Here it is, as promised: a way to use those pickled turnips of yesterpost, along with some purple sprouting broccoli beauties, a springtime delicacy I first sampled during my first bright-eyed year in London. Too enamoured to disfigure my new discovery, I stir-fried them Chinese-style to preserve the colour. This year I’ve gotten a bit bolder but no less reverent; my favourite way to prepare them is a simple but effective oven-roasting. I can only imagine (sob) the grill would be wonderful, too.
Pita is generally a Middle Eastern, Balkan, and Mediterranean thing, but as popular as they’ve become throughout Europe and the Western world, I’d assume that nobody reading this post requires an explanation. In the light of that fact and this looming 3000-word essay that I have yet to begin writing, I’ll save all that for the pita-making post.
Consider this the pita-assembly minipost. In the aforementioned regions (countries like Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq), they’re paired with anything from vegetarian spreads and breakfast omelettes to greasy meat. The discs of dough puff up during baking to leave a miraculous little pocket that practically begs to be stuffed, but there’s not really a wrong way to do it—stuff, scoop, spread, sandwich, etc (it doesn’t even have to begin with an ‘s’).
The ingredients list is just as flexible, which is the beauty of a pita sandwich. The fermented tang of the pickled turnips, earthy mung bean hummus, and creamy punch of garlic yogurt will balance the fresh herbs and tender roasted greens quite well, but just create flavour and texture combinations with whatever you can grab at the market, which should be overflowing with local springtime goodies wherever you are.
Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF.
Wash and chop stalks of purple sprouting broccoli into bite-sized segments. Combine on a baking tray with quartered cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion, olive oil, and seasonings before roasting until tender (20-30 minutes). Better yet, pop them onto a grill if you’re lucky enough to have one handy!
Meanwhile, mix yogurt with freshly crushed clove of garlic and chopped parsley.
When vegetables are done roasting, assemble with toasted pita pockets, the yogurt mixture, these wonderful pickled turnips, and some homemade hummus.
The term “fermentation” (first observed by Pasteur as la vie sans air: life without air) carries a lot of baggage with it—historical, cultural, psychological. It’s responsible for some of my favourite things in the world: yogurt, miso, coffee, sauerkraut, stinky tofu, and leavened bread to name just a handful. The process of tiny living bacterias and yeasts eating up carbohydrates and spitting out alcohols and CO2 might sound off-putting, but the next time you associate fermentation with “rotting” edibles, just remember how blissful a slice of good cheese tastes.
It’s a method of food preservation dating back to the Neolithic age and has been getting humans drunk since circa 7000 BCE. Pickling is a type of anaerobic fermentation, and the resulting sour taste is thanks to more than just vinegar (which is also a product of fermentation!) present in the brine—lactic acid bacteria come into play. Unlike basic canning, pickling encourages the activity of beneficial microorganisms that end up defining the distinct flavours of each batch. It can all get very nerdy very quickly, so I’ll leave it at that before I get too hyped up.
On another note, wonderful novelist Tom Robbins once made the astute observation that Sunday afternoons are carved out of boiled turnips. It’s universally acknowledged that Sunday late afternoons are subject to a very particular and peculiar lack of robustness… for me, they conjure up memories of wading through the post-church slump with leftover homework assignments backed with a sleepy murmur of tumbling laundry machines and golf tournaments on TV.
Turnips, for one reason or another, seem to be cut out of that same drab material. In colloquial terms, they’re the ultimate derps of the root veg kingdom; they’re crayon nubs in the art supplies world. Feeling a bit sad for this last bowl of end-of-season turnips and about to leave the kitchen for two weeks’ holiday, I figured some sprucing up was in order…and when dealing with inconvenient quantities of vegetables, fermentation and pickling save the day. Pickles throughout the Middle East are known variably by region as kabees, mkhallal, torshi. In go some colourless matchsticks of an arguably unremarkable root, and out come these tangy magenta slivers ready to provide some counterbalance in a rich meat shawarma or add punch to a falafel platter.
Not so derpy after all. Stay tuned to see these little guys in use, peeping out amongst all sorts of contextual goodness.
Lebanese Pickled Turnips (Kabees El Lift)
(yields approx. twice the amount pictured)
5 small turnips
1 small beet
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 bay leaves
250ml (1 cup) distilled white vinegar
750ml (3 cups) water
3 T sea salt
Clean and sterilise a couple glass jars in boiled water. Peel and slice the turnips and beet into matchsticks.
