Sunday, May 22, 2011

Braised sauerkraut

This is choucroute garnie without the garnie -- sauerkraut braised with wine and aromatics.  My version is vegetarian and pareve, but you can vary it for me, or use it as a base to braise meat, especially things like short ribs. The quantity that I give is a substantial side dish for four.  You can double it, and it keeps well.  It is easy enough that you shouldn't have to wait for an ocassion to make it:

Braised sauerkraut (basic version)

  • 1 pound sauerkraut
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 2 carrots, chopped fine
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons gin (optional, and if not using juniper berries)
  • 1/2 cup dry white white wine or vermouth
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth (I use water with some Osem powder, so sue me)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 juniper berries, lightly crushed (optional)
  • pinch of thyme
  • few grindings of pepper

  1. Drain the sauerkraut, an put it to soak in a bowl of cold water while you do the chop and saute the aromatics.
  2. Saute the onion, carrot and celery  in the oil on medium until soft but not brown in a large covered skillet or 2-3 quart pot.
  3. Drain the sauerkraut again, and squeeze out the water.  It does not need to be bone dry, but it should not be dripping wet either.  
  4. Add the sauerkraut and saute for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add gin if using, and boil for a minute.  Add the wine and broth and bring to the boil.
  6. Add bay leaves, thyme, pepper and juniper berries, if you are using them.
  7. Simmer the kraut on medium low for at least a half hour, or up to an hour or more if you have time.
  8. That's it.  It goes well with boiled potatoes, mushroom dishes, roasted meats, etc. and also on a vegetarian Reuben sandwich. (I will post this in a few days.)

Fancy version:  tie 5 peppercorns, a pinch or spring of thyme, 2 lightly crushed juniper berries, and 2 bay leaves in a cheesecloth bag.  This is called bouquet garni.  If you are being so fancy, you should use vegetable broth rather than bouillon. 

Even fancier, Polish version:  Use the bouquet garni.  Soak about 1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms in hot water to cover until soft.  (I put them in a pyrex measuring dish, cover with water, and zap for a few minutes.)  Remove the mushrooms, rinse, chop and add to the sauteed vegetables and saute a few minutes before you add the sauerkraut.  Strain the soaking liquid to remove grit, and use instead of the broth.  Use a few tablespoons of Madeira or port instead of some of the wine.  I would leave out the juniper berries here, but many would not. 

Meat version:  Use schmaltz (rendered chicken, goose or duck fat) instead of the oil, and be more generous with it.  Use chicken or beef broth if you have homemade on hand.  This is wonderful to braise short ribs:  double the recipe, and brown the ribs before adding them to the kraut.  Braise 2 1/2 hours until tender. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Asparagus with orange, two ways

There was a movie released in the 1980s called Ladyhawke, which I have actually never seen. Part of the plot is that two lovers are doomed to lifelong separation by a demonic curse invoked by the corrupt and jealous Bishop of Aquila: by day the woman is transformed into a hawk, while at night the man becomes becomes a black wolf, and they can only meet each other very briefly at dawn and at dusk.  Sometimes, my marriage reminds me of this.

I am a morning person.  I almost always wake up before my alarm, which is set at 6 am. The exception is weekends when I don't set my alarm but usually seem to wake up between 5 and 5:30.  Amy drags herself out of bed at 7 with difficulty when I am leaving or have already left.  On weekends, she almost never wakes up before 9.   Amy generally gets home later than I do, and we may have meetings or classes on different nights.  I will start to fade around 9, while she is up dealing with a combination of insomnia and addiction to the real estate channel.

This also reminds me of asparagus with orange flavor, a wonderful combination.  Although it is possible to get everything all year round now, for a price and considerable carbon impact, asparagus is at its peak in the early spring, whereas oranges are at their best in the winter.  They seem to cross briefly in March to May when oranges are in decline.  The classic combination is steamed asparagus with maltaise sauce, a variation on hollandaise which substitutes orange for the lemon.  While this is a fine combination, you can hear your arteries harden while you eat it, so here are two dishes that combine the flavors or orange and asparagus in a way more in accord with how we eat now.

