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Monthly Archives: April 2012

April is one day away from being over, which means that I have just under two months left in the amazing city of Berlin. On the one hand, I’m excited about the upcoming transition to the next phase of my life and my work. There are some big changes coming up, and I’ll talk more about that in a later post. Then again, I feel as though I haven’t done half of the things I want to do here. There’s still lots to work through at the museum in these last few weeks, and there are plenty of people and places I haven’t seen enough of, or seen at all. Just thinking about it makes my head hurt.

One of my goals this year though is to do less regretting, and so for these last few weeks the plan is to act rather than ponder. Better late than never is my current slogan. I actually got a tandem partner (someone to speak German with) last week, one of my office mates who is wanting to improve his English. That’s something I said I would do back in October, and even if it’s just for a few weeks I’m glad that I will have done it for a bit before leaving.The next month and a half is not going to be easy, but I think I’m going to look back on it with fond memories.

And what food is better for a frantic week of last-minute planning than a steamed artichoke?

The artichoke was not a favorite of mine growing up, but I’m starting to think of them as adult potato chips. It’s the ultimate natural finger food and essentially provides a vehicle for your favorite condiments- like lemon juice, parmesan, Tabasco and mayonnaise.

Some go for butter and garlic, but what I offer instead is a creamier dressing that might change your mind even if you’re an artichoke purist or, worse, a mayo-hater. The base is parmesan cheese, a half cup grated finely per person. This is mixed into a creamy consistency with a bit of home-made mayonnaise and some fresh lemon juice. The mayonnaise absolutely must be homemade. [ For that, see this previous post. ] You really don’t want to use store-bought in this case.

I really love this dressing. It’s much more satisfying than hot melted butter – for me at least – richer in flavor and yet less greasy. Served with a hot artichoke, the parmesan kind of melts, making the consistency perfect. It might be the world’s best artichoke dressing. There, I said it.

Right now at your local farmer’s market artichokes are likely to be in season, so don’t miss out.

(Maybe the World’s Best) Creamy Dressing for Artichokes with Parmesan and Lemon

Ingredients (enough for 1 large artichoke)

1 large globe artichoke or 2 small

Juice of 1/2 lemon + 1 tbs lemon juice reserved

2 tbs home-made mayonnaise [ recipe here ]

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan

2 dashes Tabasco

Directions

Wash the artichoke and trim off the frayed and tough leaves at the base. Some people like to cut off the top, but I find this unnecessary.

If you have a vegetable steamer, fill the bottom of the pot with 3 inches or so of water and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Set the steaming tray into the pan, cover and steam the artichoke over medium-high heat until tender, around 45 minutes for a large one. If you don’t have  steamer, you can boil the artichoke in the water with lemon juice until tender. This will take less time, so after 15 minutes of cooking, check your artichoke every few minutes  by pealing off a leaf to see if the flesh is tender enough to eat.

While the artichoke is steaming, prepare the dressing. First combine the mayonnaise and grated parmesan in a bowl. Then add a teaspoon of lemon juice and two dashes of tabasco and stir gently until well combined.  Taste and adjust the mayonnaise or lemon juice depending on how rich you want the dressing to be.

To serve: remove the artichoke after it has finished steaming, pat dry and serve immediately with the dressing in a separate bowl. It’s best when the artichoke is quite hot. Directions for eating an artichoke complete with photos can be found  [ here ].

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As part of an attempt to enjoy food to the fullest extent possible on a graduate student’s budget, I will be teaching myself how to make my own condiments this year. For me, the take-to-a-desert-island can’t-do-without condiments include Tabasco, mayonnaise and some sort of salty, sambal-style chili paste, as well as pickles of all sorts. I’ve not tried to make my own version of Tabasco- some things probably just can’t be improved -but the chili paste and mayonnaise, general types of condiment rather than distinct brands, are suitable territory for experiment.

