Garides Saganaki with Fennel

March 31, 2010

Ingredients: shrimp, tomato, fennel, breadcrumbs, feta, absinthe, fish stock, onion, garlic, chive, oregano, parsley, mint, bay leaf, sugar, olive oil, butter, black pepper, salt.

Served with: basmati rice.

I’d been wanting to try a dish with stewed fennel and tomato, as I happen to like fennel but don’t have a single “go-to” recipe for it. Part of the problem is that my mom never cooked with fennel, so its distinctive licorice flavor is not “intuitive” to me. What I mean is that I have to think pretty hard when I’m planning a fennel dish, because I can’t fall back on memories of what works and what doesn’t.

What I decided to make was a variation/bastardization of the Greek dish garides saganaki, which is basically jumbo shrimp in herby tomato sauce, topped with feta cheese and broiled. I figured it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to work some fennel into the tomato stew. I was also excited to accent the dish with flambéed absinthe (an analogue to the anise-flavored Greek liqueur ouzo).

I started by sautéing sliced fennel and onion in olive oil, then adding some crushed garlic and a bay leaf before emptying in a can of whole peeled tomatoes (plus a pinch of sugar to counteract the acidity). For some reason, whole tomatoes give me better results than diced, crushed, or puréed tomatoes, so that’s what I use exclusively.

While the tomatoes stewed, I prepped my tiger shrimp and tossed the shells into a pan with some butter, planning to rescue their flavor before discarding them. When the shells became pink, I added some fish stock, plus a splash of absinthe (the good stuff, not that neon green crap). Then, like a pro, I held a lighter to the pan to burn off the alcohol and develop the liqueur’s flavor. I also singed the hair off the back of my right hand. It was all on purpose, and it was way cool. I then strained the shrimp broth and added it to the tomato and fennel stew. I also removed the bay leaf, and added some oregano and parsley (which I like to postpone as long as possible, to preserve their flavor).

Next to prepare was the topping. I crumbled a block of feta into a bowl, and mixed in a handful of prepared breadcrumbs, plus some larger cubes from a slice of stale bread. I seasoned this mixture with salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, mint, and fresh chives, plus a tablespoon of olive oil.

I mixed the raw shrimp into the tomato & fennel, then poured it into a casserole and sprinkled the breadcrumb & feta on top. The dish was complete after about 10 minutes in the oven. I couldn’t wait to dig in!

Overall, this was very tasty. The tomatoes were warm and comforting, the shrimp tender and sweet-salty, the breadcrumbs crunchy and cheesy. I also loved the licorice accent from the fennel and absinthe, which kept making me think of Italian sausage. I would use twice as much feta next time though, and I’d skip the tiny breadcrumbs (the large ones were great) because they absorbed too much of the broth.

Stuffed Bitter Melon

March 25, 2010

Ingredients: bitter melon, shrimp, scallop, crimini mushroom, water chestnut, rice flour, cornstarch, palm sugar, egg, soybean paste, scallion, garlic, ginger, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, peanut oil.

Served with: white rice.

When I brought this wrinkly green bitter melon home with me, I was under the impression it was a winter melon — oops. I’d had no experience with either variety, other than passively learning of their existence via Iron Chef (which is where all this curiosity for Asian vegetables comes from). No matter; I went digging for bitter melon recipes, and saw that several involved stuffing the fruit with minced pork. I liked this idea of an encased meatball, so I decided to try a similar approach using seafood.

Let’s get the big question out of the way first. How bitter was it? I dared not taste the melon before slicing, hollowing out, and parboiling it. Even afterward, the first nibble led me to physically recoil. It was like licking aspirin. Clearly, more boiling was required (or perhaps some other technique). I’m still not sure I boiled it enough in the end.

While preparing the bitter melon slices, I created the meatball filling with a base of minced raw shrimp and scallop. I don’t own a food processor, so I did this by hand. While I didn’t really mind the extra work (my Shun santoku knife is a joy to use), I must admit that the texture of the minced scallop never really approached the mousse consistency I was looking for. The shrimp moussified nicely, at least.

