A Christmas Salad

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Happy 2nd Advent everyone! ‘Tis 17 more days till Christmas. I had a very calm advent all by myself, as my boyfriend was away having two concerts in one day. Having the apartment all to myself, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I watched Searching for Sugar Man, a fantastic documentary that brought a couple of tears to my eyes. Then I went into the city to buy some chocolate to make these delicious black bean chocolate biscuits. Having turned on the oven for the biscuits, I roasted the butternut pumpkin right after the biscuits came out, and proceeded to make this Christmas salad creation of mine that I had in mind for some days now.

As my close friends have probably realized by now, kale is my top 5 favourite vegetable. I wait eagerly for it to arrive when the weather turns cold. This year, the arrival of my beloved leafy veggie was almost 3 weeks late due to warm autumn. It was really cold, I swear, but according to the girl at my Demeter stand at the market, it was apparently too warm for kale to grow and be harvested here in Germany. The first time I tasted kale was only about 6 years ago in my shared flat with Paige. She bought this weird curly looking leafy vegetable on a november day, and made me a simple bowl of pasta drizzled with a hint of balsamic vinegar in the end. It was so delicious that I was hooked from then. (Thanks!) Coming originally from Korea, I welcome anything leafy in my kitchen; spinach, any kind of salad leaves, steamed pumpkin leaves, or other delicious Korean leafy vegetable that become a part of “Banchan” (side dishes) ¬†-And may I add, 2007 was a time before kale became a hipster vegetable that everyone blogged about. ūüôā

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I have been eating kale in salads for just over a year now. I thought it needed to be cooked, as the leaves are kind of tough to be eaten raw. But after reading recipes on other blogs, I learned if you marinade the leaves in something acidic like lemon or vinegar, the leaves wilt and become tenderized. This particular salad uses the best of autumn/winter vegetables. Roasted butternut cubes are a frequent guest in my kitchen, and roasting red onions bring out their sweetness with a slight hint of smokiness. Pomegranate seeds not only look like pretty little pink jewels, the juice that bursts out when you bite into each seed taste lightly tangy and sweet. I tossed in some cooked chestnuts in the spirit of Christmas too. The dressing is made with heavenly brown butter that taste nutty (hence the name in french, Beurre Noisette), and you can detect all the Christmas-y spices like cinnamon, ginger, and vanilla. The taste of these spices are subtle, but I like it that way. If you would like more of a kick, then feel free to adjust the amount of spices.

Have a nice week! And bon appetit!

A Christmas Salad (Kale, roasted butternut&red onion, pomegranate, and chestnut salad in spiced brown butter dressing)Phew, that was long! 

Serves: 2 as a starter (can be easily doubled or tripled)

A bunch of kale (About 7-8 stalks)

1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar or juice of a 1/2 lemon

A good drizzle of olive oil

1/2 small butternut pumpkin, cut into big-ish cubes

5 very small red onions, peeled and halved

4 Tbsp pomegranate seeds (or more, if you like)

5 chestnuts (I used cooked and vacuum-packed variety for faster preparation), chopped roughly

For the dressing:

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 small shallot, finely chopped

20g butter

1/3 of a vanilla pod, halved length-wise

1/3 tsp ground cinnamon

1/3 tsp ground ginger

1/3 tsp ground cumin

A pinch of chili flakes (optional)

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

salt&pepper

1. Separate the kale leaves from the stalks. Discard the stalks. Chop the kale leaves into small bite-sized pieces. If the leaves seem to be tough, cut them into shreds. Toss the kale leaves with red wine vinegar, a good drizzle of olive oil, and a good pinch of salt. Massage the leaves briefly so they leaves soak up the dressing evenly. Leave for 30mins or more. This will wilt and tenderize the leaves.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Peel and chop the butternut into big–ish cubes. Toss the butternut with red onion halves in olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper. Lay them on a baking sheet in one layer, not too crowded, and bake for 20-30 mins until lightly browned and lightly tender. (check after 15 mins) The butternut pumpkin should not be over cooked. The cubes should retain their shape.

3. Make the dressing. Mix the shallot and vinegar in a bowl to macerate. In a small pan, melt the butter in medium-low heat. Keep heating the butter until there are brown bits appearing on the bottom of the pan. Keep an eye on the pan, as butter can burn very quickly. Once the butter smells nutty and brown bits have formed, pour it into the bowl of vinegar and shallot.

