generously, for 2 people) of gochujang (Korean chili paste) with a teaspoon or two of soy sauce, a few drops of rice vinegar and a teaspoon or two of toasted sesame oil and set aside.  If using sambal, you can use it straight out of the jar.
  • When all the prep is done, put your cast iron vessel on the stove, and start heating it on medium-high heat.  Pour in a few tablespoons of your cooking oil, and use a bit of paper towel to wipe a thin film of it on the sides (the bottom should have a small puddle similar to that of a wok for stir-frying).  Preheat until the oil puddle starts to shimmer, and/or barely first hint of smoking.
  • Dump all the rice into hot oil.  Beware of splashes.  Fluff the rice to even it out somewhat, and sprinkle the top with seaweed (if using).  The rice will sizzle.  You will want to let it sizzle until the sides/bottom of the rice begin to form a barely-colored golden crust.
  • Carefully place any of the desired toppings on top of the rice, leaving a ‘bare’ window in the middle.
  • Add the gochujang mix or sambal to the available spot.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds generously (if using).  Top with a raw egg yolk per person – 2 yolks for 3 people work ok in a pinch. (if using poached eggs, bring those to the table).

Bibimbap II ETR

Take the cast iron off heat, and if you are making individual servings in small skillets, serve those to the table (on trivets, as they are obviously hot!), topped with an egg, to be mixed with chopsticks by the eater.  When I prepare a communal bowl in my wok-shaped pot, I bring it to the table, put it on a cork stand, and mix the egg yolks, chili paste and toppings in with bamboo utensils, breaking up the rice crust into bite-sized chunks, and then serve into bowls.

Serve sliced red chilies or kimchi (or additional sliced greens for garnish) at the table.

Sit down, and stuff your faces.

The end.

*As always, I make no claims of authenticity – only that this turns out pretty close to what a good Korean restaurant typically serves you, and that it’s damn delicious.  Which it totally is.

I Dream of Italy (How do you shop?)

Italian Food ETR

Scamorza affumicata, Pecorino Toscano, and some happy happy rainbow pasta of happiness.

T’s parents are great people with whom I get along very well, so it’s not surprising that when T and I visit Stockholm and stay with them, I offer chef services for the family, and they are happy to let me cook for them a few times while we are there.  I love cooking, and I love cooking for people I care about, and they love eating my food, so it’s happiness all around.

The only complication – and I don’t call it a problem, because a problem it isn’t – is that we have distinctly divergent ways of thinking about shopping for food, and deciding what to cook and eat.   What I mean is – T’s parents tend to decide what they want to eat before they leave the house.  They check the recipes, write a precise shopping list, and go to the store with it, following it exactly.  This isn’t criticism – it is actually a very good way to avoid buying more of what you don’t need, and therefore wasting less money.  My method of shopping involves some planning and making lists too – but those lists are of pantry-restocking items, slowly added to over a week or so, as supplies (salt, flour, coffee, etc.) run out.  And a lot of times I do decide that I want to make and eat something, in particular if there is a party in the works, or if I want to buy a large piece of meat and cook it for eating it over the course of many days, or if I have a specific craving for something.

Where the difference really lies is that I engage in what I term opportunistic shopping.  What I mean by that is when I arrive at the store, and see that they have just gotten in a giant pile of nice cuts of good meat on special, or a pallet of cans of artichoke hearts, or gloriously pretty seasonal vegetables, or any number of things that I know I will eat and/or that won’t go bad if I don’t eat them in a week (like the cans of artichokes or hard cheeses or cured sausages), I will buy those, and decide what I make for dinner based on what the opportunity has provided.  I rarely if ever impulse-buy candy or clothes, but I am known to impulse-buy vegetables, and also nice waterfowl, or 2-4kg cuts of pork shoulder.  I should not be left unattended near a case of frozen ducks or baby geese.

I think this behavior throws my in-laws off a little (but they are nice and don’t say anything, really), because I wander the supermarket in apparent aimlessness, looking for inspiration without a clear idea of what I want to buy, cook and eat in mind, until I either find it, or decide on a staple.  And I like it better when I do find it, because, when life gives you me scamorza affumicata, a large tub of Italian mascarpone, artichoke hearts, or a chunk of pecorino Toscano, who am I to disagree and say no, I don’t want Italian delicacies, I had planned to buy a sack of turnips and a block of random cooking cheese*!

*It’s important to note that I do stick to my strict lists when I am on a small food budget, unless the items on sale would provide a better value, by which I mean that they are either equivalent or close in price, or I would use less of the more expensive item because it has more flavor.  However, within the constraints of my food budget, I am happy to replace a block of hushållsost (not particularly fancy but good cheese I buy for cooking) with a block of something more awesome, especially at a good price.

Truth be told, yesterday morning, I went out to shop very prosaically – we’d started to run low on basic stuff like coffee, onions, cabbage, and garbage bags.

No, I don’t eat garbage bags, but they are acquired in the same place as food, and the garbage bag situation had become most urgent, so I picked up my running list of “things I am low/out of in the pantry”, and went out.  And that is how I found myself on my way to shop with a list and no interesting food thoughts in mind.  The prose lasted until I got to Lidl, and once there, I realized that it’s Italian food week, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is pure food poetry.

When you live in the latitudes of Central Finland (Stockholm supermarkets, I miss you!), even with access to a gourmet supermarket (and we do have a decent one in town), some things are not within your everyday reach.  Things like scamorza affumicata, or tubs of gorgeous mozzarella di bufala Campana, fancy mascarpone, or generous chunks of prosciutto di Parma, and bags of artisanal pasta.  This makes me a sad panda because I do love Italian food – I’ve loved it before, during, and after visiting Italy, which truly didn’t disappoint.  But, during their Italian weeks, Lidl, of all places, brings the joy of Italian food shopping even to Central Finland.  And so I have bought a pile of Italian staples for my pantry, some for a specific tiramisu purpose – ladyfingers and mascarpone, I am looking at you! – and some because it’s never a bad idea to have a bag of fancy dried pasta, or a tub of seasoned olives around – unless you have celiac disease and hate olives, in which case it’s (a) not a good idea, and (b) I am sorry for you.  But I love olives and I do happily eat high-quality gluten, so there is much rejoycing.

So, thanks to the opportunity to buy Italian food, I have changed my plans for the week somewhat, although I still dutifully bought garbage bags and toilet paper, because those aren’t exactly the sort of food-related items you can, or want to, replace by a hunk of good cheese.  The rest of what I have bought have been pure inspiration – smoked scamorza (mozzarella-like cheese) for hot openfaced canape sandwiches, to go with a tomato soup later in the week, ladyfingers and mascarpone for a traditional-with-yes!-raw-egg-yolks-in-it no-holds-barred tiramisu, rainbow-colored fancy pasta for a pasta with fresh spring greens when those show up – I am thinking asparagus or something equally evocative of spring.

