Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka

Since uni officially let out for the summer, I couldn’t remember the last time I properly set aside a whole morning to experiment in the kitchen. The bulk of my travels are over now, but this new internship is keeping me busy and my weekends have been spent in a daze of seeing two of my favourite musicians play back-to-back, photographing friends’ weddings, tackling a few more design projects on the side, and avoiding the start of my dissertation research.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Something about setting an early alarm to tackle a labour-intensive lunch is rewarding beyond the edible end product. For many mothers in the Arabic, Levantine, and Greek world, the definition of labour-intensive dish is moussaka—and I finally understand why. That being said, don’t let the extra work keep you from making this layered gem, pleaser of crowds and tastebuds alike. It’s not so difficult, but requires multiple steps and generates plenty of dirty dishes. I made the spiced lentil filling the night before, and mise en place will speed things along.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Aubergine—king of the nightshades and cornerstone of any moussaka—can be tricky to fry, but baking the slices eliminates oil-sponging issues, requires no pre-salting, and makes less of a mess. And although it’s not particularly similar to the aubergine (which is actually a berry!) in biological terms, the courgette will always be closely associated in my mind and on summer grilltops; along with other culinary tidbits like coriander/cilantro, I’ve had to turn the UK/US terminology switch for eggplant and zucchini. At the height of both their seasons, layering of these two faux-cousins make for a great textural variation, as both are delicately flavoured but result in very different mouthfeel after cooking.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

A cauliflower white-sauce concoction was a gamble, but turned out beautifully similar to a classic flour-butter-milk béchamel and so very suitable for a vegetarian moussaka. There has been a cauliflower versatility boom in the recent years, and the colour itself is practically a blank canvas begging to be adapted. Sprinkled with broil-browned pecorino and fluffed up with a beaten egg, you’ll not be able to tell the difference.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

The assembly, the consumption, and the sharing of moussaka are all worth waking up early for—even during a stupidly busy summer weekend.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka
(serves 5-9)

  • 2 courgettes (zucchinis)
  • 2 aubergines (eggplants)
  • 1 potato
  • 1 sweet potato
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 100ml red wine
  • 150g dried lentils & split peas
  • 300g tomatoes, chopped
  • a handful of cauliflower florets, grated
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 t oregano
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • olive oil

Cauliflower “Béchamel”

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 small cauliflower
  • 3-4 T grated pecorino, plus more for topping
  • olive oil
  • organic milk
  • generous pinch of nutmeg
  • black pepper, freshly ground
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 250ºC / 500ºF and grease two baking trays with olive oil.
Peel aubergine in a striped pattern and slice into rounds that are about 1cm thick.
Peel the potatoes and courgette and slice in similar thickness. Courgette skin can be bitter, but you can leave them on during roasting to prevent the watery flesh from falling apart and peel them off afterwards. I sliced one of mine thicker and lengthwise, which hardly retains firmness after cooking but adds a bit of textural variation.
Place the slices onto a single layer of the baking tray and brush with more olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper. It may take a few batches and the re-greasing of trays to finish roasting all the vegetables, each batch taking about 15 minutes. The potatoes will take longer (or alternatively, you can parboil them), so pop them in while you slice the other vegetables. Keep an eye on them and flip halfway through when one side has browned sufficiently, also rotating the top/bottom racks in the oven.

Meanwhile, heat up olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Toss in diced onion and garlic until soft and fragrant. Pour in wine and allow to boil away. Add lentils, tomatoes, oregano, and cinnamon. Top up with broth/water and add a bay leaf. Coursly grate in a handful of cauliflower florets. Bring to a rolling boil before lowering to a simmer and partially covering. The lentils should be cooked after 30-40 minutes, and the sauce reduced to be thick. If not, leave uncovered until most liquid is evaporated. This can also be made the night before.

For the cauliflower “béchamel” sauce, sauté garlic in butter over low heat. Avoid browning or burning the garlic and remove after a couple minutes to set aside.
Cover cauliflower in broth or water and boil for 10 minutes or until fork-tender.
Transfer cooked florets into a blender along with grated cheese and the garlic. Drizzle with a few gluts of olive oil and puree until very smooth, adding milk as needed to achieve desired thickness. Season with salt/pepper to taste and add a pinch of nutmeg. Gradually and thoroughly whisk in the egg.

Lower the oven temperature to 200ºC / 390ºF. To assemble the moussaka, the layer the roasted potatoes on the bottom of a deep, oiled baking dish. Arrange a layer of courgette and aubergine on top, then spread a layer of half the lentil ragú. Add a layer of sweet potato, more courgette, then another spread of remaining lentils. Finish with a layer of aubergine. Top with the creamy cauliflower sauce, sprinkle with grated pecorino cheese, and bake for about 45 minutes, when top becomes golden and bubbly.
After removing from the oven, wait for the moussaka to cool and firm up so that cutting and serving becomes much easier.

