Sometimes, I feel guilty about the ungodly amount of time I spend thinking about food. But then I remember my love of dumplings and how many people also share it – the dumpling mania transcends multiple cultural barriers. Some examples (not in any particular order and obviously only as complete as my experience has permitted):
- Vietnamese dumplings: Bánh Bao, Bánh Ít
- Chinese dumplings: Shumai, Bao, Wonton
- Japanese dumplings: Gyoza, Daifuku
- Korean dumpling: Mandu
- South American dumpling: Empanada
- Italian dumplings: Tortellini, Ravioli
- Eastern European dumpling: Pierogi
- Nepalese dumpling: Momo
- Indian dumplings: Samosa, Kozhukatta
Now I’m no poet, but if I were at all skilled in this area, there could be an Ode to Dumplings (or multiple).
In my limited foray in the samosa world, I’ve found them to fall most often on the thick crust side of the dumpling line. For me, the best part of the dumpling is the filling, so puff pastry offers an agreeable solution to my gripes about thick samosa crusts.
Yield: 16 samosas
- one package of puff pastry, rolled a little and cut into 16 squares
- some flour for rolling out the dough
- 3 small potatoes, diced
- 1 medium carrot, diced
- 1 cup of cauliflower florets (about 1/4 of a smallish head)
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/4 tsp asafoetida
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- salt to taste
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 1 medium-small onion, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 1 red chili, finely chopped
- 1 cup of green peas
- chopped cilantro
- a bit of olive oil and a brush
- Steam the potatoes, cauliflower and carrots for 10 minutes, or until they are soft.
- Heat the coconut oil in a skillet and add the mustard seeds. Cover this with a lid, and wait for them to pop. Careful not to leave them too long, otherwise they will burn.
- When the time between pops increases noticeably, add the cumin seeds and asafoetida. Only let the spices bloom for about 5-10 seconds.
- Immediately add the ginger, garlic, and chili. Stir well.
- Once the garlic becomes fragrant, add the onion.
- Once the onion becomes soft, stir in the curry powder and cook for 3-5 minutes.
- Add the steamed vegetables and the green peas.
- Add salt to taste.
- When the vegetable mixture becomes a bit dry, take this off the heat.
- Stir in the cilantro.
- Let it cool uncovered for about 10 minutes. Stuffing hot and moist filling in a dumpling is not fun.
- Heat the oven to 200 C.
- Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- Spoon about 1-2 tbsp of filling into each puff pastry square and fold the edges on the diagonal. Seal it shut with the tines of a fork. Poke some air holes at the top of the samosa and place it on a cookie sheet. Resist the urge to overstuff the samosa.
- Brush each samosa lightly with olive oil.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden-brown.
- Serve with your favorite chutney.
My spirit vegetable is garlic.
I’ve been in a “back to basics” cooking mood as of late, and which cuisine is better for this than Italian food? Dead simple recipes with fresh ingredients prepared in less than 30 minutes. But after the 6th pasta night, a girl goes a little stir crazy. Here’s an American twist on the classic Italian knock out.
Yield: 6 open faced sandwiches
- 6 slices toast
- 1/2 kg broccoli florets (make them small)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 5 minced garlic cloves
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- juice and zest from 1/2 a lemon
- 1/2 cup of grated Parmesean cheese
- 6 slices of mild cheese (e.g. Provolone, Young Gouda, Swiss, etc)
- Steam the broccoli for 2-3 minutes.
- In a saute pan, heat the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper in medium-low heat. The garlic should not brown, but rather become very fragrant. Do this for about 10 minutes, or until you can see the oil start to turn a bit red from the chili flakes.
- Add the broccoli, lemon juice, lemon zest, Parmesean cheese and salt to taste.
- Spoon the mixture over each slice of toast.
- Place one slice of cheese on top of each sandwich.
- Broil the sandwiches until the cheese gets bubbly and turns a little brown – maybe around 4 minutes.
I like it when I find dishes that sum up a country in one go – for India, I think it’s Biryani. Every major Indian spice (ok, except Asafoetida, but don’t be difficult) takes center stage in this glorious cacophony of flavors. Bonus: This is a dish that tastes amazing the day you make it and the subsequent days as well.
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 1/2 cups of rinsed Basmati rice (could sub Jasmine rice in a pinch)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 cloves
- 1/2 a bay leaf
- a pinch of saffron
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp shahi jeera (caraway seeds)
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick (broken into 2-3 pieces)
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 green cardamon, pods and seeds separated
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 3/4 tsp chili powder
- a pinch of ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 whole star anise
- 2 tsp garam masala
- salt to taste
- 3 small onions or 2 medium sized onions, sliced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 cup of cauliflower florets (make them small)
- 1/2 cup of peas
- 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
- 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tomato, diced
- optional: 1 package of veggie balls (I usually find this in a German or American store in the vegetarian section near the tofu)
- 1 cup of yogurt mixed with 2 tbsp water
- a bunch of mint leaves, chopped
- a bunch of cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 cup of cashews, chopped and dry roasted
- Bring the rice and water to a rolling boil in an uncovered pot on the stove.
- Cover the pot and turn the heat down to low-medium.
- When water fully evaporates, take the pot off the heat and let it sit, covered.
- Warm the milk slightly (30 seconds in the microwave).
- Soak the saffron in the warmed milk.
- At the end, drizzle the Saffron infused milk on finished rice along with the ghee.
- Fluff the rice as you mix.
- In 2 tbsp of oil, caramelize the sliced onions. They should be a bit brown and crispy.
- Set the onions aside in a bowl with the cashews (mixed well).