To this mixture I added diced crimini mushrooms, diced water chestnuts, garlic, ginger, scallions, rice flour, an egg, sesame oil, a splash of Shaoxing rice wine, and plenty of soybean paste (which is great for adding soy flavor without liquid). I was improvising here, and didn’t exactly want to sample the raw mince, so I fried a small patty of it and adjusted the seasonings accordingly. In hindsight, I would have used less soybean paste and compensated with plain salt, so as not to cover up the lovely sweetness of the seafood.

After letting the hollow melon chunks cool a bit, I packed them full and pan-fried them for a couple minutes in peanut oil. I knew this wouldn’t be enough to thoroughly cook the filling, so I also let them steam for another 10 minutes using a pot and colander. A bamboo steamer would have been ideal, but I don’t own one.

As a finishing touch, I prepared a quick Chinese glaze of soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, sesame oil, and cornstarch. I dabbed this on top of each bitter melon section, and served them with white rice. As I said before, I’m not sure I cooked the melon long enough, as it was unpleasantly bitter (read: why-would-anyone-eat-this-twice bitter). The texture was quite nice though, firm and fleshy. Couple that with its undeniably cool shape, and I’m already thinking about working with bitter melon again someday.

Rainbow Trout Coulibiac

March 21, 2010

Ingredients: rainbow trout, puff pastry dough, flour, egg, basmati rice, wild rice, button mushroom, chanterelle mushroom, porcini mushroom, onion, parsley, butter, white wine, black pepper, salt.

Served with: cold dill sauce (crème fraîche, dill, black pepper, salt).

Long story short — this took me forever to make and was hardly worth the effort. Since I don’t often write about failures, one might get the impression that everything I cook is amazing. Not true. What usually happens is that I try again, then post when I get it right. In this case, though, I don’t intend to try again.

It all started with an episode of Dinner Impossible. Robert Irvine, in his quest to provide food for several hundred indiscriminately-palated people, wraps an entire side of salmon (plus some other random ingredients) in puff pastry and calls it coulibiac. I’d never heard that term before, so I fumbled around the Internet looking for answers.

Coulibiac is a French interpretation of the traditional Russian kulebyáka (“fish pie”), and is meant to be served at a banquet or other special occasion. Within a brioche or puff pastry shell are layers of salmon, wild rice, duxelles (sautéed mushroom mince), hard-boiled egg, and herbs. Recipes vary, but most recommend serving the slices of pie with either beurre blanc (a tangy butter sauce) or dilled sour cream. It sounded like a worthwhile experiment.

I began the project one day early by poaching 2 whole rainbow trout (which is in the salmon family, but less fatty). I had actually wanted to do something like this for a while, as a means to replenish my supply of fish stock (which I keep frozen in ice cube form). To prepare the stock/poaching liquid, I combined onion, leek, garlic, fennel, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, and celeriac in a stock pot with plenty of water and brought it to boil. Then I turned down the heat and added bay leaf, parsley, a couple black peppercorns, star anise, salt, and the 2 cleaned trout. After a few minutes of gentle simmering, the fish was perfectly poached. I carefully separated flesh from bone, returning the latter to the pot so as to continue extracting gelatin and flavor. After another 20 minutes, I strained the liquid and let it reduce a bit further before storing it away for future recipes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t very happy with the stock. It was overwhelmingly “rooty.” I will use proportionally more leeks and onions next time, and perhaps a different fish. On the plus side, the star anise was a nice touch.

Moving on, I prepared 4 hard-boiled eggs and chopped them for later. I also prepared some basmati and wild rice, cooked separately (using some of the fish stock) and then mixed together. It was a hassle, but wild rice takes much longer to soften than regular rice, and I didn’t want to risk ruining the combined texture by having one be under- or overcooked.

Next to prepare were the mushrooms. I used a blend of 3 varieties: fresh button mushrooms, canned chanterelles, and dried porcinis. I soaked the porcinis, rinsed the chanterelles, and diced everything up finely (along with half an onion). I sautéed this mince in plenty of butter on low heat, using a splash of white wine here and there to keep it from drying out. I seasoned the duxelles with salt, pepper, and parsley.