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

Cauliflower Courgette Moussaka Wandercrush

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Posted in Arabic, Baked Goods, Balkan, Greece, Levant, Main, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Swedish Countryside & “World’s Best Apple Cake” (Part III)

I’ve been going on and on (and onabout my ultimate wandercrush, which has culminated into this final photo essay on Sweden. From the moment I stepped foot into Louise’s seaside home in charming little Nyhamnsläge to the moment our VW camper van pulled up to their schoolhouse-turned-missionary-church-turned-lakehouse in Bjälverud (yep, you read that right), I knew that capturing the beauty of the Swedish waterfront in simple photographic stills would be an impossible task; one can only come so close when attempting to objectify the sublime, but I felt compelled to—quite literally—give it a shot.

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Likewise, from waterfront to waterfront, the kind of hospitality we were blessed with on this trip can’t be measured…except maybe by cake—more specifically, the “World’s Best Apple Cake”, whipped up by Louise’s aunt to append our last meal together.

Assembled around our final feast in the very same pews that the converted building’s last congregation would have worshiped in (and feeling similarly blessed), gathered around the massive wooden table splashed in beams of a Scandinavian sundown, a forkful of this cake did indeed taste like the best in the world.

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

“World’s Best Apple Cake”
adapted from a Norwegian recipe
(serves 8)

  • 2-4 organic apples, peeled and chopped
  • 200g coconut oil
  • 150g unrefined sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g plain flour
  • 50g almond flour
  • 2 t baking powder
  • chopped almonds
  • nib sugar

Melt the coconut oil and add sugar. Stir in the eggs, flour, and baking powder.
Oil a dish (about 24cm in diameter) and preheat oven to 190ºC / 375ºF.
Place chopped apples in the dish, then pour over the cake batter mix. Sprinkle chopped almonds and nib sugar.
Bake for 30-40 minutes and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

apple-Wandercrush sweden apple cakealmond-cake-3

(See Scandinavia Part I & Part II)

Wandercrush sweden apple cake

 

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Posted in Baked Goods, Denmark, Norway, Personal, Sweden, Sweets, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Foraging Sweden & Wild Strawberry Jam (Part II)

Continuing on from Part I of a recent Scandinavian foray, a photo essay and recipe dedicated solely to the pleasures of picking wild summer berries in all their countryside abundance…

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

I’ve recently expressed some thoughts about the trendiness of homegrown local produce, but longtime gatherer Richard Maybe extends it elegantly into the realms of foraging:

“To the cynical the whole business still seems trivial and self-deluding, a fashionable pretence at primitivism. Yet more generously it could be seen as a natural outcome of the ecological concerns and longings of the last decade [...] as growing awareness of how food fits into the whole living scheme of things, and a deepening respect for the ingenuity of our ancestors.”

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

I can understand where the cynicism stems from, but let me tell you—

Treading barefoot on spongey-cool moss after a swim in the crystal clear lake Övre Fryken, plucking a shiny obsidian svartvinbär blackcurrant from its bush did not feel self-delusional; the small but distinct delight of a harsyra wood sorrel’s lemony and clover-shaped tartness crushed between my back teeth as we moved through the woods would be a sin to describe as trivial; fashionability was the last thing on our minds when a flash of pink cued us to park our bikes on the side of the road and pluck an unbearably ripe hallon raspberry.

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

The wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca, also woodland strawberry, alpine strawberry) is known as smultron in Swedish, whereas the common hybrid species of garden strawberry is referred to as jordgubbe. Don’t let their size fool you, because smultron are anything but lesser versions of jordgubbe; they pack more flavour in one tiny bright red nugget than most of the conventionally grown and underripe imported strawberries sold in supermarkets all year around. They’re certainly more fun to acquire!

Wild strawberries thrive low in shaded areas, often hiding beneath other leaves, growing in little drooping couplets, falling neatly off the stem and into your cupped hand (or open mouth). I took a sundown walk on my last day in the Bjälverud countryside and collected a little container of them along the way. Swedes tend to string them together on a grass straw, keeping them from getting smushed and making them appear even more impossibly adorable than they already are.

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Back in London, there are no strawberries to be found growing by the roadside, not even in the quaint faraway lands of East Dulwich. However, the UK berry season is not to be overshadowed; a British-grown strawberry in the summer season can taste as juicy and flavourful as a little ruby gem from the Swedish underbrush.

