Comfort Cooking: Vegan Pierogies

Potato Pierogies w/ Caramelized Onions and Soy Yogurt
In times of crises one tends to reach for fatty, salty or sugary foods that will numb the palate and provide a few minutes of distraction in shoveling and chewing. Often these foods come in a box. Not even I (haha) am immune to the appeal of sugary cereal, ice cream, frozen pizza...

But when eating vegan its not always easy to find your favorite comfort food in the frozen aisle. (Well, at least not in Europe.) Leaving the options open to either gorging on instant spaghetti, ramen, and cereal, or getting up, dammit, and making something yourself. 

I suggest the latter. Make something needlessly complicated and take a luxuriously long time making it right. Not only will it cheer you up and distract you, but it will probably make it easier for you to make it faster another time. (Practice makes perfect!) Not to mention you might bring some happiness to those around you (not your responsibility when you're bummed out, but a nice perk.)

Take pierogies. You can be in a rush to make these and stress yourself out for a dinner party, or you can start a little Scandal marathon on a bad day and slowly and carefully construct these little pockets of salty, fatty, vegan goodness. Try Isa Chandra Moskowitz's recipe or my version outlined below, and then experiment yourself with fillings and sides... sauerkraut, applesauce, soy sour cream, fried mushrooms, ect.

Far, far superior to Captain Crunch.

Vegan Pierogies (makes about 30)
*This recipe is roughly what I make for my two-person household. You'll definitely want to double everything if you are making for a crowd, but I recommend giving them a shot first in a smaller batch to get the hang of it.

Mashed Potato Filling (or use leftovers, if you have some)
4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
Soy Milk
Salt and Pepper

Caramelized Onions
One gigantic sweet onion, or 3-4 smaller onions
Canola oil

1 C. Warm Water
1.5 Tbsp. Oil
2- 2.5 C. Flour, plus extra for sprinkling

1. Make mashed potatoes. My way is thusly: boil some cut up potatoes, drain when you can pierce them with a fork, and mash to hell with some plain soymilk, salt and pepper, and margarine to taste. There's no reason you can't use any way you like to make them, though, as you'll probably have leftovers. Once potatoes are mashed, remove from pot and store in a bowl in the fridge to cool.

2. While potatoes are cooking, you can get started on the caramelized onions. Cut up a giant sweet onion or use a few- either way you want about 3 cups of onion slices, because they are going to shrink big time. In a medium pan (preferably cast iron), heat a few glugs (like 1/3 a cup, at least) of canola oil over medium heat. Add your onions and a pinch of salt, coat with the oil, and lower to lowest heat setting. They will cook down slowly over about 45 minutes, during which time you must simply stir them and eat ones that get too burnt.

3. The dough is the part that takes the most getting the hang of. The first step is to add the warm water and oil in a bowl and swish together with a fork. Slowly add about two cups of flour and a pinch of salt and try to gather into a loose dough, adding more flour if necessary. Once the dough is just non-sticky enough to handle and knead, remove from bowl and knead for about 5-10 minutes. The consistency you are going for is smooth and elastic, or as a Polish acquaintance once told me, "ear-lobe consistency." Once its there, you can put the dough in the fridge to chill until your other ingredients are done. 

4. Once everything is ready, put a large pot on to boil, filled 2/3 of the way with salted water. While this is reaching a rolling boil, spread out 1/2 of the dough on a floured surface and roll out (flipping occasionally) until very thin but not transparent. Using a large glass, cut out circles of the dough (use a knife to get them off the surface if they are sticking.) Repeat with leftover dough until you are through.

For each dumpling, cup the circle in your hand, add in a small amount (2 tsp. or so) of mashed potatoes, and gently fold and pinch the circle together to seal into half moons. You want enough filling to make it bulge but not break. As you complete each one you can toss it into the boiling water- when they bob up to the surface, they are done. 

Keep finished pierogies in a bowl or plate and drizzle occasionally with oil so they don't stick together too much. You can also fry them for a few minutes in oil or margarine for a crunchier version.

Serve with plenty of onions and a schmear of soy yogurt, sour cream, or apple sauce.

Song of the Day: Neko Case- Bracing for Sunday


Mac and Cheese w/ Rainbow Chard and Sweet Potatoes

Maybe one day I will write a cookbook called "Just Add Sweet Potatoes!". Its kind of becoming my thing- I mean, I've done it with Gnocchi, Enchiladas, Chile...and now with Mac & Cheese. Its no big deal guys... this is just the form that my genius takes, finding things in which to insert sweet potatoes. That, and explaining American TV shows to my husband in a way that makes him think I am psychic. ("How did you know that Walt poisoned the Stevia?!?")

