Sunday, February 26, 2012

Couscous Salad with Lukewarm Balsamic-wilted Spinach Salad

Spring is approaching!  When I went to the bakery, I heard a loud gaggle and to my surprise a flock of geese from the River Neckar had been coming up the hill to feast on some greens in front of an office building just opposite the bakery shop.

Well, that was for sure the sign for exchanging soups for salads :) and since I had  some leftover couscous from yesterday evening -which is of course perfect for a quick Sunday morning salad- I knew what I had to do.
Couscous itself is a very good source for B-vitamins and some added veggies and lemon make it perfectly healthy and on top a very tasty dish. I added some spinach which I wilted in the pan with some aceto balsamico and although it maybe doesn't look all that nice (wilted things never do, right?) it sure tasted delicious :)

Since the salad was an unexpected addition to breakfast there is no real recipes and I didn't measure the ingredients, but this is roughly what I put together (you have to adjust it to your liking anyway):

Couscous Salad with Lukewarm Balsamic-wilted Spinach Salad

150 g couscous
225 ml water
3 carrots
250 g cocktail tomatoes
1 handful toasted pine nuts
1 organic lemon (zest and juice)
herbal salt, black pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil

500 g spinach
olive oil
1 onion
balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper

What to do

Boil waster and pour over couccous. Let stand for 10-15 minutes, then fluff the couscous with a fork. Add grated the carrots, halved cocktail tomatoes, pine nuts, parsley, lemon cest and juice, spices, and olive oil. Mix well.

Pull apart spinach and wash thoroughly. Heat the olive oil in a pan, add onion and fry until translucent, add spinach and fry a further minute. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar; put on the lid and let the spinach wilt. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

To serve

Top the quinoa salad with the still lukewarm spinach salad.

I'm sending this to Souper Sundays, an event hosted by Debbie from Kahakai Kitchen, which not only collects soups but also delicious salads, and sandwiches. So don't forget to stop by and have a look at the weekly collection of recipes :)

I'm also adding this to Tobias' Kochrezepte Basar am Wochenende (Weekend Recipe Bazaar) who wants to know what was in our pots at the weekend.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Castagnaccio di Carnevale

Barbara from Barbara's Spielwiese  has called for recipes for the imminent season of carnival/carnevale/Fasching/Mardi Gras/Shrovetide....

Childhood memories came up and a salad made from raw herring rekindled my traumatised food experiences. Not that my mother was a bad cook - raw fish just disgusted me even at a tender age. The other option would have been Faschingskrapfen (jam donuts) which were the better part of my mum's carnival recipes but I'm not very fond of either very fat or very sweet things. So I had to go international and look for not so sweet alternatives. I know that the Italian cuisine has a great variety of baked carnival things but most of them are deep-fried. But then I found what I secretly was looking for, a castagnaccio!

A castagnaccio is a chestnut flour cake and originally an autumnal dish, eaten when young wine starts to be available. But in Tuscany it obviously also became typical for carnevale. Maybe because of the stories that say that if a girl gives her beloved one a piece of her castagnaccio he will love her forever. Well, the way to a man's heart is verily through his stomach. So it would also be made for Valentine's day which coincides nicely with carnival.

These are the ingredients I used for my castagnaccio:

The dough is more like a pancake dough; that's how it looks when poured into the baking dish (which ideally should have been a copper dish. Well, I used my not so posh quiche pan.

And the result fresh from the oven:

A look inside:

And here is the recipe:

Castagnaccio di Carnevale
adapted from La Tana di Mopo and the recipe collection Giallo Zafferano


250 g chestnut flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup of plant-based milk (I used oat milk)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
zest from one orange (use an untreated one, you don't want pesticides and wax in your cake!)
a handful of raisins (soaked in juice from half an orange)
a handful of walnuts, chopped (leave some halves for decoration)
a handful of pine nuts
fresh rosemary
water as needed

What to do:

Sieve the flour because chestnut flour tends to lump together, add baking powder. Pour in the milk and mix. Add the rest of the ingredients apart from the walnut halves, pine nuts, and rosemary. Add water until you get a dough which is similar in consistency to pancake dough.

Grease your baking dish and dust with flour. Pour in your cake mixture. Sprinkle the walnuts, pine nuts and rosemary on top.

