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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Week two in Berlin and I’m back to something that feels like a work schedule. Diving back in has been awkward after three weeks of semi-vacation and moving, for sure, and part of that awkwardness has been finding the right workspace. In London I was living in something akin to a dorm room with a desk, but here I’m living in an apartment that’s not furnished for studying. That means I’ll be doing most of my work at the museum rather than at home, which is okay by me.

As a graduate student, though, it’s impossible to avoid doing work at home sometimes, as was the case this weekend.

Two golden autumn afternoons were unfortunately spent in my living room dealing with next year’s first grant application. Partly a way to procrastinate and mostly stemming from an actual need to work in exactly the right space, I tried out various parts of my large living-room and I think I found the right spot. Those of you who work at home know exactly what I’m talking about- finding the right place to sit so you can stare out of the window and wish you were doing something else.

The whole weekend wasn’t spent writing trite statements of purpose, though. I did get to go to Winterfeldtmarkt, an excellent weekend market here in Schöneberg. I was really surprised at how good it was. No one raves about Berlin’s markets like they do about London’s, but I’d say Winterfeldtmarkt was superior to Borough Market in both selection (especially of vegetables) and price.

I picked up some kohlrabi, cabbage and various root vegetables and made a soup. My apartment came with a really good blender, so I think puréed root vegetables are on the menu for the next few months.

Kohlrabi, Cabbage and Potato Soup

Notes: when choosing the kohlrabi, pick the one with the best crown of leaves. The leaves are essential to the dish.

Ingredients (as a main for 2 or a side for 4)

2 kohlrabi with leaves

1/2 a small head of savoy cabbage

2 medium sized or 1 large golden potato

1 sweet yellow onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups stock or water (I used half chicken stock, half water)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

First wash and chop the root vegetables and cabbage: Prepare the kohlrabi by peeling off the tough outer skin and separating the leaves from their stems. Dice the kohlrabi bulb into bite-sized chunks and shred the leaves. For the cabbage, first remove the greenest outer leaves, wash thoroughly and cut out the stem. Then roll the leaves together like a cigar and shred. Halve the remaining head of cabbage, cut out the core and shred the leaves. Finally, peel the potato and cut into bite-sized chunks.

Heat olive oil in a stew pot and add diced onions. Sauté until translucent and then add the garlic, diced kohlrabi bulb and potatoes. Let this cook for about a minute and then add the chopped kohlrabi leaves and shredded cabbage. Stir and add salt and black pepper.

Add stock/water to the pot so that the vegetables are just covered. Bring this to a boil and then simmer until the potatoes and kohlrabi are fork-soft, 15-20 minutes. Taste the soup and adjust seasonings accordingly.

Turn off the heat and transfer the solids from the broth with a slotted spoon to the jar of a blender. Add some of the stock to the blender and blend until very smooth, adding more liquid as necessary. Return this to the stew-pot and bring the mixture to a simmer.

Garnish the soup with a bit of yogurt or crème fraiche and a hint of lemon juice, and serve with hot bread.

Ah Berlin…

In all the stress of the last few weeks I’d forgotten how much I appreciated your eccentricities. Your mustard-yellow subway cars, your Eckkneipen, your graffitied buildings. There’s just something great about a place where you can have a sit down meal and sip a cocktail at the laundromat, or get your teeth cleaned in David Bowie’s old apartment.

And then there’s the food. Berlin isn’t exactly famous for its cuisine, but there are some gems. The ubiquitous Currywurst and Döner-Kebap, of course, have become well known outside Germany. There’s also the famous Berliner-Weiße mixed with a splash of flavored syrup, and the weekend buffet-brunch for under 10 euros. It may not be high cuisine, but it’s special in its own quirky way.

Although I’ve been here before, I feel like I’m discovering Berlin all over again. It’s no surprise that my favorite part of moving somewhere new is going grocery shopping, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the options in my neighborhood of Schöneberg. Besides the convenient but otherwise uninteresting Lidl around the corner, there are a slew of smaller groceries and supermarkets that cater to the Turkish community, as well as several bakeries and butchers. There’s also Winterfeldtmarkt, a fabulous weekend market that I’ll rave more about in my next post.

This post is about the ingredients one can get from the Turkish supermarkets though, which are as quintessentially “Berlin” as anything else. The pure white cheeses, the sesame-dusted simit rings, and the bright-green peppers are some of my favorite things about shopping here.

Places like these bring back memories of my first time to Berlin on a snowy Christmas in 2005. I was studying in the U.K. at that point and had come to spend the holidays with friends who lived in a small place in Neukölln, the heart of Turkish Berlin. It was then that I was first mesmerized by this city and its many oddball attributes.

Excuse the following clichés, but Berlin really is unique, and it really is steeped in the history of the 20th century like no place else. For those of you back home, I hope you can come visit soon.