And pecorino… there are just so many ideas that make me drool.  Grating it into bread dough to make amazing cheese bread.  Shaving it over some simple fresh pasta with a drizzle of truffle oil.  Shaving it onto a nice salad of bitter greens with a sharp vinaigrette dressing… the list goes on an on.  Needless to say, I’ve never had a piece of pecorino go bad in my fridge.  For lunch today, my plan is to boil some spaghetti; throw chopped olives, capers, maybe some lemon zest, and minced garlic into a pan with olive oil, sizzle for a few seconds, and toss with the spaghetti.  Add in a generous handful of flat-leaf parsley, and shave some of my precious pecorino on top of that.  I don’t know if it’s any sort of authentic Italian preparation – if it is, that is purely coincidental.  I make no claims of authenticity, but the very idea of it makes me drool.  I’ll let you know how that turned out.

And now, a moment of curiosity – do you shop opportunistically, or do you stick to your lists?  Do you look for food inspiration in what’s available and/or beautiful in the stores or markets, or do you stick to your menu plan and ignore temptations?  Does this change depending on the size of your budget?  Within your food budget, do you have your own impulse-buy splurge items that you feel it’d be just wrong to leave at the store?  I’d love to hear from you.

Birches and snow ETR

Law School and New Year’s Non-Resolutions

It is a beautiful winter day out.  It isn’t too cold, and the snow is falling in a magical straight-down curtain of powder, and the air is so perfectl still, it all comes off looking like a movie special effect.

It isn’t, though.  It’s Nordic winter.

I am on my sofa with a large mug of coffee with a generous helping of irish cream liqueur, and I am exhausted.  It’s ok, though, because last night I have submitted my dissertation for a Masters of Laws in European Food Law.  I don’t have the degree yet, obviously – that waits on the grading of the paper – but my part in it is (nearly) done.  The ‘nearly’ is because I still have to schlep to town with a pdf file, and order a few copies of it bound at the university print shop, and mail those to the program coordinator, but that’s not work, it’s an errand.  One that I will do tomorrow.

It feels somewhat surreal.  I have finished Law School.

IMG_20151125_125218

You make your own entertainment.

The answer to the obvious first question about me finishing Law School is no, I am not a ‘lawyer’ (barrister, advokat) now.  Once my degree is awarded, I will be a legal scholar, which is to say that, if you are doing any sort of business related to food in the EU, or wanting to export food to the EU, I’d be the person to ask for advice about how to avoid ending up in court in front of actual lawyers.  That said, I can’t help but look forward to ‘LLM’ behind my name, which stands for Legum Magistra, ‘mistress of laws’.  Yes, you I am never too old to want a cool title.  The answer to the next obvious question is, I don’t know, give me a few weeks to uncramp my brain, and then I will think about the next step.  After 147 footnotes, I feel pretty wrung out, and don’t really want to think hard for a few days.  I think I’ve earned that.

I do, however, have some plans regarding food, the universe and everything, which weren’t made around New Year’s Eve, but that I wrote down privately for myself as New Year’s Non-Resolutions 2016.  I don’t do New Year’s resolutions – I watch the social media go nuts with those every December/January, and then everyone forgets about them a week later.  Instead, I wrote down a realistic and non-exclusive set of goals for the upcoming year, achieving which should put the year on a good track, and if I get more done, that will be even better.

Finishing the dissertation was high on that list, so that’s that one ticked off.  Other items on the list are things like “eat more fruits and vegetables” (which will be doubly welcome after the frozen pizza and sandwiches of the final weeks of writing dissertation), finish the Swedish language course I’d started last year to such good effect (it was put on hold for dissertation-writing), run a few administrative errands, book a time to talk to start-up advisors (they have those here free of charge), and the like.  No particularly time-limited items other than the dissertation are on that list, and none of these things are in any way critical – I believe that making a long-term to-do list is more useful if it doesn’t stress you out.  Because if it stresses you out, you will start ignoring it because it’s easier to ignore it than to work on it, because stress sucks.

One of the goals not written down on that list (non-exclusive, remember?) has to do with me wanting to write more on this blog, and get back to its roots of writing more than just recipes.  I feel that there’s been a dearth of opinions posted here lately, and I can only say that it’s because I’ve been busy, and tired, and busy with dissertation, and things other than the blog.  But I have been collecting notes about things that I want to write about in a notebook, and, once I’ve slept the dissertation, and the subsequent party for finishing it (not the same as graduation party, that waits till this summer), I’ll get to those.

I have also collected a number of new favorite recipes which I’ve been making over and over these past few months, and which deserve their spot in the sun, or at least on the blog.  Since the sun is slowly returning to these latitudes, I will actually get the chance to photograph them without a flash, which always turns out better.  In short, stay tuned, more is upcoming – including the recipe for the super-awesome chocolate, dulce de leche and mascarpone birthday cake mentioned in the previous post, which totally deserves its place in the sun, although I do feel that it needs a bit of work before I write it up and share it with you.  I don’t mind the work at all, since it means that I will be baking myself a celebration cake (yay!), and inviting people to help eat it.

Snowy street ETR

I hope everyone is having a lovely February, and if you haven’t stuck to your resolutions – who cares?  I certainly don’t.  It’s a new day, so toss out any superfluous resolutions you felt pushed into last December (the sooner you get rid of them, the better you’ll feel), write down a few useful goals that you think are realistic – I find that I am more clearheaded about useful goals when I am not hung over from all the champagne on January 1st, which is why I don’t make resolutions then – and start on those.

They feel damn good to tick off.

 

Interrupted Programming

Dear readers,

In case you are wondering why I’ve been silent for a few months, I would like to reassure you that I am not dead, nor have I abandoned the blog, or forgotten about it.  I haven’t stopped wanting to write about food, either.  Especially not since T, my significant other, finally outgrew his childhood egg allegy, and we’ve been indulging in awesome things such as T’s birthday cake pictured below – T had never had a layered birthday cake before – hard to make those well without eggs, and I’ve tried.

Chocolate and dulce de leche cake ETR

Enter a caption

Dark chocolate cake with dulce de leche filling and whipped cream mascarpone frosting.

And these pancakes, for example:

Pancakes ETR

 

T had never had pancakes until this year either (can’t really do those well without eggs, either), so it’s been a year of glorious, egg-filled revelations such as gougeres, and Swedish mud cake (there will be a recipe!), and many other gorgeous not-health-food-unless you count mental health, and I do count it – things.  But, I digress.

In fact, the reason I haven’t been writing here as much as I would like (nor cooking or photographing food as much as I like), is because I have, in fact, been writing, and I’ve been writing about food.  No, I don’t mean anything like a book deal (though I’d not turn one down should it miraculously happen).  I have been working on finishing my Master’s degree of EU Food Law, and what I have been writing has been my dissertation.  It is the last thing I need to submit for my LLM degree, and it’s been taking up all of my time.

So, life happens, education requires a time committment, and this is why I have been so not here lately.  On the bright side, I am almost done, so, if all goes well (and I hope it does!), I will have finished the degree, as well as have more time to write here about all the awesome things I haven’t had time to write about while I was busy writing about some pretty interesting things for the degree.  Once the final touches on the dissertation are written and sent, I will be back to regale you with the usual tales of what I have eaten, and how, and how you may want to eat those things as well.