In a large bowl, combine water, vinegar, and salt.
Add garlic to the jars, then layer beets and turnips until full. The beets are mostly there for dyeing the pickles a lovely pink hue, so as long as there are a couple of slices in each jar, it will suffice.
Fill the jars to their brim with the vinegar solution and shake gently before storing in a dark spot in the kitchen for about 10 days to ferment before storing in the refrigerator.
A self-proclaimed Londoner at heart, my guard was up even as I dashed across the English Channel immediately after uni let out for Easter holidays, accompanied by a friend visiting from overseas. What happens when a diehard Londoner and New Yorker have a single day to tackle Paris, arguably the third star of a trifecta?
When there’s such limited time to soak up an endlessly sprawling city, there is only one viable option: wander with eyes wide open, eating everything in sight. And wandercrush we did. Like the boroughs of London or neighbourhoods of NYC, arrondissements grouped the city into areas of social, historical, economic, cultural niches. We were lucky enough to run into a Brooklyn native who scoped us out and warned us with an (admittedly accurate) assuming smile, “You’re in the Paris equivalent of the Upper West Side right now. Hop on the Métro Line 11 if you want to explore what you’d recognise as the Lower East Side.”
Every arterial street of Manhattan pulses with energy and purposeful bustling; London and Paris are a bit more meander-friendly, the latter even seeming deliberately slow-paced. At even the most packed cafés spilling out on to the sidewalk, reclined people-watchers are perched quietly with their towering croque madames. The baguettes are chewier, the butter is richer, and everything tells you to savour smaller quantities over longer amounts of time.
Denizens of major international city centres tend to get a bad rap, but in my experience it’s largely undeserved. New Yorkers can be rough around the edges as a result of delighting in the charming grime of their city streets, but in almost every case, they’ll go out of their way to lend a hand or strike up unnecessary conversation. Londoners may seem awkward shuffling through their daily commute on the Tube within carefully maintained bubbles of personal space, but approach anyone for help and see if it isn’t instantly received with a jolly Cockney twang; just walk into a local pub. Likewise, Parisians are as lovely as good-natured human beings generally are anywhere in the world—don’t be thrown off by the intimidating nasal vowels.
And oh, the architecture is strikingly grand. Postcard-worthy landmarks and nondescriptly winding alleyways are equally and undeniably pretty; I can finally see how a whole city is categorised as “romantic”, which is an adjective I’d only ever associated with cheesy Valentines and 18th century oil paintings. Flowers are more flamboyantly fragrant and balconies are twisted into wrought-iron intricacies. I wonder if it’s just a bit too untouchably chic for a girl like me…even the stunning pink radish piles Marché d’Aligre and Marché Bastille had more class packed into one bulb.
With a happy stomach full of good soft cheese, I will readily gaze upon the intricate little cakes lining each patisserie window and the groomed river Seine in the City of Light that so rightfully earned its name… even so, I’m giddy to spend the rest of my holiday back home across the Channel, where the murky Thames has a fraction of the twinkle but all the bankside charm and ado of London on the cusp of early summer.
Fromage Blanc with Ginger Rhubarb Compote
½ kg rhubarb stalks, chopped
3cm fresh ginger, grated
½ cup honey
½ lemon, juice of
500g fromage blanc (can substitute quark or greek yogurt)
To make compote, combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium until the honey thins out and the rhubarb softens. Lower heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.
Refrigerate for a few hours to chill thoroughly before serving over fromage blanc.
A couple Christmasses ago, I was a teenager spending the holidays a hemisphere away from her family for the first time. Cheap Megabus tickets offered great solace and the promise of dazzling Christmas markets galore, so my first destination was Belgium. This anecdote seems out of place in the early springtime, but I was transported back to my pint of Trappist beer and the Manneken Pis when I realised it was nearing the end of UK mussel season.
While most think of waffles when they hear “Belgian cuisine”, I could dream of nothing but freshly steamed mussels waiting at the end of a long and cramped bus journey. These little asymmetrical bivalves are fascinating with their byssal thread beards, filaments secreted used to anchor themselves or provide defensive measure (these should be removed before cooking/eating, but are nonetheless fun to examine). They’re packed with all sorts of nutritional goodies, which makes sense when you consider that the whole of what’s required to run this fully-functional creature is condensed into one mouthful.
