Category Archives: Recipes

This August tastes like October (and pumpkin soup)

In one of my old posts I called autumn my favourite season, and October my favourite autumn month. But I don’t recall asking for August to become October, and this August has been very much October-like in my corner of Europe. I’m sure this has its bright sides somewhere, but they are damned hard to see behind the clouds. One slightly less dark side I could find is that pumpkin soup goes really well with this weather.

Red kuri squash (image by Schwäbin http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Schw%C3%A4bin)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Red kuri squash pumpkin (this variety you can eat with skin and all)
  • 2 small potatoes (or sweet potatoes if you want everything orange)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp vegetable bouillon

Cut the pumpkin in half and spoon out the seeds. Make sure you take all of them out, because I’ve missed a couple of seeds once and had to spit them out piece by piece afterwards (there’s a blender involved later in the recipe). Chop the onion and the carrots and fry them in some oil in a large soup pan. Chop the pumpkin and add it to the pan. Pour 1 litre of boiling water (or more, at least enough to cover the vegetables). Add the skinned and cubed potatoes, the vegetable bouillon and the thyme. Cook until the pumpkin in soft. Add the orange juice and using a hand blender, mix the soup into a smooth mass. Be very careful here – the soup has a very high heat content and flying drops can be dangerous (my wife still has marks on her arm from a soup accident years ago). If you want to make the soup look fancy, decorate the bowls with a spoon of crème fraîche or yoghurt, and a parsley leaf.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Go easy on the potatoes, otherwise you’ll end up eating very orange potato puree, like I did the last time.

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The taste of Dutch summer

They say that in India, there’s a festival celebrated somewhere in the country every day of the year. Supposedly, its a testimony to the richness of the Indian culture. Some Indians, though, say its a testimony to the unwillingness of the Indians to work and their inventiveness in coming up with excuses to avoid working. As I am not concerned with India, but with Europe, I will leave this matter to the Indians. All I can tell you is that if you scan the calendars of the European countries you’ll surely find a festival every day somewhere on the old continent.

With over 50 countries and countless regions dotting Europe, the variety of festivals and celebrations is hardly a surprise. Some of these festivals, such as the Carnival in Venice or the running of the bulls in Pamplona, are well-known and are a regular feature on bucket lists. Others are more local, and maintain the local charm, swarmed by locals rather than the bucket-list waiving crowds. Like the Vlaggetjesdag, or Flags Day, in Scheveningen.

Originally, Vlaggetjesdag was the day when the herring fishing fleet would sail out to sea, on the Saturday before Pentecost. Nowadays, it is the start of the herring eating rather than herring fishing season that is being celebrated, and the festival has shifted to early June (8th of June this year). While not as famous as, for example, La Tomatina, Vlaggetjesdag events in Scheveningen, the Hague’s harbour, attract huge crowds. The first barrel of herring is auctioned, and the proceedings, running in tens of thousands of Euro, are donated to charity.

The taste of Dutch summer is new herring

The taste of Dutch summer is new herring

The question is – what do you do with herring? The Dutch usually treat it as a snack, eating it with or without onions, plain or in a white bread bun, and with a pickle in Amsterdam. But what if you want to make a meal out of it? As it requires extra no cooking, there’s no point in doing anything with the herring, but what does raw herring go with? Well, since new herring is available in the summer, how about a fresh quinoa salad?

Ingredients (for 4 persons):

  • 8 herrings
  • 300 g quinoa
  • 2 raw beetroots (300 g)
  • 150 g feta cheese
  • Fresh mint and parsley
  • Lemon julie
  • Olive oil

Cook the quinoa according to the instructions on the package. Skin and rasp the beetroots. Crumble the feta cheese. Chop the mint and parsley leaves. Mix everything together and spice with lemon juice, olive oil and some black pepper and serve with 2 herrings per person. Enjoy your very summery salad (with or without the herring).

Beetroot and quinoa salad - perfect for the hot summer evenings

Beetroot and quinoa salad – perfect for the hot summer evenings

 

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Is Turkey just another small European country?

Is Turkey a part of Europe? While this question seems a recent, EU-related issue, it has actually been hotly debated across the continent for ages. Some count the Kemalist reforms of the 1920’s as the birth of the Turkey-Europe issue, others – the siege of Vienna of 1523 or go back as far as the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Some even trace the origins of this issue to the split of the Roman Empire to East and West in the 4th to 6th centuries. The exact answer is that of course Turkey is part of Europe – the UEFA says so as Turkey is a member state. There is of course the question whether Turkey can be counted as a “small country”, but I’ve addressed that in a previous post. And whether Turkey is a part of Europe – I for my part am an engineer and I choose the pragmatic approach. My answer is – who cares, as long as Turkish food continues to be a part of the European menu.

Here’s one of my favourite Turkish recipes – Yumurtali Ispanak (spinach with eggs).