4. Add the ground ginger, cumin, cinnamon, and chili flakes (if using) into the melted butter. Scrape the seeds off the vanilla pod and add to the butter as well. Add the vinegar, salt (I added 1/2 tsp, but taste as you go), and pepper. Whisk to emulsify. Taste the dressing, and add more spices, or salt to your liking.

5. Toss the kale, roasted butternut, chestnuts, pomegranate, and roasted onion with half of the dressing. (gently!). Taste if the salad needs more dressing. Add more to your liking, but the dressing should not overpower the salad.

Pumpkin pie porridge with caramelized apple wedges

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Winter is slowly creeping in on us here in Germany. The morning air has become crisp, but not too crisp yet that your nose hurts when you breath in. The moment I open the window first thing in the morning, it wakes me up right away, and it also makes me long for a big mug of black tea and warm breakfast that sticks to my ribs.

In the summer months I usually make myself a big glass of smoothie or a bowl of granola, and a shot of espresso maybe, because it’s just too hot to drink tea. Porridge is a regular at my apartment in the winter months. I vary the toppings, spices, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits I add in the basic formula (1 part oats to 2 part liquid). ¬†This porridge I made the other day was definitely a winner. I had left over pumpkin puree from a failed attempt at making a individually portioned pumpkin pie in jars (don’t ask. I’m still disappointed at my failure..). I had just enough puree to make a big bowl the next morning to console myself and indulge in self-pity. Seriously, there’s nothing worse than having a failure in my kitchen, one of few place where I feel like I have some kind of control. But I made a pumpkin pie porridge out this little kitchen disaster. You know what they say. If you have a pile of crap, make a veggie garden!

If you live in the states, I’m sure it’s no problem to pop into a shop to buy a canned pumpkin puree. But no such thing exist in Germany as far as I know. I found one kind at my organic store, but it was so watery that I couldn’t really use it for baking. But pumpkins and squashes are in abundance at this time of the year. Having a pumpkin and baking it in the oven warms up the kitchen as well, which makes me feel all cozy and I can’t wait for Christmas to come.

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I say make a batch of pumpkin puree today (or butternut squash or other kinds of squashes/pumpkins). It will last for 3-4 days in an air-tight container. You can make various things with it, like this pumpkin pie porridge, pumpkin pancakes, or soup. It does stretch a long way!

Pumpkin pie porridge with caramelized apple wedges

Serves 1 but it can be easily doubled or tripled

For porridge

1/2 cup or 50g of old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)

1/3 cup or 80ml pumpkin puree* (recipe down below)

1/3+ cup water

1/3+ cup milk of your choice (cow, oat, spelt, soy, almond……)

A splash of cream if you feel indulgent

1/4-1/2 tsp pumpkin spice (recipe here from Joy the Baker)- this is not optional!

A pinch of salt

For caramelized apple

A small knob of butter or ghee

1 apple of your choice

a sprig of thyme (optional)

1 tsp soft brown sugar

A tiny pinch of salt (will bring out the flavor of the apple)

To serve: pure maple syrup, and nuts or seeds of your choice (such as, toasted walnuts, hazelnuts, hemp hearts, and etc)

1. Add all the ingredients for porridge in a small but heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to simmer. Watch carefully while it comes to a simmer. Do not leave the stove. Turn the heat down to low and let it gently simmer for 10 minutes until it thickens and the oats are tender. Stir 2-3 times while it simmers to prevent from sticking to the bottom of the pan. If the porridge is thickening at a faster rate than you’d like, add a splash of water and/or milk.

2. Cut the apple in wedges. Heat the butter or ghee in a small frying pan in a medium heat. Lay the wedges in the pan and let them brown lightly. Sprinkle with herbs if using. Flip the wedges to brown the other side. Once they are golden, sprinkle with brown sugar and gently push them around the pan until the sugar has melted and nicely caramelized. Remove the pan from heat.

3. Enjoy the bowl of this warming porridge with apple wedges. Maple syrup is a great choice as sweetener. Sprinkle with nuts such as walnuts if you like.

*Pumpkin puree

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Cut the pumpkin or squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and membrane.

2. Lightly brush the cut sides with oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Lay the cut side down on a baking tin lined with baking paper. Bake for 30-40 minutes or longer depending on the size of your pumpkin, until the flesh is very soft.

3. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and puree in a hand held blender or folk. Store in an air-tight container up to 3-4 days in the fridge.