With everything ready to assemble, I began to unwrap the puff pastry. This is not something I’ve ever done before, and it showed. My nice sheets of dough became sad torn lumps on the counter. As I reached for the rolling pin and flour, I wondered resentfully why I’d chosen to buy the dough pre-made, or why I ever bother to bake at all.

In a feat of tireless ambition, I managed to get the damn pie together. My energy level was certainly waning as I carefully spread layers of rice, mushrooms, fish, eggs, and more rice, followed by a top layer of puff pastry and egg wash. In a giggling mockery of anyone who has ever put effort into pie crust latticework, I “decorated” the coulibiac with random strips of unused dough, in no discernable pattern. Regardless, it looked pretty awesome coming out of the oven.

Dinner was a letdown on the plate, though. I really did try to infuse flavor into each component of the coulibiac, but it simply tasted flat and lifeless. I was bored eating it. Did I do something wrong? Why is this considered “a classic?” I think I would have enjoyed the dish with a real beurre blanc sauce on the side, or with a more assertive fish instead of the trout. Either way, I was not impressed or inspired. Mostly I was exhausted.

Okra & Shrimp Tempura

March 12, 2010

Ingredients: shrimp, okra, tempura batter mix, flour, peanut oil, salt.

The last time I cooked with okra was about 3 years ago. I made a huge batch of gumbo, into which I incorporated half a bag of frozen okra. That was some delicious gumbo… except for the okra. I liked its flavor well enough (reminiscent of roasted green pepper and eggplant), but I couldn’t get past the squishy/slimy consistency. It was totally gross. I hate wasting food though, so I attempted to bread & fry the remaining frozen okra, with no less unappealing results. [Was that a triple negative? I’ll leave it; seems appropriate.]

Now, I take some pride in my palate. Very few culinary ingredients turn me off, and I like it that way. But I couldn’t lie to myself: okra was not something I ever wanted to put past my lips again.

Then I saw this post for Indian stir-fried okra. It looked great (as do all of Sebastian’s posts), but what really piqued my interest was his tale of plucking fresh okra pods and snacking on them “like french fries.” Wow! That is some seriously appealing imagery. I had no idea that okra could be eaten raw, or that it could somehow not be slimy.

I have since looked into de-sliming technique, and I present to you a few pointers:

  1. Slicing releases the slime, so do as little of that as possible. Use a sharp knife to minimize bruising.
  2. Slime runs vertically through the pod, so horizontal slices are guaranteed to release all of it. Try julienning the okra instead, or leaving it whole.
  3. The longer you cook okra, the more slime will emerge.
  4. Slime is water-soluble, so avoid steaming or stewing the okra, unless you are also using plenty of acid (such as tomato or vinegar) to break it down.
  5. Conversely, frying or stir-frying in oil prevents the slime from leaching out.

In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense that frozen okra would lead to excessive slime. Freezing any vegetable leads to cell wall damage from ice crystals. In the case of okra, that means free-flowing slime. So, avoid frozen okra for everything but stewed dishes.

Soon after regaining the desire to consume okra, I had the good fortune to stumble upon a lovely unmarked package of fresh, firm okra at a Chinese market. I dove right in. The raw okra was indeed addictive, crisp and with a hollow little *snap* when bitten into. The seeds did have a slight raw-flour aftertaste, but this was easily covered up with a touch of mayonnaise (or any other salad dressing/dip).

But what to cook? I wanted to see how far I could push the slime prevention, and eventually settled on tempura: no slicing, no water, minimal cooking time. Plus, I still had french fries on the brain after reading that post over at INJI. As you can see, I also chose to batter fry some big juicy tiger shrimp along with the okra. I used a box mix, so there’s not much to report as far as preparation goes.

The tempura was crunchy and savory, heavier than anticipated but still (predictably) delicious. The okra was fleshy, not slimy. This felt like a huge victory, for which I credit the opportunity to work with fresh okra. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it in the future, and I recommend you do the same!

