Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kaffeebecher!

How awesome is this? Welcome, internet, come see the love of my life. This is my coffee cup. However, I feel a little odd saying "cup" or "mug" because I expect both of those things to have a handle. Thus, I've been referring to it with the German word, "Becher" (beaker? Not sure on the direct translation, but it's a container with no handle) because it looks like one, feels like one, and consequently must be one. Deshalb: hier ist mein Kaffeebecher.

The body is ceramic, with the lovely rose pattern that you see here. It's dishwasher-safe, microwave-safe, and sturdy enough to withstand some rough treatment from me. (I'm never easy on my loves.) In the morning, I fill it with soymilk, microwave it until the soymilk is warm (and yet the becher stays relatively cool!) and then add the espresso. Perfect system.

The band around the middle. which is easily removable, is made of lovely heat-resistant silicon. Not only does it feel lovely and squishy to hold, it also keeps me from burning my paws on the cup itself. The lid, too, is made of silicon, and keeps me from spilling coffee down myself as I walk to uni. It also retains the heat incredibly well: in -3 temperatures this morning, the coffee was still warm when I arrived at uni some 20 minutes after leaving the house. Normally I'd have finished my coffee by then, but I'm a bit of a daydreamer sometimes...

It's also fantastic for tea, because you can wind the string of the teabag around the little teapot so that it doesn't fall into the cup when you hastily pour on your hot water. It holds more liquid than any of the coffee mugs in our house, which is perfect for a hot-drink-reliant being such as myself, and will definitely be used in place of disposable cups for future purchases. Awesome? Yes. So much so that I think I'm going to go back to Koln to buy the other one, with the blue becher... ;)

So, that's all I have time for tonight: no recipe, just showing off, sorry! It's the end of the Vegan Month of Food, which has been a lot of fun, but also some hard work. So, thanks to all the other Mofoers for giving me awesome blogs to read, for comments, for ideas, for support, and just for being part of the community. Now I'm going to crawl into bed and warm my freezing toes...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Vegetable Soup

Vegan Mofo is almost over! And, contrary to my expectations, I've managed to blog nearly every day. Most of the posts had a recipe, even if it was only something simple, and all of them had photos. So I'm feeling quite proud of my effort... which is probably why I'm here talking about it, instead of writing the Seminar that I need to give on Wednesday. Admittedly, I should have written said presentation yesterday (probably should have also posted a recipe here) but I was feeling a little tired and "under the weather". I could, in retrospect, give you Matt's recipe for a gin and tonic, but I think you can all do without. Just know that there was nearly as much gin as tonic, that the gin was supplied by a good friend of mine who knows how much I love Hendricks, and that they were absolutely delicious. ;)

I also ate more food on Saturday night than a body should endure in the space of two days, but I'll get to that on another post. In the meantime, I'm sticking to whatever is warmest and easiest, and soup fits that category. This one is incredibly easy, as any good soup should be, and it's made with whatever vegetables you have around the house. At its simplest, it can include carrots, potatoes and celery; I had some pumpkin and parsnip on hand to liven it up a little. I love parsnip.

I like chunky soups, so I just mashed this one up a little with a potato masher, in order to create some thickness and vary the texture. Of course, it's perfectly appropriate to put it (carefully) into the blender and puree it to velvety-smooth, but hey, who really wants to clean their blender? Not me, that's for sure. Granted, I don't really want to clean anything. Unfortunately, this chef is also a master dishwasher... much to my dismay, they're not going to wash themselves. My solution is to make everything in one pot, which is why I always have recipes for soups, stews and chilli. (And have you ever seen me make cake or bikkies in more than one bowl? Not a chance!) So, here's to as little washing up as possible. Easy vegetable soup. You'll note I'm giving the rather vague description of "chopped" for most of this; make the pieces as delicate or chunky as you like, but adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Vegetable Soup

