Chickpea Cutlets with Ginger Beer Carrots

Do you guys cook when you're busy? I don't. I tend to consume whatever is lying around in increasingly gross combinations until someone or something forces me to do otherwise. Since my husband is doing his fieldwork at the moment in Sweden, there is no one around to witness my descent into depravity (at least, cooking depravity.) Let's just say, there are a lot of nooch sandwiches being consumed. (Though strangely, I always have the money to purchase wine.)

This weekend, however, S. came home for a heartbreakingly brief visit and we had a small dinner party to celebrate with some of his friends. Eschewing my normal impulse to make cheap Megadarra, we actually spent a little cash and got some nice veg and chicken for the meat eaters, for the vegetarians we had an amazing throwback: V'Con's CHICKPEA CUTLETS!!! This is not the first time I've made them, but frying them in a cast iron skillet brings them to a whole new level of toothy, crunchy goodness. The other vegetarians, clearly expecting to just eat sides as usual, were terribly impressed. I myself had forgotten how good they are, and they are also excellent broke food as they consist of pretty basic pantry staples (at least, by vegan standards- not sure everyone considers wheat gluten flour to be a pantry staple but I always have some on hand.)

The other exciting side, other than solid wingman mashed potatoes, was a new carrot trick I picked up from watching reruns of Good Eats (don't ask me how I access Food Network reruns from Europe, I don't want to get arrested.) I love carrots with ginger and garlic, but this recipe is quick and easy and an excellent use for the leftover can of ginger beer from your Dark & Stormy party. Hell, next time I might throw some rum into the mix too, just to see what happens.

Ginger Beer Carrots, a la Good Eats

-1 bag (~2 lb.) carrots, peeled and cut on the bias into 1/2'' rounds
-1 bottle high quality ginger beer (not ginger ale)
-2 Tbsp. non-dairy margarine
-pinches each of salt, pepper, cumin
-parsley (optional)

1. Place carrots in large pan with ginger beer, cumin and margarine over medium heat. Simmer 5-8 minutes, or until liquid is mostly cooked off.
2. Turn heat all the way up to high, salt and pepper liberally, and cook while stirring until carrots are getting browned and pierce easily (with some resistance). Serve sprinkled with parsley.


Ottoman Express

Beet dip with Za'atar
Lately I've found my culinary tastes dwelling on a particular regional cuisine instead of drifting all over the world as it normally does. It might be easy to describe as Turkish food, but its more accurate to say Ottoman food, or, food created in areas previously encompassed by the Ottoman empire, from Southern Europe to the Middle East. (I should note that for many of this region, its not a particularly cherished historical memory. But it did make for some great culinary-cross pollination.) It means that incredibly vegan-friendly range of food that gets its taste from creatively concentrated vegetables, fresh herbs, and pungent spices. I'm talking the sweet-sharp hit of pureed eggplant, paprika and onion in Balkan Ajvar, the omnipresent fresh mint, parsley and lemon topping Turkish salads, and the smoky paprika-infused oil glistening in a Hungarian paprikash.

Living in Berlin means that all the needed ingredients for this Balkan-Middle Eastern binge is right at my fingertips, and quite inexpensive. (I defy you to find a cheaper source of Za'atar and sumac than my local grocery store.) It also means you can see the persuasive power of this magic region, as Germans here prefer doner kebab to currywurst as their beer companion, and are far too comfortable drinking salted yogurt beverages (Ayran), slurping lentil soup for breakfast, or binging on cups full of mint and bulgar on a fast food break. Which only means that when I serve something with tahini for the fourth time this week, my own German hardly raises an eyebrow.

I've got a couple recipes I want to share when I perfect them (my own versions of Persian crispy rice, Ajvar, Kibbeh, ect.) but for now, here's a few dishes that explain where my tastebuds are -somewhere on the Orient Express, it seems.

Pureed Beet Dip with Za'atar (veganized from Jerusalem)
3-4 red beets
1 garlic clove (or more to taste) 
1 small dried chili/ pinch cayenne pepper / dried chili
1 cup PLAIN soy yogurt
1 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses OR grape syrup (pekmez)
Salt and za'atar

1. Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Rinse off beets and cut off ends. Wrap in tin foil and toss in the oven, cooking for 45 minutes or until easily fork-pierceable.
2. When beets are done and cool to the touch, remove peels with a peeler + your fingers. Roughly chop and throw in the food processor along with roughly chopped garlic, chili and yogurt. Whizz away until smooth, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Fold in syrup, olive oil, and pinches each of za'atar and salt. Taste, and add in more yogurt or spices to taste.

Serve topped with slices green onions and toasted hazelnuts (if desired) with some good toasted bread or pita.

Turkish Red Lentil Soup

Turkish Red Lentil Soup with Mint and Lemon
I make a veganized combo of this recipe and this recipe, serving it with plenty of extra fresh mint, lemon, and pomegranate seeds. Its hard to mess up something so simple and delicious, and it can be served any time of day but it makes a great breakfast! (Especially with Coca cola for some reason, I know, its weird.)

There are many spellings and versions of this homey rice and lentil dish, but its worth mastering your own because its difficult to find anything else so delicious that can be made so cheaply and with such few ingredients. Be sure to check out alternative preparations, but here's my version.