As an ode to the smultron and accompaniment to fresh knäckebröd crispbread, here’s a very simple strawberry jam. No pectin, no tub of sugar—just a bit of oven time, splash of balsamic, and crank of black peppercorn.

Wandercrush Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

Wandercrush Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

Wandercrush Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

  • 400g strawberries / wild strawberries (smultron!)
  • 2-3 T honey
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 2 t freshly cracked black pepper

Wash strawberries. If using larger conventional strawberries, hull and quarter them. Combine ingredients in a shallow baking dish.
Let these sit aside whilst oven preheats to 120ºC / 250ºF.
Roast for 2-3 hours, mixing a few times until berries are shrivelled and reduced to a syrupy consistency. Let cool to room temperature, puree to desired texture (optional if you prefer strawberry chunks!), transfer to an airtight jar, and store in the refrigerator for up to a few weeks. Serve with this crispbread!

Wandercrush Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

Wandercrush Balsamic Roasted Strawberry Jam

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

Wandercrush Foraging Sweden

(See Scandinavia Part I & Part III)

Balsamic-Strawberry-Jam-7 copy

 

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Posted in Basics, Breakfast, Foraged, Personal, Sauce, Sweets, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Copenhagen, Stockholm, & Crispbread (Part I)

If revisiting Taiwan required a conscious effort to overcome nostalgia and habit-induced travel bias, then my first foray into Scandinavia required levelheaded quelling of the massive expectations resulting from personal obsessions and displaced cultural hype.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

I’d somehow developed early-onset Scandimania years ago, which is to say that I was a hipster predecessor to those sipping lingonberry beer from mason jars and toting their Kanken backpacks around London (also guilty). I’m not sure what did it—the beautifully minimal and maximally functional design products, the idea of fjord-swimming under the midnight sun, the effortlessly incorporated sustainability and fascinatingly effective socialist model, the lovely letters ø and å, or maybe just the flavour combination of rye and smoked salmon… by the time I’d watched all the documentaries I could access online, I ordered 3 used previous-edition Scandinavia travel guides for $5 and read them cover to cover.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

I’ve never been the hesitant type when it comes to travel, but for some reason I hadn’t been able to make the move and book a ticket. I’d read about every “off-the-beaten-track” attraction, Norwegian hiking trail, and how to recite local breakfast items in Danish, but actually going there meant affirming or invalidating all the expectations I’d built up in my mind; perhaps I didn’t want the risk of reality poking holes in my perfect little Nordic fantasy.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

Growing up as a Taiwanese American and even now living in London, I’ve been subject to innumerable incidences of racist favouritism. It may initially seem preferable to the belligerent sort, but I’ve found it to be much more dangerous and detrimental to the development of both cultural equality and personal identity…so when my naïve Scandimania turned me into a hypocritical fangirl relentlessly batting her eyelashes at anyone revealing their Nordic descent—the more pure-blooded, the more vigorous my batting—I knew it was time to invest in a plane ticket and dispel any unjustified preconceptions.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

You can therefore imagine the mixed feelings of wary apprehension and utter excitement when my dear classmate and friend so graciously offered to show us around her homeland this summer. As was the case in Greece and Thailand last year, I was met with an unimaginable degree of hospitality and generosity from humble and huge-hearted strangers, the loving families of my friends. In Sweden, it extinguished any apprehension and instead built up my appreciation of Scandinavian culture on more robust and deep-rooted dimensions.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

And here it is—the first of a 3-part photo documentation of Denmark and Sweden, complete with a crispbread recipe to munch on. This recipe is highly adaptable to personal snacking preferences; in my post-Sweden berry foraging frenzy (hint: part 2 of 3), I scavenged some deceptively named “Oregon Grapes” from a bush in South London and dehydrated them with some sugar for an extra topping.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

Knäckebröd (Nordic Crispbread)

  • 250ml (1 cup) warm water
  • 5g dry active yeast
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 200g rye flour
  • 100g whole spelt flour
  • egg white (optional)
  • sunflower seeds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • linseed/flaxseeds
  • golden linseed/flaxseeds
  • sesame seeds
  • dried Oregon Grapes (or other berry)

Stir yeast into the warm water. Mix both flours with the salt in a large bowl, then stream in the water and combine with hands until a smooth dough begins to form.
Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm, moist environment for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 175ºC / 350ºF and line two baking trays with parchment paper.
Divide dough into two chunks and roll into thin sheets to lay atop the baking trays. Prick the sheets with a fork, brush with egg white, and sprinkle with seeds and berries. If not using egg white, press the seeds down lightly.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and crisp. If the centre is still softer than the edges after cooling, break into smaller pieces (setting aside the done, crisp edges), and put pliable pieces back into the oven until dried out. When fully cooled (it will become more brittle), crack to eat or store in an airtight container.