1/4 small pumpkin (I used a small muskatcurbis), chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 medium potatoes, chopped
1 large parsnip, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
enough stock to barely cover (I used homemade; it was already in my fridge in a cute jar!)
2 large stems parsley, stalks included but separate, chopped
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Sautee garlic and onion in oil until transparent. Add all vegetables and allow to sautee, stirring regularly, until they begin to soften. If you fear for your onion or garlic, add the stock.
When the vegetables have softened and browned a little, add enough stock to barely cover and throw in the dried herbs. Add the parsley stems but save the leaves for adding at the last moment, otherwise they'll lose their flavour.
Simmer for about half an hour, until the vegetables are soft. Check a piece of parsnip, because it will be the last vegetable to soften sufficiently.
Mash lightly with a vegetable masher, making sure that there are still a few chunks of vegetable for texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper - if you're using commercial stock, you'll probably want to omit the salt here.
Stir through the parsley leaves before serving. Put a generous ladleful (or several, if you're a hungry vegan) in a bowl and eat it with slices of fresh baguette, or the traditional way, with margarine-spread toast soldiers.

Cutest jars, ne? :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Unconventional Curry.

Sometimes you just want an easy dinner. Something quick, easiest left alone while you check your email/facebook/twitter/blogger/other internet addictions, which has enough flavour to convince you that cheating and using a pre-packaged product wasn't to the detriment of your dinner. So, that's when curry paste comes in handy. I don't use the pre-made curry sauces, but I'm ok with the pastes if I'm in a hurry. My favourite is Thai Massaman; I can't get my favourite brand here, so I tried another. And, whoaaa, was it hot. Admittedly, I added probably ten times as much as the directions advised, but I figured it was probably written for the standard Western tastebuds. It definitely was, but I confess, I went overboard on the curry paste. However, considering the recent weather, it was probably good to have something warming...

Thai Curry pastes need to be fried in oil before use, so that they develop the proper flavours. If you skip this step (and why would you? It only take a few minutes but it contributes so much!) then your curry will be flat and one-dimensional. The other tip I have is that when you've added your coconut milk to the curry, add salt and sugar. I usually add soy sauce, which is sacrilegious, but I don't have access to vegetarian "fish" sauce here. I also like to add palm sugar, but I suppose regular would still be fine. Palm sugar does have that irresistible caramel flavour, though. C'mon, invest in some palm sugar. I dare you.

So, with my curry base added, in went the rest of the vegetables. I always throw in cubed potato a little earlier because it takes longer to cook than my other vegetables. In this instance, it was zucchini, broccoli and yellow capsicum. I added a massive tin of lentils, drained and rinsed of course, because I wanted some protein. That's definitely in the style of Indian curries and not Thai, but hey, we all know that I can't follow a recipe! (I followed a recipe for brownies yesterday, though: big mistake. I'm just going by feel next time; following recipes clearly doesn't work out for me!) So, in went the lentils. You know what else went in? Lightly toasted coconut. Why? Partly because I like my curries super-thick, and partly because I decided that the flavour wasn't coconutty enough. Conventional, no. Enough to make a wise Asian grandmother turn in her grave. However, to hell with that: it was delicious. :)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Winter Salad

This is the addictive salad that I've been eating a lot lately. I know, you're asking how I could possibly want to eat salad when there's snow outside? Well, firstly, my kitchen is warm after roasting the sweet potato required (an expensive item in Germany!) and this salad incorporates warm elements, too. I used rocket (arugula, for any Americans visiting) which stands up quite well to warm salads, and contributed a nice peppery touch. In addition, I threw in a few vegetables that I had lying around: namely, radish, and the roasted capsicum. But they're not the stars of the show. No, this salad is all about creamy chestnuts and golden sweet potato, topped with toasted pumpkin seed oil. It's my new favourite salad dressing (new favourite kitchen ingredient; definitely the best thing I've discovered in Germany!) and I'm never letting it go. The seeds are roasted before they're pressed for oil, so the flavour is resoundingly nutty and sweet. It's addictive, really.

I'd like to tell you that I slaved away for hours over my chestnuts, first cutting a cross into the skins and then boiling them until they were tender, and scorching my fingers as I pulled them from the water and delicately pulled away the bitter inner skin to reveal the dense and creamy flesh. I'm more than familiar with that process, because the easiest way to find chestnuts at home in Adelaide was always fresh... except that one time that I discovered a bag of frozen chestnuts in an Asian supermarket. That was awesome! However, I found some pre-prepared ones in a supermarket, and splashed out on the convenience factor, because I was already hungry. Normally, though, I'd take the long way around; there's something intensely soothing about repetitive kitchen motion.