In meantime, I leave you with this beautiful photo of a T-bone steak for which I have no particular recipe (it was just a really good steak, dry-rubbed with a good spice rub, and pan-seared on cast iron with butter for a couple of short minutes to a side), and promises of awesome things to come.

T Bone Steak ETR

Ranty Opinions About Social Media, Bacon, and a Recipe for an Excellent Lentil and Cabbage Soup

Lentil squash and cabbage soup

Yesterday I was re-reading and thinking about the manifesto I had written years ago for this blog, not so much as a mission statement, but rather as an aggressive statement of my position on food and all things associated with it.  To summarize, I believe that for the most part, food shouldn’t be a matter of guilt and moral decisions (some ethical views may apply), and that there is no one true right way to do food, because as the old saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste.  (There are obvioulsy wrong ways, but those are exactly that – obvious.)

Being the obnoxious person that I am, I do, in fact, have loads of opinions about the right way to do food, but those apply to one thing and one thing only – food that is going into my mouth.  What you end up eating, and why is your own business.  It isn’t mine, but what is more important, it shouldn’t be that of trendy media personalities (we aren’t going to go chasing names here, there’s just too many) that will sell you apps or organic products via affiliate links and tell you to beware chemicals (ring a bell yet?), without regard to whether you need the app (you don’t), whether organic produce has less pesticides (it doesn’t, just different ones), and entirely disregarding the fact that everything is made of chemicals, including you and the rest of the universe.

So what I am trying to say is that, while you could certainly do worse than listening to me, a good bet would be to develop some critical thinking skills of your own, and apply those to everything you hear.  And considering the amount of food-related woo and misinformation and paranoia abounding on the internet, as well as the persuasiveness of the media outlets yammering it out, developing critical thinking regarding what you eat is a good place to start to save your health, your sanity and the contents of your wallet.

How does any of this relate to a recipe for lentil soup?  In a couple of ways, actually.  First of all, the reason I set out to make a lentil soup is that I like lentil soup.  Don’t like it?  Don’t force yourself to make and eat it, no matter what media personality says about how you simply must.  Because I like lentil soup, and I felt like changing things up a little bit today, I’ve looked around my Pinterest board for inspiration (I use it for bookmarking things I like, not a source of inadequacy-induced psychosis), and decided to improvise in a direction I was sure I could manage, considering the contents of my pantry and spice cabinet.  Which brings me to the second way in which the soup today is relevant – cooking from what you have and stock rotation.  I knew I had lentils, I knew I had some vegetables that could be used up, I knew I had spices that weren’t getting any younger.  The sum of that total would be soup, and it’d clean up fridge and pantry corners and let me get rid of that quarter-of-bag of lentils that hadn’t fit into the jar that holds the rest of them.

Frugality is not a dirty word, and one of the best ways to be frugal is to shop and cook your own pantry, and ignore advertising for the latest-and-trendiest superfood (a word that has no legal definition and is frowned upon as a marketing term because of that).  Lentils are healthy and contain lots of fiber, vegetables are healthy, and really, as I’ve mentioned before, the best healthy eating advice I’ve ever come across came from The Onion, paraphrased: “just eat a goodamned vegetable once in a while”.

One last and important component that seems relevant to today’s rant and soup is the little bit (I don’t know, maybe 30g total) of sadly drying sliced cured chorizo that was slowly aging in the bottom of my fridge.  I reached for it just as the social media has erupted in renewed “cured meats cause cancer by 18% and should be illegal because autisms!” gabble based on a well-known, and (again) misrepresented and misinterpreted statistic.  In case you are curious, yes, eating a giant hunk of bacon daily (we are talking 50g/day intake) does slightly increase a chance of certain cancers (from just under 2% to about 2.3% lifetime, which is an increase of 18%).  The articles were screaming that eating processed meat will give you cancer, and how it’s as bad as cigarettes, and gods know what other bullshit.  I decided that it was enough social media for the day and turned it off, then went straight to the fridge and pulled out my cured meat for the soup.

Why?  Because I love the flavor of chorizo, and because the reason people in general love to eat cured meat is that it’s a flavor powerhouse.  And because I am not just going to munch on it (not today, anyway), but add a small amount of it to the soup, making the healthy soup that much more enticing.  The key here, however, is to not overdo it, like with just about anything else.  I don’t advocate sitting down and consuming a chunk of bacon daily.  Occasionally it’s fine, but not every damn day.  You probably also shouldn’t drink alcohol, eat ice cream or cake or steak every day, either.  Variety is the spice of life, and it also what allows you to have your cake and eat reasonably well, too.  The dose makes the poison.

So, armed with a little bit of chorizo, a large amount of lentils and a lot of anger at sensationalist media, I went into the kitchen, and quite by accident made what I consider the best lentil soup I have ever made.  Seriously.  I’m a lentil soup connoisseur, and I still think this is probably hands-down the best one I’d ever made or had anywhere else – which is why I am sharing the recipe.  But in the spirit of the above rant, feel free to modify it as you see fit, because it’s going down your gullet, and thus your opinion is what matters.

Here’s what went into The Awesome Lentil and Cabbage Soup today (makes a 3L pot):

  • Enough oil to saute vegetables as follows: (I used a nonstick pan and sunflower oil because that’s what I had on hand – usually it’s rapeseed aka Canola).
  • 2 large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 ‘solo’ head of garlic (equivalent of 4-8 cloves), peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
  • Fist-sized chunk of white cabbage (could use more, it’s what I had), sliced finely
  • 2 teaspoons hot chili flakes (adjust this to your heat tolerance)
  • 2 heaping teaspoons of garlic powder (yes I use garlic and garlic powder here, got a garlic problem with it?)
  • 1 very heaping teaspoon of each: ground coriander seed, cumin, and ras-al-hanout (wikipedia link) mix
  • 2 tbsp calf fond (it’s the one I happened to have on hand – occasionally I keep their game, beef, or other varieties around – because while I maintain that buillion cubes are vile, this stuff is not).
  • ~2dl winter squash, chopped into 1cm pieces (I pulled one of the bags of the squash I’d frozen when it was left over after making the Hokkaido Squash Soup)
  • ~100g frozen chopped spinach (You can use fresh.  I am lazy.)
  • 2 tbsp frozen chopped coriander leaves (I freeze chopped fresh herbs in tiny tupperware boxes before they go sad and slimy in my fridge)
  • 3dl red lentils
  • 2-3dl brown or green lentils
  • 30-50g of cured chorizo sausage, cut into very small pieces
  • Salt to taste

What to do with it all:

  • Put a soup pot and a nonstick pan on the stove and heat a bit of oil in both of those on medium heat.
  • Toss onions into the frying pan and add a miniscule pinch of salt.  Add your shredded carrots to the pot and salt those too.  Salt helps them saute nicer.  Keep an eye on those and stir them until they turn golden.
  • Once carrots are golden, add garlic to the pot and fry for a few seconds to a minute until fragrant but not really coloring.  Add about a liter of water to stop the saute.   Once onions are soft and turning golden at edges, add chili flakes and cabbage and saute the cabbage gently, mixing with the onions, until it is soft and beginning to turn translucent.  Sprinkle garlic powder over the vegetables and allow it to heat for a few seconds (this prevents the garlic powder from clumping when added to liquid).
  • Add the onions and cabbage to the pot, rinse the frying pan with water and put that into the pot as well.  Add the cubed squash, remaining spices, fond, chorizo, all the lentils and water up to 5cm of the edge of the pot.  Stir thoroughly.
  • Bring soup to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until squash is entirely tender and all lentils are cooked (red ones will disintegrate while brown/green ones will keep their shape a bit better).
  • Add frozen or fresh chopped spinach and frozen or fresh coriander, turn heat up to medium and stir until greens are dispersed (if frozen) or just cooked through.
  • Taste and season if necessary.  That’s it.