Scallops, Water Spinach, Spaetzle

February 26, 2010

Ingredients: scallops, Chinese water spinach, bamboo, garlic, ginger, Shaoxing rice wine, peanut oil, sesame oil, ghee, cornstarch, black pepper, salt.
Served with: spaetzle.

I came back from a recent trip to Malmö with a bunch of new things to try. At the top of the list was a bag of Chinese water spinach. I’d grabbed it from an Asian market without any idea what it was; it just looked fresh and healthy. I highly recommend this tactic as a way to learn about new fruits and vegetables.

[Side note: our new fruit of choice, the nashi pear, is a result of one such blind-purchase experiment. They’re absolutely delicious, crisp like an apple but with subtle pear flavor and a hint of bubblegum. That’s right, they taste like bubblegum. Awesome.]

So what is water spinach?* It’s a tall flowering marsh plant with skinny hollow stalks and long flat leaves, and it is completely unrelated to regular spinach (except in terms of taste and texture). You don’t need to know any of this if you’re American, though. The USDA classifies Ipomoea aquatica as a “Noxious Weed” and prohibits its cultivation, sale, or possession. Oh, there’s no health risk to eating water spinach (after all, it is a popular crop in China and most of Southeast Asia). The bad rap comes from its tendency to aggressively multiply and crowd out other plant species; it’s noxious to the environment.

Come on, American plants. Is that how you deal with a bully? Whine to the USDA?

I decided to make a simple Chinese stir-fry with the water spinach, and to serve it as an accompaniment to seared scallops. [I’ve written about how to properly sear scallops before, here and here, so that’s all I’ll say about them now. Well, okay, I’ll also admit that they were delectable.]

I snipped the water spinach stalks into finger lengths, and sautéed them in peanut oil with garlic, ginger, and slivered bamboo shoots. Like regular spinach, it seemed to be thoroughly cooked in about a minute. I flavored the stir-fry with Shaoxing rice wine, salt & pepper, and a swirl of sesame oil. I also added a little cornstarch slurry to thicken it up.

White rice would have been an appropriate starch for this meal. Instead, I opted for a package of fresh spaetzle (German-style grated pasta dough) from a Polish grocery store. The last time I had spaetzle was probably 20 years ago, frozen together with Birds Eye® green beans and defrosted by Mom. I loved that stuff. This was much, much better. In fact, I’d like to learn how to make it from scratch… that will have to be another post.

* — aka. ong choy (Chinese); rau muong (Vietnamese); kangkong (Malay); pak bung (Thai); kankon (Japanese).

Broccalafel Casserole

February 20, 2010

Ingredients: falafel mix, broccoli, red bell pepper, onion, pine nuts, egg, crème fraîche, flour, butter, soup mix, za’atar, black pepper, salt.

I needed to use up a rather large head of broccoli, so I decided to make a casserole. Despite the deserved reputation as bland cafeteria food,* I actually love casseroles. In my life, excitement over that first tasty forkful has been responsible for many a burnt palate and/or tongue.

The best part of a casserole is, of course, the crusty top layer. Having no crackers to crush, I went in search of an appropriate substitute. What I found was a box of falafel mix. I’m happy to report that this worked beautifully! I was a little paranoid that the moisture from the broccoli would prevent the falafel from setting properly, so I pre-baked a slab of it in the same dish, with a layer of foil underneath for easy lifting.

Normally I would use some sort of cheese in a broccoli casserole, but I was leery of clashing with the falafel. Instead, I came up with an original (but not particularly risky) sour cream and pine nut sauce.

Toasting pine nuts is a precarious ordeal, so I did that first while my attention wasn’t split. I simply tossed the nuts around in a hot pan until they began to pick up some color, then set them aside.

Next, I browned some diced onion in plenty of butter, and turned it into a roux by adding flour and stirring for a while longer. I added milk to the roux and brought it to boil before turning off the heat and blending in a package of crème fraîche (thick sour cream). A trick here is to temper the cream first; do this by gently warming it in a separate bowl, using small amounts of the saucer’s hot contents. This lessens the danger of curdling the cream when you add it later.