My lady at the Dom Markt still has large bunches of rocket available, probably grown in a greenhouse (which would explain why she's still picking the last of the tomatoes and capsicums). Usually I go for the feldsalat, which I can eat in vast portions, because I went completely off of rocket a few years ago. What happened was that I decided to grow a couple of plants in my vegetable garden. To cut a long story short, I ate more rocket than any person ever ought to, both cooked and raw, and even after attacking the plants with secateurs, they still grew back. Rocket: 1, Megan: 0. For some extra pepper, and some gorgeous colour, I added slices of radish. I've never been that enthralled by radish, but I do love the colour and the crunch.

So, to get to the other warm portion of this salad: roasted sweet potato. Roasted butternut pumpkin would also be a lovely choice. Just cut your portion into bite-sized pieces and roast in a hot oven (mine was 250 degrees C, according to the thermostat, but possible a few degrees less because my oven is rather old) for 30-40 minutes, until toasty and tender. I roasted a small capsicum for 20 minutes, too, until the skin was blackened, and then I peeled off the skin to reveal the red flesh beneath. Doesn't that sound a bit carnal and disturbing? Either way, it was delicious, but not strictly necessary for this salad. Add whatever salad veg you like, but make sure there's leaves, roasted

Winter Salad

1 large bunch salad leaves (I chose rocket; select something that can handle a little heat)
150g halved prepared chestnuts, warm
1 small sweet potato, roasted, still warm
salad vegetables of choice (I chose three radishes and a small roasted red capsicum; I think cucumber and blanched green beans would also be delicious, but they're long out of season here.)
2 Tbsp pumpkin seed oil
salt and pepper

Mix salad vegetables and chestnuts in a large bowl. Drizzle with pumpkinseed oil and add a generous grind of salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly, and enjoy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Blackberry Cake

This post is an old one that I wrote and never published, for some reason. I know that berries are out of season here in Germany (um, hello, first snow!) but I figure it's appropriate for my lucky Australian friends, who are already enjoying fantastic weather. I'm jealous. Sorry to those of us (ok, I'm only thinking about myself here!) for whom this is seasonally inappropriate, but it's better than letting it languish in the archives, right? :)

This post is a tribute of sorts. Not to anyone in particular, but to our friend, the blackberry. Yep, I know you think I’ve gone completely nuts. You’re not that far off the mark, except that you’re about 25 years behind the times. No, the reason why I’m writing to honour the blackberry is that it’s a fruit that I’ve never been able to freely enjoy. I’ll explain why.

In Australia, the blackberry is a major pest. How, you ask, could something so delicious be such a massive problem? Unfortunately, blackberries are rather good at spreading and taking over native habitats… they’re also rather good at scratching me to pieces, but that’s another story. So, what happens in Australia, is that wild blackberry brambles get poisoned, to stop them from spreading further. Which means, of course, that their fruit is unsafe to eat – you don’t ever know whether the plant has been recently sprayed, and is yet to show the signs of the poison. So really, it’s just not a good idea to eat them.

Here in Germany, however, the blackberry meets a rather different fate. Rather than being vigorously attacked, it is completely ignored. Normal people don’t bother to pick the fruit, even – the brambles I’ve raided (ahem) were still miraculously intact. I won’t talk about the thorns, or how they’re completely overrun with stinging nettles… but rest assured that sufficient injuries were sustained to make these berries taste even better. What this glut of berries means, to a greedy forager such as myself, is that a person collecting these berries can come home with a good three or four kilograms of fruit, and consequently have no idea what to do with it all. Blackberries are at their best as soon as they’re picked, and if you have the world’s smallest freezer, then you’re going to have to use them fast.

I love to bake. Baking, I’d like to think, is in my blood. From crowding around the breakfast bar in our kitchen, the children of my family absorbed a love of baked goods whilst watching our mother prepare yet another oven-bound glory. Of course, as children, we didn’t know that yet – we just wanted the chance to lick the batter off of whichever utensil our mother would let us have. But as adults, we’re definitely still into our baked goods, and we’ve definitely all got a weakness for cupcakes.

However, this isn’t a cupcake post. This is a cake post, because I only own one 6-hold muffin tin, and that’s not a terribly express way to use a large quantity of blackberries. I won’t tell you about all the ones I scoffed fresh, or mixed with soy yoghurt and oats… I’ll might tell you about the jelly later, though, if you’re lucky. (ed note: mission accomplished!)