Slap a generous pat of butter onto some good bread (I used the spelt and wheat bread I’d baked a few days ago), pour yourself a generous bowl of soup, drizzle some olive oil on it, grind a touch of black pepper and enjoy.  Trust me, the tiny amount of chorizo in a 3 liter pot of that vegetable and legume goodness is not going to kill you – and you eating the delicious soup full of dietary fiber (which reduces the risk of the same cancer that cured meat is supposed to increase), is one hell of a lot better than worrying about it and then binge-eating a cake or something else that may not be bacon, but may well make you sick anyway.  Or not eating, because eating disorders kill pretty reliably, too.

That’s it.  Rant over.  And on that note, I’m going to go and have another bowl of soup.

Cold Ferment Bread with Hokkaido Squash Soup

Cold-Fermented Wheat and Spelt Bread aka “Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and a Really Really Great Squash Soup Recipe

Last two days’ and nights’ wind (I hesitate to call it a storm, it was just a really windy night) tore most of the remaining leaves off the trees around town, and the municipal street cleaners and maintenance have been scrambling to try to pick the piles of soggy wet leaves off the lawns, playgrounds and streets.  The weather has turned from sunny, dry, and cold to cold and wet, which tends to inspire me to bake.  And since it’s conveniently still cold as opposed to deep-frozen (that comes later in the year hereabouts), it has occurred to me that I can use my balcony as a refrigerator annex to house a large (5-liter) bucket of cold-fermented dough.

What is cold-fermented dough?  If you have been reading foodie blogs over the past few years, you may have heard of “artisan bread in five minutes a day“.  The website and the book are both very good resources, although the authors have not (nor do they claim to, that I know of) invented the method – it has been used by pizza and other bread makers for a good long while to handle very wet dough, and the results are generally remarkably good.  I suspect that the reason this method hadn’t been popularized sooner is that few people have enough space in their fridges to permanently house 5L buckets of dough, and also because, while the effort really isn’t much more than five minutes a day, this isn’t an instant-gratification method of baking bread.  For best results with this method, you need to think at least 24 hours ahead.  However, if you do have that much foresight (and balcony, cellar or fridge that can take a large plastic box or bucket), this method is entirely worth trying.  It is very forgiving, it’s hard to mess it up, and it requires very little equipment (no stand mixer – or any mixer, actually).

The basic idea behind this bread is very slightly more advanced than the basic no-knead bread.  This one is no-knead, too, but it does work better for two reasons.  Reason one – unless you are baking with actual sourdough starter, a few more days of fermentation using regular yeast really improve the flavor of bread, so refrigerating the dough after a short rise and letting it ferment slowly works great.  Reason two – dough this wet (we are talking 75% hydration here, which is to say – 75g water to 100g flour ratio) is really hard to handle at room temperature.  However, refrigeration stiffens it significantly, resulting in a dough that has all the advantages of wet dough (open structure, good crust), but handles like a dough with much lower hydration, i.e. far easier.

The procedure for this is simple – you mix all the ingredients (recipe follows) in a large bucket or bowl with a wooden spoon or whatever.  You let the dough rise for 2 hours at room temperature, then snap the lid of the bucket or cover the bowl, leaving just a tiny (pinprick is enough) space for gases to escape, and you refrigerate the dough for 1-6 days.  At any point after the first day of refrigeration, dough can be taken out of the bucket (all or part, depending on how large a batch you made), shaped into a loaf (or flatbread or whatever), allowed to rest, and baked.  No kneading, no judging size doubling, nothing like that.  Yes, it’s easy.

My own recipe for this type of bread varies, but recently the one I’ve been using is this:

  • 1kg total flour, out of which 100-200g wholemeal spelt flour and the rest white bread flour.  You can use a whole kilogram of bread flour of your choice – I just think spelt adds a lovely nuttiness to the flavor.
  • 750ml of water.  This can be cold or lukewarm.
  • 2tbsp (~30g) salt
  • 1tbsp (~10-15g) dry yeast

You can also halve the entire recipe (this makes two good-sized loaves), or double it if you have the space.  Mix the flour, salt and yeast, add water, and mix until all flour is incorporated.  Dough will be shaggy.  Let rise 2 hours, refrigerate overnight  When you go to grab some dough, sprinkle some flour on the surface of the dough, and grab and stretch the amount you like.  The dough will stretch in long gluten strands.  I tend to snip as much as I want with scissors.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface, and give it several folds with 5 minute rests in-between those.  Flour a banetton or prepare a sheet of baking parchment.  I use a banetton because I have one and it makes the bread prettier, but either is fine.

Cold Ferment Proofing

Pick the dough up with well-floured hands, fold it again and shape into a rough ball.  Place in banetton or on the baking parchment.  Add some flour on top, and let rest for a while.  General concensus is that 40 minutes is enough, I tend to let mine rest up to 80-90 minutes, but anything in-between will work.  The dough will expand very slighly while it rests – it will not rise significantly during that period.

Cold Ferment Slashed

About 30 minutes before you intend to bake, preheat your oven to about 230C, with your pizza stone, dutch oven, or whatever baking implement you are using in it.

Once oven is preheated, if you are using a banetton, you’ll need to turn the bread out onto baking parchment.  I do this by covering the top with parchment and a board and quickly flipping it.  If your bread is already sitting on parchment, well, there it is.  With a sharp serrated knife, slash your bread as you prefer.  My slashing today was haphazard because I was angry (not at the bread), but it can be made as neat and pretty as you like.

Cold Ferment Baking sm

Carefully slide your bread onto or place it into your baking vessel and cover if able.  Bake for 25 minutes covered, then remove the cover and bake for additional 25-35 minutes until rich nut-brown in color (in the photo above I have just removed the steel bowl under which I started the bake).  Cool on rack.  Try to not burn your mouth and squash your hot bread by attempting to eat it right away.  It’s easily 100C inside, you know.

Cold Ferment Bread

Instead, while your bread is crackling as it cools and the aroma is driving all your neighbors up the wall, you can make the happily-nearly-fluorescent-orange winter squash soup.

The soup turns out best if you can get your hands on a Hokkaido (Red Kuri), buttercup (not same as butternut!) or kabocha squash.  Why?  I think it has to do with their texture, which is somewhat drier than that of butternut, but butternut is still a perfectly good substitute.  As is Acorn squash (but this one is a pain in the things to peel).  You’ll need a goblet or immersion blender for this.  Or if you are really hardcore hands-on, I suppose it can also be done with a metal sieve and a spoon, or one of those ancient food mills that I don’t own, but you might.