Moules-frites seem like a fancy seafood indulgence in the context of wielding fancy French restaurant cutlery and swishing a glass of white wine, but it’s actually a combination of the cheapest and most abundant foodstuffs that were historically available to the Belgians: mussels from the Flemish coast and hardy potatoes that could be stored throughout the seasons.
Along those demystifying lines, UK mussels are filling and satisfying enough to be a bargain even now, regardless of the fact that the weight is mostly shell. Moreover, they’re easy to prepare and, in fact, rather difficult to mess up. Like Chinese-style fish, mussels are a savoury seafood best experienced with a simple preparation and delicate steam. A few aromatic veg thrown in with some white wine, and the flavour will be as perfect as your mussels are fresh.
Thanks to the American terminology, frites are associated first with the country of France even though Belgium stubbornly claims to hold the gastronomic patent. Although moules-frites are traditionally served up with fried potatoes, I had a humongous parsnip hanging around from an end-of-winter CSA bag and decided to throw them in for the frites part. Chips, fries, call them what you like. When I posted them on Instagram, a friend commented astutely that “parsnips are the secret weapon of vegetables.” They’re impressively unassuming and humbler than their ostentatiously-coloured carrot cousins even though they’re even sweeter when cooked. I didn’t want to punch a hole in the delicate seafood with garlic, but I more than made up for it in the baked counterpart.
Peel and cut the parsnips and potatoes into strips, roughly the shape and size of traditional potato fries.
Toss with garlic, olive oil, cayenne, salt, and pepper before spreading out evenly on a baking sheet. Bake at 230ºC / 450ºF for 15 minutes, then flip and roast for another 15 minutes until tender and crispy golden on the edges.
Discard of any dead mussels, which will be popped open and won’t respond by closing slowly when you tap it with a finger. Soak in some cold water for about 10 minutes, then scrub and rinse before transferring to a clean bowl. If the mussels are bearded, don’t yank off these stringy bits until right before cooking at the risk of killing them prematurely—if you do wish to remove them, pull towards the hinge instead of away.
In a large pot, heat up oil over medium flame. Add leeks and celery, stirring until soft and fragrant.
Add wine and bring to a boil before tipping in the mussels. Stir briefly before covering to steam for about 5 minutes. When the mussels pop open, they’re ready.
Remove from heat, stir in chopped parsley, season as necessary, and serve with fries.
This remoulade salad is beauty and the beast in a bowl.
Golden beetroot, an heirloom variety of Beta vulgaris, is anything but vulgar. The Latin vulgaris means “common”, but I was quite excited to find them peeking out of my weekly veg bag. They’re not quite as sweet as their magenta counterparts, but that works quite well in this salad. On the other hand, there’s the notoriously knobbly Apium graveolens rapaceum celeriac. It’s a close relative of familiar stalk celery, but is instead valued for its huge hypocotyl—to quote your highschool Biology textbook, that’s the part of a germinating seed between the root radicle and the cotyledon.
These two are versatile veg, often eaten and cooked (or not) in a variety of ways. As Springtime and Term 2 deadlines are creeping up rapidly on this little island, I went down the fresh and lazy route of preparing them raw. It’d go wonderfully with a meaty main or well on its own with some crusty bread and a picnic.
In France, celeriac is often eaten as a slaw with remoulade, a sauce often mayo-based and used like a tartar sauce with meats and fish dishes. When found in céleri rémoulade,it’s punctuated with mustard. Seeing as I’d already adulterated the classic version with grated beetroot, I also lightened the dressing with a lovely thick-set yogurt from London’s Neal’s Yard and spruced it up with a spattering of poppy and pistachios; poppy seeds bring out the brightness of lemon and pistachios the earthiness of beetroot… and for alliteration’s sake, if nothing else.
Golden Beetroot & Celeriac Remoulade (with Pistachio & Poppy Seed)
500g (½ large) celeriac
300g (2 medium) golden beetroot
½ lemon, juice and zest of
200g full-fat organic yogurt
2 T quality olive oil
1 T dijon mustard
5 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped finely
40g pistachios, chopped roughly
1 T poppy seeds
freshly ground black pepper
Peel the celeriac thickly with a knife. Grate half of it, but julienne the other half for a variation in texture; these strands shouldn’t be much thicker than a matchstick. Quickly toss in some lemon juice to keep from discolouring. Peel and grate the beetroot, keeping a few thin round slices for garnish.
