Friday, September 4, 2009

Catfish Gumbo

It's okra season, and gumbo is a good way to use up this abundant vegetable. One of our neighbors keeps bringing us bags of okra from his garden, which is such a treat! What I learned, growing up in the South (first Texas and later Kentucky) is that any gumbo has to have okra in it; without okra, it's just not gumbo.

This recipe comes from The Little Gumbo Book by Gwen McKee (Quail Ridge Press, 1986), which has 27 different gumbo recipes. I've made this one twice, and it is a very reliable recipe -- meaning the end results are reliably good. The book raves about all its recipes with the same level of glowing endorsement -- i.e., "This is incredibly delicious – try it! Easy to make, incredibly delicious!" In this case, I agree.

2 lb. catfish fillets or nuggets
6 c. water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped bell pepper
2 c. chopped celery
1 lb. chopped okra
1 (28-oz.) can tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp. K’s Cajun Seasoning (or salt, pepper, and red pepper)
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Cook cleaned fish in boiling, salted water till it breaks apart with a fork (only takes a few minutes). Remove fish, debone, cut in chunks, and reserve stock.

Melt butter in skillet; add flour and stir till lightly browned. Toss chopped vegetables into roux and heat sill softened, stirring often.

Mix everything together – except fish – in a pot with stock and simmer about an hour.

Add fish and simmer 30-45 minutes. Serve over rice with a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Serve gumbo filé on the side. (Filé is a powder made from ground sassafras leaves, and has a delicate flavor; it also thickens the gumbo.)

Serves 8.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Addictive Roasted Veggie Pasta

N. made this for dinner last night, and we both realized that whenever we have this dish, we can't stop eating it -- that's why I'm calling it Addictive Roasted Veggie Pasta. It comes from one of the Sundays at Moosewood cookbooks, I can't remember which one, and since I don't have the book here in Berlin, the recipe as given below doesn't have all the precise information you'll find in the book. It doesn't have the sort of crunchy-granola-hippy aesthetic that you might associate with the original Moosewood cookbook of 1977; instead its sophisticated ingredients (roasted fennel and asparagus) and flavorful dressing seem more like an updated classic.

One of the key ingredients is asparagus, but that's not available in Germany in June so we used green beans last night and the dish was almost as good. The dressing is the "secret weapon," so to speak, which - combined with the feta and the olives - makes the whole thing irresistable.

1 large fennel bulb
1 lb. asparagus
1 large red onion
olive oil (about 1/4 cup?)
8 oz. dry pasta
pitted calamata olives
feta cheese
flat leaf parsley

1/4 c. olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
garlic, freshly pressed
1 tsp. mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Thinly slice the fennel and onion; cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Toss with olive oil and roast at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, tossing again twice during cooking.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta and chop the tomatoes, feta, and parsley. Cut olives in half. (Recipe calls for 1 dozen olives, but we use more.)

Mix the dressing; toss it with the roasted veggies and pasta. Toss in the olives, tomatoes, feta and parsley (or, alternatively, don’t toss in the feta but serve the dish with the feta on top).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tadshikischen Teestube (Tajiki Tea Room), Berlin

When our friends were visiting us recently they took us to this fantastic, rather hidden tea room located very close to the Museumsinsel. It's a small place so reservations are highly recommended, but since we got there early we were able to be served without one. According to the menu, the first tea room in the world was in Tajikistan. I don't know if I believe it, but I do accept that this represents a longstanding traditional form of social interaction. Women were not allowed (in Tajikistan, that is -- they are allowed in Berlin).

They have a wide selection of teas from every cultural tradition, from English to Chinese; and a fairly big menu, but we were only there for "kaffee und kuchen."

They do not seem to have their own website, but here are some links that can help you find this place:

Restaurant review from .