Here’s what you are going to need:

  • Enough winter squash (washed, deseeded, peeled and chopped into 2-3cm pieces) to fill your desired soup pot to within 5-10 cm of the top.
  • 2-4 potatoes (I use 2-3 for a 3L soup pot), peeled, chopped and added in with the squash.
  • 1 large onion, peeled, chopped, sauteed in some oil or butter, added to the same soup pot.
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic and/or a small chunk (2cm) of ginger, chopped and sauteed and added to pot. (entirely optional but nice)
  • Enough cold water to just-nearly cover the vegetables in the pot.
  • 1-2dl heavy cream (optional)
  • Some olive oil to drizzle, and fried bacon or onion bits for garnish.  Or some sambal oelek or other chili paste.
  • 1-2 tsp curry powder, or cumin powder, and/or hot chili powder and/or smoked paprika powder – whatever you feel like at the moment.
  • Salt to taste.  For a 3L pot of soup, I use a scant tablespoon, but I like salt.

What you do:

  • Put everything except cream in the pot and turn the burner on high to bring it all to boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer until squash and potatoes are entirely tender, 10-30 minutes depending on how small you chopped them.
  • Take off heat, and puree using your chosen method.  Return to pot.
  • Add cream.  Thin the soup out with a bit of water or more cream if you think it’s too thick.  Reheat.
  • The soup can be left covered on lowest heat setting to be kept warm for several hours or served immediately.

Cold Ferment Bread with Soup

By the time you are done with soup, your bread should be cool enough to cut, or nearly so.  Serve all of this to your hungry and rained-upon guests (they braved this @£$€@! to come see you!), or just eat it all on your own.  Either way, it’s a glorious antidote to the cold, wet and dark.  Happy October!

Submitted to Yeastspotting.

Quick and Easy Kimchi, Fermentation (and stink) Optional

Kimchi

Lately I’ve been on what T has elegantly termed “one of your detours into regional cuisines” – more specifically, I’ve been trying to learn some about Korean food.  It all started with a desire for bibimbap (link to the promised recipe!) – a dish I’d only ever eaten in restaurants, and guess what?  Jyväskylä doesn’t have a Korean restaurant that I know of.  There are, after all, some drawbacks to living on the edge of the Outer Dark in the middle of the forests of Middle Earth.  The upsides are glorious auroras, amazing forests and lakes, and the downsides are – this isn’t really a city.  It’s a large university town, and for its size and location, it is very cosmopolitan – which means that one can get some of the more exotic food ingredients here, with effort, but there isn’t a restaurant for every major world cuisine.

So, no Korean food to be had for dining out.  Obviously I had to make some, and after a first so-so try, I did succeed at recreating the awesome bibimbap that I had photographed, but today’s post isn’t about that – or, specificlaly, it’s about one of the ingredients I used in it, which is probably the best-known Korean food item outside of Korea:  kimchi.

In case you are unfamiliar with it, at its most basic, typical kimchi is a lacto-fermented cabbage (or one of a number of other vegetables) with generous amounts of chili, a bit of garlic and ginger and some umami flavor derived from seafood (dried shrimp, fish sauce, etc.) added in.  The dish has a long and distinguished history in Korea, and I by no means make claims as to authenticity of my recipe, nor attempt to do it justice as the locals may be able to.  However, as a non-Korean, I can still enjoy the flavor, and want to have some on hand, since I like pickles and I like chili, and I love the combination.

What I, and many other non-Korean people I’ve spoken to (I don’t actually personally know any Koreans, or I’d have asked their views as well!), don’t love is the frequently overly pungent scent that lacto-fermentation gives to the dish.  It may be argued that it is an integral part of what makes it kimchi and I am a heathen for even suggesting that it isn’t divine, but there it is – I don’t like the stink of rotten cabbage.  Interestingly, I do enjoy sauerkraut, which is also lacto-fermented, but there is something about fermented kimchi that turns me off.  It is possible that I’d had non-ideally prepared kimchi, but there it is.

Thankfully, there is a solution – one that isn’t mine, but collected over a variety of sources including friends who can cook (thanks, Berin!), and blogs by actual Koreans, or which refer to actual Korean people’s recommendations for making what they call in English ‘quick kimchi’.  The quick part is awesome for two reasons here – one, you can have kimchi overnight, and two – it has all the flavor and heat and umami of kimchi, but without the special smell!  Simply put, it’s salted and seasoned cabbage which doesn’t get fermented – and trust me, after consuming the entire first batch within about two weeks of making it, and promptly making a second batch, it turns out amazing, if I do say so myself (friends who tried it agreed, so there’s that)!

Kimchi will develop a fuller flavor after a few days in the refrigerator, even if you forego the room-temperature fermentation.  I think I liked it best after about a week, but it was delicious right away (the next evening).

So, how do you make it?  It’s actually really simple.

What you are going to need:

  • Jar or jars with tight-fitting screw lids, cleaned and sterilized (washed in a dishwasher at 70C works).  I prefer using larger jars with an opening I can get my hand through – they make stuffing of kimchi into them and squeezing air out easier.  (Note:  one small cabbage, which is what I have used, will easily fit into a 1L jar after processing, leaving a bit of headspace.  The jar in the photo is a Quattro Stagioni 1L jar.)
  • Large nonreactive mixing bowl (I used a large stainless-steel one).
  • Colander.
  • A pair of non-powdered rubber gloves (I use single-use ones) and eye protection (optional but you’ll be happy you did).
  • A small or medium white cabbage.  I used a whole cabbage and it wasn’t tiny, but I sadly didn’t keep the tag to see the weight.  It was small going on medium as cabbages go, less than 20cm in diameter.
  • 5-10 large hot chili peppers (I bought a variety pack with a green, a yellow and a few red ones).
  • 1-2 tbsp Korean (or any other sort of) crushed hot chilies (optional).
  • 2-5 cloves of garlic (now normally I am one of those people who use a head of garlic when the recipe states a clove, but based on what I have read, too much garlic or ginger can make kimchi turn out badly so I restrain myself).
  • a 4-6cm piece of ginger, peeled.
  • A generous amount of table salt (I use the iodized kind because it supports thyroid function and the flavor and texture of salt doesn’t matter in this dish).  One source suggests an estimated 2.5dl of salt for 4.5kg cabbage, but I just went by feel.
  • 2-3 tbsp fish sauce (can be bought in the Asian Food section at most supermarkets these days)

What you do with it all:

  • Clean and chop your cabbage into bite-size pieces.  Yes I know ‘real kimchi’ is made of whole leaves and only cut up for serving, but as I’ve read on a Korean blog, if you aren’t going to keep it for a year, might as well make it easy on yourself.
  • Toss the cabbage in a bowl with lots of salt.  What’s lots?  Enough to make it sort of gritty was the explanation I’ve seen.  Rub the salt into the leaves until they all separate into single layers and don’t remain stuck together.
  • Leave the bowl with cabbage to salt for 2-4 hours.  Visit the bowl occasionally during that time, flip the cabbage and rub the salt in.  Separate any leaves that you find still layered together.
  • After a couple of hours, the cabbage will take on a wilted look and there will be juice collected at the bottom of the bowl.  Drain the juice out and wash the cabbage in water a few times to remove excess salt, then drain it in a colander.  Wash and dry the bowl with a towel and set aside.
  • While the cabbage drains, put garlic, ginger and chilies into a food processor (you can also use a mortar and pestle but that’s not for the faint of heart) and chop finely.  Add the fish sauce and puree a bit longer.  You will need to use a rubber spatula or a spoon to push the mass down the sides of the food processor bowl a few times.  The mass won’t become a paste, but it’ll start to stick together and the pieces will be no larger than small chili flakes.
  • If you like your food really hot, feel free to add 1-2 tbsp crushed hot chilies (Korean if you can find them, or any hot chilies will do).
  • Here’s where I break out the gloves and eye protection.  If you’ve ever gotten a chili burn under your fingernail and didn’t enjoy it, you’ll want to use the gloves, too.  I figure the eye protection is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Having put on gloves and goggles, transfer the cabbage from the colander back into the dry and clean bowl by handfuls, squeezing excess liquid out as you go.
  • Scrape the chili-fish sauce paste into the same bowl with a spatula, and using your hands, rub it into the cabbage, mixing it thoroughly until every leaf is coated.
  • Using your hands, stuff handfuls of cabbage into jars, compacting it as you go to remove as much air as possible.  Wipe the edge and screw threads with a damp cloth or sponge, and put on the lid.
  • Now, at this point this can go one of two ways.  You can be like me, wash the outside of the jar with water and soap (because it will get coated in chili paste, trust me), towel it off, screw the lid on tightly, and stuff it into the fridge.  It’ll be ready to eat the next day and it’ll have all that lovely flavor and heat of kimchi sans the ahem, pungent scent.
  • If you are more hardcore and prefer said scent, then after washing and toweling the jar, unscrew the lid just enough to let air out (still closed, but not screwed tight), and leave the jar of kimchi on the counter out of direct sunlight for up to a week before screwing the lid shut and sticking it in the fridge.  (Note, I haven’t done this myself so I cannot pinkie-swear to it, but those I’ve asked about this recipe, have done so with good results.)

That’s it.  Enjoy your kimchi in whichever way you like – as a side to Asian food, in fried rice, in bibimbap, in kimchi pancakes or stew.  Just a warning – this is easy, this is cheap and it’s addictive.  You may be picking up another cabbage at the store in no time at all!

The non-fermented kimchi will keep in the refrigerator for at least two weeks without any deterioration while being used.  Use a clean fork to get as much as you like at a time out of the jar.

Khachapuri – the Pie You’ll Want to Eat the Whole of After Hiking up and down the Entire Caucasus (And Some Awesome News!)

In all of my travels, I have never actually been to Georgia.

Ajarian Landscape. Source: Wikimedia Commons

And yet, I think of it fondly and often where it comes to its food and wine, for the Russians who have controlled this amazing part of the Caucasus on and off throughout its turbulent history, have done it at least this one favor – they have popularized its amazing cuisine and wine culture far and away from its point of origin.  Which I haven’t ever had a chance to visit.  Politics and peace in the region permitting, one day I still hope to go.

But, there’s no need to wait on that in order to experience Georgian cuisine.  Its wines can generally be ordered via good wine traders (or even state liquor monopolies if you live in the Nordic countries), and its food, with a few specific exceptions, does not require exotic ingredients – yet at the same time, it is quite distinct in its flavors, and very, very worth trying.  If you are so lucky as to have a restaurant – either specifically Georgian, or more generically regional to Caucasus, or even a Russian one that includes a few of the dishes of the region, then by all means, go.  But if you don’t, and are interested in the sorts of foods that the healthy long-lived mountaineers for which the region has long been famous, eat after hiking up one mountainslope and down the next a few times to visit their neighbours, then this recipe is very easy to make at home, doesn’t require difficult advance preparation, and is a lovely, wonderful thing to eat as the weather cools.  Or if you are chilled from the mountain wind you encountered while climbing whatever it is you may have been climbing.

Khachapuri

According to the Georgian tourism blog, khachapuri are the national dish most familiar to those outside Georgia.  I view it as an ambassador dish, sort of like pizza is for Italy – when people think of Italian food, that’s where their thinking goes.  It is the Georgian variation of the existing-anywhere bread-based food unit that has existed since the beginnings of agriculture and the invention of grinding grains into flour, fermenting that with water, and baking it into a portable food that would keep for a few days.  Add cheese, and some fresh greens on the side, and it’s a meal as worthy of a 21st century table as it was of the 12th and the 2nd, and going thousands of years back.

Every province in Georgia obviously has its own regional recipe.  The one I offer today is adapted very slightly from the recipe for Adjarian khachapuri that is listed on the food section of the Georgia About tourism blog, for two primary reasons – one, because I have had Caucasian breads before and they always taste a bit undersalted to me (because often the recipe does not include any salt), and two, because it is difficult to get a hold of authentic Georgian cheeses in Western Europe, so substitutions had to be made.  A third minor reason for recipe alteration has to do with the fact that those of us who haven’t, in fact, just hiked up and down the entirety of Caucasus, probably cannot eat a single pie of the size indicated in the original recipes.  So I’ve adjusted sizes to about half the original size.  No, please don’t think these will turn out little.  They… really weren’t.

Khachapuri

Yes, that’s a full-sized oven pan they are stretching diagonally on.  In fact, although we aren’t at all dainty eaters, and these were made for a late lunch without a prior breakfast, we still had trouble finishing ours, and the title of today’s post comes from T’s answer to my question regarding how in the world would anyone manage to eat one of the (original-sized) ones if we are barely managing our half-sized khachapuri.  He proposed that that’s what and how much food you’d eat after you hiked on foot from one village to another, or maybe three provinces over to visit your cousin-three-times-removed across the Caucasus mountains.  So, maybe.  I’m still not sure I’d eat twice as much as we did today in one sitting.  Dinner is going to be a light salad affair or a delicate soup, I think.

But back to khachapuri.  I do recommend that (barring the recent hiking across the Caucasus) you make them in my half-sized proportion first.  Those will mostly-fill a large dinner plate.  If you then feel their magnitude insufficient, by all means, double the size next time around and gorge yourself.  They are certainly delicious enough.

Ingredients (makes 4 half-sized huge khachapuri):

Dough:

  • 600g AP or bread flour
  • 300ml lukewarm water or milk
  • 7g dry yeast  (you can use equivalent amount of fresh yeast, but it’ll need to be dissolved in the water/milk rather than added to flour)
  • 1-2 tsp salt (I use 2 tsp myself)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp neutral vegetable oil (not-extra-virgin olive, refined rapeseed (canola), peanut, or whatever you have on hand)

Filling:

  • 2x 125g packages of mozzarella (or 250g Imeretian cheese if you can get it), drained and shredded – I used a box grater and persevered.  Good mozzarella doesn’t like to shred neatly, but it’s doable.  Neatness is unimportant here.
  • 300g salzlakenkäse or feta or any similar crumbly cheese (or Sulgini cheese if you can get it), shredded
  • 40g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • I’ve sprinkled my khachapuri with a pinch of dried ramps (wild garlic leaves).  A bit of terragon would work wonderfully either, but neither is necessary.