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

(See Scandinavia Part II & Part III)

scanditrip crispbread wandercrush

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Posted in Baked Goods, Basics, Breakfast, Denmark, Finger Food, Finland, Foraged, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Personal, Scandinavian/Nordic, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Grandma’s Zongzi (粽子)

To append my recent recipe-lacking travel post on Taiwan, this is perhaps THE kingpin recipe, loaded with all the nostalgia and symbolism that you’d expect out of a blog post with “Grandma” in the title. Out of her many signature dishes, zongzi (粽子 / sticky rice dumplings) most epitomise traditional, familial, ceremonial, and festive fare; the Chinese have been making them for centuries and the skill is passed down through the generations.

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Traditionally eaten especially during Duanwu Featival (端午节, the fifth day of the fifth Lunar month), they’ve been since spread and popularised via Chinese minorities settling throughout Asia, different names including pya htote in Burma; nom chang in Cambodia; bachang in Laos and Thailand; bakcang in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia; and machang in the Philippines. Thus, many variations and ingredient combinations have evolved since.

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

The Taiwanese version involves stuffing stir-fried glutinous rice (油飯, delicious on it’s own) with various fillings, wrapping all that in bamboo husks, and then steaming or boiling to infuse the leaf’s fragrance into the rice. It takes after the savoury zongzi of Southern mainland China as opposed to the sweeter Northern variations, and Grandma made my favourite to take home—stuffed with salted duck egg yolks and shiitake mushroom instead of the chunks of pork fat that tend to attract much unwelcome attention at airport customs borders. Like many Chinese “meatless” dishes, however, it’s not vegetarian in the sense that pork fat and drippings are involved in the recipe steps and components to impart an undeniably irresistible flavour that brings it all back to memories around Grandma’s table.

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

The all-American vision of cookie-baking with Mom and burger-flipping with Dad was never realised in my household; I went off to college not knowing how to bake a potato, much less having ever engaged in a typically sentimental passing down of family recipes—until this past trip to Taiwan, when I stubbornly made a case for recreating a photograph of almost exactly 20 years ago. I’m rocking my bowl cut and my grandmother beams down as she feeds me a bite of glutinous rice stuffing, the ingredients for zongzi laid out around us on the kitchen floor.

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Somewhere along the early end of that 20-year spectrum, I once lost a shoe to the sticky abyss of a rice patty swamp whilst making my way across to town. Until recent years, I never made a connection between our ancestor’s blood-sweat-and-tears farm labour and the way my mother used to make me finish every grain of rice in my bowl, threatening that the almighty thunder god would strike me down otherwise (it sounds ridiculous, but it makes anti-food waste campaigns nowadays seem absolutely weak!)

Grandma slows her car down on our way home from the market, rolls down the window, and shouts to her friend tending to the neighbourhood plot—“What veg is there today?” My eyes widen as the thought runs across my mind: Grandma is living the hipster dream.

Back in London, I can volunteer at every community garden, co-own a hive at the rooftop beekeeping foundation headquarters, get all my organic vegboxes delivered from within a 10 mile radius—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with these things—but it will never be in quite the same uncontrived, unpretentious spirit found here amongst my Grandma’s generation. It’s just second nature to her, an obvious way of living—“sustainable” because it’s sensible, “local” because it tastes freshest, costs the least, and because she is friends with the grower.

Hey, I’d be the last one to say that we shouldn’t be taking a renewed interest in these principles (because it isn’t just trendy—it’s necessary), but it’s easy to get carried away with instagramming heirloom tomatoes and forget that although we may have popularised the “sustainability” buzzword, everything it represents was long in place before we messed it up to begin with. We should not consider ourselves pioneers of the green movement as much as reinvigorated disciples of a long-established way of human living and eating. There’s no place for pretentiousness there, and this realisation made the vegetables on Grandma’s dinner table that evening taste even sweeter.

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Wandercrush Taiwanese Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Zongzi 粽子 (Taiwanese-Style Sticky Rice Dumplings)
Makes about 10

  • 500g sticky rice
  • 10 salted duck eggs
  • 20 dried chinese shiitake mushrooms
  • 15g dried miniature shrimp
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 60g peanuts (optional)
  • dried minced daikon radish
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • ½ t sugar
  • salt & white pepper, to taste
  • 10-15 bamboo leaves
  • cotton string, as needed
  • sweet chili sauce, to serve

Wash rice thoroughly and rinse 3-4 times. Cover with ample amounts of water and leave to soak overnight.
Separately, soak the dried mushrooms (and peanuts and shrimp, if using) overnight.
The next day, wash bamboo leaves thoroughly until pliable and set aside to keep moist in a bowl.
Peel the salted duck eggs, discarding whites and setting aside the yolks.