From Berliner Morgenpost.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bacon Cups from "not martha"

I just had the pleasure of discovering a fantastic blog thanks to a friend on Facebook. The instructions for making Bacon Cups, complete with photos of each step, is pretty interesting. You must check out this blog at, and this recipe in particular. She stuffed them with lettuce and sliced cherry tomatoes (a BLT theme) but one of the comments suggested poached eggs in the bacon cups, which also sounds great.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

German Food of the Week: Ground Cherries

Okay, so they're not exactly German -- ground cherries (Physalis peruviana, or Kapstachelbeere in German) are a tropical fruit, but they are quite popular here. They are a small sweet, slightly tart fruit, and a member of the nightshade family, like tomatoes. They grow inside a papery hull, like tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica). They often appear as garnishes on restaurant plates or buffets. I finally bought some at the grocery store yesterday, and we are enjoying them at home.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

German Egg Pancakes (Eierkuchen)

Last night Noah made these for the kid dinner -- Eli's cousin Edie is visiting, so we have two 4-year-olds. Noah is very fond of these from spending time in Germany while he was growing up. They're not like American pancakes, which are fluffy and bready. These "egg cakes" are quite thin, like crepes, but are more eggy than crepes, even slippery. They're very light.

This recipe comes from an East German cookbook circa 1967 (Das Grosse Kochbuch), that we found in our landlord's library.

1/2 liter milk (about 2 cups)
2 eggs
200 grams flour (a bit less than half a pound, 0.87 cup)
10 grams powdered sugar
100 grams butter for frying (1/4 lb. or a little less)

Put milk in a bowl, mix in eggs, sugar, and salt. Add flour gradually and keep mixing so you know when you’ve reached the desired consistency. Frying pan should be preheated well.

Use a very thin layer of batter in the pan, and tilt the pan so the batter spreads out.

Cook until golden on both sides.

Friday, March 27, 2009


This is Wildblumenkäse, it's delicious. It's a slightly stinky cheese, and the exterior is covered with dried wildflowers, most noticeably lavender. It is AMAZING. Noah used some in a souffle recently and once in a while you'd get a mouthful of lavender. Yum!

Eating in Berlin

All of these photos are from the farmer's market on the Kollwitzplatz, Berlin, on March 14, 2009:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Spicy Crisp Tofu on Mint-Avocado Salad

A friend posted this link on Facebook with the heading "It would be criminal not to post this recipe so you can make it and eat it," so in order to avoid prison I am posting it here. It is from Martha Stewart's "Whole Living" website. I haven't tried it yet but plan to:

Spicy Crisp Tofu on Mint-Avocado Salad

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In Praise of Marzipan

MARZIPAN: a confection consisting primarily of sugar and almond meal.

If you have never had the pleasure of marzipan in your candy, you are missing out. If you are allergic to almonds, well, I pity you. Almonds are one of my four favorite "essential foods" (which I will define and blog about at some future time). For now, I will just regale you with tales of the heights to which Germans take their marzipan (which they take very seriously...)
Photo 1: a display case in a cafe in Kreuzberg, in Berlin. In the rear center is a pile of Mandelhörnchen, the horseshoe-shaped marzipan logs coated with sliced almonds and with the ends of the horseshoe dipped in dark chocolate. This is a fairly standard pastry, and it is TO DIE FOR. It is densely filled with a generous dose of marzipan.
(Note: the round cakes next to the Mandelhörnchen are surrounded by a thin layer of marzipan around the sides; my son got one of these, and he let his parents try it. Inside it has cake and cream; the marzipan is the best part.)
Photo 2: discovered at the grocery store yesterday: Pflaume in Madeira (plums in Madeira). The name doesn't do it justice. It has a plum-flavored marzipan-like confection atop a layer of pure marzipan, all coated in a generous layer of dark chocolate. (And no, it does not taste like prunes.) The hint of Madeira wine is enough to give you a little bit of a buzz -- just icing on the cake of delectability.

The experience of eating a Pflaume in Madeira is akin to eating a Mozartkugel, but much better. I'm not knocking Mozartkugels, it's just that these are better. (To be precise, I've only ever eaten the German mass-produced imitation Mozartkugels, which I learned a lot about from Wikipedia; here they are sold in Aldi.)
Photo 3: Then there's the Rittersport Marzipan candy, which I LOVE. In the U.S. we pay a hefty price for it (I don't recall exactly, at least $3 or $4). Here in Berlin it costs 0.85 Euros (that's aobut $1.20 U.S.). I always thought this was high-quality candy, but the Germans don't think so; my husband's German cousin refers to Rittersport as "Kinder Schokolade" (i.e., chocolate for children).
Photo 4: I am embarrassed to say that I have never tried the tempting confection pictured at right, even though it is sold in a market stall in front of my apartment building every Saturday morning. For one thing there are about 30 different varieties; for another, I'm intimidated by the language barrier in trying to make such a specialized purchase. The labels all claim they are made from marzipan. They are punctuated with a variety of nuts and dried fruits. It is my goal to buy at least one or two next Saturday and try it. I'll let you know what happens.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Peter Piper Picked a Peck...