It is questionable, I know, whether or not the do-it-yourself approach is really time or cost-efficient when it comes to condiments. To make something like ketchup yourself, you’d need a slew of ingredients that you might never use again, resulting in a cluttered cabinet and a waste of money. Then there’s the time it would take for cooking and preserving the product. But if you want to lend a sense of personality and uniqueness to your cooking as well as to gain a sense of accomplishment in a simple, relatively cheap way, learning how to make your own condiments is a great way to do it.

There’s also another point to this venture. Look on the list of ingredients in your favorite ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise bottle and you’re likely to find sweeteners, preservatives and agents used to stabilize the texture of the sauce. Since I fall in the camp of heavily saucing some of my foods, such additives add up (for me, eggs, potatoes and tacos often end up serving as mere vehicles for the various condiments that go along with them). Making your own thing is an easy way to avoid these types of ingredients if they bother you.

Today’s condiment is mayonnaise. This is one instance where the home-made thing is totally different than the store-bought. The texture is slightly heavier, the taste is stronger and the color is deeper- a shade between mustard-yellow and olive-green. It’s definitely worth the trouble if it’s going to be a prominent part of a dish – e.g. a part of a dip or salad dressing, or in a potato salad.

There are hundreds of recipes for mayonnaise out there and the one I’m going to give isn’t substantially different, except in one aspect that I’ve found to be very important: the proportion of oil to egg yolk. Most of the recipes I saw called for one egg yolk and between 3/4 and 1.5 cups of oil. I tried making it with this amount of oil many times and consistently failed. After adding around half of the oil, the mixture “broke,” meaning that it lost the thick, spreadable texture that I had worked so hard to build up. I was left with a runny, yellow-green mess and an hour of my Sunday afternoon lost.

Then I stumbled upon a [ thread on food.com ] where Julia Child was quoted, explaining that most egg yolks in the U.S.A. could not absorb more than 3/4 cup of oil. Apparently, the same is true for German eggs. Child recommends not adding more then 1/2 cup of oil if you’re new to the process. I would say measure out this much oil but don’t even feel the need to use it all. Once the mixture becomes thick enough, just stop. If you need to make more than half a cup of mayo, use two egg yolks.

I do this by hand with a deep bowl and a metal whisk. I tried using a food processor and it was a disaster. The hand-whisk method is fool-proof if you are slow and patient, and stop when the consistency is right. It takes a good 30 minutes but it’s worth it for the taste of the final product.

This post is just about the method to make the condiment, but I will follow it up with an artichoke-related recipe tomorrow so you can put your amazing, hand-made mayonnaise to good use.

Note on the oil and acid: Definitely use a lightly colored and flavored oil. There’s no point in using a nice olive oil for this. I used a mix of equal parts sunflower-seed oil and low-grade olive oil. This gave it a nice color and flavor, but it would have been fine with just the sunflower-seed oil as well, I think. I prefer lemon juice to vinegar as I think it makes for a lighter-tasting product.

Basic mayonnaise

Ingredients (makes about 1/2 cup)

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1/4 cup of sunflower-seed oil

1/4 cup of olive oil

Salt

Directions

After separating the yolk from the white, whisk it together with the lemon juice, mustard and a few grinds of salt in a large, deep bowl. Make sure it’s thoroughly mixed together.

Mix the oils together in a measuring cup with a good spout. You want to be able to carefully control the flow of the oil as you pour it into the egg-yolk mixture.

Pour yourself a drink and turn on either a good radio program or some music. This will take a few minutes and you might as well enjoy it.

Begin by adding one or two drops of oil to the egg yolk mixture. Whisk until it is completely incorporated. You know it’s fully incorporated when the mixture looks completely homogenous. Continue to incorporate the oil, 2-3 drops at a time. You can rest between additions, refill your drink etc. as long as you make sure to fully incorporate after each addition of oil.

Continue doing this until the mixture thickens to a point where it no longer runs off the whisk when you lift it up (see stage 3 below). At this point, you can add a bit more oil each time- a teaspoon or so.