I flavored the sauce with powdered soup and za’atar, which is a Middle Eastern combo of thyme, sumac, salt, roasted wheat, and sesame seeds. [Check this stuff out if you can. It makes a nice bread acccompaniment when mixed with olive oil, and works wonders as a rub on proteins.] I also added my pine nuts, and a raw egg for binder.

I assembled the casserole by pouring the sauce over a bed of broccoli florets and red bell pepper. Then I carefully placed the giant falafel disk on top, covered it all in foil, and baked it for about 40 minutes on low heat. I removed the foil during the last 5 minutes so as to crisp the falafel.

This casserole came out really great. The broccoli and sauce had condensed into a solid layer which was chewy and dense, but not overly so. The pine nuts added a flavor that matched the falafel really well, with nice tart sumac accents from the za’atar. My falafel was a bit overdone, so next time I will let the lower half of the casserole cook for a while before topping it. Another thing I will try next time is to add toasted whole coriander seeds to the sauce, since ground coriander is one of the primary flavor components of falafel.

* — I’ve found that the cure is more salt during the cooking process. The liquid component of a casserole will be absorbed by (and thus must support) the starchy component. In other words, the “sauce” for a noodle casserole typically needs to be quite a bit saltier than what you’d pour over noodles.

Stuffed Artichokes

February 14, 2010

Ingredients: artichoke, garlic, breadcrumbs, parmesan, olive oil, white wine, oregano, basil, black pepper, salt.

It seems to me that a majority of artichoke recipe titles end in “dip.” That’s a shame. The delicate flavor of a fresh artichoke should be lifted skyward and savored with simple, honest preparation — not drowned in cream cheese.

Then again, if your artichokes came from a can, it’s probably too late for glory. Now, I don’t hate tinned artichokes. They’re edible. The problem is how overpoweringly tart the preservative citric acid can be. I mean, it works out fine for dip and vinegary salads, but you aren’t really tasting artichoke.

Case in point: when I served one of these Italian-style stuffed artichokes to Senka, she remarked (with surprise) that it was nothing like what she expected from prior experience. Then she remarked that I should make them more often…

Working with fresh artichokes is definitely a challenge. The pointy outer leaves must be snipped, the stem must be peeled, and the thistly inedible innards must be scraped away with vigilance. [If you’re interested in doing this, I recommend studying one of the many illustrated guides online.] It’s also common practice to rub a wedge of lemon over shorn edges, which helps to prevent oxidization. With only 2 artichokes to stuff, I skipped this step.

For the stuffing, I mixed together a hearty pile of breadcrumbs, minced garlic, shredded parmesan cheese, Italian herbs, salt & pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil. I tucked the mixture into the gaps between leaves, plus down deep where the center “choke” was removed. I set my pair of artichokes in a shallow bath of white wine, covered the pan with foil (glass would probably have be better), and allowed for 30 minutes of oven braising. Toward the end, I removed the foil so as to crisp the breadcrumbs on top.

Stuffed artichokes are super fun to eat. You pluck one leaf at a time, then strip off the meaty underside with your teeth (and discard the rest). As you progress concentrically, each leaf yields increasingly more flesh. Exciting! Near the choke, however, the leaves become too thin to bother nibbling; at this point, you simply yank off the remainder and feast upon the delectable, dense heart. It’s not as gory as it sounds. In fact, I find it quite sensual, and rewarding after all that work.

Palak Paneer

February 10, 2010

Curry ingredients: spinach, tomato, green chile pepper, gram flour, chickpeas, ghee (clarified butter), onion, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, ground fenugreek seed, salt.

Rice ingredients: basmati rice, ghee, garlic, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, bay leaf, mustard seed, cumin seed, coriander seed, turmeric, salt.

Served with: paratha bread.

One of my culinary goals (life goals?) is to figure out how to make homemade Indian food taste like restaurant Indian food. I suppose that’s what I’m always trying to do in my kitchen: recreate a dish such that it tastes like the best time I paid for it.

Sometimes I throw in the towel. [No pizza oven, no pizza.]

Sometimes I’m so pleased with home results that I actively spread gospel for years afterward. [Hey all you Katz’s fans, ever try to make your own corned beef? It’s incredibly easy and totally foolproof.]

