Saturday, April 30, 2011

asparagus and mushroom risotto.

spring has arrived in the northwest tip of germany! apart from the blooming flowers, 10pm sunsets and an abundance of gelato stands, i'm most excited about the return of my favorite green vegetable to the fresh food market.

it's been a while since i've spotted asparagus around these parts. the green has a very short season in germany, lasting from early april to mid june, at which point it disappears as spontaneously as it came. of course, green asparagus' ugly brother (white asparagus) roams these parts in excess all year long, but let's not kid ourselves: there's no comparison.

hence: the need to squeeze any and as much crispy green spears into my diet as possible in the next month. i'd declare an asparagus challenge, but it wouldn't even be a competition. frankly, i'm probably going to consume more than the doctor recommends - or my stomach can digest! - anyway... which is saying something given that theoretically there's "no such thing as too many greens." we'll see about that!

recipe #1: an asparagus and mushroom risotto. i adapted the original recipe by tossing in a few mushrooms and black olives and leaving out the butter. as risotto amateur, i was amazed at how well this dish turned out. in particular, it was amazingly light. if you're looking for a heavy, hearty course, this isn't going to be your dish.

all risottos require a bit of focus, and this one is no exception. but put in the required half hour or so, and you shan't be disappointed! you can also substitute in other vegetables or add more if you'd like a dish heavier on the veggies. as for me, i'll be trying some shitake mushrooms next time.


4 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup arborio rice
1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 2 in. pieces
6-8 mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup black olives
salt and pepper to taste
cilantro, chopped (for garnishing)


in a small pot, bring broth to a simmer.

heat your oil in a large pot. add onions, garlic, and rice. cook, stirring, until the rice is browned (about 4 minutes). stir in broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly until almost all the broth is absorbed before adding more. do this until rice is al dente, which should take about 20 minutes.

steam asparagus and mushrooms separately under the asparagus is tender and crisp. about 3 minutes before rice is done, add asparagus, mushrooms, and olives to the pot. let the rice finish cooking, and salt and pepper to your liking.

serve immediately, garnished with cilantro.

Friday, April 22, 2011

a (most delicious!) gluten-free hybrid pastry.

not to direct attention away from my own upstanding blog, but a few weeks ago i discovered the vegan, gluten free cooking of swell. and it was, to say the least, inspiring.

so inspiring that last saturday, i took the plunge into gluten-free baking.

while i don't personally suffer from a gluten intolerance, i know many people whose lives have been significantly improved by rice noodles and all that whole foods has to offer the picky eaters among us. so i thought i'd try my amateur hand at better baking, starting with this recipe.

now i know what you're thinking: where the frick are the muffins?! well, you'll be relieved to hear that in true hobbit chef fashion, there were muffins at the end of this culinary rainbow. what were supposed to be hard, almost crunchy scones ended up more like gentle hybrid scone-muffers. the dough was simply too gooey to let them bake outside the security of a muffin tin. my suspicion is that it's because i substituted an egg in for the chia seeds that swell recommends. next time, i will try using half a banana to keep them vegan and toughen the dough. otherwise, you can't beat these hybrid mutants as a morning pastry or afternoon snack.


1 1/4 cups premade amazake beverage (or 3/4 cup amazake blended with 3/4 cup water)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp almond extract
1 1/3 cups brown rice flour
1/3 cup coconut flour (or any other gluten free flour)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 
pinch of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar (use 3/4 cup if you like them a bit sweeter)
1 cup chopped peaches (fresh or frozen)
1 tablespoon maple syrup, for brushing the tops

and away we go!

preheat the oven to 400F.  lightly oil a muffin pan.

combine the wet ingredients in a small bowl (including the egg).  in a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.  pour the wet mix over the dry and stir up and around until well mixed, at which point you can fold in the peaches.  let the dough rest for a few minutes.

using a 1/3 measuring cup, scoop the dough in portions into a muffin tin. bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden and you can see the color creeping up around the edges. after about 10 minutes of baking, i removed the lil' guys to brush their tops with a bit of maple syrup. remove and let cool before eating. they are particularly delicious with a dollop of thick honey or apricot jam.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

my new go-to dal recipe.

lately, my stomach won't stop reminding me of my indian roots. all it wants is spicy vegetarian cuisine. while i suppose i shouldn't be surprised that its set its mind on something - that "something" is normally pizza, which i could easily consume 5 nights/week and be sad the 6th and 7th night that i have to "mix it up" - it's still a strange feeling waking up and wanting to immediately consume a bowl of spicy lentils.

that said, i'm not one to argue with my tummy, so i decided to channel this urge for good and in the interest of mankind/my blog. and with this declaration of altruism, today i can offer you an undeniably delicious recipe for one indian staple: dal!

dal, which derives from the sanskrit word, "to split", is a stew prepared from any of dozens (dozens! meaning you'll never run out of new dal types!) of different kinds of dried split peas. not only is it a vegan's dream come true - packed to the brim with nutrients and vitamins and not a hint of dairy if you go it sans butter - but it's also incredibly flavorful.