Whisk together yogurt and olive oil until very smooth. Season with salt and freshly grated black pepper, then mix in the lemon zest, poppy, pistachio, and parsley.
Toss the grated celeriac and beetroot in this dressing, then set aside for about an hour to develop and mellow the flavours. To serve, sprinkle with a few chopped pistachios and parsley leaves.
Mark Twain was born the day Halley’s Comet came around and died on the day of its next 75-year cycle appearance; both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away on July 4th, exactly 50 years after they signed the Declaration of Independence; 2013 saw Thanksgivukkah; this past Tuesday, Wandercrush turned 1 year young on Pancake Day. Some call it freak coincidence, but I declare it kismet.
Pancake Day (alternately known as Shrove Tuesday or Marti Gras) historically came about because everybody gorged like it was the last time they’d taste sugar, milk, and eggs for another 40 days—that 40 day period would be Lent. The word shrove is a form of “shrive”, which means to confess; Lent is a traditional Christian observance of moderation, repentance, and reflection during the days leading up to Easter Sunday and the celebration of Jesus’s sacrifice. Although regrettably nowadays moderation has figured out of the equation for many people, the pancake consumption seems to be going strong.
Regardless of religious allegiances, most of the UK seems to participate in Pancake Day more fervently than the US, which surprised me because wait, how can America be outdone on a holiday celebrating over-indulgence? Special menus, pop-up stalls, and pancake flipping races were ubiquitous in the capital as every one of my friends had a pancake party penciled into their agenda. In the end, I decided against a pancake-eating competition (a stack of 12 in under 15 minutes, pah) and settled on a nice blog-birthday brunch at home.
In true spirit of the blog, this multi-purpose celebratory cake is a lightened and whole-grainified mash-up of the coffee-infused Italian tiramisu (“pick me up”) dessert and the impressive French mille crêpes (“a thousand crepes”), accented with the season’s last blood oranges. If you’re more of a fluffy pancake person, as I usually am, there’s always this wonderful mango-millet fallback.
When I started Wandercrush, I told myself it wouldn’t be the type of blog that prattled on about dishes reminding me of Grandma’s cosy house or the way winter weather makes me want to eat soup for eternity. A year later, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned both these cheesy things and more. I wanted to keep this encyclopaedic, prettily detached—an informative public archive of kitchen experiments and the orphaned photos I was already taking anyway. I’m not sure when or why the personal perspective sneakily nudged its way through, but it has certainly been gratifying to documentmytravels and miscellaneous food-and-design-led thoughts in a verbal as well as pictorial manner… I can’t really blame anyone who skims through for the food pornography, and anyway at this point writing it down is more important than ensuring it’s read.
I’d be the first to admit that food blogging can be overdone, overrun, and romanticised. Even so, I couldn’t have predicted the huge investment of time and energy in—or the emotional payback from—a nebulous interwebtastic network of bloggers and a silent but loyal readership. I set out to learn and share more about the untravelled world through local food, and I daresay I’ve done that. What I didn’t expect was the childish glee of stumbling upon my own recipe on a buzzfeed article or the petty disappointment when I couldn’t find the right type of pepper at the market. There were times I frowned upon my absurd priorities as I munched on a box of crackers after postponing dinner in order to photograph the perfect bowl in tomorrow’s natural light…but there are also the redeeming, simple, unexpected joys of meeting up with fellow bloggers over lunch when travelling through their city or receiving a transatlantic snapchat of the meal a friend made following last week’s recipe post. So this is a sincere thanks to each one of you, whether you’ve habitually left lovely comments, quietly read via RSS feed, or humour me patiently in “real life” as I rush around the kitchen wielding spatula and camera. Aaaaaaand before I start gushing about Grandmas and winter soups, I’ll leave it at that until the 2-year mark.
Tiramisu Mille Crêpes à l’Orange
(inspired by and adapted from this recipe)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
¼ t sea salt
1 cup oat milk
1/2 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
1 T honey
1 t vanilla essence
1 T oil
¼ cup unrefined sugar
¼-½ (60-120ml) cup freshly brewed hot coffee
200g quality, full-fat cottage cheese
½ blood orange, juice and zest of
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Whisk together wet and dry ingredients separately, then mix well together until lumps are gone. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to minimise bubbles that may tear the crepes during cooking.