Ingredients (for 2 persons):

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 kg of fresh spinach
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • Black pepper

Fry the chopped onion in olive oil until it softens. Add the garlic and fry lightly. Mix the tomato paste in and fry for a couple of minutes while stirring (it removes the sourness). Add the spinach and mix it in a bit. The spinach wilts a lot, so don’t hesitate when you buy a big green bunch of it. When the spinach has wilted a bit, make 4 “pits” in the spinach and break the eggs into them. Cover and simmer until the eggs are cooked. Add black pepper and serve with bulghur or couscous. Afiyet olsun!

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Is there such thing as a European breakfast?

A while ago I was looking for a hotel for a few nights. As I was reading the reviews left by travellers, I noticed a strange trend. It appeared that European breakfast was something of a turn-off for many visitors from overseas. Australians complained about lack of baked beans and sausage, Asians were surprised no hot soup was served for breakfast and Americans were dissatisfied with the choice of cereals.

I was quite surprised by these negative reactions, since I usually find breakfast in European hotels quite OK. Apparently, the hotels in Europe cater to the European taste, and baked beans are not a part of it, unless you’re in the UK. Which raises the question whether the UK is a part of Europe, but that’s a topic for a different post. Outside hotels though the European breakfast menu varies greatly. In some countries breakfast can be as simple as a coffee and a croissant (France) or as plain as four shots of Rakia (the traditional breakfast in rural parts of the Balkan). Elsewhere on the continent, breakfast menus can be quite elaborated, especially in Germany.

At home, I prefer to keep my breakfasts simple. Usually I start my weekdays with a bowl of boiled oats with some (dried) fruit or muesli with yoghurt – fast, healthy, nutritious. On weekends, on the other hand, I have more time in the morning to treat myself, for example, to a well-filled farmer’s omelet:

Ingredients* (per person):

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 of a bell pepper
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tbsp of parsley
  • Butter
  • Cheese, rasped or sliced
  • Black pepper
  • A bit of milk

*Usually I mix in whatever vegetables I have left in house by the end of the week. Potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, courgettes, anything goes, as long the pan doesn’t get overcrowded.

Chop the shallot and vegetables, not too finely. Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the chopped shallot for 2 minutes. Add crushed garlic and fry slightly before adding the bell pepper and celery. While the vegetables are simmering, whisk the eggs with a bit of milk, black pepper and (again, chopped) parsley. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, shake the pan a bit allowing the egg mixture to reach underneath the vegetables and cover. Once the eggs are cooked, turn off the heat, put the cheese on top and cover the omelet until the cheese melts. The farmer’s omelet combines best with good solid sourdough bread, but white buns work fine for me as well. Have a nice weekend!

Farmer's omelet - anything vegetable goes

Farmer’s omelet – anything vegetable goes

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Pancakes – as European as it gets

The pancake must be the most European of all dishes. It is eaten all over the continent in countless varieties, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, dessert and what not. Cheese and ham, caviar, sour cream, apples and honey – whatever the European can get his hands on, he puts/rolls/dips into and onto his pancake. Depending on the local customs, season and mood, pancakes can be just about anything – two thumbs thick or paper thin, plane or with filling, sweet or hearty. The only thing more variable than the European pancake are the drinks that go with them, but that’s a whole different story. The only basic rule seems to be that pancakes are made of flour, a liquid and a binder. The flour is usually wheat, the liquid is milk and the classic binder is an egg. But the flour can be also buckwheat or rye, the liquid can be soy milk or just water, and the binder can be a banana (if you’re a hardcore vegan). Here’s a classic recipe, for 6 pancakes (a breakfast or a light lunch for two, for a brunch or a dinner double the quantities):

The dough:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 egg

The filling:

  • 100 g strawberries
  • 100 g red currant
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar

The mixing

Break the egg into the flour. Whisk the egg making sure any bits of flour from around the edge of the bowl are mixed in with the egg. While whisking, gradually add small quantities of milk. The catch is to add the milk into the flour and not vice-versa. If you add flour into the milk, it will clog and you’ll never get a smooth mixture. Remember, you can always add more milk, but adding more flour will clog the mix! Keep adding milk until the mixture is fluid, but not too fluid. The exact fluidness is personal – everyone will tell you a different story so you’ll have to go with your gut feeling and experience.

The baking

Heat a flat pan. Melt a little butter in the pan and pour the desired amount of mixture into the pan (about 2 tablespoons for a thin pancake). Swish the pan around, allowing the mixture to cover the base of the pan. Most recipes recommend turning the pancake when the underside turns golden. Since I’m no alchemist able to turn pancakes into gold and no Superman able to see through a pancake, I wait until the upper side of the pancake has changed consistency (from slightly fluid to slightly baked), count to 10, and gently lift the edge of the pancake to see if it turned brown. If it has, its time to turn. Another 30 seconds later the pancake is ready. Put the pancake on a plate, cover with a lid to keep it warm, add some butter into the pan and repeat until you run out of mixture.

The filling

Cut the strawberries in small pieces. In a heavy pan, bake the strawberries and the red currant for a couple of minutes with a teaspoon of (brown) sugar. That’s it!