Topping:

  • 1 egg per person/pie* (optional, 4 eggs total)
  • Salted butter

Khachapuri - unbaked

Method:

  • Mix flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add water/milk, oil and egg, and stir to combine.
  • Knead until dough is smooth and elastic.  I use a handheld mixer with dough hooks that makes very short work of this.   Since flour humidity varies, add a small handful of flour if the dough is too wet and sticky to handle (it should become well-behaved and more interested in sticking to itself than anything else, and clean up the mixing bowl).
  • Oil the bowl, place the dough ball in it, and cover with cling film (plastic wrap).  Set in a warm place for 1-2 hours until it doubles in size.
  • In the meantime, make the filling.  Mix the shredded cheeses with the softened butter and the egg.  If you are short on eggs, you can skip the egg here – I realized when I began making this today that I had 1 egg total out of the 5 that I needed in theory, so I used it in the dough, and didn’t add any to filling, and it turned out fine.
  • Preheat oven to 225-250C (original recipe just states ‘high temperature’).  My oven went to 250C so that’s how high I preheated it.
  • Line two baking sheets with pieces of baking parchment.
  • Cut your dough into 4 pieces, make those into balls and let them rest 10 minutes.
  • Stretch the balls into oval shapes, place 1/4 of filling into the center of each, and spread, leaving about 3-4 cm border of dough around it (the original recipe site has more pictures).
  • Fold the sides in, first one then the other, over the edge of the filling, and pinch ends to make a boat shape.  Place on the parchment (one baking sheet will fit about two khachapuri), and cover with a towel.
  • Allow khachapuri to rise 15-30 minutes.  If you wish, sprinkle the cheese filling with a bit of dried or fresh herb of your choice.
  • Bake in hot oven for 12 minutes (or 15 minutes if you aren’t topping with more eggs) until bread is puffed and golden, and the cheese filling is bubbling and beginning to brown.
  • If you wish to top khachapuri with more eggs, break a raw* egg into the top of each khachapuri, and place in the oven for an additional 3 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, and serve hot, topped with a slice of butter.

Khachapuri is eaten with knife and fork, by cutting pieces of bread part off, and dipping them in the mixed cheese, egg and butter topping.

I imagine a bottle of good Georgian or other red wine would round this off as an amazing dinner.  Since it was a midweek lunch for us, we had strong coffee and a green salad.  And it was awesome, but now I need to arrange to order a few bottles of a Georgian red, and repeat the experience.  In the cold dark of winter, my friends certainly won’t complain.

The good news, which I have almost forgotten about, is this – it would appear that T, who has a deadly nut allergy and up until now had a less-serious egg white allergy, has finally outgrown the latter.  Cautious introduction of whole eggs into his diet has caused no reaction in the past months, which would explain to any of my longer-time readers why I am suddenly writing about dishes involving loads of whole eggs.  To me, this is a dessert, cake, hallelujah!!! sort of news, which means that there will be more cakes and other such things on this blog.  And while I will still suggest egg-white-free solutions for such dishes, I am, myself, now free to cook with the glorious thing that is whole eggs.  And there is much rejoycing!

* A very important note on raw eggs that I need to add:  I live in Finland, where, like in Sweden and Norway, all eggs are required to be, by law, salmonella-free and available to eat raw.  I know that in other countries raw eggs are variously dangerous to one’s health, so my advice is that unless you have your own chickens or access to good-quality eggs from a farm you trust not to infect you with salmonella, skip the raw egg topping.  The khachapuri will be delicious without it.  If you decide to go ahead with it, please note that you are eating it at your own risk.

How To Saganaki (Cheese)

Cheese Saganaki

Everyone – or almost everyone – who has been to Greece or even a good Greek restaurant, has seen the ubiquotous “Cheese Saganaki” on a menu.  And those of us who have tried it are usually immediately and forever enslaved to the cult of the Fried Cheese (which is what ‘saganaki cheese’ means), and seek to repeat the divine eating experience over and over again like true addicts.  I am no different from all of the others followers of the Holy Cheese on Fire.  After having tried it in a Greek restaurant, and later again in Greece, I knew I needed to get my hands on a ready supply of this, for it is truly amazing:  the crust is slightly crunchy and feels almost battered, and the inside is melted and soft and slightly gooey, at least until it cools.  Among other cooked cheese dishes, this one truly belongs on the throne of cheese royalty.

The bad news about this is that the appropriate cheese is generally difficult to come by.  In Scandinavia, good gourmet supermarkets and cheesemongers will have it, but most supermarkets (that do stock halloumi and feta on a regular basis) do not.  And no, despite what wikipedia claims, halloumi doesn’t actually make for a good substitute here – frying halloumi gets you fried halloumi, which is lovely and delicious and nothing at all like the thing we are talking about here.

The good news is that if you get your hands on a suitable cheese – typically kasseri aka kassieri, although it’s often marketed in countries other than Greece as ‘Saganaki’ (after the dish), it’s incredibly easy and rewarding.  Not only is it oh-my-god-what-is-this-give-me-more! good, it’s also a very easy and quick meal to prepare for those of us avoiding a heavy carbohydrate load.  It takes no more than 15 minutes from arrival in the kitchen (provided that you don’t need to spend an hour cleaning it first), and most of the time does double duty.  That’s for the cheese with a side of salad (100g of cheese makes a remarkably substantial lunch or dinner when paired with a bunch of fresh greenery and vegetables).  If you should decide you want the asparagus with that, add in another five minutes to grill it – or whatever other vegetable you’d prefer hot rather than chopped and doused in olive oil.  If you are making it as a special dinner entreé for a very special dinner, you could go as far as adding a splash of Metaxa liqueur into the mix.   That obviously takes Metaxa, but it doesn’t really take time.

Similarly to many other Greek and Balkan cheeses, kassieri is pretty salty.  I find that serving it with an otherwise-unsalted or very lightly salted salad balances the meal and (for those concerned with it) reduces the total sodium intake.  However, I cannot in good faith recommend this dish as a staple for people who are on a very low-sodium diet for medical reasons (a little piece to taste certainly won’t hurt, of course – moderation is key).

Provided that you got your greedy paws on some of my the cheese (mine!  It is ALL MINE!!! *cough*), what do you need to make the most of it?

You will need:

  • A cast iron pan.  (Sorry, people – nonstick just doesn’t compare.  I imagine a good heavy stainless steel pan might work ok, but it has a higher chance of the cheese sticking than a well-seasoned cast iron.)  If you are lucky enough to own single-serve cast-iron sizzle plates, the cheese should be prepared and eaten on those, if possible, to keep it warm for eating.
  • A block of cheese (it usually is sold in 100-200g blocks, the latter of which you can cut in two for smaller portions).
  • A lemon.
  • A couple of tablespoons of Metaxa (optional but awesome).
  • Whatever salad floats your cheese, enough for however many people are eating the cheese, drizzled with some good olive oil.
  • A few spears of asparagus, washed and trimmed.
  • A handful of basil and lemon balm leaves if you have them and like them.  Any other salad herbs will do, though I’d stay away from really strong ones like celery greens or green (salad) onions.