Heat oil in wok. Stirfry shrimps with garlic, then add mushrooms and fry till fragrant. Add the peanuts and mix.
Add drained rice and stir constantly to coat each grain in oil. Keep flipping and turning the rice with a wide wooden spoon for 10-15 minutes. Season with soy sauce for dark colouring and sprinkle in a handful of dried daikon. Keep stirring and frying until the rice is cooked through enough to eat on it’s own. Taste and adjust salt/pepper/sugar seasonings as necessary.

For assembling and wrapping the zongzi, it will be much easier to learn by watching the video below or one of the many YouTube demonstrations that may be slightly different, but perfectly helpful anyhow.
For this recipe, each dumpling should have 2 mushrooms and one yolk wrapped up amongst the sticky rice. If you run low on yolks or are wary of cholesterol, cut them in half using the badass string method demonstrated by my grandma in the video.

To finish, steam the zongzi or boil in simmering water for 4 hours.
Untie and unravel to eat immediately with some sweet chilli sauce, but otherwise they can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to be reheated by steaming or microwaving.

Grandma’s Zongzi from Irina Wang on Vimeo.

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Posted in Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Finger Food, Laos, Main, Malaysia, Personal, Philippines, Side, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Revisiting Taiwan

In terms of jetlag immunity and high layover tolerance, perhaps my travel bug owes a lot to near-annual Taiwan trips since the tender age of one and a half; my ears don’t even bother popping from the altitude anymore.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

That being said, I never really categorised my twice-removed homeland as another country to explore in its own right; it was always epitomised by Grandma’s noodle dish, Grandpa’s calligraphy brushstroke, catch-up sleepovers with my Taiwan-born cousins, midnight snacks from a 7/11 around the corner. I’d never picked up a travel guide, Googled the exchange rate, or known the names of historical landmarks and even cities. Grandma’s house was always just Grandma’s house—and anyway, Taiwan was more a collection of memories than physical locations; the faint smell in a certain stairwell can hurtle me straight back to a specific moment 10-odd years ago when my cousins and I raced down 3 flights as the onomatopoeic “ba-boo” man (the equivalent of a western ice cream truck) cycled by with his horn, but I wouldn’t even begin to know how to geotag it on Facebook.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Three years ago, I saw Taiwan almost as if for the first time; after having to “skip” the two summers prior, I’d never felt so confusingly homesick—not for my parents during countless overnight youth summer camps, not for my own bed after a month of sleeping amongst Amazonian critters, not for a closet full of clean clothes during my first longterm backpacking trip, not for the Florida sun after moving to England. I’d moved away from home, lived on my own for the first time, delved into fine arts, was devastated by and recovered from massive disappointments that forced me to grow up rapidly. My trip last week was similar in the sense that I’d become a different person with different interests; I moved even further away from home, studied in two of the world’s most bustling urban playgrounds, fell in love with design, and belatedly realised that one of my only regrets in life is not having spent more time to know my incredible grandparents.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

I think I’d always been a bit unfair, shutting Taiwan neatly away into a drawer along with other childhood relics—a bookmark collection, an old ring I dug up in the sandbox—when, as a rapidly modernising capital, Taipei is developing at a rate that perhaps exceeds my own. As a living and breathing thing existing within a span of twenty years, it’s subject to the same trends as any other city and its inhabitants. I was shocked, for example, to see a sign for wheat germ pineapple pastries and that stinky tofu was becoming more popular steamed than deep-fried. Time stood still in my drawer of relics; I had always assumed that even if I stopped eating white sandwich bread and cut down on saturated fats, Taiwan would be the place where I’d be happily forced to revert to old habits whenever I wanted a taste of childhood. On the street where my young cousins and I lovingly spent all our time between meals picking the ticks off of stray puppies’ ears, there now sits a shiny red Ferrari.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Of course there are constants, but my changing interests dictate my observations and activities. Last time I hopped from bakery to bakery; this time I spent hours and gigabytes interviewing my grandparents and filming nightmarket food stalls until, tripod less, my hands were unsteady and clothes saturated with the smell of grilled squid.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

And it’s fun this way, like playing catch-up with your oldest friend; the reality is you’re both absolutely different people, but nothing evolves that can erase or devalue those most impressionable early years spent together. No matter how much I grow and change, I’ll know that Taiwan—the way it was then, the way it is now, and the way it will be with every future visit—had and will continue to have a role in that.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

I’ll still have to nurse countless mosquito bites that linger long after I fly back home, I’ll still revel at the ever-expanding ramen cup noodle selection, I’ll still be able to enjoy intestines without risking total social damnation, and I’ll still remember to stock up on cute stationery supplies. I’ll still be waking up for fresh soy milk pressed from beans at the street stalls each morning, and I’ll still be cashing in on the cheap and convenient healthcare system that allows me to squeeze in a dental cleaning walk-in appointment a few hours before my flight. I’ll still bring 6 egg yolk red bean pastries back in my carry-on bag, and I’ll always have eaten half by the time I land. I’ll do all these things until they phase out of relevance—whether it’s because of my growing up or Taiwan’s. And for now, I’ll try a pineapple cake made with wheat germ.