Linguine with roasted pumpkin and spinach

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After a very hot summer this year, the season ended abruptly in Germany at the beginning of last month. When the summer is gone for good, it can get quite depressing, as the weather won’t get warmer or very sunny again until around April/May the next year. I have a thing in my kitchen, where I wait as long as I can until I cook with the first pumpkin of the season. Pumpkin to me, and I’m sure to everyone else, means autumn, and in turn accepting the fact that summer is completely GONE. I’m sure this odd thing of mine isn’t so comprehensible for most people who haven’t experienced the cold and dark winters of Germany. But I can assure you, it’s no fun at all. ¬†Waking up in the dark even if you wake up around 8am-ish, grey skies, sunset (if there’s sun that is) at 4:30pm-ish, and the freezing temperature almost everyday can be extremely gloomy at times.

I’m sorry I’m whinging. There are though, plus sides to the long dark winters. Christmas is around the corner (=over-indulgence in food and wine!), sipping piping hot Gl√ľhwein (Mulled wine) in freezing weather at the Christmas market with friends, standing tightly huddled around a small table, and a lot of use of the oven in the kitchen to keep the apartment warmer. Two of my favourite produce come in season as well. Pumpkin as I have mentioned, and kale are in abundance at the farmer’s market. I bought a medium sized, yellow-fleshed pumpkin at the market last week. I can’t remember what sort it was unfortunately. And although kale doesn’t come in season until November in Germany, I found fresh local spinach at the Demeter stand, and hence this pasta was born last weekend.

This pasta dish is super easy to make. The most time consuming part is cutting the pumpkin into cubes, but otherwise there isn’t much chopping involved. The timing can be kind of essential though, as is with most pasta dishes. I recommend butternut squash or other creamy variety. I do not recommend Hokkaido pumpkin, as I find it quite tasteless and the texture is somewhat mealy compared to the Butternut. I still don’t understand why the supermarkets here stock so many of these, and not Acorn, Delicata, or Kabocha.

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Anyways, back to the recipe. The cubed pumpkin is tossed in olive oil and roasted with garlic, thyme, and rosemary, which will make your kitchen smell divine. In meanwhile, wash the spinach and chop roughly (or just use the kitchen scissors while the spinach is still in the drainer like I did). The pasta should go in the boiling water right after the pumpkin is out of the oven. While the pasta is cooking, heat up the oil in a pan and toss around the roasted garlic for 30 seconds or so, then add the spinach, and then the pumpkin and plump sultanas to mingle the flavour. By then, your pasta should be cooked, and all you need to do is carefully toss the pasta with a bit of the pasta water as not to squash the pumpkin cubes into a pulp. Voilà! Dinner is ready! Happy cooking everyone!

Linguine with roasted pumpkin and spinach 

Serves 2, generously.

2 tbsp olive oil (or more to taste)

1/2 of a small pumpkin (ie Butternut), peeled and cubed

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

4 sprigs of fresh rosemary (mine were short, but if you have a long sprig, use less, as rosemary can be very overpowering)

4 fat cloves of garlic, un-peeled

1 tsp chili flakes (optional)

1 tbsp sultanas/raisins.

200-230g Linguine, depending on how hungry you are.

3 big handfuls of roughly chopped spinach

Pumpkin seed oil (optional)

Parmagiano reggiano

salt&pepper

1. Turn the oven on to 200 degrees Celcius. Trim the pumpkin and cut into bite-sized cubes. Lay the pumpkin cubes, garlic, and the herbs on a baking paper and baking tin, and coat with a tablespoon of olive oil,. Season with salt and pepper. Depending on the size of your cubed pumpkin, it will take around 20-30 minutes. Mine took 20. Stir half way through.

2. Soak the sultanas in boiling water to plump up.

3. Depending on how fast your stove is, bring the pasta water to boil just before the pumpkin comes out of the oven. Set aside with the lid on.

4. When the pumpkin is cooked until tender but not mushy, take it out of the oven. Turn the pasta water back on immediately and cook the linguine according to the direction on the package. Make sure your pasta water is well salted. (very important!)

5. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan in a medium-high heat. Squeeze the garlic flesh out of the skin and add to the pan. Stir around for 30 seconds. Add the chopped spinach and cook until wilted.

6. Add the pumpkin and the drained sultanas. Toss around the pan to mingle the flavour. Sprinkle with chili flakes if you like.

7. At this point, your pasta should be cooked to al dante. Save half a cup of cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta immediately into the frying pan and toss around with a tongs gently, adding the pasta water as necessary, if the dish seems dry.

8. Serve with a small drizzle of pumpkin seed oil or olive oil on top. Sprinkle with Parmagiano reggiano.