Rub a non-stick pan with oil or butter and heat over medium flame. Pour some batter in the centre of the pan and swirl quickly distribute evenly over the bottom of the pan, pushing down any messy edges with a spatula to keep the shape mostly consistent. The amount of batter you need per crepe will depend on the diameter of your pan, so judge the best you can and practice on the first couple of crepes—I used about 3 tablespoons for mine. Each should be thin enough to brown on the bottom after one minute. Flip carefully and cook another 30 seconds on the other side before setting aside in a stack.
Repeat with the remaining batter and refrigerate the stack of crepes to hasten the cooling process and mix the cream while waiting.
Dissolve sugar in 60ml (¼ cup) freshly brewed hot coffee. Along with two cheeses and blood orange juice/zest, blend until smooth. Add up to 60ml more coffee if it’s too thick, but be careful not to add so much that the cream becomes too thin; it will need to stay thick enough to hold the crepes together without slipping and sliding around.
When crepes are completely cooled, begin assembly. Spread a thin layer of cream between each pancake, sprinkling a dusting of cocoa powder about every 3 layers. Portion your filling well; I used about 1 tablespoon per layer, but this may vary. When you reach the end, thin out any leftover cream and pour over the very top crepe. Finish with a final dusting of cocoa powder and garnish with a slice of blood orange. If the crepe cake is feeling unstable, refrigerate for a couple of hours to firm up the cream before slicing with a sharp knife to serve.
I find myself prattling on about etymology and language here as much as I do about food and travel, but perhaps the most relevant association to date is this one: alegría in Spanish means “joy”—and that’s exactly what the process of making this Mexican candy evokes.
These gluten-free Aztec grains are actually a pseudocereal like quinoa and buckwheat, meaning that they’re the seeds of non-grasses but culinarily treated as classic cereals (think rice, wheat, millet, oats). The flowers of the amaranth plant are stubbornly beautiful (“amaranth” is derived from the greek ἀμάραντος/amarantos meaning “unfading”) and I associate its edible spinachy greens with Chinese cooking. The seeds are a bit gummy when cooked as a porridge, but discovering the popped variety revolutionised my amaranth breakfasts; the sound of the popping alone guarantees the start of a good day.
I donned this mindset when I woke at the crack of dawn to catch a last-minute train to Lulworth Cove in Dorset (as you may have gleaned from Instagram), a spot on the Southern coast of England. A week-long uni brief simply entitled “Courage” was a roundabout way to test our skills in idea generation, mass communication, and outcome presentation. Selecting a task that succinctly portrays (and rises victorious over) the emotion of fear with both universal relatability and personal resonance is not as easy a task as it may seem… and that’s the shorthand of how I ended up stark naked on a February day, facing waters of a moody English Channel.
It now seems hard to imagine this whole premise was initially about the courage required to skinny-dip in freezing water, which was the very least of my concerns by the end of it; everything took a backseat to the precarious route-picking down a steeper-than-imagined cliff. The icy force of the second wave snapped me into adrenaline-fueled action and I primitively (a ripe combination of tangled wet hair, mud streaks, chattering teeth, bleeding knees, and unabashed nakedness) climbed back upwards on all fours as though the wave was still chasing behind. Propelling me forward was the familiar yet novel hyper-awareness of being utterly vulnerable and dwarfed by natural forces as I scampered over crumbly sharp rocks, slippery clay sediment, and areas where the mud sucked my whole leg up to the knee. It’s incredible how much of a physical rush adrenaline can provide, which explains how I felt stupidly immune to so many debilitating factors at once. The seagulls were laughing at me, but I didn’t care. Far more prominent than fear or embarrassment was pure alegría in the recklessness and liberation of it all.
I ended up piecing together a film of the experience, which I have substituted here with some PG-versioned stills and a GIF that won’t make you lose your appetite for the amaranth candy that tricked you into clicking through to this post in the first place.
