Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sprouting things

Okay Steve; I've got one for you.

Steve is a strict vegan, so you would think he'd have to prepare most of his own food.  Alas!  The man has neither a kitchen sink nor a dishwasher, meaning that all dishes must be washed in the bathtub.  Obviously this diminishes one's motivation to cook, so Steve buys most of his food ready-made and wrapped up.  I would criticize Steve for contributing to landfills with all of those wrappers, but he could come right back at me and say that I waste a ton of water on dishes and other things.

Here's something you can add to your menu that won't really contribute to your dishload.

I bought this sprouting jar for about €7, but you could actually transform any old jar into a sprouter by placing a piece of mesh (or panty hose - surely you must have some panty hose lying around?) across the top.

You can buy sprouting seeds at any health food store.  Careful, though: not all seeds can be sprouted in a jar.  Here are some that can:

-Mung bean (soak for 12 hours, harvest after 4 or 5 days)
-Lentils (12 hours, 6-8 days)
-Alfalfa (4 hours, 6-8 days)
-Broccoli (8 hours, 3-5 days)
-Fenugreek (5 hours, 6-8 days)
-Radish (12 hours, 4-5 days)
-Wheat (12 hours, 3-5 days)
-Red clover (8 hours, 3-5 days)

Place the seeds in the jar and cover with water and allow to soak for the recommended time (usually overnight).  Pour the water out, shaking to remove as much moisture as possible.  Place the jar away from direct sunlight in a tilted position, with the mouth over a saucer so that all excess water can drain out.  This is where the screw-on sieve top with the little stand comes in handy.  Otherwise, you could prop the jar into this position with a towel.

Throughout the germination time, rinse the sprouts twice daily, pouring the water over your houseplants, if you have any.

After a few days, you will start to see roots and leaves.  These sprouts are excellent on a salad or sandwich, and they might just add a nice crunch to your microwavable vegan burrito.

Some people have over-hyped the benefits of sprouted grains, claiming that they contain live-giving magical powers and such.  I'm not sure about all of that.  But they do taste good, and they contain just as much protein and fiber as un-sprouted beans, but with an extra crunch.

Really, it's not a lot of work.  Try it out!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Spiced red cabbage

All of the French recipes I've seen for red cabbage include sauteeing it with lardons (bits of pig) and then cooking with white wine.  I went out on a limb this weekend and tried to come up with something more fanciful.  You don't have to have a bad-ass knife like mine, but it can't hurt.

1 small head of red cabbage
1/2 cup white vinegar (the cheap stuff, like cider vinegar for example)
1 medium onion
1 large shallot
2 Tbs walnut oil
A few cups of Shaoxing wine
several grains of allspice
several grains of black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves
1/2 bunch mint leaves
1 large black radish

Remove the dark outer leaves from the cabbage, saving them for another use.  Slice the cabbage into half-centimeter layers, and cut off the thick white parts around the base of these.  (Save the leaves and the white parts of the cabbage: they'll both be right at home in your next minestrone).

Quarter the thin circles of cabbage as you slice them off, taking time to appreciate the trippy patterns that may appear on your cutting board.  Duuuude.

Once all the cabbage has been chopped into little ribbons in this way, place it in a large, non-reactive bowl with the vinegar.  Toss thoroughly and allow to stand for about 10 minutes.  This is to 'fix' the color of the cabbage, which would otherwise turn bluish grey when cooked.  You can skip this step if you don't mind that, of course.

While the cabbage is getting fixed, peel and finely chop the onion and the shallots.

Rinse the cabbage in cold water to remove excess vinegar.  Heat the walnut oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium high.  Add the onions and shallots, stirring to coat with oil.  Add the cabbage and cook for a few minutes, tossing frequently to try and distribute the heat evenly in your (probably crowded at this point) pot.

Once the cabbage is starting to go soft, add the salt, 3 grains of black pepper, 3 grains of allspice and 2 cloves to the pan, in addition to just enough Shaoxing wine to cover half of the cabbage.   Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to medium low.  Cover and allow to simmer for around 30 minutes, stirring once every 10 minutes or so.  Finally, remove the lid from the pan and turn the heat up to high, and cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.  Turn off the heat.