I don't mean for this to be an advertisement for cocoa powder or soymilk here, but hey, it's what I used and it tasted good. I don't have any affiliations, but if anyone wants to give me freebies, that would be great. Sadly, I don't see that happening, so I'm going to have to accept that I buy the soymilk that doesn't taste too 'beany' and the only cocoa powder I've found.

Now, the fruit-to-cake ratio does make a difference here. If you add too much fruit, your cake won’t hold together nicely, and it’ll take longer to bake. Though, admittedly, my oven is among the slowest contraptions to grace the world of electrical appliances. However, the idea is to chock as many berries as possible into your cake, so it’s… uh… healthier? To hell with health, I just want to eat as many blackberries as possible.

So, I’m going to just write an estimate of what an appropriate amount of berries would be… and you’ve got my license to double it. Seriously. It would be awfully hypocritical of me to tell you to stick to a recipe, when that’s the one thing I’m completely incapable of doing. The devil on your shoulder is telling you to add more blackberries, and you should believe him when he tells you that it’ll be delicious. I’ve made half my cake vanilla and the other half chocolate, because I’m catering for a mixed audience here… I wouldn’t usually ice a cake like this, but I think today I will, because it’s going to be eaten by a) children and b) men. No photos of that, because I’m transporting it to Muenster un-iced, sorry.

I used a rather large pan for this – it’s actually just really long, and by no means a standard size. I’m sure you could use a 9x9inch pan with much the same results. This is a big cake, but seeing as how everyone knows that berries are fantastically healthy, you’re allowed to eat twice as much.


Blackberry cake

4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3 cups berries
4 tsp baking powder*
¾ cup cocoa (or to taste)
2/3 cup oil
enough milk or soymilk to bind… perhaps 2-3 cups? Depends on your mix.
2 Tbsp vanilla*

For the vanilla cake:
Sift 2 cups of flour and 2 tsp baking powder into a bowl. Add 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup oil and the vanilla. Then add enough milk or soymilk to mix it into a thick batter. I don’t give quantities here, because I just eyeball it, and also because the amount differs depending on your flour and any extras you might add (like cocoa powder, as below.) If you don’t know what a cake batter should look like, email me, and I’m sorry for your deprived childhood.
Add half the berries and combine gently. Pour mix into a lined cake tin, and use the same bowl to make up the chocolate cake.

For the chocolate cake:
Sift 2 cups of flour, cocoa powder to taste (you can always add more later!) and 2 tsp baking powder into a bowl. Add 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup oil. Then add enough milk or soymilk to make a thick batter. Add the rest of your berries, and gently spoon it onto the vanilla cake already in the pan, being careful not to disturb the layers. (Or swirl it to make a marble cake!)

Bake in a medium oven (180 degrees C, or 160 fan-forced) for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. This cake is best eaten with icecream or (soy) yoghurt, and of course, a cup of tea.

*This is European-strength baking powder. You’ll need a little less if you’re using the American/Australian version, or better yet, omit it completely and just use self-raising flour. I use very heaped teaspoons.
* Vanilla extract is impossibly a) hard to find, and b) expensive here in my town. What I’m sadly having to use is vanilla powder, which isn’t nearly as good. Feel free to adjust vanilla to your personal preference, according to whether you’ve got powder, extract or essence.

Polish-style Cabbage Stew

This stew is definite Winter-food. Considering the weather that we've had in Paderborn lately (including the first snowfall of the season yesterday) it's an appropriate meal to make. It's thick, rich, and made of seasonal vegetables: cabbage and onion. This is one of the few times I've written about anything with a pre-prepared mock meat. I'm not a fan of meat-replacements, but while I was researching this recipe (which is based on Bigos, a Polish stew) I found a lot of meat-heavy recipes, and decided to give it a try. I ate something like this in Poland, and enjoyed the sweet/sour flavour, so I decided to recreate it. The result was pretty accurate, but in future, I'm going to omit the mock.

So, your first step: obtain a vintage 'Salzburg' themed pot from your friendly German housemate. Seriously, how cute is it? I'd never voluntarily obtain something like this into my own kitchen, because I'm a bit picky about aesthetics, but it's so much fun to use other people's vintage cookware. Plus, this came from the housemate's grandmother, which makes it even more adorable. I may have the world's ugliest kitchen - ok, debatable, but it's not pretty! - but at least I can enjoy certain aspects.