Very smoothly transitioning back to the kitchen from my bare and bizarre anecdote… Alegría is Rice Krispies-esque, brought south of the border with a slight tang of lime. It’s traditionally made with a brown cane sugar called piloncillo/panela, but I’ve been in a malty mood lately with the likes of Ovaltine and Maltesers all around. Malt extract is naturally sweet, economical, delightfully treacly, and packed with vitamins and minerals (you see where my loyalties lie) but it also makes this gluten-free so you can substitute other sweet syrups like molasses, honey, maple syrup, or agave. Although currants and sesame seeds were a combination that made sense after scouring the contents of my own pantry, substitute any variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits as you would a homemade granola recipe. The only non-negotiable part is popping your own amaranth and basking in the resulting alegría; it’s an easier route to take than wild winter swimming in rough seas.
Alegría (Amaranth Candy)
½ cup amaranth
¼ cup currants
2 T sesame seeds
1 T malt extract syrup
½ cup demerara sugar
1 T lime juice
Heat up a wide-bottomed pan or wok over medium-high. Spoon in just 1 tablespoon of amaranth at a time, covering with a lid and swirling the bottom of the pan gently over the flame so that nothing burns. The popping should start instantly upon contact with the hot pan, and keep swirling until the pops dwindle to a few per second.
Repeat this process with remaining amaranth, transferring popped seeds to a clean bowl each time. Mix in sesame seeds and currants.
Heat up a small saucepan over medium-low, adding the sugar, malt syrup, and lime juice until the sugar crystals have all melted. Stir constantly to prevent burning and sticking, because the sugar will caramelise easily.
Pour hot syrup into the bowl of popped amaranth, mixing quickly together with hands and pressing into a baking pan lined with parchment paper. After letting this sit until fully cooled, it should be breakable/sliceable.
The cult of the savoury pie is an established tradition in many parts of the world, but perhaps maintained with extra gusto in England and Ireland. Sometimes meaty, often accompanied by mash, and always comforting.
I’m a crust girl through and through, notorious for cherishing baguette butts and stealing nibbled pizza edges from friends’ plates. Imagine my astonishment upon learning that the crusts of medieval meat pies (referred to as “coffins”) kept fillings moist during baking, only to be discarded or tossed to servants after cooking…blasphemous.
Nowadays the crust is variable, usually consisting of either puff pastry or flaky shortbread. Facing the absence of both lard and the ambition to roll thin layers of puff pastry from scratch, I merged the mashed potato that’s usually served alongside pie as “pie & mash” and the carbohydrate envelope that compliments and contains the stewy goodness inside. The result was a sweet potato mash top “crust” with the consistency of an American drop-biscuit or perhaps a savoury scone. This technically makes it more of a pot pie lacking full crusted enclosure, but hey. Ambitious laziness necessitates creativity…this is possibly the story of my life as a nerd doubling as art kid.
The term “pie” is thought to have come from the magpie, a bird that collects things (mostly shiny things, in the hopes to attract a mate)—and was often the main ingredient in meat pies of olden times. There are now many variations in savoury pie filling, a favourite being British steak & ale or the Irish version, steak & guinness. There were two massive portobello heads in my veg bag last week (which are really just the fully matured version of “boring” button mushrooms), so I made them the star of this pie, umami-fied even further with a dash of soy sauce and some olives from my friend’s hometown in Crete.
Though the stout and kale bring an element of bitterness, the dates and sweet potato give it a sweet edge as well. Navigating along the same bittersweet route as recent marmalade and chili, this might be my favourite kitchen ad-lib outcome of late; it wouldn’t be completely tongue-in-cheek of me to recommend you take a page from the magpie’s book and make this in hopes of attracting a mate. Yep, I’ve even ventured into dangerous gif territory to capture the sublime moment of steam escaping upon first fragrant spoonful.
On that note, Happy belated Valentine’s Day.
Portobello & Kale Stout Pie with Sweet Potato Mash Crust
2 T neutral oil
1 leek, sliced into rounds
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 portobello mushrooms, chopped
150g kale, roughly chopped
1 T dried sage
1 T masa harina (or other flour)
250ml dark stout beer
1 T soy sauce
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 T tomato paste
¼ cup Cretan olives, pitted and chopped
3 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
freshly ground black pepper & sea salt, to taste
¾ cup spelt flour
1 T baking powder
¾ t salt
1 small sweet potato, cooked and mashed
2 T olive oil
¼ cup cold water
Heat up oil in a medium saucepan and sauté leek and onion until softened. Add garlic for another minute, stirring until fragrant.
Add mushrooms, kale, fresh herbs, and cook for 5-10 minutes until mushrooms have released their liquid and kale is fully wilted. Cover loosely to speed along the wilting and add a splash of water if necessary.
