Witch Sauce and Strange Things

The really lovely thing about being in a foreign country is that so many things seem mysterious which might, if you were at home, seem commonplace or even obnoxious. You glimpse strange things while walking by open doors, smell heady and unknown delicacies cooking, and hear live music playing from rooftops and basements... all of it seems to have some story that is more interesting by virtue of the fact that you don't understand it, aren't part of it. My downstairs neighbors' late-night fighting, for instance, takes on a romantic quality that causes me to speculate about their passionate french, rather than merely stomp on the floor like I probably would in the US. Similarly, the large, empty office buildings near my flat, tucked in the middle of residential neighborhoods, inspire my imagination with their dark names, "mercelis" or "syalin corp."... They sound like ancient gothic cults or obscure security organizations bent on global domination, but they probably produce antibacterial hand spray or water filters or some such thing.

At any rate, one of the biggest mysteries has been my cooking. Without proper measurements, essential ingredients, cookbooks, (and some would say common sense), I've been consistently making jaw-droppingly good meals for myself. Its truly uncanny.

Take the other evening. I decided to inaugurate the "oven" (ie, huge toaster-oven contraption with instructions ostensibly in hungarian) by merely roasting a sweet potato I was lucky enough to find. While waiting, I sliced up some ginger and shallots and contemplated a little sauce for the sweet potato... maybe with some coconut milk too? Cardamom? Hell, an apple... why not.... and while I sauntered in and out of the tiny kitchen (a feat readily accomplished in one step) I heard a strange sizzling sound, and some popping. It turns out, the "oven" gets incredibly hot, and all of the jars, plastic bags of spices, and fruits nearby were cracking, melting, and cooking. While I hollered and jumped up and down calmly removed the scalding items from their place and cleaned up the burst spices, the shallots caramelized and the coconut milk boiled down to a thick and creamy and ridiculously tasty sauce for my *perfectly cooked* sweet potatoes. What else to call a sauce that turns perfect when all hell is breaking loose, except "witch sauce?"

Tonight I made it again, more intentionally, and served it over some tempeh, carrots, pasta and sugar-snap peas. It was still suspiciously delicious. Here is the gist of the recipe, as usual without measurements, but you get the picture.

Witch Sauce Serve over roasted root veggies or as a light pasta sauce

In a small sauce/saute pan, heat a good glop of olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add in a sliced large shallot (or sub 1/2 an onion) and about 1" worth of peeled and chopped ginger. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until shallots have become soft and caramelized. In the meantime, chop 1/2 of an apple into small chunks. When shallots are ready, sprinkle pinches of any combination of the following: black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, curry powder. Cook a moment longer, then add in apples. Stir, then add in 1/2 a can of coconut milk and a dash of hot pepper sauce (if you want) and turn the heat up to high. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, then let simmer a few more minutes until sauce has thickened. Serve over whatever, but it seems to like orange vegetables.

There is something very satisfying about knowing that no matter how confused and alert I am, when making this sauce tonight there was probably someone walking by on my little street, smelling my bizarre and delicious sauce, hearing my weird music, and wondering what on earth was going on behind the curtains...

Song of the Day: St. Vincent- The Strangers

*PS- Sadly, I guess I'm not doing VeganMoFo. My internet, like everything else in BRXL, operates in a fashion that is beyond my earthly control or understanding, and precludes regular posting. But on those occasions when it is working I'll love catching up on everyone else's month, and can't wait to do it next year. :)*


Mihl said...

Wow, your new life seems like a real adventure! Sorry about that mean oven but that meal looks wonderful.

Briana said...

Witch sauce sounds delectable, but my favorite part of your post was that adorable young balcony observer.

I keep telling my kids about your car-free experience--I have found a way to work it into every class. Love and miss you--keep the Brussels info coming!

The Voracious Vegan said...

Fabulous post! And FABULOUS food, thanks for the idea for that sauce, it sounds amazing.

michelle said...

Witch Sauce sounds amazing!

Anonymous said...

ur blog is turning into a mini book these days; It is truly entertaining and I love hearing about Belgium and the mystery it brings
Soon I would hear u changed career paths and turn into this european based vegan chef

jessy said...

i love your outlook, T – we think a lot alike. i’ve gotta agree that so many things (especially the unfamiliar) can be so mysterious – and i love that they take on their own stories. hooray for creating a little mystery of your own! imagination and curiosity seem to fade out as we get older, and i always love trying to reel a little back in. so awesome on so many gloriously good meals! that’s crazy that the herbs & spices got the heat from the toaster oven – wow, that’s super hot! accidentally caramelized shallots with some tasty apple, sweet potato, cardamom and coconut milk sounds like one excellent combination (and it looks fantastic)! i cannot wait to try out your witch sauce!

Debra said...

It looks so good. the sauce sounds very good. .

Bliss Doubt said...

Good heavens, should I worry that the electrics in your flat don't support that new hungarian oven? We don't want culture SHOCK to have a literal translation.

Anonymous said...

Wow it sounds great! I love when kitchen disasters turn around for the best, and you are totally right on with romanticizing other cultures. I do that all the time thinking things like "wow look at that family eating together at dinner time" and, um, we do that too.