For this delicious combo, I made the classic (if fatty) mac & cheese from Vegan Yum Yum that I always make and threw in a little wilted swiss chard and sweet potatoes for good measure. Consider it my own simple (and late) contribution to Vegan Mofo's mac and cheese mania.

Mac  & Cheese with Rainbow Chard and Sweet Potatoes

Vegan Yum Yum Cheese Sauce (or your own favorite, such as Isa's)
3 C. pasta
2 C. Rainbow chard, sliced into thin ribbons
1 Sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
Paprika and Chile powder

1. Preheat oven to 400F (200 C) and line a bake sheet with baking paper. Set a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
2. In a bowl, toss sweet potato cubes with a drizzle of oil, and a pinch of paprika and chile powder (optional for those who like the spicies.) Add to the oven and cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.
3. Once the pot of water is boiling, add in the pasta. Make the cheese sauce according to Miss Yum Yum's instructions, and set aside.
4. Once pasta is finished cooking, drain it, reserving a tablespoon or so of hot water and leaving it in the cooking pot. Add the chopped chard in, stir, and cover pot, leaving for about 5 minutes.
5. Finally, add cheese sauce to pasta and chard, tossing to coat. Add in sweet potato cubes.
Enjoy, topped with plenty of ground black pepper.

Speaking of Germans and Vegan Mofo, I would like to point out two other noteworthy things: first, Spiegel (who I sometimes love-hate but mostly hate-hate) has an article discussing Vegan Food at Oktoberfest and other changes to the Bavarian yearly festival. It features the following amazingly German quote: "It's crazy at times, says Peter Hartwich, head of the Wiesn police station, "because people no longer recognize any social limits to their efforts at self-realization." Second, Seitan Beats Your Meat had a Mad Men theme this month, surely one of the greatest Vegan Mofo themes of all time, and also an excellent excuse to reprint the image below.

"I'll show you vegan," says Betty
Song of the day- The Julie Ruin- Girls Like Us


Pumpkin Chili and White Sage Whip

Pumpkin Chipotle Chili with polenta, yogurt and roasted pumpkin seeds
It comes as no surprise that different cultures have different ideas of what is healthy. In the Balkans, people think strong coffee several times daily is good for the digestion. Turks sprinkle fresh parsley on everything and drink herb teas but are generous with the oil and dairy. And in Germany, many people chain smoke continuously but make sure to buy certified organic produce. I've realized that my specialized quirk as an American is that I think pretty much everything is unhealthy except for vegetables. 

Not that I don't eat sugar, flour, caffeine, alcohol, etc, its just that I make sure to feel guilty while I consume them, like a good American.  Which is pretty much the opposite of my husband, who thinks that everything is healthy except for McDonalds and any form of medicine. (Just trying to get this man to take an aspirin generally leads to a rant about American pharma ending in "pills instead of feelings!")

So when we decided to both try to start eating healthier, I knew this was going to be a piece of cake. Everything I eat is already not a cheeseburger so it should be easy to satisfy his demands. To satisfy his desire for healthy lunch type stuff, we've been cranking out various types of aufstrich- aka, spreads. This white bean, sage, and roasted almond spread ("White Sage Whip"from Hot Knives fit the bill awesomely and is just decadent enough to glam up brown bread and veggies.

As for dinner, my traditional Chili packed with beans and pumpkin and spiked with chocolate, beer and chipotle goes awesomely with (healthy!) polenta and soy yogurt. Its not exactly rabbit food, but neither is it a cheeseburger. (You can find various approximate recipes here and here.)

Hot Knives' White Sage Whip
Song of the Day: Arcade Fire- Reflektor


Resisting Fall

Its truly amazing how the weather in Berlin takes seasons so literally. There doesn't seem to be such a thing as Indian summer here. When summer is over, the sun disappears, people pull out their coats, and the leaves change colors with frightening rapidity. Its hard to remember that just a few weeks ago I was making excuses for not swimming nude in a lake. (Germans love that shit.) Nope, summer is brief and departs suddenly...