- With another 1 tbsp of oil, lightly fry the bay leaf, cloves, separated cardamom, star anise, cinnamon stick for about 1 minute.
- Add shahi jeera and let it blossom – 10 seconds.
- Add minced ginger and garlic and cook till they turn slightly brown (1-2 minutes).
- Add the remaining vegetables and veggie balls (if using) and cook for 5 minutes.
- Fry the turmeric, chili powder, garam masala, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, black pepper with the vegetables for 2-3 minutes.
- Pour half the yogurt into the vegetable-spice mixture and stir well.
- Cook on low heat until the vegetables are al dente.
- Fold the remaining yogurt, mint, and cilantro into the pan.
- Cook everything on low heat until the temperature is warm throughout.
- In a deep dish, evenly spread a layer rice on the bottom.
- Add a layer of vegetables and onions/cashew mix over the rice.
- Spread another layer of rice on top, and so on… the top layer should be rice. It’s kind of like making lasagna.
- Preheat oven to 150 C.
- Cover the dish and bake it for 20 minutes.
- Sprinkle some mint and cilantro on top.
There’s only a “before” picture because the finished fries were demolished before a picture could be taken.
My eyes have been opened. I once was blind, but now I see. The secret to homemade oven baked fries? Soak the starch out of the potatoes and make sure they’re properly dry before baking. If these fries come out limp, there’s either too much starch in them or they weren’t sufficiently dried before entering the oven. Put on your stretchy pants because this is a belly buster.
Yield: is it 1 serving if I can polish off the whole tray alone?
- 3 medium potatoes (mix it up! you can use purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, yukon, russet, whatever Speisekartoffeln your heart desires) – don’t bother skinning the potatoes, as most of the nutrients are in the skin anyhow
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- optional: ~1 tsp taco seasoning or curry powder
- optional: parmesean cheese, truffle oil, rosemary, or parsely as a topping
- salt to taste
- Julienne the potatoes. Take this opportunity to polish your knife skills and flex your pipes.
- Soak the fries in cold water for at least 30 minutes. Sometimes, I soak the really starchy potatoes for up to 45 minutes.
- Rinse the potatoes with fresh water and drain.
- Lay the fries out on a few paper towels to dry for 30-45 minutes.
- Toss with the olive oil, a dash of salt, and any seasoning (if using).
- Heat the oven to 205 C.
- Bake for about 20 minutes.
- Turn up the heat to 220 C and shuffle the fries around.
- Bake for another 20 minutes.
- Sprinkle the toppings over the golden digits (if using).
I’m pleased – it’s a good sign you’re getting more comfortable with your city when you can mix up local ingredients (marzipan & müsli) with a classic recipe (cookie bars). Toss in some ghee and you’ve got yourself a funky, unexpected drool-inducer.
Yield: one 9×13 pan
- 200g marzipan
- 230g flour (1 3/4 cups)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 65g sugar (1/3 cup)
- 125g butter (keep it cold and slice into chunks) – I prefer Sauerrahmbutter, but I guess regular butter could do (in a pinch)
- 105g müsli (1 1/3 cup) – could sub rolled oats
- 125g butter – see the note on Sauerrahmbutter above (I said we were tossing in ghee right?)
- 100g sugar (1/2 cup)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract (or 1-2 vanilla pods)
- 1/2 cup finely shredded coconut
- 200g chocolate chips
- a handful of chopped dried fruits, e.g. figs, dates, or apricots
- powdered sugar, to finish
- Preheat the oven to 175 C.
- Line a 9×13 baking dish with parchment paper.
- Combine the crust ingredients in a bowl and knead it well. The dough will be very crumbly at first, but keep at it, and it’ll come together promptly. You don’t have to make it extremely smooth – the butter chunks should not be too well incorporated in the dough (channel your pie crust making skills).
- Press the crust evenly into the pan with your fingers, and let it come up the sides by about 1/4 inch.
- Bake the crust for 20-30 minutes, or until it’s lightly golden.
- Meanwhile in a saucepan on the stove, melt the butter over medium heat. Do not be tempted to turn this to high heat because it will burn quickly. Pay attention to the water escaping as it’s heated (bubbly noises). Once the bubbly noises taper off, some of the milk solids in the butter will start to brown. Only let it brown a little – take it off the heat.
- Stir in the sugar and salt. Let this cool for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the eggs and vanilla to the butter mix.
- Combine the gooey filling with the müsli, chocolate, coconut, and dried fruit (if using).
- Evenly spread the filling over the parbaked crust.
- Bake for another 15-20 minutes.
- Once cool, you can cut the bars and dust with the powdered sugar.
I normally make Hummus with canned chickpeas, but lately I’ve been preferring the dried chickpeas you can find at the Turkish groceries. They feel so nice when you run your fingers through them, and make delightful clink-clink noises as you pour them from one container into another. I’ve found there’s an extra step to making Hummus when you use canned vs dried chickpeas – if you don’t boil the dried chickpeas beforehand, they end up tasting grassy instead of creamy.
- a 16 oz can of chickpeas or 1 cup of dried chickpeas
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp tahini (or more, to taste)
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 3 tbsp water (usually I reserve some chickpea liquid from the can or from soaking the dried chickpeas)
- salt to taste
- optional: sun dried tomatoes, habanero peppers, smoked serrano chili peppers, dried mint, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, or parsley, etc. either as a topping or blended with the chickpeas
- If using the dried chickpeas, make sure you soak them for 4-6 hours in advance. Then, boil them for about an hour. If using the canned chickpeas, skip this step.
- Blend all the ingredients into a smooth and fluffy paste. Add more water if it’s too thick.
- Serve with a swirl of olive oil on top.