I'd like you to have a good look at the picture above. That, my friends, is the largest clove of garlic that I've ever held. When you consider that I also have very long fingers (ET is in for a challenge!) then maybe you'll get a sense of perspective. It was fresh garlic, which meant that the surrounding layers of skin hadn't dried out, so those got chopped up and added to the stew as well. I can't abide by wasting something that contributes so much flavour.

Speaking of flavour, a lot of it comes from the onions. They're delicious, quite frankly. I used red onions, because that's what was in my pantry, though the colour was hidden by the use of the tomato passata. So really, it's your choice. What is not your choice, however is the cabbage: do as I say, and not as I do. I used a savoy cabbage, because honestly, they're beautiful. They're just a good-looking vegetable. Unfortunately, using savoy didn't give me the same texture as the original stew, and thus, I'd recommend that you use a normal, boring, flat-leaved green cabbage. Sorry, but you'll just have to trust me that you'll enjoy it more. ;)

Sigh. See what I mean about beautiful vegetables? However, this is no place for a beautiful vegetable, because my stews are not beautiful dishes. It's like I always say: ugly food tastes better, but you want to eat the pretty stuff. I'm exactly the same, but thankfully (or not?) I've had enough beautiful but tasteless meals to now rely on my sense of smell a little more. If food smells good, I want to eat it. Simple. So, here's a stew that will make your kitchen smell delicious for hours as it slowly simmers on your stovetop. Serve it with chunks of potato, or better yet, omit the mock meat and use potato in its place. Mop up the remnants with crusty bread while you stare at the snowflakes sliding down your window.

Polish-style Cabbage Stew

1/2 green cabbage, shredded as finely as humanly possible (or finer, if you have a mandolin or food processor)
2 onions, finely sliced
6 cloves garlic - the normal-sized ones ;)
2 bay leaves
750ml tomato passata (puree)
5 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar*
1 Tbsp brown sugar
water (or light vegetable stock)
300g pack mock meat (I used soy-based chunks, which I cut in half)
salt
pepper
olive oil

Using a medium heat, sautee the onion and garlic in oil until tender. Throw in the bay leaves and sautee for a few minutes longer, until the alliums are browned.
Add the cabbage, folding gently to allow it to mix with the onion, and sautee for a few minutes. You want to stir it frequently so that it begins to soften evenly, instead of browning on the bottom and being raw on top.
When the cabbage is softened, add the tomato passata and tomato paste. To that, add the vinegar, sugar, and enough water or stock to just barely cover the cabbage.
Turn the heat down to low and simmer gently, covered, for as long as you can manage. I managed about four hours. If your mix requires more liquid in this time, just top it up with water. This would also be excellent in a slow-cooker.
Add the mock meat chunks about 5 minutes before serving - they'll only need to warm up. If you're using potatoes, which will be what I'll do next time, throw them in half an hour before you plan to eat. That way, they'll have sufficient time to simmer to a lovely soft texture.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, and adjust the sweet/sour balance with a touch more vinegar or sugar if needed.
This tastes even better the day after it's made... so makes fantastic leftovers. :)

*balsamic is completely non-traditional. Most recipes I saw called for sauerkraut mixed in with the cabbage to provide sourness. I hate sauerkraut, so this is my sweet-sour substitution.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giant Apples: A New Perspective

Sorry, no recipe today. I'm feeling too wiped out, and it's already time for me to crawl into bed... can't wait to tell you about the Autumnal salad I've been eating, though! But I'll have to hold off until tomorrow.

If you check out the above photo, you're probably going to think that the apple on the right is extraordinarily small. Not so - it's a smallish apple, a Pinova I think, but it's just sitting alongside two monsters of their class - a Comice Pear and a Boskoop apple. (I think they're also known as Boskow.) Some of the apples and pears at a certain specialty stall at the Dom Markt are just incredibly huge. They must come from very well-established trees... either that or "Genetechnik" has made its way into Germany in some form other than American prepackaged goods... I'm looking at you, peanut butter with HFCS.

Here's a different perspective on that Boskoop. While the size of these apples was something remarkable, the flavour was a little on the light side, and the flesh was very easily bruised. It wasn't as dense as the crisp apples that I usually prefer, but I found the variety to be incredibly juicy. I imaging that they'd make a fantastic cider. Anyone with some cider-making expertise want to try that theory out for me? I'd be a taste-tester for you, and I wouldn't even make you pay me. I'm just so good-natured, of course. But wait, the best is yet to come...

Oh sure, they look all cute and innocent when they're sitting in my shopping bag (with definite thanks to Envirosax for making said bag). But then you take them out, and you're face to face with the baby-godzillas of apples and pears. Sure, they're not godzilla, but they're still damn huge.

Here's Godzilla-Golden-Delicious against the drinking glass. Seriously, that apple must have been more than 10cm tall. Below, you can see that it was the same height as the largest coffee mug in the apartment. You'll note, of course, that I'm using the past tense. That apple was also the largest mid-morning snack that I've ever had during my German class. It's a nice way to put it into perspective.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tomato, parsley and chickpea salad.

For some reason, my review of Season didn't come up, so I've re-posted it today. Sorry if anyone has seen it twice, now; blogger has just decided to eat the post for no apparent reason, so I've put it back up. Hopefully now it won't appear twice.

I don't have time to write up the Polish-style stew that I made recently, because I'm baking up a massive batch of Anzac biscuits, to take to my Seminar tomorrow. I figure that if I'm going to spend the entire time talking about Australian food and food culture, then the least I could do is provide a snack in way of explanation. My plan, should all work out correctly, is to have a vote as to whether they taste better chewy or crunchy. I know for sure which side I'm on!

In the meantime, however, this is what I've been snacking on. Lots of salads, and lots of quick and easy foods. I'll write a post soon about the more-elaborate dinner salad that has been consumed no less than three times in the past few days... yep, it makes a great transition to a lunch salad, too. Heh. Anyway, for those of you who have three simple ingredients, do this:

Wash and drain a can of chickpeas (or cook your own, if you have time) and reserve half.
Mix the chickpeas with two small, chopped tomatoes and about half a cup of chopped parsley.
Season generously with salt and pepper. Olive oil and a dash of lemon juice are a great idea for those of you who like dressing.
Then, scoff it while you sit infront of your laptop, catching up on facebook instead of writing the seminar that you should have finished last Sunday. ;)

Season Restaurant, Hamburg

Vegan Mofo Post - I'm going to post a review that I started weeks ago, but never finished because the blogger uploader was having serious issues. As in, more serious than normal. I wish I wasn't too lazy to change hosts... sigh. It's hard being this lazy, kids.

Season Restaurant is a vegetarian all-you-can-eat style place in the mighty fine city of Hamburg, Germany. Previously, I haven't been interested in eating at vegan places, but owing to both the language and cultural barrier, it makes for a less stressful dining experience if I eat in vegetarian restaurants here. The restaurant looks bright and fresh, it's spotlessly clean, and there's a second one that would be now open just a few streets away from the first. Customers can choose a small plate, the daily soup, a large plate, or the all-you-can-eat option. Hungry vegans who don't want to pay for dinner later on are advised to utilise the latter - it's 12 Euro.

I'm also going to put in a good word for their coffee. They've used sweetened, almost vanilla-ish soymilk in the coffee, which was admittedly delicious (even if I use unsweetened at home, and never add sugar to my coffee!)... it also came with THE best vegan chocolate; a tartufo, in fact. It was fudgey and creamy and delicious. Alternately, the chocolates are available separately at the counter. You might want to stock up, is all I'm saying, because once you've tried the complimentary one that comes with the coffee, you'll be hooked.

I was in Season twice in the space of five days. It's open for lunch, not dinner, and it's conveniently close to the Rathaus, which means it's in the middle of the public-transport routes through the city. It's bright and cheerful, with gorgeous decor: modern and sleek, without feeling cold. Each table is decorated with a small pot of herbs, which I found quite cute. Possibly also a bonus for those of us who like a little extra seasoning? ;)

So, to get to the vegan options! Most of the warm options aren't vegan, though there was one with seitan and I didn't feel as though I was starved for options. A sweet red cabbage with cashews and sultanas, gently cooked root vegetables with peas, and a mild curry with tofu were all nice, but I wouldn't bother with the pasta again. It was starved for sauce; and this is coming from someone who likes pasta dishes quite lightly sauced in the first place. The salads were good; the salad bar to assemble one's own on the other side of the serving bench is also recommended. The produce is fresh and crisp, and there's a vegan balsamic dressing for those of us who like a bit of tang.