With Indian cuisine, I’ve had mixed results. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to make tikka masala sauce that matches the transcendent balance of flavors from House of India in St Louis, or from Khajuraho or Jaipur in Philadelphia. I don’t even wanna talk about it. Seriously, it’s depressing.

The dish that does seem to come out right, at least most of the time, is palak paneer. This is fortunate, as it happens to be my second-favorite (behind tikka masala). In fact, I often ordered palak paneer before becoming a vegetarian. That says something, doesn’t it?

Palak paneer production is a 4-part process. There’s the spinach curry itself; plus the chunks of fried paneer cheese mixed in; heaven-scented basmati rice; and some sort of bread, be it naan, roti, or paratha. I freely admit to cheating on the bread here. We often purchase frozen parathas that crisp up nicely on a griddle, so that’s what I used.

First, the cheese. Paneer is a blocky fresh cheese that browns rather than melts, much like halloumi. I make it myself by boiling a gallon of whole milk, then curdling it with the juice of a lime (lemon or white vinegar work too). I strain the curds from the whey using a cheesecloth, then press it between two plates and chill it overnight. Simple, delicious! Before incorporating it into my curry, I slice the paneer into cubes and pan-fry them in ghee (clarified butter). This last step is optional, but I love the crispy texture.

To make the rice, I begin by assembling the necessary spices. These need to be toasted quickly in a pan, which involves very little margin for error, as overly-burnt spices are offensively bitter. I use whole cumin seeds, whole coriander seeds, whole mustard seeds, whole cloves, whole cardamom pods, and a stick of cinnamon. Once the seeds begin to pop, I add a heaping spoonful of ghee, minced garlic, a bay leaf, turmeric powder, salt, and a cup of raw basmati rice. Toasting the rice itself adds a nice nutty flavor, though this step can be omitted by adding the 2 cups of water immediately. When the rice is cooked through and gets a chance to steam a bit, I try my best to remove the cinnamon, clove, bay leaf, and cardamom pods. Those are not fun to chomp into.

For the curry, I start by roasting green chilies. This time I used Cubanelles, but any somewhat-spicy variety will do. Chile peppers really bring out the mild flavor of the spinach, so I highly recommend making the effort. It’s also important to roast and peel them first, or else you will end up with tiny flecks of skin in your curry, almost as if you diced up a plastic bag and added that as well.

To the chilies, I add plenty of spinach, cook it down a bit, then liquefy with an immersion blender. When I make palak paneer, I like to use a mix of fresh and frozen spinach. The fresh leaves have a marvelously “green” flavor, but their consistency feels a bit too slippery in large quantities. This is easily remedied by mixing in an equal amount of thawed frozen spinach, which also cuts down on the cost.

In a separate pot, I sear up some sliced onions in ghee, then add a paste of mashed garlic and ginger. As this begins to brown, I sprinkle in fairly heaping quantities of cumin and coriander. This also needs to brown, but takes very little time, and is important not to burn completely. When I see smoke begin to appear, I dump in a can of diced tomatoes and let the mixture reduce over low heat, for about 10 minutes. Then I add the spinach, plus hefty pinches of garam masala (premixed Indian spice blend), turmeric (mostly for color), and ground fenugreek seed (for a pleasant earthy depth).

The last step is to thicken up the curry, which can be done in a few ways. In the past, I’ve used ground cashews. This time I used ground dry-roasted chickpeas (also called gram flour, though I could not find this for sale and thus grinded my own). I was very pleased with the results. My palak paneer was just thick enough to retain its shape on a plate, and the chickpeas enhanced rather than distracted from the overall flavor.

I’m not going to pretend that this is a simple, easy process. However, until I find myself within the delivery perimeters a good Indian restaurant, palak paneer will remain a homemade favorite.

Ćevapi & Sataraš

February 7, 2010

Ćevapi ingredients: Match® vegan beef, bulgur wheat, egg, onion, garlic, Vegeta, ghee, black pepper, salt.