And yet, I'm not really ready to start eating (or for that matter, preparing) stews and casseroles again. I'm still in the mood for light and healthy(ish) dinners that make my husband complain. So I've ventured into some roasted vegetables and pumpkins, but haven't fully jumped into Fall yet. Above is a perfect example: a roasted vegetable salad with orange dressing. I simply roasted some beets, pumpkin and mushrooms, then whipped up a dressing of orange juice, agave nectar and white wine vinegar (+salt and pepper and olive oil) to drizzle all over. Perfectly delicious and still not wintry.

Then the other day I had this lovely meal- roasted beets with pumpkin seeds, sauteed spinach with garlic, sesame rice and sliced Asian pear.

Not exactly hearty fare, but then, I have plenty of months for that. #WinterIsComing, folks...

Song of the day: Fiona Apple- Dull Tool


Amsterdam is for lovers!

Greetings! I'm back from a hiatus forced by a circumstantial triumvirate of lost camera, lost appetite, and Berliner work hijinx. Now that the summertime is almost over I will return from my hideaways on instagram and twitter and resume my occasional posting of vegan food experiments and discoveries from wherever I happen to be posted in Europe. This week? Amsterdam!

Literally every time you tell someone you live in Europe the first thing they want to know is whether you've been to Amsterdam (or more specifically, smoked pot in Amsterdam.) Not being particularly into a) drugs or b) hordes of stoned tourists, I was never really keen to visit the city, despite reports that it is "soooo cute!" So when we got invited there for the wedding of two friends, I was looking forward but did not hold out high hopes for falling in love with the city.

But I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong. Amsterdam is awesome! And compared to Berlin I don't even think the drug/ tourist/ party equation is a major part of the appeal. What's far more compelling is the fact that the city is entirely navigable by bike and is filled with water, gardens, and parks- meaning you don't have to spend your time in one small "tourist district" to enjoy the sights. Amsterdam's charms are well distributed.

It didn't hurt that we had absolutely gorgeous weather while we were there. Amsterdam is probably best seen meandering through narrow streets on a rented bike (recycled rentals is central and boasts the cheapest rentals in town at 5 euros a day). Along the way your are fairly sure to find a good place to drink beer, listen to live music, or lie around in the park- and repeating these 3 activities in between meals is as good a way to spend a vacation as I can think of. Maybe punctuated with a visit to the recently reopened Rijksmuseum to check out the Dutch masters, or to Anne Frank's home for a chilling but fascinating historical tour.

When it comes time to eat there is plenty of your average European cafe fare to choose from, but a shady colonial past has also left Amsterdam with a lust for exotic tastes not often seen in European street food. Nasi goreng, Roti, curries, tempeh, plantains, cous-cous peanut sauce... the Dutch have been all over, and brought the food back to prove it. I was treated to a super-cheap platter of flaky roti with potatoes and green beans in "gravy" and crispy savory tempeh at one tiny restaurant- with a side of fried plantains and coconut juice. That would be tough to find in Berlin for sure, and here I saw plenty of restaurants with similar offerings (just double check if vegetarian = vegan.) Another evening in up-and-coming neighborhood De Pijp we had a huge meal of Moroccan and Middle Eastern specialties at Bazar, a huge restaurant filling an ex-synagogue. We stuffed ourselves with huge platters of dolmades, hummus, baba ganoush and grilled veggies with cous-cous. Who would have thought the Dutch, famous for questionable deep-fried meat products, would have such an array of vegan and vegetarian specialties to sample?

Another cool place we checked out was Moeders restaurant.This is definitely less vegan friendly (although its right around the corner from where a brand new Vegetarian Butcher(?) will open) but its so cute that it might be worth a visit if your with a mixed-menu crowd. The restaurant's theme- Mothers- is carried through its decor, which consists of hundreds of photographs of people's moms. The menu is also organized by different price levels of homey Dutch classics, which tend towards the meat-oriented but have a sprinkling of vegan and vegetarian offerings. I had a delish salad with pumpkin, figs, and an orange scented dressing that was to die for while my man dined on excellent versions of Dutch home-cooking.(Including the famous Hutspot!)