When the mixture is thick enough to be spreadable you’re done (it will start to cling together and stick inside the whisk at this point) . You might have a bit of oil left over. Use it in a salad dressing.

Stages of mayonnaise mixing, documented:

Stage 1: The yolk mixture is fully blended and the first few drops of oil are added and fully incorporatedIt’s still a thin, fluid sauce at this point so you need to be patient and add the oil very slowly.

Stage 2: After incorporating around 1/3 of the oil, the mixture will begin to noticeably thicken and take on a sheen. You are still not ready to add whole spoons of oil. Continue to add just a couple of drops at a time.

Stage 3: The mixture has become thick and doesn’t run easily. When you raise the whisk, it falls off in clumps. Now you can add oil by the teaspoonful, but still make sure to incorporate fully between additions. 

Stage 4: Aaaand, we’re done. Once the mixture takes on the consistency of a spread, it’s fine to stop even if you haven’t used all the oil.

This Saturday I am reminiscing fondly about last weekend, now a blur of martinis, nineties-night at Schwuz and, thanks to my friend Simon, a complete French Easter dinner including deviled eggs with crab, roast lamb, and chocolate mousse with crème anglaise. In comparison, the past week has been marked by an almost protestant frugality and restraint, not brought on out of a feeling of remorse, mind you, but rather out of sheer necessity. Berlin is cheap, but on my budget even a couple of nights of living it up means a few days of lentils and rice to follow.

Fortunately, I happen to love rice dishes. I’ve posted one or two here before and I’m hoping soon to make jambalaya- a favorite dish -if I can manage to find the right kind of sausage in Berlin. This week, a recipe for Indonesian-style fried rice (nasi goreng) conveniently appeared on one of my favorite blogs, [ Indochine Kitchen ], and I decided to give it a shot.

This recipe is highly recommended, and I changed very little so I am just going to post the link at the bottom of the page and encourage you to try it for yourself. The best thing about this dish is that it is a great way to use up leftovers. I had a piece of chicken in the fridge, which I shredded and added to the rice. I’d imagine it would work just as well with any other kind of roast meat you happen to have on hand. The recipe also calls for kecap manis, a sweet soy sauce native to Indonesia (kecap, you might have guessed, is also where we get our word “ketchup”). I didn’t have this condiment and didn’t want to buy it, so I substituted using a mix of [ regular soy sauce and brown sugar ]. I also substituted a rib of regular celery for the “chinese celery” she calls for, which is a genetically-related, stronger-tasting version of the celery common to North America and Europe.

In the end, all I had to buy were shallots and spring onions (now, of course, in season) and a few red chili peppers. This amounted to a couple of euros at the local produce market for a very satisfying meal. It’s a bit insubstantial on it’s own, but with a nice salad it is a perfect spring dinner. The link follows:

http://www.indochinekitchen.com/recipes/indonesian-fried-rice-nasi-goreng-indonesia/

The upcoming few weeks are some of the most exciting for cooking. The artichokes and strawberries have been looking better and better at the markets here in Berlin, and today I saw my first bunch of rhubarb at Lidl as I was stocking up on half-and-half, bread, and jam before the city shut down for Easter Sunday and Monday. Soon there will be nice radishes and I’m hoping I’ll even manage to find some [ lovage ].

Another spring item that has been making frequent appearances around here lately is green garlic. Green garlic is simply garlic harvested young when its bulb has not fully developed. It’s much milder in flavor than mature garlic and can be chopped up and simmered or roasted. It looks and tastes a bit like a leek, actually, but less oniony and with a hint of garlic flavor. Given these characteristics, it is very good in soups.

Many green garlic soup recipes that I’ve come across are pureed, but I’ve been coarsely chopping the stuff and simmering it with other root vegetables, noodles and good chicken broth until soft. I’ve been very pleased with the resulting soup. This is kind of like a stripped down version of chicken soup without the expense and fuss of cooking a chicken and I can imagine it being really good for a cold, or just a cold day like the ones that we have been experiencing in Berlin (today, April 7th, it snowed).

