Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Morning: Schlangestehen vor der Kleinen Konditorei

Kicking and screaming, Ingo and I have been forced against our will to become morning people over the last 11 and a half months. Painful as it may be, I have developed a Sunday morning routine that is evidence that I am not the only obscenely early riser on what should be a day of rest.

Die Kleine Konditorei is a bakery around the corner and a block away from our apartment. Having been consistently awarded accolades as one of the best bakeries in Germany, coupled with the fact that it is one of the few patisseries open on a Sunday when everything is closed except for restaurants and cafés, the "Kondi", as we have affectionately dubbed it, is a goldmine. The line on any given Sunday morning stretches to the corner where it then snakes around and continues another 10-50 meters – depending on what time you arrive. On the Kondi’s website there is a FAQ section where the first question asked is, „Why is the line so long on Sunday mornings?“ Clicking on this querry mysteriously leads the curious nowhere – apparently there are no answers to this frequently asked question.

The Kondi’s stock went up in our house when I was still nursing the twins. Having slowly removed the breast from their diet over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve found my insane craving for sweets has significantly diminished. Sunday mornings used to find blue and white striped bags strewn across the table full of the family favorite, nuss nougat croissants – deliciously buttery and flakey croissants (especially for German standards croissants are usually disappointingly dry and cakey) filled with nougat or nutella. Sick and wrong. Add a few nuss brioches, sticky buns chock full of raisins and haselnuts and covered with honey glaze, or a few franzbrotchen, cinnamon swirled pastries with raisins or chocolate stuck in its folds. And if my sugar craving still wasn’t satisified, I might add a few slices of what makes the Kondi famous – kuchen, i.e. cake. The signature slice is the raspberry créme fraiche and it is insane. Germans typically do cake at tea time, around 4pm, or even for breakfast but definitely not for dessert. Wunderbar!

As the sweet tooth starts to abate, I still make my regurlar pilgrimage to the schlange or queue, on Sunday mornings, waiting with paper cup full of coffee in hand which they have graciously left outside in a dispenser to make the wait a little more pleasant – this time stocking up on one of their dense dark breads – a three-corn nut bread with haselnuts, a whole-wheat carrot bread or the quinoa spelt bread, and maybe an herb ciabatta or baguette to boot.

I then schlep it all home and bribe the kids with a small chunk of warm baguette which buys me a few minutes to peruse the paper. In my former life (read pre-baby), coffee, bagels and the Sunday paper was a weekly ritual that lasted all morning, sometimes into the afternoon. Now, I’ll settle for a nougat croissant over a glance at the headlines, a few minutes too long in the op-eds, and the styled out rhymes of Dr. Suess.

Monday, June 22, 2009

La Paloma: The Peoples' Margarita

Guadalajara, Mexico

Corresponding from Mexico pretty much secures me the title of Expert Taco and Tequila Taster. I do not want to take this honor lightly, so I promise to continue thorough and rigorous research in regards to both. I have just weaned Oscar from the boob and I am particularly partial to tequila research these days. A guilt-free tequila cocktail is soooo much more refreshing and delicious than an I-am-a-terrible-mother-selfishly-killing-my-baby’s-developing-brain-cells-for-my-alcoholic-indulgence cocktail. Not to mention, Carter owes me months worth of mornings where I lay in the bed, groaning, and regretting bad choices from the night before without the very early chipper companionship of a certain one-year old, whose sole purpose at that time is to remind me of my dwindling youth.

I have found assimilation into a new culture is most easily accomplished by drinking the locally brewed paint thinner. Acceptance comes even quicker in countries where the beverage is rumored to cause blindness. Pouring it down your throat with the locals is a sure and quick way to break through any language barrier and get yourself a marriage proposal from the village chief. Really, it is not because I am a lush, but because I am a self-proclaimed food and beverage anthropologist that I have acquired the taste for cloudy fermented liquids sold out of sketchy backdoor kitchens down muddy unmarked alleys. Iraque from India and Indonesia, rakki from Turkey, German coffee (no relation to the bean) and powers from Malawi, gifiti from Honduras, lao lao from Loas, have all helped to provided unique glimpses into the respective palm/rice/garbage fermenting cultures.