Peel and slice the black radish into half circles.  Wash the mint leaves if necessary and chop coarsely.  Add the mint and the radish to the cabbage just before serving.  Of course, unless you plan on having eight cabbage-loving friends for dinner tonight, there will be leftovers, and the radish and mint will eventually just turn purple and blend in with the cabbage... not really a problem.
Taste and add salt, pepper, and ground allspice accordingly.  I ate this with wheatberries and chickpeas, which I had soaked the night before and cooked earlier, and with a dollop of silken tofu.  Not bad!  And it must have given me some serious energy, because I went to a party afterwards and stayed out until 4 am, which I hadn't done in years.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saint-Michel on Saturday

I love my neighborhood every day, but especially on Saturdays, when the Capucins covered market draws the liveliest crowd of vendors and gastronomes of all kinds.  I like to go early, when it's just me, these tiny but feisty blue-hairs, and an occasional group of boisterous young men who never went to bed on Friday night, who come here to fill their bellies before going home and sleeping it off.

A little banter with the drunk boys distracted me from taking the pictures I wanted to this morning.  But I did get a shot of the fromager:

And of these maraichers, who grow all sorts of interesting Asian vegetables just outside of Bordeaux:

After filling up my little shopping caddy here I usually head straight for the other Saturday market, sometimes called "le marché des arabes", which takes place on the square in front of the church.  In the 500 meters between the Capucins and the place Saint Michel I counted no less than SEVEN halal butcher shops.  Seven.  All clustered around my address.  If I'm out and about in the morning, I often walk past the open delivery trucks and catch a glimpse of very identifiable cow carcasses, before they get chopped into something anyone might call appetizing.  So why do I still love my neighborhood?

These little shops offer so much more than meat: it's where I stock up on dried chickpeas and lentils in bulk, olives of all kinds, pickled peppers, preserved lemons, harissa, tahini, olive oil, argan oil, all kinds of spices .... you get the picture!

Plus, I'd rather have friendly, independently owned butcher shops than impersonal, corporation-owned supermarkets anyday.  Am I right?  You should have seen how proud this guy was when I asked him if I could photograph his olives.

On to the marché des arabes:

Let's cut to the chase: what did I bring home?

Do you think this will last me for the week?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Soupe à l'oseille (Oscar the Grouch soup)

In an ideal world, I would still be harvesting more tomatoes than I knew what to do with from a magnificent potager at this time of year.  In reality, I have to make do with window boxes.  I already lost one cherry tomato plant, which grew so tall that one day it just fell off the railing down into the street with a thud.  Terence went down into the street to clean it up while I watched him from the window and cried.

One plant that really thrives in this terra cotta box is sorrel.

To be honest, I have ambivalent feelings about this plant.  It's just not the kind of thing you would want to eat every day, but it's more prolific than any of the other herbs I try to grow (as evidenced by the pitiful coriander seedling, left), so I end up cooking with it anyway.

Sorrel has a sort of citrus-y flavor, and it's loaded with Vitamin C, apparently.  The slight sweetness of red onions and leeks complement it nicely.  Purple + bright green = Oscar the Grouch green in this soup, which I can't wait to serve to my kids under that name.

I know it looks weird, but believe me when I say that it really is good.  Once, in my mother-in-law's kitchen,  when I thought no one was looking, I kept sneaking tastes of a sorrel sauce she had made.  Later in the day she said to me in a low voice: "I saw you were dipping into my sauce."  Oh no!  Caught in the act.  "You know, for me that sauce is like a drug," she said.  I realized that she was right: why else would I be sneaking around like that?

1 large bunch of sorrel leaves
3 small leeks
3 small red onions
3 Tablespoons olive oil
a few celery leaves (optional)
sea salt
3 black peppercorns
3 coriander seeds

Rinse the sorrel leaves and pat them dry, or just wipe off the dirt if they're straight from the garden.

Slice the roots and the toughest dark green leaves off of the leeks and slice them lengthwise.  Rinse them thoroughly and pat them dry.  Peel the onions.

Chop the leeks and the onions coarsely.  Place the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the leeks and onions and stir for one minute. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for a few minutes, until the vegetables look shiny (see picture below).  Be careful not to let them get brown.

Add the sorrel leaves and (a few celery leaves, if you have some around) all at once.  Turn up the heat if necessary, stirring to incorporate them in with the rest.  Cook until the leaves have shrunk entirely.

Sprinkle on a generous amount of sea salt and add just enough water to cover the vegetables.  Add the peppercorns and coriander seeds.  Turn up the heat all the way and bring to a boil, then cover the pan and turn the heat down to low.  Allow the pot to simmer for about 15 minutes.

Turn off the heat and blend the soup with a stick blender (Be careful not to splash hot soup on yourself!  Just make sure the mixing end of the blender is entirely immersed by tilting the pan so all the liquid is at one end.)

I like to add 1/2 cup of soy yogurt per bowl when serving.  Taste and add salt & pepper if necessary.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Baba Ganoush

There are so many different recipes for this out there, and mine's a composite of a lot of these.  It's a lighter version than many, but you can make this as fattening as you wish by loading up on the tahini.