Bake  at 180° C for about 40 minutes. Let completely cool. Enjoy :)

Buon carnevale!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Nepalese Cuisine - Dhal Bhat and Aloo Ko Achar

I've never been to Nepal, but when I looked it up for the blog event 'Flavours of Nepal', hosted by Nupur from UK Rasoi and started by, I was really astonished about the extremely diverse biogeography of this small country.Despite its size, you have everything here, from the highest mountain peak (Mount Everest), to the deepest gorge (Kali Gandaki Gorge) on earth; from steppes to forests to eternal ice.

I really loved this photo from the Nepalese Culture, Travel & Tourism web page :)
If I will ever visit Nepal I'm gonna buy Yak wool. I could sooo need it at the moment.

Another reason to visit Nepal would be its archaeology; from temples and palaces to long abandoned high-mountain settlements; from rock art to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha. You will miss nothing while on a holiday in Nepal.

Kak Nyingba Petroglyphs
Perdita Pohle 2003, Figs. 7.1 and 7.2

As diverse as their geography and archaeology is Nepal's cuisine. Influences from India, Tibet, China and the indigenous Newari culture created a unique mixture that will challenge the most spoilt taste buds. You can find examples and recipes on many web pages, the Explore Nepal web page is just one of them with many recipes from salted butter tea to momos, which are basically Newari-style filled dumplings.

But by now you'd rather know what dishes I choose to cook for the blog event, right?

I decided on traditional staple food, a Dhal Bhat (lentils with rice) and Aloo Ko Achar (spicy potato salad).

and here are the recipes:

Dhal Bhat
adapted from Vegetarian Food Recipes


  • 1cup lentils (I used green ones) soaked overnight
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • a piece of fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 fresh green chili, chopped (I used a red one)
  • 2 garlic gloves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1-2 teaspoons kopan masala (a sweet masala due to the high amount of cinnamon, you can easily grind it yourself)
  • 2 cups Basmati rice
  • cilantro for garnish

 What to do:

Bring the broth to a boil and add the soaked lentils. Simmer until lentils are tender. Add garlic, ginger and chili and blend until smooth. Return to your pot, add the salt, sugar, and tamarind concentrate and simmer until the tamarind concentrate is dissolved.
Meanwhile wash the rice and cook it in 4 cups of water.
Fry the black mustard seeds in the mustard seed oil. When they start popping pour them together with the oil over the lentils. Simmer for another couple of minutes. Stir in the masala. Cover and let it stand for a couple of minutes. Garnish with cilantro.

Aloo Ko Achar (Spicy Potato Salad)

adapted from Vegetarian Food Recipes

  • 750 g potatoes
  • 1 green or red chili, thinly sliced
  • juice of 1 lime (I actually needed two because mine were not very juicy at all)
  • Himalayan salt
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds - roasted and roughly ground
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (curcuma powder)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (whole)
  • dried chili (if you like it hot) to taste
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed oil
  • 1/2 cup water or vegetable broth
  • a small bunch of cilantro
Boil the potatoes, peel and cut into cubes. Combine the turmeric, salt, ground sesame seeds, lime juice, half of the chopped cilantro with the water and mix thoroughly. Add the cubed potatoes. In a pan heat the mustard oil, add cumin seeds and chili. Fry until the cumin starts smelling nicely and pour over the salad. Mix everything and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Icy Cold Weather needs a warm soup: Singaporean Laksa

This recipe is a mix from different sources and I adjusted it to my own preferences of course. The spice paste is more or less based on Ottolenghi's recipe and I also referred heavily on this nice vegan recipe from Hunger Pangs. But there are endlessly more good Laksa recipes out there in the web.

A colourful novelty I introduced were however, black rice noodles:

The end result is a beautiful, spicy, and warming vegan Laksa (you can see the black rice noodles at about 5 o'clock on the picture below)

So first you have to make your spice paste:

  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • a 2 cm piece of fresh ginger
  • the white bulb of one stalk lemongrass (next time I will use two of them, the taste is just too lovely)
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 - 2 large red chillies (depending how hot you like it)
  • a small bunch of french cilantro (leave some for the topping)
  • half a bunch Thai basil
  • some curry powder if you want to add a distinct curry flavour

I put everything in my small electric chopper and pulsed until it became a paste. But you can as well use a mortar.

Next, take one package of rice noodles (vermicelli, black rice noodles, all kinds of rice pasta is possible) and cook the pasta according to the instructions on your package. This takes only a few minutes. Strain after cooking and put them immediately in ice cold water (otherwise they will glue together and you will have one big pasta glob - you don't want to put this into your soup).