All in all I was pleasantly surprised to find my preconceptions of Amsterdam dashed to pieces. The city is perfect for a romantic getaway filled with exotic eats and homey, relaxing scenery. And oh yeah, if you wanna get high I'm sure you can arrange that too. :)

PS- Oh yeah, its VEGAN MOFO! I'm not participating this time around, but I will be following along at home. Check it out--->http://www.veganmofo.com/


Vegan Kibbeh Pie

Kibbeh is a wonderful dish of Lebanese origin that is popular throughout the Arab world. It combines bulgar, lamb or other meat with spices, and a luscious tahini dipping sauce or spread. Kibbeh pie is a non-traditional variation of this classic which combines the main ingredients in layers, a bit like a cake. According to my-secret-Jerusalemi-lover-man Yottam Ottolenghi, this is his spin on a popular dish on his hometown.

As I'm still working my way through the wonderful (*though not vegan) cookbook Jerusalem, this dish caught my eye as something that could be easily veganized- crumbled meat is one of the easiest things to approximate in vegetarian cooking, either through crumbled tempeh, soy curls, lentils, or vegan sausages. I used a sub from my local bio markt, some kind of tiny soy nugget that is often used for vegan bolognese sauce.

I haven't made this totally perfect yet- I think next time I'll use a mixture of faux meat and mushrooms to add a bit more flavor to the middle layer. When I have it totally perfected I'll post the full recipe, but for now let me give you a walk-through that could be easily replicated at home:

Layer 1: Circa 1 c. of prepared bulgar, mixed with a drizzle of olive oil, and a tablespoon or so of flour. You press this mixture into the bottom of a pan as if you were making a crust.

Layer 2: Your faux meat of choice browned on the stovetop with onions, garlic, and pine nuts, seasoned with a few pinches cinnamon, allspice, cumin and salt+pepper.

Layer 3: A thick, creamy tahini sauce that's merely tahini plus some lemon and a bit of water to make it pourable.

You cook the first two layers in the oven at around 375F until good and browned, then add the tahini sauce on top and cook again for another 10 minutes, until its starting to brown in some places. Top with parsley, sumac, and more pine nuts if ya got 'em. Serve with lemon slices.

This casserole would be a perfect thing to set out at a potluck or casual dinner party with a big fattoush salad on the side. As it is, it makes an easy and hearty dinner dish that is exotic yet homey.

Conveniently, you can watch Yottam Ottolenghi make his version in a video here.

Song of the Day: Shostakovitch- Waltz No. 2


Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Green Goddess Sauce and Quick-Pickled Carrots

Last week my little brother was in town from the USA and we had an incredibly fun and ridiculously debaucherous time with him and a pair of his hilarious friends. Not being used to the many party-friendly novelties of Berlin (you can drink on the street! bars never close! everything great is walking distance!) they made it their mission to stay up all night every night and take it all in. I managed to avoid the craziness for a few nights but by the weekend I was in too, and I think I'll be recovering for some time. (Also from the heartbreak of suddenly having to go cold-turkey off of American-boy humor, which I apparently have really been missing.)

So for dinner after they left I decided to make something with a lot of raw garlic and green stuff to stave off oncoming infections surely flooding my weakened immune system. The perfect thing? Green Goddess dressing from Appetite for Reduction, a garlicky, tahini-laced herb dressing with tons of punch. Instead of serving it on a salad like normal however, I opted for some comfort food (to soothe my empty-nest syndrome). What better than some toothsome gnocchi? I boiled a couple of potatoes, set on the window sill to cool off, then put them through a potato ricer and kneaded the resulting mash with flour until it was easy to form little dumplings. Then I pan fried it in some olive oil and margarine. For a final kick, I peeled a carrot and quick pickled it in a bit of vinegar and sugar in the fridge.

Two parts raw, one part cooked, and extremely vibrant and delicious. I can think of many variations on this theme...

Another bright and delicious weeknight meal that incorporates a raw dressing? Another rendition of the sweet potato, tahini and onion dish from Jerusalem, served alongside some kale with garlic, diced red peppers, and a dollop of pomegranate molasses.  
Man I should eat like this every night! But then, what would I tell the veggie dogs in my fridge...?

Song of the Day: Paolo Conto- Sparring Partner


Spargelzeit! (My way)

Not to be a bad German or anything, but I just cannot get behind the sudden enthusiasm this country whips up for white asparagus this time of year. I guess its exciting because its a local vegetable, unlike the imported mealy tomatoes and sad waxy peppers of winter, but just because its ours doesn't mean its awesome.

No, true to my American roots, I like my asparagus green and skinny. As though it has been exposed to sunlight and gone through the process of photosynthesis. Something about covering white, stalky "Spargel" with white, creamy Hollaindaise sauce just does not scream "Spring" to me.