Sprinkle masa flour into the pot, stirring for a short minute before pouring in the stout, vinegar, soy, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then lower to simmer for 5 minutes until liquid has thickened and reduced a bit.
Remove from heat, season to taste, and mix in the olives and dates.
Transfer to a baking dish and preheat oven to 250ºC / 425ºF.
For the biscuits, first combine dry and wet ingredients separately. Gradually incorporate into a dough, kneading until smooth. Depending on the size of your sweet potato, you may need to adjust the amount of flour and water used, but these biscuits are pretty fool-proof and flexible.
Form individual shapes roughly in the size of a serving, arranging within the baking dish atop the mushroom filling.
Bake for about 20 minutes until the biscuit is golden-encrusted and the stew is bubbling thickly. Garnish with parsley and serve hot.
Root vegetables have been overflowing from orifices of our kitchen, infiltrating my long-suffering flatmates’ refrigerator shelves and spilling over the countertops.
True to yuppie East Dulwich form, I joined the weekly produce pickup system to make it easier for myself to support local farmers and eat seasonally in a big city full of temptingly convenient Tescos. Week by week, urgency to consume the more ephemeral leafy greens has resulted in a buildup of sturdier, dirtier root vegetables of all shapes and sizes.
Solution: massive rösti, naturally.
Swiss rösti (röschti) are typically made with grated potatoes and not much else—think a cake of American hash browns, a giant Jewish latke, a shredded Spanish tortilla de patatas.
Like a lot of the world’s best foods, rösti gained prominence as a cheap and hearty breakfast for farmers. There is some debate over the use of parboiled or raw potato, but it seems as though the latter is more isolated to the Zurich region—and anyway, parboiled and chilled pre-grating gives the inside a creamier texture, more like a bubble & squeak with leftover mash.
Aside from the grating and waiting, it’s an extremely straight-forward recipe. Today’s a brief post because of impending deadline doom, so with that I leave you with this very earthy, beet-dyed fry-up and a general air of academic panic.
Root Vegetable Rösti
1 T dried rosemary
freshly ground pepper & sea salt, to taste
2 T olive oil / butter
Wash vegetables well and parboil the potatoes, beetroot, and parsnip in water until just tender but still firm. Once cooled you can peel them if preferred, but boiling with skins on will keep a lot of the flavour and nutrients from seeping into the cooking water.
Chill for at least an hour before grating roughly.
Heat up fat source of choice in a wide pan, adding the grated root vegetables. Toss to coat with fat, sautéing with seasonings and rosemary for a couple minutes.
Shape into a rounded cake, compacting lightly with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, then carefully invert onto a plate by clamping it down over the pan and flipping. Add more oil if necessary, then slide the rösti back into the pan, cooked side up, frying another 10 minutes until both sides are golden and crispy.
Alternatively, this can be separated into smaller portions, which will be easier to handle when it comes to flipping; in the absence of binding agents, the key to keeping the rösti together is a very crispy bottom, so be patient.
Put a fried egg on top! These make great breakfast food, but are also nice as sides of veg for a big lunch or dinner.
I’m technically lagging behind with this Chinese New Year post, but I’d like to sheepishly point out that a couple of my January posts were (inadvertently) leading up to the big day. There were these jiaozi made for the non-lunar new year, the shapes of which resemble ingots and are most traditionally eaten in Northern China. The most recent marmalade could very well serve as a nod to the mandarin oranges that are widely given, received, and consumed for luck and prosperity during the New Year festivities.
One of the most fun and simultaneously most frustrating aspects of Chinese language is the amount of homophones that look different when written, but sound exactly the same when spoken—as if there weren’t enough tonal variations that are already tricky to distinguish when weaned on Western dialect. The symbolism behind homophonic relationships forms the basis for many Chinese traditional practices, including those associating the new year with abundance and fortune; “fish (魚)” and “surplus (餘)” are both pronounced “yú”; while “leek (蒜)” and “calculating [money] (算)” are both pronounced ”suàn”.
For this linguistically nerdy reason, I decided to combine two classic new year ingredients into one dish (double prosperity!), which isn’t so much of a stretch after all. Leeks are usually stir-fried with some kind of meat for a new year dish, but I’ve just written over the most basic steamed fish recipe, replacing scallions with sliced leeks—which are of the same Allium genus anyhow.
