Salad Days and Latkes

Finally, its actually hot enough to be called summer in Berlin! Along with the rising temperature comes late nights and lazy days in the park, and that feeling of not wanting to eat anything too hot or substantial. My latest solution is to make big salads filled with the delicious cherries appearing in Kaiser's. My first try was to combine them with field greens and chopped kohlrabi. (If you don't know what it is, don't be worried: I thought it was fennel and got a strange surprise when it tasted more like a broccoli stalk mixed with jicama.) Yesterday I made an awesome huge salad for S. and I to eat in the park, this one featured cherries, avocado, carrots, field greens, and thin sliced onions tossed in a apple-cider vinegar based dressing. Who knew avocados and cherries went so naturally together? (Oder, "togesser" if you want to sound like a German.)

And even though hot food is a bit of annoyance in this weather, dinner requires something a bit more substantial. And although latkes (or "potato pancakes") are kind of associated with Hannukah season, I figured they are cheap to make and could be at home alongside a salad in the summertime as a light dinner. Not only that, but when you are on a budget its always handy to have a lot of recipes involving potatoes and carrots. Latkes are a little extra effort but scrumptious any time of year.

Here is my basic "recipe," without strict measurements. I want to point out that I omit any real binder here other than flour, but if you've never made them before you might find this a bit tricky. (The traditional recipe uses a few eggs.) I've seen other recipes using cornstarch or egg replacer and I imagine this might be easier for beginners, but if you don't have those ingredients on hand this always works for me!

Potato Carrot Latkes*
1.) Peel 2 carrots and a few potatoes (3-4). Grate them into a bowl using a hand-held grater. Now here comes my innovation: use a potato ricer to squeeze all of the excess liquid out of the grated veggies. This works because they aren't cooked and won't go totally through the ricer, but the pressure is perfect for squeezing out all the juice without using 50 paper towels to do it by hand.
2.) Add to the squeezed and grated veggies a small onion, diced tiny, and an equally tiny diced garlic clove. Toss with liberal salt and pepper.
3.) Sprinkle a good bit of flour and a few dashes cornstarch over the veggies, and mix with your hands. Add in more flour as necessary to coat the entire bowl, not so much that you can see the flour, but enough that you can form a small handful of the mixture into a ball that stays pretty well together.
4.) In a skillet, heat equal parts oil and margarine over medium heat, enough that margarine sizzles but not until oil is smoking. (You can also test a small clump to see if its ready, like you might with pancakes.)
5.) Drop in smallish balls of the veggie mix (about 3 at a time is good) and flatten into a thick disk using a spatula. Cook on first side for about 4 minutes, then flip to cook on other side another 2-3. Each pancake should be crispy and browned, and the time varies from batch to batch so keep an eye on them.
6.) After each set, the oil and margarine should be used up, so clean out any loose browned bits and replace oil and margarine for each new batch. Keep finished latkes in the oven on low heat until ready to serve.
7.) Serve with soy sour cream and applesauce, if ya got it!

*Potatoes and carrots are just the beginning- you can also use sweet potatoes, apples, beets, zuchinni... yum!

Song of the day: Cursive- Hymns for the Heathen


Rhubarb Crumble and Caribbean Curry

Carnival of Culture in Berlin

I have been all over the place as of late! The end of school (at least, the attendance mandatory portion of it), moving and weddings have kept me incredibly busy. But there is always time for food, even if I've been doing more eating than cooking lately.

I recently moved back to Berlin, just in time for 3 great things: summer, THE WORLD CUP, and the Carnival of Culture! The first two are still kind of on their way, but the Carnival of Culture was a few weekends ago and it was awesome!

When it was described to me I was a little turned off- a few days of the different cultures of Berlin parading their unique aspects sounded a little colonial to me. But it was awesome! And it definitely wasn't just a situation where the Germanz just sat and watched. As dancers, clubs, children, and hula hoopers paraded by, it was clear that everyone was involved and having a great time. And the days preceding the big parade in Kreutzberg were filled with awesome food and lots of live music- from big professional performances to ad-hoc drummers circles and gatherings of singers and dancers around accordians and guitars. The food ranged from Moroccan tagine wraps and Mexican burritos to French Crepes and American funnel cake (ha!). Yet another example of the uniqueness and spirit of Berlin.

Also arriving in Berlin with the advent of summer: tons of fresh rhubarb! I've never made anything with the fruit before (which looks a lot like a hot pink celery stalk) but I decided to give it a shot for a simple desert, rhubarb and strawberry crumble.

The process was simple. I chopped up a bunch (maybe three whole) rhubarbs and a small carton of strawberries. Although there is some contention over whether or not to peel rhubarbs, I ended up doing it because upon chopping them, I noticed a tough, stringy outer layer that was easy to remove. The fruits were then tossed with the juice and zest of one lemon, about 1/2 cup of sugar, and a teaspoon arrowroot powder. I topped it with a mixture of margarine, sugar, flour, a teaspoon baking powder, and oats (+ a pinch of salt) and then cooked it at about 375 for maybe 40 minutes, or until it was browned on top. Couldn't have been simpler or more delicious. The rhubarb adds a great tartness to the super-sweet strawberries, and the whole concoction was just crying out for some vanilla or coconut ice cream on top.

I also made an awesome curry to test out this new Caribbean curry powder I found at bio market down the street. From what I can tell, the addition of star anise and mango powder is what made it more Caribbean than Indian. I intended to add in some plantains and scotch bonnets, but ended up making a milder curry using carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and smoked tofu. It was awesome, and a new chapter in my book "Trying to get S. to eat sweet potatoes in things other than latkes".

Now that I'm relatively settled (at least for the next month) I'm looking forward to more cooking with local specialties! And maybe coming up with some good snack foods for the World Cup!

Song of the Day: Scissor Sisters- I don't feel like dancing