I think a real Spring dish exploits the first greens and pumps it up with some citrus and those wintry standbys, onions and garlic. Something like this simple, weeknight Lemon-Asparagus Risotto. Or an asapargus sautee with tons of lemon and red peppers and tofu. You get the picture. And as for Spargelzeit, I'll jump on the next German food bandwagon... lets say rhubarb-zeit or mirabellen zeit.


Asparagus-Lemon Risotto

1 Quart of your favorite vegetable broth method
1 Tbsp. Olive oil + 1 tsp. vegan margarine
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 C. Arborio Rice
1 Glass decent white wine
A fistful of Asparagus, trimmed and cut into quarters
Salt, pepper, Thyme
Juice and zest from one lemon

1.) Heat several cups of your vegetable broth (or water + bouillon) and put on the backburner.
2.) In a large pot, heat olive oil and margarine over medium heat. When sizzling, add in onions. After 1-2 minutes, add in garlic. Stir and cook for about 4 minutes or until translucent.
3.) While this business is getting underway, heat another frying pan with a drizzle of oil on medium heat. When hot, add in your asparagus and a pinch of thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches your desired state of "done-ness". (I like them a bit undercooked and crunchy, but to each her own.) Finish off with a dash of salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon and remove from heat.
4.) Once onion and garlic are ready add in your rice and stir so that it gets coated with oil and butter, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes, and then add in your glass of wine. Stir slowly, until wine has been absorbed.
5.) Now comes the "spoon and stir" portion of risotto for which it is famous. Ladle a spoonful of warm broth into your pot. Stir slowly until it has been absorbed by rice. Repeat this until mixture has significantly increased in size and rice is cooked through. (If you run out of broth, you can use water, no one will know.)
6.) At the end, when rice is fully cooked, stir in your asparagus mixture, lemon zest, and squeeze the rest of the lemon juice on in. Turn off the heat and cover and let sit for five minutes, then taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve with crusty bread, baked tomatoes, or whatever else strikes your fancy.


Song of the Day: David Bowie- Modern Love


The Incredible, Edible Eggplant

Still on a big Jerusalem kick over here, skipping happily over to the big Turkish market nearby to pick up bulgar, sumac, pomegranate molasses and more ingredients necessary for lovely middle-eastern meals. According to the book, "stuffed" veggies are huge in the city, and from my own knowledge of Jewish cooking I can see how this is the perfect melding of Ashkenazi traditions and Middle Eastern/ Mediterranean traditions. Stuffing veggies makes the most of scarce ingredients and also presents beautifully. Just look at these stuffed eggplants! Gorgeous!

In this recipe, a simple bulgar salad with plenty of fresh herbs and spices is spooned into an eggplant that has been cut in half and smeared with a heady Moroccan-style mixture of preserved lemon, garlic, and plenty of olive oil before broiling. On top is soy yogurt that I thickened a bit by letting sit in a cheesecloth over a colander for a few hours. (Its more like Greek yogurt this way, although I understand in the US "Greek-style" soy yogurt is now available in a lot of grocery stores.) This recipe is also super versatile. For my bulgar salad I soaked the bulgar in boiling water for about five minutes until it was "cooked" and then mixed it with a squeeze of harissa, a drizzle of pomegranate molases, and plenty of chopped mint and raisins. You could also use red pepper paste or tomato paste, some chopped green onions or finely chopped onion, or cilantro if you have them on hand. I think the spices on the eggplant could also be switched up for endless combos.

Still having some leftover eggplant and salad, I made a quickie baba ghanoush, baking the eggplant until totally black and mixing the soft flesh with garlic, lemon peel, and olive oil. Great lunch for one of the first sunny days in ages!