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

Taiwan Wandercrush

 

More Wandercrush travel essays:
Eating Thailand / Sailing Thailand / Eating Greece / A Day in Paris

 

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Posted in Market, Personal, Taiwan, Travel | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Sopes with Radish Pico de Gallo

People tend to respond with bewilderment upon finding out I’m from Florida, eyeing me warily as though my mental state must be questionable to voluntarily leave the Sunshine State. “Why would you trade THAT for THIS?”, they demand as they gesture incredulously around to incriminate any cloud in the sky.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

Perhaps with equal unfairness, I tend to brush off Florida’s reputation for sun, sand, and amusement parks; it’s often more swamp than beach, and the seasons blend into one. I find myself appreciating the sun tenfold when it’s more coy about making a novel appearance—but weather aside, how can one even begin to compare a podunk Floridian city to London?

All begrudging hometown prejudices aside, however, there is one thing I will defend Florida for until the very end: the accessibility of Mexican food and Cuban cuisines. Authentic, cheap, honest, no-frills, the kind that seems to be significantly scarcer in London.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

Sopes aren’t the most common Mexican antojitos (street food, but literally “little cravings”), and have hence avoided the kind of Westernisation and international fame that befell the taco and the burrito. They’re open-faced with a lip to hold in toppings and feature a base made of the same masa harina as corn tortillas—only much thicker. Toppings vary by region and household, but usually involve refried black beans and some kind of salsa (red or green, roasted or fresh). These Cuban frijoles negros are similar in texture and huge on flavour, so I’ve made half a batch to top the sopes.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

From the roots of Raphanus sativus, there are many variations of radishes. I grew up knowing the white radish (e.g. daikon) to make a welcome appearance in many Asian cuisines, but I’m aesthetically partial to the strikingly pink version that’s grown in the UK during this part of the year. After the last batch of pink pickles, I couldn’t help but to add a handful of lightly lime-pickled radishes to a pico de gallo, a very fresh tomato salsa eaten alongside many a Mexican dish.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

So when people ask me rhetorically whether I miss the weather, I never hesitate to say “Not at all, but London could do with some better Mexican food.”

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

Sopes with Radish Pico de Gallo
(yields 4)

  • 1 cup masa harina
  • ¾-1 cup warm water
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • refried black beans or half of ((this recipe))
  • radish pico de gallo (see below)
  • mixed lettuce
  • organic thick yogurt or soured cream
  • cilantro, to garnish
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • lime, juice of

Mix together masa and salt, streaming in the water and kneading for a few minutes until a soft dough forms. Adjust water and masa as necessary.
Heat up oil in a skillet, pan-frying the disks of masa for a few minutes on each side so that a slight golden crust forms. Removing from the heat, quickly pinch the edges to form a raised ledge along the circumference of each sope.
Immediately top with “refried” black beans, lettuce, radish salsa, a drizzle of yogurt or soured cream, sprinkle of cilantro leaves, freshly ground black pepper, and a squeeze of lime.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

Radish Pico de Gallo

  • 100g radish, diced
  • 1 lime, juice of
  • 1 lemon, juice of
  • white vinegar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • ½ white onion, chopped
  • 1 spring onion, chopped
  • 1 hot chile pepper, minced
  • handful cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime, juice of

Toss radishes with juice of lime, lemon, salt, and a splash of vinegar to lightly pickle for a few hours or overnight.
Toss tomatoes in salt, setting aside in a sieve to drain for half an hour.
Meanwhile, chop and dice the remaining fresh ingredients. Combine with the drained tomatoes.
Toss with lime juice and season with more salt if necessary.

wandercrush sopes with radish pico de gallo

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Posted in Breakfast, Cuba, Finger Food, Main, Mexico, Salad, Sauce, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Huevos a la Flamenca (Andalusian Baked Eggs)

Any sort of breakfast is considered a luxury in the midst of final deadline week, so you can imagine my initial reservations and feelings of preemptive guilt when my flatmate spontaneously suggested a belated birthday brunch one morning.