Does anyone know what do to with pickled peppers? I don't mean the long tasty strips of grilled sweet red pepper that have been preserved in jars with vinegar; I mean the actual peppercorns. This is something they sell in German grocery stores, and it looks exactly like a little jar of capers, which is how I ended up buying them. In fact they are on the shelf right next to the capers (just to confuse you more). I didn't notice my mistake until I got home and saw "Pfeffer" on the label, and still had to confirm with my husband that "Pfeffer" was, indeed, "pepper" and not "capers." This is an item I have never seen on an American grocery store shelf. If you have any good ideas about how I can cook with them, please let me know.

That brings me to the subject of today's post -- German vs. American foods. Now, I am not some kind of food snob; I will freely admit that when I am in Europe for an extended period of time, I eventually start to crave Hershey's chocolate, especially the milk chocolate with almonds (either bars or kisses). [This should be interpreted as a hint to anyone who wants to send me a care package.] I know that Hershey's is a completely pedestrian -- some would even say degenerate -- taste, one which can only be accounted for by childhood experience. Some people I know won't even eat Hershey's.

Things I like about food in Germany:

1. Blood orange juice. It's a European thing, in general; I first discovered it in Italy many years ago. I just don't understand why it's not available in the U.S. But I drink it every day here.

2. Yoghurt -- excellent! Maybe it's European yoghurt in general, but it's incredibly rich.

3. German-made "Dijon" mustard that is so spicy it makes your eyes water.

4. Rittersport candy bars for less 1 Euro (about $1.30 at the moment). (We pay several times that in Missouri.) My favorite is the dark chocolate-covered marzipan.

5. Black licorice. If you, too, love black licorice, let me know and I will bring some back for you in August.

6. Quark. This is a dairy product, somewhere between yoghurt and sour cream in texture and flavor. My husband says it is "whey." In Germany it is as common as yoghurt, and can be flavored with fruit or with herbs. With the herbs it is sort of like eating onion dip.

7. "Crema di balsamico," actually an Italian product, but available in the German grocery store. It's a thick syrup made from balsamic vinegar, it's like a carmelized balsamic vinegar reduction. A little tangy, a little sweet. Delicious on ice cream (as I can testify), and they also recommend it on savory foods like meat (which I haven't tried).

Things I miss from America:

1. Avocadoes that are tasty and consistently good quality (though that can't always be taken for granted in Missouri, either).

2. Chicken broth, preferably organic and free-range; but you can't find ANY here except concentrated stuff that has to be reconstituted with water. I suppose it's more economical and more environmentally sound, since it requires less packaging, but somehow it seems more heavily processed to me.

3. Almond butter. They do have it in Germany, but it's hard to find -- you have to go to the health food store (the Bio-markt), and even then it's very runny (even when refrigerated).

4. Trader Joe's. Okay, I miss that even when I'm in Columbia, Missouri. Germany has Aldi but that's just not the same.

These lists are pretty short. Pretty much everything is available everywhere these days, isn't it? But I've only been here for two weeks; these lists may grow over the next 5 1/2 months.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hot and Sour Soup with Asparagus and Wild Mushrooms

This recipe comes from Hugh Carpenter, a professional chef who specializes in Asian fusion cuisine; I took a class from him in Santa Monica a long time ago. He used to own a chain of dim sum restaurants in Los Angeles; I used to go to one in West Hollywood, back when Melrose Avenue was really hot.

This recipe is virtually foolproof; the only potential problem is overcooking the asparagus, which is why I tell you to add the asparagus at the very end of the cooking time. The other vegetables aren't as delicate, but of course you can add them gradually according to the required cooking time (carrots first, etc.).