Song of the Day: Two Door Cinema Club- Something Good Can Work


Weeknight Delicacies

Don't get me wrong- I definitely don't miss being unemployed. But working sure puts a cramp in one's cooking style. It's one thing to whip up a fabulous dinner when you have all afternoon to putz around, boiling beans, caramelizing onions, or picking up exotic ingredients from lazy walks to the market. Now that I have a moderate level of employment that takes up the better part of a day, its sometimes a struggle to make something for dinner that is not totally half-assed. Luckily, this is where other people's hard work on recipes comes in  handy!
Sweet Potatoes and Onions with Garlicky Tahini Sauce
I just recently got a really lovely new cookbook from Berlin's biggest English bookstore, where I like to spend aimless Saturday's reading England's best-sellers, which include more than a few books about Downton Abbey as well as one too many books about World War II. As far as cookbooks, they usually have a bunch of Jamie bloody Oliver and Nigella Lawson picture books and use the metric system and its just not appealing to me. But this time they had a really huge and gorgeous cookbook called "Jerusalem" from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi and I fell in love. Its not vegetarian, but its packed with vibrant combinations and fresh techniques and quite a few of them would only need some tweaking to make it suitable for vegans. The above recipe, the first one I tried, is broiled sweet potatoes and onions covered with a simple tahini sauce and spices... its pretty much a starter, but it was so delectable that I'm totally thrilled to try to the rest of the recipes, especially when Spring comes and we can get a decent tomato up in this joint.

Manhattan Glam Chowder
Another recipe genius I don't mind exploiting is Isa Chandra (Miss Moskowitz if yr nasty) who has a veritable treasure trove of quick and tasty (yet still exciting) weeknight meals. I've been particularly enjoying her soups lately, and especially those ones imitating fish soups. Last week I tried the Bouillabaisse with Roasted Yellow Squash as well as the Manhattan Glam Chowder from Appetite for Reduction (pictured.) Both rich, tomatoe-y and soul-satisfying, I would recommend both. (The Bouillabaisse was particularly surprising- who knew roasted squash was such a flavor booster? Not I.)

Spaghetti and Bean-balls with nooch
Also from Isa is the famous mock-meatballs "Spaghetti and Beanballs" from V'Con. Never tried this recipe before despite having worn out the book from cover to cover, and discovered it was an easy and crowd-pleasing weeknight supper, especially if you have your own favorite tomato sauce recipe down-pat.
Sweet Potato and Mushroom "Quesadillas"
I also came up with another simple after-work supper- Sweet Potato Quesadillas. This would be as flexible as the ingredients you have on hand. I sauteed some mushrooms, peppers, onions and garlic for a nice sofrito, while boiling a huge sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks. When the sweet potato was fork-pieceable, I drained it and mashed it with a bit of soymilk, margarine, cinnamon and cumin.

To assemble and cook, you preheat an oiled frying pan to medium high heat and throw a tortilla in there. Plop some sweet potatoes in there and spread out a bit from the center, then add in the sofrito. Cover with the next tortilla and press gently to spread out the filling. After a 2-3 minutes, flip and fry on the other side until nicely browned. You could serve this with salsa or sour cream- I served it with smashed avocado and lime.

Domestic dominance and work aptitude? CHECK!

 Song of the Day: Two Door Cinema- What you know


Sweet Potato, Spinach, and Black Bean Enchiladas

I've gotta admit: I'm not that into guacamole anymore. I've just been burned too many times, you guys.

Here is Germany, ripe avocados aren't nearly as common or delicious as what I was used to growing up in Virginia. A lot of times you bring a few home excitedly only to find them totally rotten on the inside. Or you scoop up a few to ripen at home, only to find that they NEVER RIPEN.

I mean, I can't complain too hard. Its not exactly like I'm living in Barbados here and its somewhat to be expected that the less-than-tropical shores of 'Schland-land do not grow the world's best exotic produce. (And hey, just try to find such a variety of potatoes elsewhere.) I just bring it up to point out: when I do find an avocado, I don't think of making a big bowl of guac. I think: GARNISH. For ENCHILADAS.

This time, mixing it up from my usual combo of plantains, mushrooms and black beans, I went for a filling of sweet potatoes (cubed, sprinkled with cumin + cinnamon, baked), spinach (roughly chopped and sauteed with plenty of garlic until wilted) and black beans (rinsed, drained, and added to spinach.) Served with a drizzle of soy yogurt (its spicy, y'all!) and some creamy avocado, its enough to momentarily make me forget that Germany isn't a paradise.

Song of the Day: Aluna George- You know like it


Markthalle Neun

Inside the Markthalle, via http://www.markthalleneun.de/
Anytime you live in a neighborhood long enough, you are sure to witness some surface and demographic changes. Here in Berlin, those changes seem to take place at lightening speed.

Take my corner of Kreutzberg. When I moved in, it was a sleepy street with one cafe and a grubby burger stand, along with an abandoned betting office and barbershop. A few years later, the two closed storefronts became two insanely popular restaurants (pizza and tapas) that clog the sidewalks in summer time with mamph-ing tourists, street performers angling for change, and clumsy children playing dangerously close to traffic while their parents chug red wine. Not everyone is happy with the practically overnight shift- as exemplified by plentiful "Fuck tourists!" graffiti and the occasional screeching neighbor yelling out her window at drunken passerby, "Go back to America, Touristen-Schwein!"