Asparagus with orange vinaigrette

  • Trim 2-3 pounds of asparagus and cook however you want.  I generally just put it in a large pot of salted boiling water and for thinnish asparagus, cook it until just before the water returns to the boil which makes it just a shade or two more tender than al dente.  You can also steam it in an asparagus steamer (lots of luck here -- I find that These steamers are a waste of money and the asparagus always slips out of the steamer basket) or cook it in a microwave.  Remove from the pot, steamer or microwave and cool in a colander under cold running water.  There are two many variables to even give times here.
  • Make a vinaigrette with the grated rind and juice of and orange, the juice of a lemon, and as much olive oil as you feel like, between 1 and 6 tablespoons. 
  • Dress the asparagus just before serving.  (It doesn't suffer much from marination, but I find it better freshly dressed.)
  • We serve this dish every Passover, and you can adjust quantities for a family meal.

Pan-roasted asparagus with orange flavor

  • Wash a pound of asparagus, trim off the tough bases, and cut in 2-3 pieces to separate the stalks from the tender tops. 
  • Put some olive oil in a nonstick skillet, heat it, and add the stalks.  Saute, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes.  Add the tops, sprinkle with salt. and continue to saute another 7-10 minutes. For medium thin asparagus, 10-15 minutes on medium heat seems to do it, but you have to adjust cooking times to your own taste.
  • Grate the rind of an orange.  Smash 2 large or 2 small cloves of garlic with the side of the blade of a broad knife, and a large pinch of coarse salt, and with the side and edge, work it into a paste.  Combine with the orange, and if you want it a bit spicy add a very large pinch of Aleppo pepper or a very small dash of cayenne. 
  • Push the asparagus to the side of the skillet, turn heat down to medium low, and add a tablespoon of oil in the open space.  Add the paste and saute in the oil until it begins to loose its raw aroma.  
  • Mix into the asparagus, taste for salt, and cook another minute or two to combine the flavors.
  • Serves 2-4 s a side dish

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Moroccan carrot salad with pistachios

Moroccan salads are very different from the salads and dips that we typically associate with Middle Eastern cuisines.  Rather than hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli and similar dishes, there is a wide variety of sweet, tart, spicy and aromatic dishes of cooked and raw vegetables.  One of my favorites, and one of the easiest, is a dish of grated carrots dressed with lemon juice, sugar, and rose or orange-flower water.  After buying a jar of pistachio oil for my enhancement of Yotam Ottolenghi's Pistachio, Watercress, and Orange Blossom Salad, I was looking around for new uses.   We were going to serve a chicken tagine with artichokes for dinner on Friday, and when I woke up on Friday morning at 5 am, an hour before my alarm, I started making appetizers with whatever vegetables we had in the fridge.  Since we had both carrots and pistachio oil, I prepared this riff on the classic grated carrot salad.  It give the salad a buttery, nutty quality (I know I am repeating myself) and modesty aside, I think it is light years beyond the original. 

Moroccan carrot salad with pistachios

  • about 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 teaspoons of sugar, to taste
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon orange-flower water
  • 1-2 tablespoons pistachio oil (see below)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • One pound carrots
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped  unsalted pistachio meats, or more if you really like them

  1. Combine the salt, sugar, lemon juice, orange flower water and pistachio oil in the bottom of a serving bowl, and mix well with a fork. Add a pinch of cayenne if you want
  2. Peel and grate the carrots on the large wholes of a hand grater.  ( The processor disk of a food processor would also work, but avoid the carrot shreds you can buy in the supermarket for this dish.  They do not exude the juice that hand-grated carrots do, and this becomes part of the sauce. )
  3. Mix the carrots into the dressing in the serving bowl, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  4. Garnish with the chopped pistachios just before serving.
  5. Serves 4-8 as part of a selection of appetizer salads.
To make the original version:  just leave out the pistachio oil and nuts.

Pistachio oil:  I am hooked, but if you don't want to spring for it, you can use olive oil.  For something more authentically Moroccan try argan oil, which I have actually never tasted but will one day.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My shortest blog post: Yotam Ottolenghi's Watercress, Pistachio and Orange Blossom Salad.

I am going to do something I never do, which is basically post a link to a published recipe and just suggest and enhancement.  The recipe is Yotam Ottolenghi's Watercress, Pistachio and Orange Blossom Salad which appear in last weeks New York Time's dining section.  I mean, why mess with perfection, except just a little.  So instead of dressing the salad with olive oil, use pistachio oil.  It is a reasonable treat, and gives the salad a deep, nutty, buttery flavor.  Well worth the indulgence.  Oh, and you can substitute arugula for some of the cress if you want. Be sure to dry your herbs well.