where spring means white asparagus + battle of the hollandaise sauces


Spring has only arrived in Germany once white asparagus has taken over markets, lunch menus and shopping baskets. Rhubarb and wild garlic are other signs of spring, but no other vegetable is as loved as Spargel. Luckily white asparagus is finally everywhere. I, too, am smitten with this edible ivory and like many Germans I can happily eat it everyday it is in season. The French seem to love it too as when I was in Provence it was the front-row attraction of many market stalls.

Last year I went a nontraditional route by roasting it and serving it with sun-dried tomato pesto. Delicious? Yes. German? No. More often that not Germans boil their white asparagus and then serve it with hollandaise sauce and lots of it. In fact, many Spargel stands at farmers' markets sell packages of hollandaise sauce. As much as I like to match different flavors and think about ingredients beyond tradition, every once and a while it is worth giving into it and who am I to argue with the creamy goodness that is hollandaise? As a breakfast baby, I will always think of it fondly.

For my first white asparagus (actually it was purple) purchase of the year, a few weeks ago, I decided to follow tradition. I'm not really into packaged sauces so I rolled up my sleeves and decided to make hollandaise sauce from scratch. It was my first time. I grabbed my cooking bible, Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, looked up a recipe, unrolled my sleeves and got out my blender. He offers two recipes. The first uses the classic stove-top technique and the second lazier version replaces the hand whisking with a blender. Because hollandaise sauce requires a low heat, I went the blender route. My gas stove just doesn't know low heat. That and I was lazy. And curious. Hollandaise sauce has the reputation of being high maintenance and tricky so I was curious to see if Mark had cracked the code. And being the inspiring (and sometimes lazy) food genius he is, he certainly did.


To give the classic hollandaise sauce made with egg yolks and butter a bit of an identity crisis, I decided to make a vegan version as well. Considering that hollandaise sauce has only four ingredients and two of them are certainly not vegan, I was curious to see what some cashews and turmeric can do. Inspired by vegan sour cream made with cashews, I soaked cashews overnight, blended them in a blender and kept adding things until it was good enough to lick off the spoon and not just taste observantly. 

So here it is Cashew "Hollandaise" versus Mark Bittman's Blender Hollandaise: battle of the sauces. Although they are similar in colour, they tasted differently. But I think this is a good thing. Difference keeps things interesting. The cashew version has more flavour; whereas, the butter and egg version is creamier and richer. And both versions get along famously with white asparagus which when it comes to spring / Spargel season is what matters the most.  

To prepare the white asparagus, bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it generously. Snap off the woody ends of the white asparagus and peel it. Boil the asparagus until tender and then drain. Season with salt and, if you want to take after the Germans, drown it in hollandaise. 

Trick challenge! Can you guess which is which in the photo?  


Cashew "Hollandaise"

ingredients

1/4 cup cashews, soaked overnight or for at least 4 hours
1/4 tsp turmeric
pinch sea salt
pinch cayenne pepper
2 tbsp + 1 tsp lemon juice
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Soak cashews for at least 4 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse and then place the cashews in a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Season to taste. If you desire a thinner sauce, add a bit more water a tsp at a time.

Heat the cashew hollandaise over the stove or in a microwave or oven until warm and serve immediately. Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a few days.  

* * * * *  

Mark Bittman's Blender Hollandaise

from 'How to Cook Everything Vegetarian'

ingredients 

3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (85 g) butter
1 tbsp lemon juice

pinch of cayenne pepper, optional 

In a small saucepan melt the butter. Do not allow it to brown. 

In a blender combine the egg yolks and lemon juice. Drizzle in the butter and blend. The butter will both thicken and warm the mixture. Season to taste, adding more salt, cayenne, or lemon juice as desired. Serve immediately. 

Guten! 

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artichoke fields, Bollywood style: take one


Last week I snuck off to France, to Provence. 

Although I lived in the South of France for nearly a year a long time ago, Provence is one region that I had never been to. It was too early for blooming fields of lavender and dramatic Bollywood inspired runs through them (my stepmom says that all Bollywood films have a scene of a woman running through a mustard field, her hair the object of the wind's desire, but her face ruffled because of heartbreak), but the amount of artichokes more than satisfied my craving for beautiful plants that happen to be both edible and purple. I was still able to stock up on some lavender honey though, that and enough inspiration to certainly want to make plans to go back.

I promise to tell you more soon, but for now I'm just popping in. I'll be back with both tales of la belle ville en Provence as well as two simple recipes, one vegan and one not, for hollandaise sauce just in time for Spargel season. In other words, spring has finally reached Germany.

 À bientôt

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black coconut rice with mango


Today is my grandfather's 93rd birthday. Ninety three. It is hard for me to imagine what that feels like. I can't even find a pair of nail clippers that don't break after a few months. And to think how old his bones are, his skin, and his heart.

I call him Poppy. I don't know exactly where this name comes from. I actually don't even have the slightest clue. As a child I had difficulty pronouncing Grandad and thus the name Poppy was born. The name doesn't have a story beyond that, but it stuck. Once Poppy reached his late 80s he started to begin sentences with "Well, dear, you know when you get to be older than God . . ." Once he reached 90 he started referring to people in their 70s as teenagers. He's a pistol, that's for sure. Last year when I was talking to him about graduating and applications and how difficult it is to find a job he told me not to worry; he still doesn't know what he wants to be when he's grown up and he is happy nonetheless. He is probably the origin of a) my sense of humour and b) my tendency to be a smart-ass. 