There are also, obviously, more thoughtful critics of gentrification and rising rents, who point to the fact that long-time residents get pushed out by newcomers willing to pay higher rents, and shops hawking precious olive oils, soaps, and innovative forms of yoga.

I'm on board with debating about the issue, but I sometimes think that the tendency to blame foreigners for what are, essentially, real-estate and urban planning issues is a bit short sighted, and in the worst cases a cover for plain old xenophobia. I mean, really, isn't it a bit of a chicken and egg issue, blaming foreigners for raising rent? Like anyone comes to a country and wishes to pay more than locals do for housing? Shouldn't we rather be enlisting newcomers into neighborhood politics, instead of a knee-jerk reaction to alienate and blame them for long-standing political problems?

That brings me to Markthalle Neun, either one of the worst examples of yuppie gentrification OR an awesome urban renewal project, depending on who you talk to. (You can guess which side I stand on.)

A few years ago, a building on Eisenbahnstrasse was home to a discount grocery store and a tacky drugstore, both of which were crowded in the corner of a voluminous space that once housed a rowdy neighborhood market before the wall fell. After years of failure, the government decided to auction off the mostly empty space in 2009, until a gang of foodies decided to occupy it for their own purposes: to start a weekly market showcasing local produce and food artisans. Surprisingly, they won! (Score one for direct action!)

Although the first few years were shaky, with poor attendance and bad sales, Markthalle Neun has suddenly exploded. Now you have to wait in a line to get house-smoked local Barbeque, sample Spanish chickpea stew, or grab a giant slice of gluten fee cake. To me, the rambunctious atmosphere is refreshing after years of stifled potential inside of this picturesque building. If you are so inclined, you might view this hall, with all its young hip Italian and Spanish people hawking organic and gluten-free wares to hip young neighborhood parents with 5 bio-babies, an annoying example of gentrification. From my side though, I'm seeing a vibrant community meeting place, supporting small ethical businesses inside a once-abandoned building that could have just as easily been sold off to a corporation or made into lofts.

I went there this weekend with S. and was surprised to see new stalls, more people, and plenty of interesting vegan food on offer. But my favorite thing has been there since the beginning: Vegan Burger, a small stand featuring several types of smoothies and juices, and one kind of burger. The 'Sunday Burger' is a few slabs of marinated and grilled tofu, cucumbers, beets, sprouts, lettuce, and three homemade sauces (chipotle, peanut, and mango) all on a sturdy whole wheat bun. While chewing my delicious burger, sipping on a carrot-orange juice, and watching cute grubby kids play and grab at organic produce, I can't help but think that this is a giant improvement over cold empty space.


 Song of the Day: Blumfeld- Status Quo: Vadis


Red Wine Stew with Leek Dumplings

Not to sound complainy or anything, but I have never lived anywhere with such gleefully bad weather as Berlin. (And I've lived in Brussels, where it rains approximately 363 days a year.) Wintertime is really a struggle- no one wants to leave the house, everyone is getting sick or getting over being sick, and the few hours of daylight are dominated by bone-chilling temps and gloomy gray skies. Plus your bike freezes all the time, and all the stores close early because they think you ought to be inside anyways. (They are correct.)

HOWEVER. I am in an oddly upbeat mood and it annoys me deeply that the weather won't bother to even try matching me. (The Secret is bullshit people. You do not manifest your own reality.) Luckily, bitching about the weather only takes up, like, 50% of my mental energy. The rest is dedicated to devouring new books about alchemy, Yugoslavia, Victorian female authors, or whatever else peaks my promiscuous curiosity, and thinking about what to eat for dinner.

Yesterday I decided to create a thick, wintry stew containing three things that cheer me up in these dark times: lots of red wine, crispy leeks, and plenty of herbs. And why not some easy dumplings? It was excellent, and I'll give you the "recipe" but its gonna be pretty fast and loose and should be more of a idea-sparker because a) it was quite improvisational and b) might have drank a bit of the wine myself....