Huevos a la Flamenca Wandercrush

From hardly having time to grab a bruised banana for the convoluted commute to the printers’ hellhole to hardly having time for waking up slowly and preparing a hearty breakfast spread of Andalusia-style baked eggs alongside the best company in South London (but doing it anyway and enjoying it thoroughly)—how is that transition mentally justifiable? Perhaps it doesn’t need to be.

Huevos a la Flamenca Wandercrush

The project will be handed in on time, no matter how hectic the final scramble is. The letters will be kerned, ink will be dried, the threads will be tied. My militantly academic middle and high school years have drilled this routine into my very soul, for better or for worse; I’d like to think that those sleepless nights poring over bibliographies, cramming formulae into my brain, and rapidly digesting textbook chapters have pre-afforded me this “irresponsibly” indulgent brunch, and many more to come.

With each passing year spent tip-toeing beyond that consuming abyss of academia, I realise that we—as human beings—hold a higher (and oftentimes more challenging) responsibility to appreciate the fleeting delights that life offers on a daily basis, simple blessings that can easily go unappreciated when pledging allegiance to scholastic duties and societal expectations. It sounds endlessly trite, but it’s really just another way of saying: “Give yourself a break. Life is too short to not make these eggs. Consider some freshly squeezed orange juice, as well.”

Huevos a la flamenca Wandercrush

Huevos a la Flamenca Wandercrush

We should all take a leaf out of the Mediterranean book when it comes to this mindset…they have it all figured out with their siestas and tapas. The Andalusian region of southern Spain is known for its flamenco dancing and flamenco eggs—it was beautiful in the summer of 2010, when I passed through Sevilla and Granada. That summer trip marked my first bold step out of the aforementioned academic abyss, and the days brimmed over with hedonistically lackadaisical lack of commitments; to prove my point, it was one of the best and most rewarding months of my life.

Huevos a la flamenca Wandercrush

Huevos a la flamenca Wandercrush

The presentation of huevos a la flamenca is similar to shakshuka: impressive, but with surprisingly easy preparation (perfect for having last-minute company or, say, a looming deadline), especially with this option to finish on the stovetop instead of transferring into an oven. As with most ubiquitous traditional dishes, ingredients and add-ins vary widely by region and household. Aside from the sofrito base and stewed tomatoes, consider a handful of peas and asparagus tips during springtime or spicy chorizo for a spicy kickstart to the day.

Huevos a la Flamenca Wandercrush

Huevos a la Flamenca Wandercrush

Huevos a la Flamenca 
(serves 3-4)

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 80g chorizo (optional)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • handful fresh peas (optional)
  • asparagus spears (optional)
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 T smoked paprika
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 5 organic eggs
  • coriander/parsley
  • fresh bread, toasted

If using chorizo, fry this until oil is released before adding the onion, pepper, and garlic. Continue sautéing this sofrito until fragrant and the onions softened. Add in chopped tomatoes and remaining ingredients, stir, and simmer for 10-15 minutes until most of the liquid is reduced. Season to taste.
Either or finish on the stove by making wells in the sofrito, cracking in the eggs, and covering with a sheet of foil to steam OR separate into ramekins and bake in a 350ºF/180ºC oven for 10-15 minutes, until egg whites are set but yolks still slightly runny.
Serve straight away with a garnish of fresh parsley or coriander and ground black pepper over a slice of toasted bread.

Huevos a la Flamenca Wandercrush

Huevos a la flamenca Wandercrush

Huevos a la flamenca Wandercrush

 

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Posted in Baked Goods, Breakfast, Main, Personal, Spain, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Stuffed Portobello Burgers & Birthday BBQ

More birthday parties, exploiting of the ever-versatile spring onion, early summer BBQs, & impending deadlines.

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

An inordinate amount of my life is occupied by this final self-directed design project, a philologic study of the letters A & B…but even so, probably not nearly enough time. Ten days, two hand-bound books, a handful of all-nighters, and one more birthday celebration until END-OF-TERM SUMMER FREEDOM!

Until then, enjoy another copout photo essay—and for those of you in BBQ-friendly parts of the hemisphere, never ever take your outdoor grills and sunshine for granted. Have an extra juicy burger for all the envious Londoners.