The daily soup was also vegan, and included in the all-you-can-eat. There were tiny dinner rolls, which come with olives or capsicum in addition to the regular plain ones, and they were especially good. I love olive bread! My favourite dish of my visits, however, was the beetroot carpaccio; paper-thin rounds of red beet sprinkled with finely chopped herbs and nigella seeds. The world needs to get behind nigella seeds, really. I must say that the vegan dessert options were lacking: there was only the fruit salad, which was made of apple, orange, and pineapple. I steered clear in favour of more warm dishes, but I was sad that they'd used butter in the apple crumble. I do, however, approve of the labels for foods: they list non-vegan and possibly-allergenic ingredients. So, the verdict? The food was under-seasoned at times, but always fresh. Definitely worth my money, and if you're in Hamburg, definitely worth yours.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Crispy Vegetable Pancakes

Nom nom nom. Crispy vegetable pancakes were the order of the day... or, for breakfast, at least. I wasn't hungry when I woke up, so by the time I decided I wanted to eat something, it was nearly time for lunch. So I figured that I'd go with an all-purpose brunch food, something savoury and filling, but a little more creative than my usual breakfast food. So I decided on vegetable pancakes, using the leftover garlic kale in my fridge. Sure, I'm a fan of leftovers for breakfast, but I already had some of the leftover kale yesterday at breakfast. ;) I have to keep things interesting, you know!

So I decided to make it into crispy pancakes, Asian-style. The original idea for these was based on a thin, delicious pancake that I ate in South Korea more than a decade ago. It was made by my host-grandmother and I remember tearing off pieces with chopsticks, enjoying every bite, as the girl who was hosting me tore into it alongside. We could barely communicate, sure, but I'm pretty sure that the pancake transcended that. When I got back to Australia, I made a similar version, using spring onions and sometimes really finely shaved green capsicum. I later expanded into thin strips of other vegetables, and generally stick to thicker fritters with a lighter, airier batter than the original flour-and-water mix. But for this one, I decided on some familiar flavours: greens, spring onion, chilli, garlic, and sesame oil. The first one was so good that I ate the entire thing before I remembered to add salt. Alternately, slice it and dip it into soy sauce and chilli as you eat. Heavenly.

You'll see in the second photo here that I've let the batter set completely before flipping it. I cook these over a high heat, and by letting the batter completely set, not only am I allowing the bottom to crisp up, I'm making it easier to flip the pancake in one piece. If you try to flip too soon, much like any ordinary pancake, you'll just make a mess of it. This recipe is me using maximum veg to minimum batter, which means it's a little more fragile than a normal pancake or fritter, but I didn't have any troubles. Normally I shy away from using very much oil (and for some pancakes, I don't use any!) but here, you need it. You'll never achieve the crispy outside if you don't use oil. So hey, live a little. Does the below photo make anyone else think of those satellite maps of rivers and mountains? Hm, never mind.

Crispy Vegetable Pancakes
1 cup plain flour
1 & 1/2 cups cooked greens, chopped*
1/2 cup soymilk
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped/crushed
1 tsp siracha or chilli paste
1 tsp sesame oil
2 large spring onions, greens included, finely chopped
1/2 tsp baking powder (optional; for those who like a lighter pancake)
water
oil

Mix flour, baking powder and soymilk together with enough water to make a thin pancake batter. Into this batter, stir the greens, siracha, garlic, spring onions and sesame oil.
Fry the batter in thin pancakes - pour about a half-cup into the hot, oiled pan and press it with a fork to distribute. If you press down on the mix with a fork, batter comes up between the vegetables, and keeps it from developing too many holes (which can happen when you're spreading it just by pushing).
Allow the batter to set to enable easier flipping. When the underside is golden and crunchy, flip the pancake, and cook until the second side is equally toasty.
Serve with a sprinkling of salt, or with soy sauce for dipping.

* You can, of course, use many other vegetables. The idea is that they're finely sliced, so that you can get them even distributed throughout the pancake. Raw greens would be somewhat harder to work with, due to their volume (and their shape, if you're using curly kale), which is why I recommend using leftover cooked greens.
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