2 lbs eggplant
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
juice of two lemons
1 small bouquet of coriander leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup tahini

Set the oven to broil.  Pierce each of the eggplants a few times with a fork and place them alongside the garlic cloves in a large baking dish under the broiler.  Roast until they go soft and the skin is wrinkled and leathery (about 15 minutes).  Remove the garlic cloves if they are soft; otherwise continue roasting.  Turn the eggplants over to roast the other side in the same way.  Your eggplants are ready when they look something like this "after" picture:

Remove the dish from the oven and allow to cool.  In the meantime, wash the coriander if necessary and separate the leaves from the stems.

Squeeze the garlic from their skins into the bowl of the food processor, taking care to remove any burned, hard bits that might have formed around the edges.  Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and coriander and blend well.  You should end up with a nice creamy liquid.

Once the eggplants are cool enough to handle, peel off their skins and stems.  Drop them into the food processor and blend thoroughly.  Let the food processor run on high speed for a minute or two to incorporate some air.

Pour the contents of the food processor into a large bowl.  Add the tahini with a spoon, stirring well.

Taste and add more salt if necessary, plus a few grinds of black pepper.  You can also add some ground cumin and coriander, if you like.  The final product is so delicious that I like to just eat it with a spoon.  It's also excellent as a dip for raw vegetables (sticks of celery, carrots, fennel...) or for crackers/pita chips.

A few words about my "robot"

French people call food processors "robots", which I find quite adorable.  My mom had a food processor, but I think she used it about twice a year, and then only to chop cabbage for cole slaw (yuck).  It was presented to me as a very dangerous, impractical tool that was a pain to clean and might chop my fingers off. 

Since acquiring my own robot, I've come to regard it as the most indespensable tool in my kitchen.  This one cost me 20€, so it's not like it's a huge investment, and the returns are so great!  Check out the selection on ebay.

Most robots allow you to blend, chop, grate and slice: all at the push of a button.  Sure, it takes a little bit of effort to hand wash all the separate parts after use, but that's nothing compared to the work of finely chopping six onions, for example.

(Update: I should note, before giving my mom the link to this blog, that she has seen the error of her ways and now uses her food processor regularly to make all kinds of tasty things.  And she's a great cook!  I'm just not a fan of cole slaw is all...)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wonky Carrot Salad

Of course, this salad can be made with any carrots - wonky or not. But I get a little thrill out of these vegetables that don't fit the mold.

So many American children grow up eating those finger-like "baby carrots" that are not baby carrots at all but tasteless, peeled and uniformly cut full-grown carrots. Who could actually enjoy eating that? No wonder parents have to add puddles of Ranch dressing just to get kids to eat them!

A simple, raw salad seems like the best way to highlight the character of these nobly wonky carrots, giving back a little dignity to a vegetable I fear may be going out of style.

2lbs carrots
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon
1 heaping tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

Wash the carrots well and dry them. Use a vegetable peeler to cut away the dark brown and green part at the top and to peel off any parts of the skin that are "hairy" or that just won't wash clean.  It's really not necessary to peel all of the carrots entirely though, I promise.  The skin actually adds a nice earthy taste, I think.

Fit your food processor with the grating attachment.  Using the little pusher thing, feed the carrots into the spout to grate them all.  (This is the part where straight carrots may have been preferable to these wonky beasts).   Place the shredded carrots in a very large bowl.

Pour the olive oil and lemon juice over the carrots.  (I use a tea strainer to keep any of those dreadfully slimy lemon seeds from slipping in).  Generously sprinkle with sea salt and add a few turns of the pepper mill.  Place the spices into the pepper mill and grind them over the carrots.  It might take a little while to grind through all of that coriander and cumin, but it's worth it!  Trust me, you don't want to go with the pre-ground stuff.

I like to use my (clean) hands to really mix all the ingredients together thoroughly.  Now's the time to taste: add more salt, oil, lemon juice, and/or spices if you think it needs it.  My mother-in-law likes to add minced raw garlic to her carrot salad; it's delicious but not quite worth having bad breath for two days afterwards, in my opinion.  I'll let you be the judge of that!

This salad gets really good after marinating for a few hours/days in the fridge in a covered dish, although it needs to be eaten in the space of a week.  Terence and I rarely have trouble going through about 2 lbs per week, but of course, you can always halve the quantities.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Garlic croutons

Here's something to do with bread that loses its freshness (which is sometimes sold at a 50% discount at Your Dekalb Farmer's Market). You can make a bunch of these and store them in the bag/paper wrapper that the bread came in for a few days. They really add a lot to a salad or a soup.