Chinese are known for their purist preparation of fish, steaming it whole with just a handful of aromatics to keep the flesh tasting delicate and clean, flavours wholly intact and unmuddled. If you had the patience to read my game meat rant, you could probably guess that I relish an opportunity to acquire, prepare, and consume a fish in all of its fully formed, divinely designed goodness.
Four years ago I sat at the salt-blown, windy picnic table of a small eatery in Cape Sagres, Portugal, the “End of the World” in the age of Henry the Navigator—the southwesternmost tip of a European landmass on the eve of transatlantic exploration. As we ordered a grilled fish to share, the chef brought out their catches of the day (presumably snatched out of the ocean that was a stone’s-throw away) and we took our pick. I still remember the mortification on my then-vegetarian best friend’s face as our fish arrived a few moments later in all of its charred glory…and I immediately dove for the eyeball. Right, it was something like the look you have on your face right now.
Growing up in a home where being awarded an eyeball at the end of the meal was like fighting over the wishbone on Thanksgiving, it was perplexing for me when American friends recoiled at the mention, insisting that I “must be joking”. Now it seems peculiar that they responded so, only to turn around and munch on a mysterious frozen fish finger. Books like Nose to Tail, Bones, and Odd Bits convey something similar to my scattered thoughts in a comprehensive and paper-bound food philosophy with recipes to boot, which I recommend. To this day, I still can’t find the fingers on fish…but I can always spot the eyeballs.
Anyway, thanks to the same gentrified high street that houses the organic butcher, I was able to snag this pretty gilt-head sea bream (Sparus aurata) from a tiny little fishmonger that sources from Billingsgate Market in Canary Wharf. I’ll make it there one day, when I have the ambition to drag myself out there by the 4am opening time… Seafood can be tricky to source sustainably, but I’ve found that simply chatting with the fishmonger or checking out Good Fish Guide is a small effort to make in the vast ocean, as it were, of murky fishing practices.
In the absence of sea bream, most non-oily white fish will steam beautifully. Red snapper and sea bass are a common sight on my mum’s table. Freshness by far takes precedent over species and pricepoint. Non-oily is especially important when using the head and bones to make broth, which will otherwise be to pungent and fishy.
Chinese Steamed Fish (清蒸魚)
½ kg (1lb) fresh white fish, whole
1 leek, bottom sliced into discs
3cm ginger, sliced into discs
salt & pepper
3 T soy sauce
¼ t white pepper
¼ t salt
1 leek, tops chopped into finger lengths
2cm ginger, julienned finely
2 T neutral oil with high smoke point
Clean the fish and pat dry. Rub all over with salt and pepper, then take half of the leek bottoms and ginger discs to stuff inside the fish.
Taking the other half, spreading them in a shallow dish as a bed for the fish to lay upon.
Add a few centimetres of water to a larger pot or wok. When the water comes to a boil, set the shallow fish dish inside it, raised atop a wok rack insert or small inverted bowl. Make sure that the water does not come in contact with this smaller dish.
While the fish steams over medium heat, combine soy sauce and seasonings in a small cup to set aside.
For a 500g whole fish over medium, check for doneness at 12 minutes, adding an additional 2 minutes per additional 250g and being careful to top up the steaming water if it runs dry. Check by poking the thickest bit of flesh with a chopstick or utensil—if this flakes easily, then it’s done.
Pour the soy sauce over the freshly steamed fish.
Now in a separate pan or wok, heat up a vegetable oil with high smoke point. When it becomes piping hot, add finely julienned ginger and scallion segments, frying for just a few seconds to draw out all the flavours and pour over the fish before serving. Ensure a good sizzle.
Milky White Fish Head Soup (魚頭湯)
2 T oil with high smoke-point
1 fish head
1 fish skeleton
1 knob ginger, sliced thickly
1 leek / scallion, diagonally sliced
white pepper & sea salt, to taste
Heat up oil until very hot, then sear the fish head and bones until browned and golden. This step is key in achieving the characteristic, white “milkiness” of the fish broth.
Top up with enough water to cover the head and bring to a boil. Add in ginger, leek, carrot, and potatoes.
Lower to a simmer and cook gently for 15-20 minutes and the broth has turned a milky white. If foam or oil rises to the top, skim this off with a spoon and discard.
This soup can be enjoyed with some mung bean noodles, soft tofu, or just on its own.