so far, i've been cooking mainly with masoor lentils, which are red when uncooked but lose their color almost completely when you cook them long enough to make dal. they fall apart after about a half hour, and it's the plethora of spices, like turmeric and curry, that give this dish its beautiful color.

a few things:

1. i can only highly recommend soaking the lentils for at least a half hour before cooking. this not only expedites the process once you get them in water, but also makes digestion a breeze :)

2. a few recipes i've found recommend frying all of the spices together before adding them to the cooked lentils at the last minute. i've never been able to do this without slightly burning them, so my approach involves frying the cumin and mustard seeds briefly, but then just adding the other spices straight to the large pot and letting them soak in for a bit before serving. feel free to do it either way.

3. err. there is nothing better than leftover dal. if you're particularly lazy, i'm also a (very ashamed) fan of it cold.

masoor lentil dal

1 cup masoor dal red lentils, picked through
2 cups water
1 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 (2 cm) piece ginger, minced
2 tomatoes, diced
½ zucchini, chopped

tempering oil:
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
3/4 teaspoon curry
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 - 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
handful chopped fresh cilantro

put the lentils in a strainer and rinse them under running water. add them to a bowl, cover with water and let soak for 30 minutes. drain and set aside.

in a large pot, throw in the 2 cups of water, onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, zucchini, and the lentils. bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and skim any foam off the surface.

note: don’t add the salt until the end as it will toughen the lentils and make it take longer to cook them. lower the heat, partially cover the pot with a lid and gently simmer until the lentils are tender and almost falling apart. this normally takes around 45 minutes.

now, here comes the fun part. in a small bowl, combine the cumin and mustard seeds. in another bowl, combine the spice powders.

in a small skillet, over a medium-high flame, warm 1 – 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. to check if the oil is hot enough, throw in a cumin seed and see if it “dances” – then you’ll know it’s ready! add cumin and mustard seeds and immediately cover so you don't get covered in spluttering oil and seeds. they should sizzle and bubble a little. let them do that for about 10 seconds, shaking the skillet around. make sure to remove before it burns (this happens more quickly than you can imagine!).

pour the oil mixture into the lentils, standing back so you don't get hurt when the mixture splutters again. stir to combine. at this point, i add the other spices, in bits to make sure not to overdo it. when you have the right degree of spiciness, salt and pepper to taste. transfer the lentils to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

baklava part deux.

in case you weren’t overwhelmingly inspired to try your hand at the baklava recipe i posted here a few months ago, below are some pictures of my most recent batch.
if you would be so kind and let me toot my own horn for just one fraction of a mili-second, this batch could put all other baklava batches to shame.  granted, baking is generally a trial and error sort of venture (check out the documentary, kings of pastry, and you will see what i mean!). still, i’ll credit this remarkable improvement in taste and texture to a few small but important changes to the original recipe. please:
  • let the phyllo dough thoroughly thaw – at least 3 hours –  before you begin working with it (really, never a bad idea…).
  • add in an additional half cup of nuts, teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of sugar.
  • reheat the honey syrup before you pour it over the baked dough and nuts.
what the hey! for your ultra-convenience, check out the new and improved recipe in full form below…
a healthier and honey-er baklava:
for the syrup:
1 1/2 cups sonoran honey
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 whole cloves
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
for the filling:
1 cup unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup blanched unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon salt
other things you need:
cooking spray
24 (14 x 9-inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed to the max
1 tablespoon water
and we’re off!:
start by preparing the syrup. combine the honey, 1/2 cup water, juice, cloves, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan over low heat. stir until honey is completely dissolved. this should take between 2 and 3 minutes. turn up the heat to medium and then cook, without stirring for 10 minutes. remove from heat and cover with a lid to keep warm. remove solids and discard. using a slotted spoon if you have one works well for this.preheat oven to 350°.
make the filling by combining pistachios and next 6 ingredients (up until salt). set aside.
now it’s time to assemble. lightly coat a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. working with 1 phyllo sheet at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), place 1 phyllo sheet lengthwise in bottom of prepared pan, allowing end of sheet to extend over edges of dish (see picture above). lightly coat with cooking spray.
repeat this procedure with 5 phyllo sheets and cooking spray for a total of 6 layers. sprinkle phyllo evenly with one-third of nut mixture. repeat procedure with phyllo, cooking spray, and nut mixture 2 more times.
top your last layer of nut mixture with remaining 6 sheets phyllo, each one lightly coated with cooking spray. lightly coat top phyllo sheet with cooking spray; press baklava gently into pan. sprinkle baklava surface with 1 tablespoon water.
make 3 even lengthwise cuts and 7 even crosswise cuts to form 32 portions using a sharp knife. bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until the phyllo is golden brown. remove from oven. rewarm your honey briefly, and then pour mixture evenly over baklava. cool in pan on a wire rack. eat! and then store covered at room temperature.