-Slightly hard, three-day old bread
-a generous quantity of olive oil
-2 or 3 garlic cloves

Peel the garlic cloves and slice them lengthwise. Place them in a bowl and crush them with the blunt end of a knife. They don't need to be crushed into a puree or anything, just squished to release their flavor, so you end up with a few small chunks.

Pour a thin layer of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. When you can just start to feel the heat rising from the pan with your hand, add the garlic. Watch out: the oil should not be sizzling hot, or else the garlic will burn and get a weird flavor. The idea is to slowly heat the oil to infuse the flavor of the garlic without burning it, so just keep a close watch on your pan. If nothing is happening at all, turn up the heat a bit, but turn it right back down as soon as you hear it sizzling.

After the garlic turns golden and slightly translucent, remove it from the pan. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the cubes of bread to the pan, gently tossing them around to coat them in oil on all sides. Cook until toasted and crusty.

That's it!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mushroom soup recipe for Robbie

Dear Robbie,

You're probably the only one reading this food blog, but I had to start somewhere!

It's starting to feel like fall over here, so I thought I might give you a nice soup recipe. I actually remember making this once when we lived in GilThom, and you came over and ate, like, 3 bowls and made me feel great about my cooking.

So here's that recipe, or as close as my memory will get me:

Mushroom soup (vegan)

a handful of dried porcini mushrooms (maybe a little less than 1 ounce)
1 medium yellow onion
2 branches of celery
1 leek
1 clove garlic
1 pound of button mushrooms
optional: a handful of other interesting mushrooms (oyster, chanterelle, shiitaki...these can get pricey, but a few will add a lot of flavor)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 branches of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 3 branches of parsley
generous quantities of freshly ground black pepper, sea salt
1 packet silken tofu

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove the water from the heat and put the dried porcini mushrooms in the pan. Cover and let the mushrooms soak for about 1 hour.

Put on an episode of This American Life while you prepare the vegetables.

Let's deal with the leek first, as this might be a new one for you :) Cut off the roots and the dark green top, leaving just the most tender green and white parts. Slice the leek lengthwise and wash these two halves well: there's usually a lot of sand and dirt in between the layers. Pat them dry with a dishtowel. Trim the leaves off of your celery stalks, setting aside a few of them for later. Wash the celery and pat it dry. Peel the onion and the garlic cloves. Slice each garlic clove lengthwise and remove the green part from the middle if there is one. Coarsely chop the celery, leek, and onion all together. Finely chop the garlic separately.

I'm kind of lazy with fresh mushrooms: some people peel them entirely and wash them and dry them, but I usually just cut off the base if there's dirt on it and use the rest as is. If you do feel the need to wash the button mushrooms (and others if using), be sure to dry them thoroughly before proceding with the rest.

Chop the fresh mushrooms coarsely. When the porcini mushrooms have been soaking for about an hour, remove them from the water (saving this liquid), chop them finely and add them to the others.

Place the olive oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the onions, celery and leeks and stir for one minute. Turn the heat down to medium or medium low and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent. Be careful not to let them get colored: you don't want to see any brown bits. Add the garlic and the mushrooms to the pan, stirring to combine. You want to hear a quiet sizzling sound throughout all of this; if the pan has gone quiet, turn the heat up a litte; if it's really hissing loudly, turn it down. Continue to cook this mixture until the mushrooms are soft and have shrunk somewhat (about 5 to 10 minutes over medium low heat).

Pour the water in which the porcini mushrooms were soaking into the pan. Add more water (maybe 2 or 3 cups) to cover all of the vegetables entirely. Add a good amount of salt (hmm, I guess I'd start with a spoonful, and you can always taste and add more later) and some coarse grinds of peppercorns. Turn up the heat to bring the pan to a boil.

Now make the bouquet garni. With a bit of string (for example, the string from a tea bag?), tie together the parsley, thyme, bay leaf and celery leaves. Drop this little bouquet straight into the pan.

When your soup comes to a boil, cover and turn the heat down to low. Allow to simmer for at least 45 minutes. Taste now and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

You can, of course, eat this soup as is: with the little bits of vegetables in the broth. In this case, you might want to add firm tofu cut into little cubes. You can add this tofu at the same time you add the bouquet garni.

Alternatively, you can blend the soup into a sort of "cream of mushroom" (ideally with a stick blender, my favorite phallic kitchen tool). In this case, remove the soup from the heat and take out the bouquet garni before adding the silken tofu and blending everything together.

Either way, eat it with crusty whole wheat bread or homemade garlic croutons, for which I'll post the very simple recipe soon :)