Eggs and Peppers Baked in Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. Berliner Shakshuka)

There are many versions of eggs poached in tomato sauce (called shakshuka in the Arabic-speaking Middle East), but I added the peppers and cheese because I wanted to make this for dinner and needed it to be more substantial. I also baked the eggs instead of poaching. A couple of notes: when choosing the tinned tomatoes, make sure you choose a high-quality brand with real tomatoes and not a tomato purée. The italian brands are usually good. For the cheese, I used the sour, soft white cheese available in most Turkish supermarkets in Berlin called “Dänische Käse”. You could also use a melting cheese like Chihuahua.

Ingredients

1 tin of whole tomatoes

1 small sweet yellow onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

Several sprigs of thyme

3-4 banana peppers

1/4 lb soft white melting cheese, cut into strips

3 eggs

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Prepare the peppers by removing the seeds and veins but leaving the tops intact. (Hint: make a t-shaped incision with a knife and pull out the seeds and veins, making sure to wash your hands afterwards.) Place the strips of cheese into the peppers and set these aside.

Dice the onions and sauté over medium heat in an oven-proof skillet (e.g. cast iron) with olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant.

Add the tomatoes, mashing them up with a fork or potato masher so that they break down and form a consistent sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste and let this mixture come to a simmer.

When simmering, place the peppers face-up in the sauce. Let them cook for a few minutes, spooning hot sauce over them from time to time.

Once the peppers are a bit softer, turn the heat off and make wells for the eggs. Very carefully break the eggs into the wells so that they keep their shape and then put the whole skillet into the oven.

Bake just until the eggs are done to your liking- between 7 and 15 minutes should do.

The last two weeks have been silent on the blog but full of activity otherwise. I left London, returned to Chicago for two weeks and moved to Berlin. There was also a trip to Cedar Point in Ohio and the neighboring town of Sandusky. We got to go to the amusement park at night- a real experience- and we took back-roads the whole way on our return journey, which took us through many small towns, by marshes and through woods. It is a wonderful memory that I’ll keep with me for a long time.

It’s been a challenging two weeks, and I’m thankful that I have the support of people like my very patient partner Cesar, my family, and my friends in Chicago. I’ve never been so scared to do something, I think, than to make this move. Going to London was different. Obviously there’s no language barrier for English-speakers in the U.K., but I think more significant was the fact that I was not going there as a resident. Nine months in Berlin isn’t forever, but it’s three times longer than the time I spent in London, and that means doing things from the beginning as if I lived here: renting an apartment, registration, opening a bank account, applying for a residence permit, learning the language and complying with the customs. Living “als Berliner.” There’s also the structure of the grant I have and the nature of my relationship with the host institution, which is quite a bit different than my setup in London and trickier to negotiate. Needless to say, I haven’t had much time to even think about the real reason I’m here, which is to continue dissertation research and writing.

I must admit that I’ve had a negative attitude toward this move over the last few months. I blocked it out, pretending that it wouldn’t have to happen. In hindsight, that was a childish and ungrateful way to approach the opportunity before me, which is truly wonderful. I’ve made a decision to embrace the change rather than find ways around it.

The following recipe is about those two weeks in Chicago though- a sort of last hurrah before I fully embrace Berlin, its markets and its foods. On our drive back from Sandusky, we got to go to one of those farms that allows you to pick produce from the field at a cheaper rate. One of the crops that was just finishing was chili peppers. Pepper season is coming to a close quickly, so grab them while you can at the market and if you have some stockpiled in your kitchen, this recipe is a great way to make them last a bit longer.

Note: This recipe is based on one I saw in the New York Times a couple of years ago. I’ve modified it to make it spicier and also less runny. Instead of adding the liquid used to blanch the vegetables to the blender as suggested in the NYT, I prefer to use only a couple of spoons of this sparingly to help blend, if necessary. You can use any type of red chilies (the red is for the color), and the amount is not an exact science. I used a ratio of about 3 hot to 1 sweet, but you can modify this to suit your taste.

Hot Pepper Relish

Ingredients 

6-7 hot red peppers (e.g. habanero, cayenne)

2-3 sweet red peppers

4 cloves garlic (leave these whole)

3 cups white vinegar

Salt

Directions

Peel the garlic but do not chop. Remove the stems from the chilies and sweet peppers, and also the seeds if you want it to be less spicy.

Place the peppers, garlic and vinegar in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a simmer, blanching the vegetables until just soft but not overcooking them. Be careful leaning over the pot – the vapors from this process can be quite sharp and will sting your eyes.

When soft, remove the garlic cloves and peppers and put them in the jar of a blender with two generous pinches of salt. Pulse for a few seconds. If the mixture will not move, add a tablespoon of the vinegar to get it moving. Pulse in short intervals until the mixture is consistent but still has a bit of texture- you don’t want this to be runny or have big chunks.