For the broth you will need

  • 3 tablespoons oil (coconut oil, mild olive oil, sesame oil, canola  ... it really depends on you here. I used red coconut oil)
  • the spice paste from above
  • some curry leaves (fresh or dried)
  • vegetable broth
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 package of firm tofu, cubed, dusted in rice flour and fried
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1 bunch of green onions
  • 1 English cucumber, cut into sticks
  • 1 cup mangetouts
  • 2 cups carrot, cut into sticks
  • lime wedges for serving
  • pepper, curry, salt, sugar to taste

In a large pot heat the oil. Add the spice mix and cook for a minute or two. Don't forget to stir since the paste shouldn't burn. Add the vegetable stock, the curry leaves and adjust with salt, pepper, and sugar. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then add the coconut milk and mix well. Don't boil it any more, the coconut milk will curdle!
While the soup simmers you had time to steam or parboil your veggies (apart from the cucumber and green onions). In fact you can add all kind of veggies. You don't have to stick to my version - but you already know this :)

You assemble the soup in your bowls. First put some noodles in the bowl, top with the veggies. Then ladle the broth on top and add the tofu cubes and cilantro on top.

Serve with lime wedges and sambal oelek and enjoy.
Don't let you put off by the rather long list of ingredients. It is actually quicker done than you think and the result is so worth it.

Today is a Sunday, so what better than sending this soup to Debbie from Kahakai Kitchen which hosts the regular event  'Souper Sundays' where you can actually add not only soups but also salads and sandwiches.

There is a similar event in Germany, which is however not restricted to a certain dish. Tobias from Tobias kocht! is hosting this event for your week-end dishes, the Kochrezepte Basar am Wochenende (Weekend Recipe Bazaar). So I'm also sending this to Tobias :)

Friday, February 03, 2012

Setsubun and a monster ehou-maki

Setsubun is the day before the beginning of the Japanese spring (立春 Risshun). According to the ancient lunar calender this day falls on a different date each year. This year it is today, February 3rd. The main occupation on this day consists of driving away evil spirits, called oni (鬼) in Japanese. Here is an oni, painted by the Edo Artist Hokusai in ukiyo-e technique (woodblock printing):

wikipedia Creative Commons License
As you can see the oni is chased away by a hail of fukumame (福豆 fortune beans) which are basically roasted soybeans. This ritual lives on until today and apart from temples and shrines you can actually chase away evil-minded oni out of your own house all on your own. All you have to do is put an oni mask on a family member (you can download masks for example here) and then throw your beans at him. After you have successfully driven away the evil spirit (mostly the head of the family i.e. the father) and loudly shouted  '鬼は外!福は内' (oni wa soto - fuku wa uchi which means 'oni out! Let the fortune in!)
you can start eating an 恵方巻 (ehou-maki which is a lucky long sushi roll). Of course you have to eat it uncut and in utter silence whilst facing in a certain direction. The direction has to be calculated anew every year

This may look complicated, but then, who says eating a sushi roll would be easy. The direction for 2012 is by the way North North-West. To be precise (after all there is no priest here to guide me) I looked up the exact position with a nice tool from this web page. Just scroll the underlying map around until you have found your position. The direction for this year is 壬.

When preparing your maki you have to adhere to some rules, too (of course, who said eating a sushi roll ... you know what I mean).
  1. You have to use seven ingredients, because seven is a lucky number.
  2. You may not cut your maki roll because you would inevitably cut off your luck for this year
So here is what I did:

First I prepared the seven fillings:

  • Avocado
  • sautéed spinach
  • thinly sliced and slightly fried tofu because I couldn't get tofu aburaage
  • salt massaged cucumber
  • shiitake mushrooms, slightly boiled in tamari and mirin
  • rice bran pickled radish (takuan)
  • steamed carrots
Then I prepared the sushi rice and added 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon plum vinegar (ume-su), 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons sugar. See, I even fanned the rice to cool it down quicker once I had added the vinegar mix!

The most difficult part was rolling up the monster maki, because you have a lot of filling in it. My first roll just fell apart; but once I put on less rice and left some space in between it was much better, though not perfect. But then who said making a sushi roll would be  ... you get my drift.

In case a monster would pop up while I was eating my maki in silence I kept some roasted soy beans ready (in my little blue bowl I bought in Abu Dhabi). Well, you never know ...

Not bad for my first setsubun ehou-maki. At least it tasted quite nice :)