Sataraš ingredients: tomato, bell pepper (red/yellow/green), eggplant, onion, garlic, sugar, Vegeta, vegetable oil, salt.

Served with: chopped onion, lepinja-style bread.

According to Senka, the joke goes like this: “What do Bosnians do when they’re hungry? … chop onions, then decide what to make for dinner.”

Having traveled south with her to Sarajevo last summer, I can now say that I’m in on the joke. They put onions in everything, and they don’t stop when the cooking’s done – a modest pile of chopped raw onions accompanies your food to the table, in case you want more.

Today’s post is my attempt to reproduce two typical Bosnian dishes: ćevapi (chu-VAHP-y) and sataraš (sattah-RASCH). Ćevapi are little hamburger-fingers, served hot off the grill with distinctively airy rounds of lepinja bread (and plenty of onion). This is the ubiquitous Bosnian fast food of choice, beloved by locals and mandatory after a night on the town. Sataraš, on the other hand, is more of a homestyle dish, a rustic stew of simmered garden vegetables.

The sataraš was simple to prepare. We diced up garlic and onion, sautéed them in plenty of oil on low heat, then added large chunks of eggplant and bell pepper. When the eggplant had absorbed most of the oil, we added a can of whole tomatoes to the pot, plus a hefty pinch of sugar and a sprinkling of Vegeta (all-purpose soup mix). I crushed up the tomatoes and let the mixture simmer for about 25 minutes, at which point Senka claimed the taste and texture were correct.

Our sataraš was shockingly good. It was silky and rich from the oily eggplant, texturally balanced by the tomatoes’ bright acidity. The peppers lent their deep yet subtle bitterness, while the pinch of sugar tied everything together by bringing out the vegetables’ own natural sweet flavors.

Given the cheap, foolproof, and practically labor-free preparation of sataraš, I will certainly be making it again. It even tastes great straight from the fridge!

Reproducing authentic ćevapi was more of a challenge, considering we don’t eat meat. I substituted a package of Match® vegan beef (a souvenir from one of my trips home to Philadelphia), which does a fairly good job imitating raw hamburger. I seasoned it with plenty of grated onion and garlic, black pepper, Vegeta, and salt. I also fortified the texture with some cooked bulgur wheat for chewiness, and mixed in an egg for binding.

I tried to roll the ćevapi into skinny cylinders, but eventually gave up (too soft) and settled for rectangular patties. I pan-fried these in a bit of ghee (clarified butter). I like using ghee for jobs like this, because it can be raised to higher temperatures than butter, while still providing a nice brown crust.

For the bread, I took a shortcut and used a similar offering from the local bakery. The texture should be like puffy pizza dough, chewy and full of air pockets.

While not exactly authentic, our ćevapi were meaty and delicious, accented in true Bosnian fashion by crisp raw onion.

Thanksgiving Dinner

December 4, 2009

Ingredients: vegetables, grains, Tofurky, love.

I don’t know what’s going on with my emotions these days, but sitting down to an American Thanksgiving Dinner in Kristianstad, Sweden actually brought tears to my eyes. I think I finally miss home. What I miss isn’t actually there anymore, and I’m okay with that, but it’s definitely time to begin cultivating some new family traditions.

I used to scoff at traditions. I never scoffed at handrails, or seatbelts for that matter. Seems hypocritical.

So, who wants a fat slice of Tofurky?!

My vegan centerpiece ended up absolutely delicious. I’d never had Tofurky before, but assumed it would be gummy and tasteless. It wasn’t. The texture was pleasantly dense and meaty, with a bit of realistic fibrousness. The flavor was certainly reminiscent of turkey, without trying too hard (as some vegan products do). I basted the Tofurky in a marinade of garlic, onion, thyme, sage, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and Maggi (which is a bit like a cross between soy and Worcestershire). I give this blend a thumbs up. The giblet gravy that came with the Tofurky was okay, but unnecessary.

My dinner mate does not care for mashed potatoes, so I prepared some fluffy chewy bulgur instead. I also served sweet corn, and creamed spinach.

Leftovers disappeared quickly, as expected. Can’t wait for next year!