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stilton-Stuffed Portobellos with Balsamic Caramelised Scallion

  • 5 portobello mushrooms
  • 30g pine nuts, toasted
  • handful of organic spinach
  • 120g fresh mozzarella ball
  • 50g stilton (or any blue cheese)
  • 5-7 stalks scallion / spring onion
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • kosher salt
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • honey, to taste
  • kosher salt

Wash the spring onions and slice lengthwise in half before chopping into further segments. Heat up oil over medium flame and sauté for a few minutes until scallions begin to sweat and soften. Add the balsamic vinegar and dash of salt before lowering the heat and covering partially. Let them cook down and caramelise for about 30 minutes, returning a few times to stir.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over medium-low heat and wash the spinach. Carefully scrape the grills and stalks out of each mushroom cap to make more room for stuffing. Save these to chop up for salads or stir-fries. Lightly score the smooth side of each cap with a sharp knife, creating some grooves for the marinade to settle in.
Mix together marinade of oil, balsamic, honey, and salt. Brush generously onto the insides and outsides of each portobello cap.
Beginning with mozzarella, layer each cap with the stuffing (including the caramelised scallions that should be cooked down by now) and finish with a sprinkle of pine nuts and stilton. Drizzle with any leftover marinade.

If eating as a burger patty, throw onto the grill until the mushroom cap has softened, mozzarella melted, and spinach wilted. Otherwise, baking in the oven for about 10 minutes should achieve similar results. Devour on its own or between buns with any desired toppings and condiments. Particularly nice with some fresh slices of tomato!

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

Stuffed Portobello Birthday Burgers

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Posted in America, England, Main, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rhubarb Meringue Tart

Rhubarb Meringue Tart

One day I’ll achieve the “stiff peak” stage of meringue-whisking by hand. Until I acquire a shiny copper bowl and rock-solid forearms, though, I’ll keep borrowing electric blenders from my high-tech friends.

Rhubarb Meringue Tart

Ruby red rhubarb season is at an end, and given that first romantic encounter last spring, I couldn’t let a year pass without making another rhubarb dessert.

Rhubarb Meringue Tart

Rhubarb Meringue Tart

Inspired by the ubiquitous and ever-loved lemon meringue pie, this is a rustic (ahem, lazy) and picnicky summer tart version—oaty almond crust in place of shortbread pastry, honey-sweetened rhubarb reduction instead of heavy lemon curd, but the same dollop of meringue to top it all off.

Rhubarb Meringue Tart

Meringue is a bit fussy (and apparently high-tech) for my tastes, but it’s a fun and dramatic bit of kitchen science. The bundles of amino acids abundant in egg whites are uncoiled via physical agitation and chemical acidity (acidity also delays coagulation, increasing the amount of air that can be whipped in), effectively denaturing the proteins. The addition of sugar, in this case, isn’t just for taste—when the grains dissolve and bond with the protein, they increase elasticity to ward against meringue collapses. Similarly, a copper bowl isn’t just for the sake of whisking with style—copper molecules bind with a specific protein called conalbumin.

I cheekily tried to lower the sugar content with this one and hence my meringue lost it’s crackly crunch after a few hours, but still retained that malty sweetness that goes so well with tart fruit filling. When it comes to oven times, it’s more about dehydrating than cooking, so don’t be afraid to heat long and slow until the moisture is evaporated and protein structure to solidify.

Rhubarb Meringue Tart

Rhubarb Meringue Tart

Rhubarb Meringue Tart 

  • 75g (1 cup) rolled oats
  • 50g (½ cup) almond flour
  • 3 T honey
  • 3 T coconut oil, melted
  • ½ t vanilla
  • ½ t salt
  • 2 stalks rhubarb, chopped
  • 2 ripe pears, chopped
  • 2 T honey
  • cornflour/starch (optional)
  • 4 egg whites
  • 150g (¾ cup) unrefined sugar
  • spritz of lemon juice

Mix crust ingredients together into a ball, wrap loosely with a damp towel, and chill for about 30 minutes to make dough less crumbly.
Preheat oven to 160ºC/325ºF. Press the chilled crust dough into the bottom of a pie dish. Pre-bake until slightly toasted, about 10 minutes.
For the filling, stew rhubarb pieces in orange juice and honey, bringing to a boil and then lowering to a simmer until the reduction is slightly thickened. Add a pinch of cornflour/starch to thicken even more, if necessary.
To make the meringue, whisk (you can do this by hand, but an electric mixer will be much quicker) room temperature egg whites in a very clean bowl—any trace of grease will make the job a lot harder, so avoid plastic. Once the mixture starts to become foamy and airy, add the sugar a little bit at a time and just a small squeeze of lemon juice, continuing to whisk until soft or stiff peaks are formed, depending on your preference.
Spread the meringue evenly on top of the pie, starting at the edges and filling in towards the centre. Give it a final swirling flourish and return to the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the meringue is crisp and turning golden. Let it dry out thoroughly after turning off the heat, letting it dehydrate with the oven door cracked as it cools. Serve within the same day.

Rhubarb Meringue Tart

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Posted in America, Baked Goods, England, France, Kitchen Science, Sweets, Switzerland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments