Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Summertime Zucchini (Courgette) and Herb Kuku

A Kuku (also called Arab Eggah) is the Middle Eastern answer to an Italian frittata. It is thick and fluffy and this one is filled with onions, scallions, garlic, softened batons of zucchini and yellow summer squash, chunks of feta, and heaps of fresh dill and Italian (flat leaf) parsley.

It gets its very agreeable savory flavor from the onions and the addition of sliced scallions and its gorgeous golden color from turmeric. As I noted in the recipe below, if the taste of tumeric isn't your thing, feel free to use saffron instead. And if zucchini aren't available, you can easily use three medium eggplants (aubergines) instead.

Kuku tastes equally good served warm or at room temperature, topped with a little yogurt or crème fraîche. It also makes perfect summertime picnic fare. You can cut it into fingers, squares or pie slices. You can bake it in a springform pan (which is what I like to do for ease of un-molding) but you can also bake it in a cast iron skillet, or your favorite pie dish and bring the whole thing to a party. Easy. Uncomplicated. Utterly delicious.

Summertime Zucchini (Courgette) and Herb Kuku 
(recipe inspired by Little Book of Jewish Appetizers, by Leah Koenig)

  • vegetable oil (I like to use sunflower or olive oil suitable for cooking)
  • 2 onions, (M), halved and thinly sliced
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 zucchinis (courgettes), 250g (about ½ pound), cut into batons ( 2.5cm or 1in) - you might want to use a mix of green, white and yellow zucchini/summer squash or use only one color)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 7 eggs (L), free-range or organic (eggs marked 'L' in Germany weigh between 63g and 73g each)
  • 2 tbsp AP (plain) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ a bunch (½ cup) chopped fresh, Italian (flat leaf) parsley
  • ½ a bunch (½ cup) chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric (if tumeric isn't your thing, you can use 1½ tsp saffron strands, dissolved in 1 tbsp of hot water)
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 200g (1½ cup) crumbled feta (I used locally produced goat's cheese)

  1. Brush a 23 cm (9inch) springform cake pan with vegetable oil. 
  2. Line the pan with baking parchment - cut out a circle of parchment for the bottom and a long strip to wrap around the sides, then brush the parchment with oil. Set aside. 
  3. Heat some oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add onions, season with a little salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the zucchini and squash batons and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until zucchini softens and browns in spots, 8 to10 minutes. At the end of the cooking time add the sliced scallions and chopped garlic and sauté for a further 1 to 2 minutes, just until the garlic is fragrant and the scallions are translucent. Set aside to cool slightly.
  5. Preheat the oven to 190°C  (375°F) degrees.
  6. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, baking powder, parsley, dill, oregano, garlic, turmeric, red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon salt, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.
  7. Fold in the zucchini mixture and feta.
  8. Pour into the prepared baking pan and bake until golden brown and cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes.
  9. Set aside to cool on a rack for about 15 minutes. 
  10. Carefully remove the sides of your springform pan and slice into wedges or squares.
  11. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Kukus are traditionally made on the stovetop, but this oven version is much easier. A fresh herb kuku such as this one is a traditional New Year's dish in Iran. The green herbs symbolize rebirth, and the eggs, fertility and happiness for the year to come. But we like this in summertime, as a light lunch or appetizer - if time permits, I serve this with a lovely side of Fattoush or Tabbouleh salad.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Eggplant (Aubergine) Schnitzel with Chive Yogurt Dip

Deep burgundy, summer eggplant (aka aubergine) slices pair wonderfully with chive yogurt in this fun and flavorful vegetarian dish. If you follow the recipe, you will be rewarded with slices that are crispy on the outside and delightfully soft on the inside. A lot of recipes for fried eggplant slices call for herbs to be added to the breading mixture, I opted to add herbs/chives to my yogurt dip instead. Other recipes ask for Parmigiano Reggiano to be added to the breadcrumbs, I opted for white and black sesame seeds as well as Za'atar, a the Middle Eastern spice mixture. If you are unable to get Za'atar at a store or online, you can prepare the mix yourself, I included the recipe in this post.

Personally, I like to serve these Eggplant Schnitzel as a seasonal summer appetizer or side dish. But they are also delicious in a bun (think veggie burger here, maybe with some avocado slices on top), on a salad, or on their own for a light lunch or dinner.

And they are much easier to make than you might think if you remember one important detail: first you fry, then you bake. So, once you have fried the eggplant slices in your pan to golden deliciousness, place them on kitchen paper to get rid of some of the excess oil and THEN place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in a hot oven for a good 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how thick your slices are - until delightfully soft and silky on the inside. Voilà.

Eggplant (Aubergine) Schnitzel with Chive Yogurt Dip

Ingredients for the Chive Yogurt Dip
  • 200g (7oz) plain Greek yogurt (I used regular Greek yoghurt)
  • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • chives (I like to use chives here but pls feel free to use other soft herbs that you might have on hand, dill is amazing here as well), make sure to keep some chives/herbes for the topping
  • olive oil (about 2 to 3 tbsps, to taste)
  • large pinch of sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for the Eggplant Schnitzel
  • 100g (3½oz) plain (AP) flour
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 to 3 eggs (M), free range or organic
  • 150g (5 ½oz) breadcrumbs (it is best to use homemade breadcrumbs here)
  • about 1 tbsp Za’atar (NOTE: depending on the brand of Za’atar you use, this might vary, you might want to use less or more here)
  • 2 tbsps black and white sesame seeds
  • 2 eggplants (aubergines), washed, dried well and cut crosswise into 1.5 to 2cm (0.6 to 0.8in) thick slices
  • vegetable oil, for shallow frying
  • sea salt for sprinkling the finished eggplant slices (optional)

Ingredients for the Za'ater Spice Mixture

  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp sumac
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp white sesame seeds
  • fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  1. To make the Za'atar (if making): combine all the ingredients and keep in a spice jar. Any leftovers are fabulous if added to olive oil for a terrific dip.
  2. To make the yogurt dip: in a medium bowl add the yogurt and combine with the remaining yogurt ingredients. Place in the fridge while preparing and cooking the eggplant slices.
  3. Preheat oven to 200°C (395°F).
  4. For the eggplant schnitzel: mix the flour, pepper and salt in a medium bowl. In a second bowl beat the eggs. In a third bowl mix the breadcrumbs, Za’atar and the sesame seeds.
  5. Dip the epplant slices in the four mixture and shake off the excess. Then dip into the egg and shake off any drips and finally coat in the breadcrumb mixture. Set aside but do not place in the fridge.
  6. Heat 3cm of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
  7. Cook the eggplant slices, in batches, turning halfway, for 4 to 6 minutes or until golden.
  8. Place on a large, parchment lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender.
  9. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
  10. Take the yogurt dip out of the fridge, taset for seasoning and if need be, add more pepper and salt. Finish with a drizzle of good quality olive oil, additional chopped herbs/chives.
  11. Just before serving, sprinkle the slightly cooled eggplant slices with your favorite coarse sea salt (optional) and serve with the chive yogurt. NOTE: serves about 4.

If you have herbs growing in your garden, like red or white bush basil, sage, rosemary etc. pick a few herb blossoms and add them to your dip as this adds another delightful flavor component and looks very pretty if you ask me.

And remember these are equally delicious served piping hot, fresh out of the oven or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Impressions from my Visit to the Artisans Market in Alt-Kaster, Bedburg (Germany) "Ricarda-Markt"

Following are a few impressions from my visit to the Artisans Market in Alt-Kaster, Bedburg, Germany, called the "Ricarda-Markt" (Ricarda Market).

The Ricarda Market is a market that takes place every year, on the first weekend of July in Alt-Kaster (Old Kaster) a district of the town of Bedburg in the Rhineland area, a beautiful and peaceful location, not far from the cities of Cologne, Duesseldorf and Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle). Alt-Kaster is known for its well preserved historic townscape which serves as a perfect backdrop to the offerings of the yearly market that combine arts and crafts as well as culinary delights.

In the historic old town, there were about 110 exhibitors and artisans that showed and sold their creations. Woodwork, jewelry, clothing, fine art, leather, body care products, and much more were on display. Vintage, new and unusual things could be discovered. There were craftsmen like brush makers, milliners, and carpenters. You could also enjoy coffee, cakes and savory treats like potato pancakes and other regional specialties. And some of the residents of Alt-Kaster even invited you into their homes and gardens. A very worthwhile visit.

The name of the Ricarda Market has a historical reference. In the 13th century, the Countess Ricarda made the case for the reconstruction of the Kaster Castle after it had been destroyed as a result of a feude with the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne. Emperor Rudolf von Habsburg granted the reconstruction of the castle. To celebrate the completion of the castle, a market was held. And today, the annual market is meant as a reminder of that historical event. A lovely story.

You enter the Ricarda Market through the historic town gate...

For for information about the Ricarda Market, you can go (here)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Roasted Tomato Soup & Pita (Turkish) Bread

This subtly spiced Roasted Tomato Soup recipe is at its most delicious made in summertime when tomatoes are at their best. To further intensify the flavor of the soup, it is a good idea to take the time to roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet together with red onions, garlic and thyme before cooking the tomatoes further with some stock. That way, you get all the ingredients cooked down and caramelized before you simmer them with your stock and then purée them.

As far as the stock is concerned, either go vegetarian and use a vegetable stock or use chicken stock here. If you can, use a homemade one or chose a good quality storebought stock. If you use homemade, you might have to add a bit more salt in the end as homemade stocks tend to be less salty than the ones you buy ready made.

It is also worth noting that adding roasted red onions will add a very nice touch of sweetness here while the chili flakes add a bit of brightness and punch. Summer in a bowl.

Roasted Tomato Soup

Ingredients for the Roasted Tomatoes
  • 10 to 12 ripe plum (or use regular) tomatoes, halved widthways – if you use regular tomatoes, they will excude more liquid while roasting, making the soup a bit less concentrated
  • 2 red onions, peeled, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper and some chili flakes (optional)
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, plus more for thinning

  1. For the roasted tomatoes, preheat your oven to 220°C (450°F) degrees.
  2. In a large bowl toss together the tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili flakes (if using) and olive oil. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Then arrange the vegetables in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (roasting tray), arrange the thyme sprigs amongst the veggies and bake until most tomatoes and onions are wrinkled and brown in spots, about 35 to 40 minutes. NOTE: it does not matter if the baking sheet is crowded.
  4. Lift the baking sheet from your oven, rest on a cooling rack and remove the thyme sprigs.
  5. Carefully transfer the cooked vegetables including all the pan juices to a large dutch oven or heavy pot.
  6. Add stock (homemade if you have some) and bring to a rapid boil. Then turn down the heat and continue to cook, uncovered, until slightly reduced and the tomatoes are really soft, about 25 minutes.
  7. Puree until smooth – I like to use an immersion blender here - (use caution when blending hot liquids).
  8. Season with salt and pepper and if necessary thin with additional stock.
  9. To serve, ladle the soup into serving bowls.
  10. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh basil leaves or some avocado (diced, mixed with freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, freshly ground black pepper, olive oil and some julienned soft herbs).

Pita Bread

Ingredients for the Pita Bread
  • 500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 350ml tepid water
  • 30g fresh yeast (or use 14g instant yeast instead)
  • 2 tsps sugar
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 egg (M), free range or organic
  • 4 tbsps white sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp nigella seeds or black onion seeds

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt.
  2. Add 350ml lukewarm water and the crumbled yeast to a small bowl, stir until the yeast has dissolved.
  3. Add the yeast-water mixture and 2 tablespoons of oil to the flour mixture. Mix until you have a very sticky, soft dough. Place the dough into a large, clean, oiled bowl. Cover with food wrap and then a tea towel and leave to prove until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.
  4. When the dough has doubled in size, tip it out onto your work surface dusted generously with flour. Knead by hand for about 5 minutes. The dough will be wet in the beginning but will form a smooth dough once kneaded.
  5. Place the dough into a large, clean, oiled bowl. again. Cover with food wrap and then a tea towel and leave to prove until doubled in size, about another 40 minutes.
  6. Split the dough into two equally sized balls. Roll each ball into an round shape about 25 cm (9.8 in) diameter. Cover loosely with your tea towel.
  7. Preheat your oven to 250° C (475° F) regular or 220°C (430 °F) convection and place a clean baking sheet (or use baking stone) on the middle shelf.
  8. In a small bowl mix together the egg, with the remaining sugar (1 tsps) and oil (1 tbsp).
  9. Remove the hot sheet from the oven, dust with flour and place the pita bread on it. (You will have to bake them one after the other, keep the other one covered while baking the first one).
  10. Just before baking them off, brush with beaten egg mixture plus sprinkle with sesame and nigella seeds.
  11. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden. NOTE: after 5 minutes of baking time, pour a bit of cold water into the hot oven (to raise humidity) and close the oven immediately.
  12. Once baked and golden, remove them from the oven and cover with a clean cloth until they are cool.

This velvety soup makes for a simple and elegant meal. Enjoy as is, make ahead, freeze some or chill it and serve it cold – and if you feel up to it, make some Pita Bread to serve alongside.