1 small bunch asparagus, diagonally cut
4 oz. shitake mushrooms, stemmed and slivered
1/2 box bean curd (use very firm)
1 cup slivered carrots
1/2 cup slivered green onions
1 boneless chicken breast, skinned
6 cups chicken broth (of course, homemade chicken stock gives the best results)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Seasoning Mix

6 Tbsp. vinegar (white, red wine, or cider vinegar)
2 Tbsp. dry sherry
1 Tbsp. heavy soy sauce
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. finely ground white pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Chinese chili sauce

Advance Preparation

Prepare asparagus, mushrooms, bean curd, carrots, green onion. Cut chicken breast into very thin spoon-sized pieces; marinate it with some sesame oil for a couple minutes so it doesn’t stick together. Set aside broth, eggs and cornstarch. In small bowl, combine Seasoning Mix.

Last-Minute Cooking

Bring broth to low boil. Add chicken and give soup a vigorous stir to separate the meat. Add vegetables [except asparagus] and seasoning mix. Combine cornstarch with equal amount cold water. Bring soup to low boil and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Beat eggs well. Bring soup back to very low boil. Add 2 Tbsp. soup to eggs, then slowly pour eggs into soup while beating soup with a fork where the eggs hit the hot broth. [Add asparagus for the last few minutes of cooking.] Remove from heat and adjust for salt, spiciness and tartness. The soup can be made several hours in advance and just reheated. Turn into soup tureen or individual bowls. Serve at once.

Serves 4 as the main entrée, or 6 to 8 as the soup course.

Other possible additions: bean sprouts, red cabbage, bamboo shoots, peas

Pear Tart - Outstanding!!!!

John Evelev served us this pear tart for dessert recently, and I swear to you, it was the best dessert I've eaten in a long, long time! The recipe comes from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells. For the pastry dough, John used ready-made (uncooked) dough from the grocery store and it was as good as a homemade pastry crust. Patricia writes:

Like an authentic tart Tatin, the pear version consists of nothing but well-caramelized pears and a layer of thin pastry. The pears should remain in huge chunks, making for an honest, rustic tart. The clear glass baking dish allows you to see if any pears are sticking as you turn out the tart. This may seem like a lot of pears for a single tart, but they cook down quickly.

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
7 to 8 firm pears (about 2 3/4 pounds; 1.75 kg), preferably Bosc or Anjou, peeled, quartered and cored
1/2 c. (100 g.) sugar
1 recipe of pastry dough
1 cup of crème fraîche or sour cream, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 Celsius).

2. Melt the butter in a deep 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the pears and sugar. Cook, stirring carefully from time to time so the pears and sugar do not stick, 20 minutes. Increase the heat to high and cook until the pears and sugar are a deep, golden brown, about 15 more minutes. (If you are like me, the urge will be to stop the cooking a bit soon, so it doesn’t burn. But the tart will be much prettier and taste better if you take the time to allow the pears to run a true golden brown.) Shake the pan from time to time, and watch carefully to be sure that the pears and sugar do not burn. (If you do not have a pan large enough to cook all of the pears, cook them in 2 smaller pans, dividing the ingredients in half.)

3. Literally pile the pears into an unbuttered round 10 1/2-inch (27 cm.) clear glass baking dish or a special tin-lined copper tart Tatin pan.

4. Roll out the pastry dough slightly larger than the dish. Place the pastry on top of the pears, tucking a bit of the dough around the edges and down into the dish. You do not need to prick the dough.

5. Place the tart into the center of the oven and bake until the pears bubble and the pastry is a deep, golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.

6. Remove the tart from the oven and immediately place a large, flat heatproof serving platter top-side down on top of the baking dish or pan. Invert the pan and give the bottom a firm tap, to release any pears that may be sticking to the bottom. Slowly release the baking dish, so the tart falls evenly onto the serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature, passing a bowl of rich crème fraîche to spoon over the tart.

7. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cauliflower Pakoras

This recipe comes from Neelam Bhatra, from whom I took a class on Indian cooking some 20 years ago (!) in Santa Monica. (Her husband owned the company I worked for at the time.) I recently made this for a dinner party, using cauliflower, slices of sweet potato, and green beans. It turned out great! This is a no-fail recipe, as long as you are comfortable with deep-frying. But you should at least double the recipe for more than a half-dozen people.