1 C. Brown or Green Lentils, rinsed 
3-4 medium onions, chopped into half-circles (cut off ends of each peeled onion, slice from end to end, then, laying flat on cutting board, slice through thinly from end to end, producing thing concentric half-circles.)
Olive Oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 C. Basmati Rice, rinsed 
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch each: turmeric, allspice, sugar
2 C. water
Salt and pepper

Plain soy yogurt
Roughly chopped cucumber and mint

1. You will need three cooking vessels: one large sautee pan for caramelizing onions, one small pot for cooking the lentils, and one larger pot for the rice and lentil mixture. To start, fill the smaller pot with cold, salted water and set on to boil. Set the sautee pan on medium heat and drizzle with a good couple tablespoons of olive oil.
2. Once pot of water has reached a boil, add the lentils and reduce to simmer. Cook for 15- 20 minutes, or until lentils are soft and chewy. Drain, and set aside.
3. -in the meantime (while lentils are cooking) we need to caramelize some onions. When your sautee pan is heated to medium heat with plenty of oil, add in the chopped onions and immediately lower heat to lowest setting. Stir frequently, watching for burning, and let cook for some 20-30 minutes, adding in a bit of extra oil or water if necessary because of burning. When done, onions should be brownish tendrils starting to get crispy in places. Using slotted spoon, remove onions to a serving bowl and set aside.
4. Place larger pot from step 1 on medium heat. Add in cumin seeds and toast for circa 1 minute, or until starting to turn brown. Add in a good drizzle of olive oil, then the rice, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice and sugar. Toast rice for a minute with the spices, then add in 2 C. water, and the cooked lentils. Stir, season with salt and pepper, and bring water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for circa 20 minutes, or until water is absorbed and rice is cooked.

To serve, scoop a generous serving of lentil rice mixture onto plates and top with plenty of caramelized onions. Serve with a mix of cucumber, yogurt and mint. HEAVEN.

Megadarra, Mujedrah, Mejadra, ect. with cucumber yogurt
For more Ottoman Express inspiration, check out my posts from Budapest, Belgrade, and Istanbul.

Song of the Day: The Preatures- Is this how you feel?


This time in New York

Happy New Year! I'm back from the USA with a new attitude and a new German keyboard (spilled tea on my old one, but now I have all these nice characters like ß and Ä!)

The US was lovely, with freakishly good weather in sharp contrast to present situation. S and I spent most of the holiday in DC, with a brief detour in New York City, checking out some of the sights that I never managed to visit before such as the Lower East Side and Brooklyn.

On our first day we had an awe-inspiring walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Dumbo to get our first glimpse of the strange new world of Brooklyn. In the evening, my awesome friend Sara took us a large yet homey pizza place in Greenpoint- Paulie Gee's. You would never guess from the omnivorously adventurous first pages of the menu (bacon marmelade?!) but the menu features a fantastic selection of vegan pizzas, including the one I devoured featuring fennel-laced vegan sausage, cashew ricotta and arugula.
The cashew ricotta is to die for at Paulee Gee's in Brooklyn
Greenpoint! Where its possible to eat delicious vegan pizza while you pretend you are in the cast of Girls.

Another great discovery this time in NYC was the Lower East Side/ Chinatown. Previously, I didn't stray much outside of Midtown, but S., being an well-appointed German tourist, wanted to see some off-the- beaten-track museums. A good duo, particularly for those interested in immigration, is the Tenement Museum and the gorgeous Eldridge Street Synagogue. Right down the street from one another, the two museums explore the history of the LES as the primary destination for immigrants arriving in the US. The Tenement museum recreates a historic tenement building with well-researched stories about actual ex- residents, revealing fascinating details about life as an immigrant in the past century.

Prosperity Dumplings
The Eldridge Street synagogue is an elaborate art-deco masterpiece funded by Ashkenazi immigrants and then abandoned for years as the ethnic composition of the neighborhood shifted. Now brilliantly restored, its definitely worth a tour (especially in contrast to famous European synagogues, many of which are in various stages of ruin due to the nazi era.) The stained glass work alone is worth the price of admission.

While in the neighborhood there are also lots of food options, but I need to recommend this one place I found, a small dumpling joint that is insanely cheap and tasty. Prosperity Dumpling, also on Eldridge Street, is a tiny hole in the wall pumping out veggie and meat dumplings to a diverse crowd of lunch patrons. I can't verify 100% if the veggie dumplings are vegan, but they taste vegan and the register clerk told me thez contained no meat or dairy. (Take that for what its worth.) Anyways, 8 cabbage and mushroom stuffed dumplings, steamed or fried for $3.50, and absolutely delish.

In between museums we found another sweet spot, not super vegan friendly but worth poking your head in to check out the specials. Cheeky Sandwiches is a good spot to stop in for chicory-laced coffee or ginger lemonade in a cute, New Orleans inspired setting. The rotating menu has a few vegetarian sandwiches and S. was very happy with his shrimp po´boy (non vegan, obvs.)
Cheeky Sandwiches, a small and cute lunch joint
Its on a street packed with lots of good vintage shopping, and you can, like S. and I, fantasize about being millionaires who can afford to purchase an ex-tenement flat in what was once one of the nation's poorest neighborhoods.

Ah, New York! Bis nexte mal!