Red Wine Stew with Leek Dumplings
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, white and white-ish parts, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, diced
circa 2 c. mushrooms of any sort, sliced
4 medium potatoes, loosely chopped (about 2 cups)
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds 
3-4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 or 1 teaspoon each of the following (that you have handy):
      -smoked paprika
2 cups drinkable red wine
2 cups veg broth (or water and a veg bouillon cube) 
1 T. white miso
 1 14oz. can white beans
3 T. flour

1 leek, white and inner green parts, chopped
1 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
3/4 c. soymilk

1.) Set up your stove with one frying pan and one large pot or Dutch oven. Set the frying pan to medium-low and drizzle with olive oil. When hot, add in leeks and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and some are browning a bit. Season with salt and remove from heat.

2.) While leeks are cooking you can already get going on the stew. Set large pot to medium heat and drizzle with olive oil. When hot, add in onions and the other leek, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in garlic and cook for a few minutes more before adding in mushrooms. Let the mushrooms brown for a bit (5-7 min.) and then add in the carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and herbs. Season with salt and pepper, and stir to coat vegetables with spices. Add in wine, broth, and miso paste. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and let cook, stirring ocassionally for about 30 minutes.

3.) After stew has reduced, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. In a small bowl, spoon out a bit of the broth and mix together with flour until no lumps remain. Add back into stew, and cook for 5-10 minutes while you prepare dumplings.

4.) For dumplings, mix flour, salt and baking powder together in a bowl. Add in about a cups worth of leeks (eyeball it- you can reserve the rest of the leeks for garnish) and stir to coat with flour. Add in soymilk and stir together until "just mixed." Dough should not be too wet- add in more flour if necessary to make it sticky but not liquidy.

5.) Drop tablespoons-full of leek dough into simmering stew. (No need to be too precise, they won't turn out pretty anyways.) Cover, and cook for another 15 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through.

Serve a bowl of stew with a few leek dumplings and some extra crispy leeks as garnish. Oh yeah, and wine. Lotsa wine.

Song of the Day: Passion pit- Take a Walk


Migas in Portugal

Mama Celeste, a Portuguese cook
My Dad recently traveled to Nazare, Portugal for work, and also for part of his "making my daughter jealous tour." While there, he witnessed monster feats of surfing during the day and stuffed his face with homey cooking in the evenings. Ah, the life of a cameraman.

There was one dish, coincidentally vegan, that he really enjoyed at thought to share with me.

Mama Celeste in her element
He wrote the following:

"If you order fish in Nazare it comes with garlicky potatoes and Migas,.. it’s a mixture of cornbread, kale and black eyed peas that tastes great and is light and fluffy.
The cook, Mama Celeste, who feeds a ravenous band of surfer dudes every day at her restaurant that bears her name, shared her recipe.

Cornbread  sauteed in olive oil
Kale sauteed in garlic
Black eyed peas boiled and salted.

The whole thing gets stirred together in and heated for a moment in a black skillet."
The finished product!
Sounds pretty delicious and do-able, right? I'm going to have to add this to my repertoire of easy dinner dishes.


Frohes Neues Jahr!

Happy New Years,everyone!

That's my husband S, on our rooftop New Years Eve setting off fireworks to join the literally jillions going off all over the city in Berlin. New Years Eve here is completely crazy. IT IS CRAZY. Germans have NO FEAR of fire and shoot off rockets at each other for about a week leading up to the New Year, finally reaching a crescendo at midnight where the whole city momentarily seems to catch fire in a display that makes the 4th of July in the US look like a lit birthday cake. Its pretty terrifying, but everyone seems pretty used to it. (To wit, while standing on the roof, several rockets buzzed right pass our heads coming up from the park below and no one even paused from sipping their prosecco.)

Aside from a constant fear of death-from-above, I heartily enjoyed our New Years party which was mildly Southern-themed, complete with Gumbo-Z, black-eyed peas, cornbread, and dark-and-stormy cocktails (a heady mixture of dark rum and ginger beer.) For those that missed out on the food it probably just seemed alcohol-themed, but it was definitely a hearty entry into the new year with lots of good friends from Berlin and all over. By 6am it devolved into a wild dance party but, and this bodes well for the new year as well, our neighbors didn't care.

And as for 2012, good riddance! I am so ready to move into a new year, which is hopefully the year in which I get an awesome job, perfect my German, and learn to cook new exciting dishes, rather than repeat the same lasagna-stirfry-pumpkin soup pattern that is my wont. No, this year will be about shaking things up, remembering to take the vitamin B12 pills, and trying new things! 

Hope you guys are as excited as I am!