1-2 lbs. cauliflower, cut into florets (can also use green beans, thinly sliced potato)
1 c. garbanzo flour
2/3 c. water, approximately
2 t. coriander powder
1 t. cumin powder
1/4 t. paprika
pinch of baking soda
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
salt to taste
oil for deep frying

Sift garbanzo flour. Mix all dry ingredients into flour. Next add chopped cilantro and water and make a medium thick batter.

Heat oil in a wok or any other pan. Dip each floret into batter and put into hot oil carefully – to prevent splattering. Fry until nicely brown and crisp.

Remove to paper towels. Serve hot as appetizers or as a snack with tea or coffee.

Fritters can be lightly fried and cooled completely before refrigerating or freezing. Thaw and refry before serving.

Good with chat masala sprinkled on top.

Variations: This batter can be used with thin slices of potatoes, onions, eggplant, squash and paneer. Mushrooms and green beans are good too.

(Better if fried twice – come out very crisp. For party, prepare in advance, fry for second time right before serving.)

NOTE: Garbanzo flour is available at Indian grocery stores; at regular grocery stores you can often find it, too, from Bob's Red Mill (one of their vast line of products!).

Homemade Bailey's

This recipe for an imitation BAILEY'S IRISH CREME comes from my friend Anne Jacobson from book group. I have not tried it yet as I am afraid of the calories!

Mix in blender:

2 eggs
1 cup Eagle Brand Condensed Milk
1/2 pt. of half and half
1 1/2 Tbsp. chocolate syrup
1 Tbsp. instant coffee
1 cup scotch or whiskey
1 drop coconut flavoring


Friday, January 9, 2009

Middle Eastern Chard and Lentil Soup

I know there are lots of lentil soup recipes out there, but this one is outstanding. The broth comes out incredibly rich, it must be from sauteeing the greens and garlic separately. This recipe comes from Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Greens and Grains, and was sent to us by my cousin L. as part of our wedding gift, which included a large clay cazuela and other cooking implements and ingredients. It has become one of the mainstays of our family menu for the past 5 years. Wolfert claims the recipe is from Syria.

Makes 10 cups, serving 8.

Wolfert writes:

"Here’s a light soup for all seasons: in summer serve it cool or at room temperature to refresh; in winter serve it hot to nourish. It’s delicious with grilled bread topped with crushed oily black olives and sprinkled with oregano."

"This soup is even better when you add another green to the chard. In early spring I combine chard and dandelions; in summer, chard and arugula; in winter, chard and spinach."

"Use any lentil you like. For me the most savory is the small Spanish pardina lentil available through Phipps Ranch (by mail order) or the small brown lentils available at Middle Eastern and Indian groceries. "

[Note: I almost always use chard and kale in combination, and I never serve it cool or room temperature. I always use the miniature green lentils from France, which are available at Clover's. EH]

"A potato, cut paper thin so it will dissolve, is cooked along with the lentils to thicken the soup and give it a rich creamy texture."

1 c. dark mini-lentils such as Spanish pardina or Egyptian, Ethiopian, or Indian whole masoor dal
1 tsp. salt
2 quarts light chicken stock (optional) [or vegetable broth, of course; my favorite is the "No-Chicken" broth. EH]
1 medium potato, peeled and sliced paper thin
1 c. chopped onion
3 Tbsp. olive oil
8 large Swiss chard leaves
1 lb. leafy greens such as spinach, dandelions, arugula, watercress, beet greens, kale or a mixture
1/4 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/3 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Wash and pick over lentils. Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with the stock or 2 quarts water salted with 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that surfaces. Add the potato, partially cover, and cook for 20 minutes.

2. In a large skillet, slowly brown the onion in the olive oil. Meanwhile, wash, stem, and roughly shred the greens. You should have about 1 packed quart. Add the cilantro and garlic to the skillet and sauté for a minute or two, then stir in the greens and allow them to wilt, covered. Scrape the contents of the skillet, including the oil, into the saucepan and continue cooking another 20 minutes, or until thick and soupy. Stir in the lemon juice and serve hot, lukewarm, or cool.

[Note: I have made this without the potato, and even without the cilantro when necessary; but the lemon juice is crucial! EH]