Fortunately for my aging liver, I have not found the bathtub gin of Mexico. Glass bottles with proper labels and sealed caps are all promising factors when choosing my gut rot of choice these days. Tequila is el rey around here, and the drink is la paloma. The paloma is the peoples’ margarita. It strips the margarita down to the bare-bones: alcohol, fizzy syrupy liquid, acid, salt, enjoy. You will never see leather-skinned men with sweat stained sombreros lounging at the edge of a field after a hard days labor mixing up a pitcher of margaritas, carefully salting the rims of their glass-blown margarita glasses – no way. However, the paloma, on the other hand, is toasted across the land. A crude, and often preferred version, is to take a haul off of a tequila bottle, then a sip from a two liter bottle of squirt and gulp! No glass required. However, if you are one for such frills as glasses and ice, the following recipe should send you on your way to chumming up with the locals on your next trip to Mexico. Leave the margaritas to the package vacationers and saddle up at the cantina with the peoples’ margarita.

LA PALOMA (translates to “the dove” in English)

1 glass with ice
1 healthy pour of tequila
Squirt filled to the rim
Pinch of Kosher Salt
1 wedge of lime, squeezed with love

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What I am Craving Now: Aushak

I’ve tried somewhat unsuccessfully to trace the origin of the dumpling. The only consensus that emerges repetitively is the fact that a) they originate somewhere along the Silk Road- the trade routes from China and Japan in the east across central Asia and India through Antioch, Byzantium and the Mediterranean in the west; and b) every dumpling variation involves a kind of dough that is stuffed with a savory or sweet mixture and boiled or fried.

From Chinese dumplings such as the wonton, which literally translates as ‘swallowed clouds’ to zhong-zht, sticky rice filled with sweet or savory mixtures, wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied together with string, to har gow, the ubiquitous ‘dim sum’ filled with shrimp, to potstickers or guo tie.

Heading into other parts of Asia, from the Japanese gyoza and Korean mandoo, both versions of the wonton with slight variations such as Korean kimchi in the mandoo mixture; to lumpia, the Filipino triangular pocket of spiced potatoes and spring roll skins; to delicious momos – Tibetan dumplings washed down with delicious Tibetan beer, a mealy, tangy malt beverage slurped through a straw.

I carb-dived into plates of pelmeni and vareniki while I was in Ukraine a few years ago – stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms or meat and drenched with butter or sour crème (hold the mayonnaise, please!!) - it’s a recipe for a nap. Would anyone like a little fat with their carbs? Pierogi, the Polish cousin, are stuffed with cheese, onion, cabbage or potatoes and also served with sour cream, fried onions or apple compote.

Continuing west to my home of record, Germany, where I have developed a sincere appreciation for German/Austrian cuisine (my Wisconsin roots, maybe?) like the big doughy knodel, preferably with venison and red cabbage or sweet with vanilla sauce. Or Dutch bitterballen – especially tasty after an afternoon in an Amsterdam coffee shop. Ending up in Italy, for ravioli (con burro e salvia, mmm), tortellini (in brodo, mmm) and other delicious stuffed pastas.
While I was in Afghanistan, I fell madly in love with the two primary variations of dumplings. Mantu are steamed dumplings filled with ground beef and topped with yogurt, lentils and more meat. Aushak, the slightly more vegetarian friendly version, are filled with spring onions and boiled, then covered in ground beef (though you could skip this for vegetarians) and yogurt (which you could skip for vegans) and sprinkled with mint.

I spent a Saturday in the kitchen with Wahid, an Afghan chef who excels in the art of dumpling making. With my limited Dari and a few hours of observation, I have assembled this recipe for one of my favorite Afghan dishes, aushak.