What you do:

Cheese Saganaki

  • Preheat dry, clean, unoiled cast iron pan on medium-high heat (closer to medium, we aren’t aiming to scorch anything here).  Don’t worry, the cheese will let out enough of its own butter to oil the pan underneath it.  I use setting 6/9 on my glass-ceramic IR stove.
  • While pan is heaing, arrange salad on plates and cut lemon into wedges.
  • Place dry asparagus spears on the pan and roast, flipping with tongs, until bright green and tender-crisp.  Add to salad plates.
  • Set a timer to count upwards and put your cheese directly onto the cast-iron pan.  Do not fear, it won’t stick.  Start timer.
  • When timer hits about 1:30 (one minute thirty seconds), slide a thin spatula under the cheese, which should detach easily, and flip it.
  • Cook for another 1:30 – 2:30 until both sides are golden and the inside of the cheese looks lusciously melted.  If your blocks are thicker than mine, you may have to do 2×1:30 for each side of cheese (flipping it three times) for a total of about 6-7 minutes until the cheese is cooked through.  Watch the entire time and do not allow the cheese to scorch – it isn’t prone to it, but this isn’t a walk-away-from sort of cooking method.
  • If using Metaxa (make sure you are under open sky or with exhaust fully on), take the pan off stove and quickly toss the liqueur onto the cheese.  It’ll hiss and create steam.  This can be ignited for flambe fireball effect, and put out by squeezing the lemon wedge over it once the flames die down. (Note:  Only do this if you are outdoor or have the facilities and know-how to do this safely!  I take no responsibility for anyone setting anything in their kitchen on fire!)
  • Transfer cheese to plates.  Squeeze lemon over the cheese (if omitting previous step), and serve immediately – the cheese will begin to harden as it cools, and should be eaten while still warm, or preferably steaming hot.

Saganaki Cheese

Nirvana.

Things Food Bloggers Eat – 5: Roasted Cauliflower with Leftovers and Opinions

Cauliflower and Chorizo

It’s a Sunday morning, and poor T has to work a full day because of the sudden stuff that needs to be done before such-and-such-day piling up onto him as it does occasionally.  For me, that means being deprived of his wonderful company, and also making a quick ‘workday’ lunch that he can poke his nose out of the office for and eat quickly, then go back to work, rather than an hours-long brunch affair.

All of which is by way of explanation why today’s post is yet another one of those not-exactly-recipe posts demonstrating how I typically put together a quick meal in my “things food bloggers eat” series – and showcasing one of my favorite go-to vegetables for making random leftovers into a meal: cauliflower.

I don’t need to sing long praises to cauliflower – it’s low in carbohydrates, it’s high in fiber and minerals and vitamins (like all of its cousins in the Brassicaceae family).  In my opinion, it’s also one of the most easily palatable of them (yes, turnips, I am looking at you – now go away!), and one of the more versatile.  The internet abounds with recipes for making fake cauliflower rice and other such things, but I tend to dislike foods being made into pretend-other-foods (meat substitutes, dairy substitutes, rice substitutes) because they are never as good as the real thing, no matter what Pinterest descriptions exclaim, and because they do a disservice to the food that is being mangled into being something else (mushrooms, beans and cauliflower to name a few), when these foods can and, in my entirely biased and prejudiced opinion, should shine in their own right.

When I eat vegan or vegetarian dishes (and for all I am a self-proclaimed carnivore, I do that on a regular basis), I want them to be vegan or vegetarian because they need no meat, rather than because I abused some poor beans into a semblance of a burger.  Leaving aside all the morally ambiguous thinking that goes with that, I’d rather have beans cooked the way beans are best cooked – and if I want a burger, I’ll buy some nice and preferably well-treated-while-it-lived meat and eat a damn burger.

But I digress – back to cauliflower.  The reason I love it and always try to keep a head or two in my fridge (and, like many other Brassicas, it keeps for weeks, especially if store shrink-wrapped with no water trapped inside it) has nothing to do with fake gluten-free carb-free pizza crusts or rices it can be made into, and everything to do with the fact that you can make a whole lot of really really delicious things where it can be the star, not the stand-in for something an orthorexiac is afraid of on any given day.  Heck, you can just cut it into florets and mix some Turkish or Greek yogurt with a bit of pressed garlic and a drop of olive oil and go at it raw with the classic Middle-Eastern dip at its most basic (provided your date for that evening is garlic-friendly and willing to indulge as well).  You can lightly roast it and then blend it with some cream or stock for an awesome soup, you can throw it into a salad – raw or lightly sauteed, or you can make a head of cauliflower and random leftovers into a meal like the one in the picture.

All you do in order to create this awesome, warm and crunchy salad is – preheat oven to 180C.  Grab your cauliflower, and chop it into florets.  Dump into a large mixing bowl.  Look into fridge and take out random greenery, and some other random vegetables (tomatoes, bell peppers, anything that can be eaten lightly roasted or raw), and any say, bacon or sausage that’s laying around in it.  Or some cheese, cheese works too.  In my case, upon excavation of the colder part of the fridge, I unearthed a couple of part-cured chorizo sausages, a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley (another keep-around favorite which works as either parsley-the-herb or parsley-the-salad greens and stays fresh way longer than baby leaf salad), and a box of some fried aubergine slices left over from Friday’s dinner.

Drizzle a bit of oil of your choice on your cauliflower in the bowl, add whatever spices float your boat or might go with whatever else you have found (I sprinkled a generous amount of hot smoked Spanish paprika there), a bit of salt, and toss the cauliflower to coat.  Dump into a (foil-covered if you hate to wash them) oven dish.  Chop your sausage into large pieces or cut the bacon, and nestle that in-between the florets.  Stick into the oven for 25 minutes (set the timer).  If you have cheese instead of the sausage, grate the cheese.  When timer goes off, add any other leftovers (such as aubergines), the cheese, or vegetables you want roasted lightly (baby tomatoes, slices of bell pepper) to the pan and return it to the oven for 10-ish minutes.  You can turn fan on and heat up to about 200C here.  When timer goes off again, take it out, divide between plates, and toss the greenery you found on top.  Poke it into attractive shape with a fork if you are going to take a photo – or don’t, and just shovel it all into your mouth.  If you want carbohydrates* with it, a nice piece of bread with a dab of butter alongside this would be lovely.

Time spent – about 35 minutes, out of which the part that required effort is maybe 5 minutes at most.

So there you go – cauliflower with leftovers and opinions.  Take or leave the opinions – they are mine, obviously, not yours – but make the cauliflower!

Cauliflower and Chorizo

* I am not against eating carbohydrates, especially for the people who need more of them (people’s carbohydrate needs vary hugely with metabolism), but since I am sensitive to them, I tend to go heavily on the vegetables and proteins while avoiding excessive amounts of refined sugars and starch.  So when I prepare food that is low on carbohydrate content, I let the fast-metabolism-gifted T have bread with whatever else I made.  And since in Finland it’s easy to get gorgeous 100% wholegrain sourdough rye rolls at any supermarket, I don’t shy away from it that much, either.