He lives in Vancouver and if I was there today with him to celebrate I would make him this black coconut rice with mango. The man is 93. He's eaten a lot of cake. What is new about cake? Even though you and I both have probably had our share of this Thai inspired dessert, I'm quite certain that it would be new to him. And that he would like it. 

One thing that I've really enjoyed about getting older is cooking for the people who used to cook for me. I have years and years of memories of going over to my Nana and Poppy's for lunch, tea, dinner, or all three. The food was rarely fancy, but it was always good. Lunch was a sandwich affair with a side of potato chips. Pickles too. Dinner was classic meat and a few veg, but my favourite was a marriage of the two: a stew of slow cooked beef, sometimes with barley, and collapsing vegetables. Pure comfort food. Dessert was always (and I mean always) cookies and sherbert. It felt like comfort food too, less for the food and more because I knew that there would always be dessert and what would it be. 

When I was visiting my grandparents a few years ago, I cooked for them for the first time. Both of their bodies were getting frail. They didn't cook the way they used to, or eat that way either. There was sherbert or cookies, but not both. A lot of meals came from the freezer via the microwave. After our first dinner together of boxed salmon, I went grocery shopping and filled that kitchen with fruit and the smell of garlic roasting. Each visit since, I've looked forward to cooking, to taking care of the people who for so long took care of me. 

One thing that I remember making was a green salad with mango, avocado, tomato and shrimp. I made it one night and the next day my Poppy requested it again. I happily obliged. The fresh mango made that salad memorable and that combination of flavours appetizingly sweet. That is one reason that I think he would like this dessert. The other reason has to do with tea. That same visit, I was brave and introduced some new tea to their cupboard: chai. It was also a hit and sure enough every day my Poppy would ask for some, but for some reason the c part of the chai didn't stick in his head so he would always ask me to make him a cup of "Thai" tea. I thought it was pretty sweet. He has positive associations with Thai food thanks to Indian chai and so I'm sure he would be interested in such a classic Thai dessert. 

However, my version isn't quite classic. First off, I didn't use sticky rice. I know that few things are sweeter than coconut sticky rice, but I decided to go with plain rice instead and I don't think that this was a mistake. Because of the creaminess of the coconut sauce, I appreciate a rice with a little more substance. The second variation is quite obvious by now: black rice. Healthier than white rice and sexier than brown rice, it is even nicknamed forbidden rice. It is as if it belongs in a dessert. Birthday or no birthday, this is the first thing I'm making for my Poppy the next time I visit him. 

Because it is Alphonso mango season (woot! woot!) and these mangoes are so sweet, I only added a tad of sugar to the coconut sauce. Feel free to add more if you like. I steamed the rice until nearly cooked and then cooked it briefly in coconut milk. For steaming, I went the good ol' strainer over a pot of water with a lid on it route.


Black Coconut Rice with Mango

serves 2

ingredients

1/2 cup black rice, soaked overnight or for a few hours
1 ripe mango
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1/3 cup coconut cream *
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 tsp coconut sugar
pinch of fine sea salt
1/2 tsp arrowroot powder
fresh mint for garnish

*Before you make the dessert, preferably the night before, put a can of coconut milk in the fridge. This will cause the milk to separate so that at the top of the can you will have coconut cream and at the bottom you will have milk.

After soaking, rinse rice well and then steam until nearly cooked, about 20 minutes. Remove rice from steamer and then transfer to a small sauce pan with the coconut milk. Cook, with a lid, over medium heat until the rice absorbs the milk and is completely cooked, about 5-10 minutes. 

While the rice is steaming, cut the mango into strips and toast the sesame seeds. When the rice is cooking, make the coconut sauce by heating the coconut cream with the coconut sugar and a pinch of sea salt in a sauce pan. Once warm, remove from the heat and stir in the arrowroot powder and continue to stir until the powder is absorbed and the sauce is slightly thickened.

Divide the rice amongst two bowls, top with coconut sauce, fresh mango and sesame seeds. Garnish with fresh mint.

Guten!

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postcards from munich IV

When you live in a city, it is easy to forget to see it from those blissed-out-tourist-eyes with which you first arrived. You see your ever day life, the ordinary, as opposed to those small things that make one city different from the next, the extraordinary. I find that postcards help to rekindle some of that bliss and these ones from Munich never fail to make me find the city I live in a little funnier and a little more handsome than usual. 

The postcards above are also from Munich; however, they have less to do with the city as such and more to do with one particular art project in it. These postcards are a part of an art project by Munich based artist Kirsten Kleie. She has gathered a collection of postcards that she has stumbled upon randomly and has then photographed them elsewhere and made these photographs back into postcards. The ones she makes she then distributes randomly, with a return address on the back, with the hopes that they will find a homecoming of sorts by either finding their old home or by being welcomed into a new one. I now have a few keeping my bookshelf company. 

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