Eating like the locals

After my trip to Chinatown and my difficulties with chopsticks, despite being cowed by the experience, I seriously wanted to get the hang of it, possibly in the privacy of my bedroom. I much prefer to, at the very least, look like I know what I’m doing and at the very most actually be smug about how well I am doing whatever it is I’m doing, say, using chopsticks or confidently ordering Pflügelhornen mit schlag like a German.

In Berlin one of our favorite restaurants is Peking Ente a Chinese restaurant which has great food (that eggplant—OMG). There I was a little more facile with the chopsticks or at least I ate my meal without hand cramps and half of it landing on my shirt (What to eat and how to wear it). On a later trip to a Korean restaurant we were given metal chopsticks that were strangely flat along the handle part. I don’t know why that would make a difference but, jeez, it was trying to eat soup while roller skating in heavy traffic. Fortunately the waiter was scarce so while that was annoying at least he wasn’t standing behind me being all judgey.

I need to keep a pair in my bedroom. And if I get good enough at it I can use them to pick things up off the floor without bending over so far. And believe me, there are a lot of things on the floor.

Ćevapčići

I’m pretty sure that Croatians and Serbs would absolutely balk at the thought of vegan sausage. Serbs particularly. I thought these were pretty good. I suppose though that adding cheese ruins the veganness of it.

It was delicious. Mustard will do that to pretty much anything though.

Drizzled, dotted and dusted

I had the idea I was going to recreate the North African meal I had recently had in New York. Most notably I was aiming for the warm, pillowy, frena drizzled with olive oil and dotted with caramelized garlic, dusted with za’atar and pistachios. Frena is a Moroccan flat bread. This was not that.

It was not bad but it was not the pillowy, warm or, what I had in mind, pull-apart-able bread I’d had in New York. I cut this up. I put “pepper drops,” fresh dill, parsley and mint on it, as well as the olives, za’atar and caramelized garlic. So, you know, fine, possibly really good but not what I had imagined. Husoor made hummus which was perfect (sprinkled with sumac). And his colleagues did not complain. Not that they would have.

For dinner there were cherry tomatoes braised in garlic oil scattered with basil. Totally luscious. Served with the mechouia I’d made the day before, some vegan fricadelli that were supposed to be something along the lines of kofta (I purchased these) which I then cooked in tomato, pepper and garlic sauce, it worked. And smashed potatoes fried in garlic oil with cumin and caraway. They were amazing. No pix tho. I cannot be organized enough to accomplish that when I have to accomplish a meal at the same time.

Mechouia . . . . God bless you

African meal night. It’s been a long time since I first encountered mechouia, a North African “salad” and slightly less time since I made it. But I have always loved it and we’re entertaining and one of the guests is vegan. This seemed like as good a time as any to whip out my North African cooking skills. Me and Ottolenghi. Plus, I was having wistful memories of Shukette in New York.

It turns out that this is much easier to do on a grill outside rather than in a kitchen, and in (and on) a German stove that makes disquieting noises and delivers incomprehensible instructions (One assumes they are instructions anyway, they may be warnings or funny little comments on my cooking skills, but I doubt the latter, Germans are not funny, as far as I can tell.)

The recipe follows but it’s such a woo-ha that no one will ever do it. Well, Ottolenghi might.

This needs 24 hours to combobulate before we eat it.

Mm hm. Grill groß. Tell me about it.

Mechouia recipe

2 tsp coriander seeds

1.5 tsp caraway seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

Grind to a powder or just use already ground spices which is a lot less rigmarole

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne

1 tsp salt

Whisk all of this into 5+ TB olive oil 

Add 2 TB of this mix to a small pan on gentle-ish heat. 

Add 2-3 chopped garlic cloves (I use a press, I don’t care what the hell Julia Child says about it. I love her though, don’t get me wrong. I just don’ like her anti-press stance) 

Simmer or sauté until fragrant—5 mins—and then cool

1/4 cup each of chopped parsley, cilantro, basil or mint. Mint is more African and I have come to appreciate the virtues of mint over the years except in ice cream or most desserts.

Remove the uncooked 3 TB of spice-oil mix and paint:

1/2 medium eggplant cut top to bottom and score just the skin with a few exes.

2 unpeeled shallots

2 roma tomatoes cut in half lengthwise

2 peppers (red and green) 

1 zucchini

Grill the peppers first. Char skin side down and remove to a covered bowl to steam.

You can throw the shallots on with peppers or any of these, they just have to be charred.

Grill the eggplant cut side down first, then char the skin side. This may require moving it around

Grill the zucchini and then the tomatoes. (tomatoes cut side down then skin side down)

As the vegetables are grilling, take the remaining now-cooled 3 TBs of the spice mix, add 2 TB lemon juice and blend (in a blender or processor) with the chopped herbs. Then add 2 tsp lemon zest. This is the “vinaigrette.”

Once the vegetable are cooled and peeled, cut them into manageable chunks and toss with the “vinaigrette.”

Best to do all of this the day before so the flavors calm down and blend.

Good luck.

Extra crust

After the tomato pie I had more than a half of a recipe for crust leftover and went with a personal fave. Chicken and mushroom pot pie. Possibly not his favorite. I ended up eating all of the leftovers.

Workin’ on my Berlin physique.

Muffalatta tomato pie

The mister asked me to bring him a jar of muffuletta from good ol’ the USofA and I obliged despite its weight which was about half of the weight in my luggage. We made sandwiches which were amazing but later when I was making tomato tart for a dinner with his colleagues I slopped a couple three tablespoons of it onto the top and drizzled the oil over that. OMG. So good. This recipe, which follows, is so easy (aside from the making of the crust but you could use a purchased one depending on whether or not you could live with yourself afterward) and it’s an absolute crowd pleaser. His colleague Frau Vargas leaned towards her husband and said, “Lecker!” (Delicious in German). I love her.

While Glorioso spells it muffalatta, the real spelling is muffuletta. Before anyone jumps down my throat (you know who you are).

Tomato Tart

Preheat oven to 400

One pastry crust, just the bottom part.

Some sliced tomatoes, enough to cover a pie, thickly sliced

(Winter tomatoes are perfect for this, fortunately, though, these were summer tomatoes)

3 cups shredded cheese (about)

(I shred my own but you can use bagged cheese, it’s a lot easier, if less delicious and more not-ecological, just sayin’)

Dijon mustard or a mix of mayonnaise and mustard, or just whatever. Who cares? I don’t.

Basil chiffonade (pinky in the air emoji)

••••••• ••••••• •••••••

Put the crust in a tart pan, you can use a pie pan or anything that holds it although it won’t be as fussy fancy as one would like it to be.

Spread the raw crust liberally with mustard and/or mayonnaise.

(You can use sour cream, mayonnaise, oh hell, peanut butter for all I care)

Fill it with shredded cheese

(Swiss cheese is nice but anything works, a combination of cheeses is great, add some bleu cheese, would work for sure)

Cover with sliced tomatoes

A light sprinkling of parmesan works here, and muffuletta if you have it on hand, olives, onions, absolutely not anchovies, though.

Plop it the oven for 35-45 minutes until it looks browned.

Throw on some basil when you take it out of the oven, or not.

Let cool and slice up. Or just fold it on half and eat like a sandwich.

Semmelknödel

Today is What’s-his-name’s birthday and we went to lunch at the most absolutely charming German restaurant just a couple of blocks from his apartment. Joseph Roth Diele. It seems to be an artist and local worker hang out and every time I’ve been there the place is totally and completely packed by 12:10 but empty at 11:50, so we went a bit early.

I had the hard-roll dumpling with mushroom sauce. Semmelknodel. Semmels are hard rolls. and he had fried cheese and spätzle. Both outstanding.

Plus a lunch time beer. Getting wild here.

There were people waiting for a table when we left.

Side note. Every time I type semmel it autocorrects to Memmel which was my mother’s family name.

Clean plate club.

American food addendum

After my post yesterday my sister sent me this link to point out that there are good American foods. And yes, there are plenty of good American food stuffs.

The list of the 50 best (in their opinion) American foods features such things as Mac n Cheese.

Of course there are all sorts of delicious food that I love and actually do make. Key lime pie, (sadly relegated to #50 on this list), hamburgers, popcorn and potato chips, meatloaf, muffuletta sandwiches and pot roast.

And, God yes, apple pie.

Chicago style pizza, yes, please.

Nachos, ooh mama. Totally.

There are also some less than pride-inducing things like Twinkies, Frito-pie. Twinkies, which by the way, clock in at like #34. We’ve got beef jerky, tater tots, GORP and fortune cookies. While I would eat most of the things on the list I would not challenge some Portuguese guy with a peanut butter sandwich against a pastel de nata. Or a banana split vs crêpe suzettes. I mean would you challenge an Italian holding a plate of pasta (take your pick) with a hot dog?!?

Good luck with that.

American food

Last year I went to a store that sold only American food when I was looking for crackers and I was horrified at the realization that people think American food is all junk only to further realize when I tried to think of some American food that was not junk, that “American food” is precisely junk (aside from crackers and potato chips).

This year we were on a search for anchovies (I know, I know) in KaDeWe (Kah Day Vay) the super upscale department store that I love which has an amazing food court/store/department with a freaking awesome international food area and whilst prancing through it I happened upon this horror. Guess which country is responsible for this mess? I was so ashamed.

And we didn’t even find anchovies.

Shoyu

You may think that shoyu is soy sauce. It is not. In Korea, anyway, it is an alcoholic beverage, and I use the term “beverage” loosely. We went to a Korean restaurant (he’s on a Korean kick now, makes his own Kimchi—🙄).

He insisted on ordering a bottle of this and poured me a glass. I tasted it. Gah!!!!

Gave him my glass.

Side note, the eye roll emoji is my third most used emoji