Recipe for Wahid’s Aushak

You will need:

Dough (if you are making it from scratch)

Lots of flour
A little salt


Either one bunch of spring onions (just the green part) OR one large leek OR one bunch of spinach – all finely chopped
One generous clove of garlic, minced
One teaspoon red pepper flakes
Pinch of salt and pepper
A little bit of chopped cilantro/coriander

Meat sauce

Half pound ground beef
One yellow onion
1 minced glove garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
Sprinkling of coriander

1 cup plain yogurt
1 clove minced garlic

While I’ve seen recipes that use pre-packaged wanton wrappers, Wahid made the dough from scratch, which if you’ve never done it before and are in a hurry, may be frustrating. So go for the pre-packaged stuff if you prefer or use one kilo of flour (roughly 5 cups), a teaspoon of salt and add water as you go to make the dough. You will need a pasta maker (like the old school Imperia my friend Raffaella gave me as a wedding gift) will put the dough through until you get to ‘4’ – the desired thickness/thinness. Be sure to keep the dough well floured so it won’t stick and tear. Once the dough is rolled out, cut it into rectangles slightly bigger than a playing card. Brush them with water on the sides and bottom (making a square U shape).

They are now ready for the filling which you prepare by rinsing and finely dicing one large leek, a bunch of spring onions or a half a kilo of spinach (depending on your taste – Wahid uses spring onions as they are most readily available but I will experiment with leeks when I can get my hands on them). Mix the greens with salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic and a touch of cilantro – unless you’re one of several people I know who have an acute aversion to it.

Wahid heated oil and flash fried the mixture in a large sauce pan for 60 seconds. He removed the mixture from the pan into a colander to drain excess water and oil. You can do this before you prepare the dough. Then pinch a small bunch of the mixture and place in the middle of the sheet of dough, in the middle of the U. Fold the top of the dough to the bottom and seal it around the sides. Use a pasta (cookie-like) cutter (or a knife will do) to cut the folded dough into a half moon. Set the dumplings aside on a heavily floured tray for cooking later.

To prepare the meat – sautee one medium yellow union until limp and then add the ground beef, garlic, coriander and ginger, stirring occasionally until the meat is browned. With a little added water, simmer for five minutes; then add a scoop of tomato paste optional) and take it off after five more minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

To prepare the yogurt – blend plain yogurt with chopped garlic and a teaspoon of salt.

A few minutes before you are ready to eat, drop the dumplings in boiling salted water. They will float to the top when they are done – it only takes 1-2 minutes. Scoop them out, lay them out on a serving platter and cover them with the meat sauce, a thin layer of yogurt and sprinkle with dried mint.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Ancho Chili

Guadalajara, Mexico

I have never met a chili I didn’t like, so when a toothless man with a smile wider than the brim of his sombrero beckoned me towards what appeared to be a fort made of dried chilies, I could not resist. He was surrounded by huge plastic sacks of a multitude of varieties of dried chilies and beans. He was also selling beautiful purple heads of garlic, long wands of cinnamon and plump raisins and prunes. I surveyed the goodness and was seduced by the ancho chili.

The ancho chili begins its life as a poblano pepper. The poblano is roughly the same size as your garden variety red pepper, however, it is narrower and pointy at the end. It has a dark green, waxy skin and has a mild and delicious flavor. When dried, this pepper becomes a wrinkled, dark reddish-brown colored pod called an ancho chili (meaning “wide” in Spanish).

Its signature heart-shape is your first clue that a love affair is about to begin. This is a chili that is easy to adore. It is the sweetest in flavor of the dried chilies, giving a mild kick to whatever it is paired with. Do not fear the ancho. Use it with wild-abandon. Toss it whole into soups and braising liquids; crush it up and rub it on grilled meats and fish, or if you are really feeling frisky, sprinkle it into your next bowl of chocolate ice cream – it is that lovable!

Upon arriving home, I decided to spice up the beef tenderloin I had in the fridge with an ancho chili rub. This spice mix has a seductively sweet smell that burns your nose and conjures up memories of a favorite childhood game of seeing how long we could hold a spicy cinnamon candy on our tongue. I served the tenderloin with a delicious cauliflower purée. Puréeing caramelized onions and the ancho cinnamon spice rub along with the cauliflower to compliment the tenderloin – it was divine!


3-4 large ancho chilies
1 large star anise
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
3 cloves
½ cinnamon stick

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
2. Place all ingredients on a baking sheet and place in oven.
3. Toast until fragrant, or about 15 min. Anchos should be dried
out and slightly brittle, but not burnt.
4. Remove stems and majority of seeds from the anchos.
5. Place all spices in a spice grinder or coffee grinder
and pulverize. May need to be done in batches.

Spice rub can be kept in an airtight container for one month.