Roll and enjoy

Footnote – some people say you can bake huge quantities of pancakes and freeze them for later use. Sure, you can. But since the whole recipe takes about 15 minutes to make, why would you?

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Think global, eat local!

In the past few years, many European countries have been swept by the organic food rage. It appears to be the only consumer product not affected by the economy crisis, as sales continue to grow and new organic stores keep appearing. As a karma-conscious vegetarian, I have been on the crest of the organic wave for quite some time now. For years I have been collecting my weekly package of organic veggies from the health food store. The package includes seasonal vegetables and fruit, and the supplier tries to include as many local products as possible. Fortunately, the package also includes descriptions and recipe suggestions to the sometimes odd and unfamiliar vegetables, so you’re not completely stuck with your freshly acquired earth apples or parsnip.

Every now and then, however, you need to get creative on your own. Once, after an inspection of my fridge, I realised that all I had in house was half an orange squash, some kale and a small piece of goat cheese. Not being picky, I’ve combined these ingredients into what turned out to be a winner.

Here’s the recipe, a tribute to my creative genius and my absence of planning:

Goat cheese

Ingredients (for 2 servings)

  • Half an Orange Hokkaido Squash, cleaned of seeds and chopped (with the skin)
  • Medium onion, chopped
  • 200 gr kale, chopped
  • 200 gr spelt
  • Cumin (seeds or powder)
  • 75 gr goat cheese, rasped
  • Oil
  • Pepper

Wash the spelt and soak for several hours. Change the water, bring to boil, then simmer for 45-60 minutes, until chewy but tender.

Bon appetit!

In a large frying pan, heat the oil and fry the cumin 7seeds for a couple of minutes. Add the chopped onions and fry until they’re soft. Stir in the chopped squash and fry slightly. Add some water and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the kale and some more water (and cumin powder if you’re not using seeds), simmer for several minutes until the kale and squash are soft, but not disintegrating. Pepper to taste. Before serving, sprinkle with rasped goat cheese.

All the ingredients can be grown locally in small European countries. If you’re lucky enough to have a small European garden, you can even cultivate your own pumpkin and kale, as they are weather-tolerant. All in all – low carbon emissions on transport, no need for greenhouse cultivation, support for local farmers and a great taste – think global, eat local!

 

 

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A recipe for a perfect sunday

Warning – following these instructions might seriously increase your waistline. If you’re on a diet – stop reading.

If you ever find yourself wondering how to spend a perfect Sunday – go to the store and get this list:

  • 1 bag of flour
  • 300 g of butter
  • 150 g of light and 40 g of dark brown sugar (you might want to get more of these for repeated happy Sundays)
  • Vanilla sugar (they are usually sold in multiple packages, so your repeated happy Sundays are already taken care of here)
  • 1.5 kg apples (Elstar of Jonagold, any red sweet sort will do probably)
  • Cinnamon (every proper kitchen has cinnamon already, but you might have run out)
  • 2 cups of raisins (although you surely have some at home – and if you don’t, now is the time to start keeping a supply of raisins)

Wait until Sunday morning. Then do the following:

1- Make the bottom
Take 300 g flour, 250 g of butter and 150 g of brown sugar and knead it into a smooth dough. Leave to rest for half an hour in a cool place. Spread the dough over a  26 cm springform pan, pressing tightly. Make sure the dough is spread all the way up to the edge of the pan.

2- Make the filling
Peel the apples and remove the cores. Cut the apples into pieces. In a large pan, slightly bake the apples with a bit of water. Add a full tablespoon of cinnamon and two (small) cups of raisins. Bake the whole a couple of minutes longer, mixing it together. Pour the apples into the springform over the bottom and press it together.

3- Make the top crust
Knead together 90 g of flour, 1 small bag of vanilla sugar and 40 g of butter. Add 40 g of dark brown sugar and mix well, but don’t knead it any more so it remains crumbly. Spread the mix evenly over the apple pie.

4- Bake the pie
Preheat the over at 190 degrees and bake the pie for 50 minutes. Enjoy the smell as it spreads over the house. When the top crust is turning golden brown – its done! Take the pie out of the oven and let it cool slightly.The crust will harden and you can remove the outer rim of the springform.

5- Eat the pie
Cut a slice. If you feel like really spoiling yourself, add whipped cream. Pour yourself some fresh coffee. Enjoy your perfect Sunday!

This recreation of the famous Dudok apple pie, a Rotterdam speciality, comes from www.smulweb.nl. I have been baking for several years now. I have discarded the apple sauce and sugar from the filling, since the apple sauce made it too moist and the pie has enough sugar in it as it is. The caloric content of the whole thing is something like 5000 kcal, which makes it a great hikers food. I’ve baked it while staying in hostels in New Zealand and it really refills your energy after a long track. Take a slice with you on a hike and even the wettest, muddiest day will have something heavenly in it. The pie survives freezing quite nicely. But nothing beats it fresh out of the oven.

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