The recipe below is the basic version – green garlic, carrots, broth and a starch, but you can experiment with other ingredients easily. I had some leftover pork shoulder – just a few chunks – so I threw them in. You could do the same with a chicken breast, but it’s also fine without either. You could also add your favorite root vegetables to the mix- I can imagine chunks of turnip, potato or kohlrabi being great. I think that the carrots are essential for flavor and color, as well as a good chicken broth. To minimize costs, I try to use water when making soup, letting the onion, garlic and other aromatics do the flavoring, but this one really needs a flavorful base since it’s so light otherwise.  For the starch, I used tiny, shell-shaped “Suppennudeln,” which were perfect (see pic below). If you can’t find these, another small pasta would work just fine.

Green garlic soup with carrots and noodles

Ingredients

1 large yellow onion

1 bunch green garlic (4-5 stems)

1 bunch carrots (around 5)

3/4 cup soup noodles, uncooked

5-6 cups chicken broth

Salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Directions

First prepare the vegetables. Mince the onion finely and chop the green garlic in rings about half-way up the stem until the dark-green part. Save these green ends if you like for making stocks. Peel and slice the carrots into ovals.

In a medium-sized pot, heat 2 tbs of olive oil. Sauté the minced onions until translucent and then add the green garlic rings. Stir to coat and sauté until fragrant. Then add the broth and a bit of salt and a liberal amount of black pepper and bring to a slow boil.

Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15-20 minutes uncovered, skimming any scum from the oil that rises to the top. If you have any scraps of chicken or pork, now would be the time to add them. After simmering for 15-20 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings appropriately. If the broth is too rich, you can add a bit of water.

10 minutes before serving, add the noodles and the chopped carrots (I like both of these to still be firm, but if you like them softer you can add them a bit earlier). Cook until the pasta is done and serve immediately with extra black pepper.

A year ago today I made my first post to sabasalads. Just a few weeks before that I joined twitter and had been trying to tweet recipes for meals I threw together on weeknights. I guess I wanted to document them for future use and I found the idea of a word limit appealing. It turned out to be more troublesome than convenient for my style of recipe-writing though, so I decided to try a blog instead. The name “sabasalads” was kind of a joke and, as is obvious from the recipes posted here, true salads only makes an occasional appearance.

But looking back on a year of recipes, I think that the idea of a salad – a side dish, sometimes transformed into a main course, usually composed of a few simple ingredients where fresh vegetables are emphasized and vinegar-based condiments are almost always welcome- is not so far from the kind of cooking I like to do. One of the best things about this venture has been learning more about what things I like to cook on a regular basis.

Aside from being a convenient way to stash and catalogue recipes for future use, the blog actually changed the way that I cook. I tend to plan ahead more and force myself to try new dishes, especially ones with in-season produce. Otherwise there would be nothing to post. I also pay more attention to the way I plate and serve food now. For a dish to look good in a photo, it needs to have color and texture, it needs to be portioned correctly. I even think that having it at the right temperature makes for a better photo. I didn’t always care so much about these things- things that any professional cook would tell you make a huge difference. Best of all, I started to read some other [great blogs] that inspired me to continue posting.

Today, in honor of one year of salads, sides and other sundries, I have some highlights from sabasalads 2011-12:

Last spring in Chicago, buying interesting seasonal ingredients at Green City Market introduced me to lovage and [cream of lovage soup], one of the most satisfying things that I ate last year, period.

In the summer, there was a very memorable excursion to Poynette, Wisconsin, beginning with the best onion rings I have ever tasted and ending with my [new favorite three-dollar cocktail].

Then there was a [samphire-foraging trip] to an island on England’s North Sea coast shaped like an oyster, [for which it is also famous].

And last fall in Berlin, I stumbled across some new ways to use [bulgur and kohlrabi], now perhaps my favorite vegetable.

What that the second year of sabasalads will bring? Stick around to find out.