Kugel, or sweet noodle casserole (Jewish)

Judaism has a country, kind of – there are slightly more Jews living outside of Israel than in there – but Israeli cuisine is not the same as Jewish cuisine. The latter of course has geographical differences and some Jewish specialties only exist in one area. Judaism is considered a religion, but it’s also heavily an ancestry/ethnicity/culture (and many people consider themselves atheist or secular Jews). Hence this entry. There used to be about 17 million Jews before WWII, but 6 million were killed in the holocaust. Almost half of the remaining ones live in the U.S. There are both ethnic and religious differences inside the Jewish population, the main ethnic groups being Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. These are different from the different religious movements, such as Orthodox Jews. There is also Zionism (supporting Israel); not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jewish.

The Jewish cuisine is probably best known for rich baked goods and some greasy dishes eaten on Hanukkah, like latkes, fried potato pancakes. The oil is not just for flavour, it has religious symbolism. Jewish cuisine is limited by kashrut (purity) rules. Pork is unclean, but so are several other food products. Some food products prepared by non-foods can also be considered unclean.. There are some additional rules on Passover. This has resulted in some well-known specialty foods, like the unleavened matzo bread, also used as a substitute for pasta and grains in some dishes. Most vegan ingredients are kosher, but not all. Apparently some tofu, for example, may not be. For more information on kosher in general, check Wikipedia.

Kugel is usually a sweet, bland noodle casserole, though it may be also made with matzo, potatoes and some other things instead of pasta. Savory versions exist, as well. Sweet kugel is a traditional Hanukkah food. The raisins, cinnamon and curd cheese apparently originate from Poland. Some people also vary the seasonings, e.g. using fruit or dried fruit in it. This much-praised American-style recipe comes from Food Network. It can, of course, be made gluten-free by using gluten-free noodles. Low-carb noodles should work too, as long as they aren’t too slimy or otherwise weird. The cherries in the photo are Rainier cherries, so they’re supposed to be partially yellow.

Kugel

Kugel

1/2 lb/225 g wide noodles
1 lb/450 g firm tofu
3 tbsp (coconut) oil
1 1/2 cup/3.6 dl soy yoghurt
1/2 cup/1.2 dl cashew butter or almond butter

1/2 cup/1.2 dl sugar
1.8 dl/3/4 cup soy milk
1 tbsp corn starch (or equivalent amount of other starch)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Mash the tofu by squishing with your hands (not with a blender) until it resembles cottage cheese. Mix together all the ingredients except for noodles. Add the noodles and mix. Pour into a greased baking dish or individual ramekins (6-10 ramekins, depending on their size). Bake until set and slightly golden at the top. For my ramekins it took some 35 minutes, but for a large dish it could take an hour. Serve hot, warm, at room temperature or cold.

Roosamanna, or whipped semolina and cranberry pudding (Estonia)

Posted in Desserts and sweets, Europe on November 25th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Estonia is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It only has a population of some 1.3 million people, one of the lowest in EU. Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union from World War II until the fall of the Soviet Union, but nowadays is very much a Western country with a high economic and technological development. Most people speak Estonian, which is quite closely related to Finnish (with significant German influences), though almost 1/3 speak Russian. Only 16% of Estonians believe in God, a very low figure compared to most countries. Over half of the country is covered by forests. Estonia has a long coastline considering the size of the country and the islands, beaches and spas are among the most popular tourist attractions. Sports, literature and music are important parts of the culture.

I have some personal experience of Estonian cuisine, as my best friend in elementary school was Estonian and my family even spent time at their house in Estonia. Sadly I can’t remember much about it any more, except the plentiful use of quark/curd and many other fermented dairy products. She or someone in her family also put strawberry jam in tea, but I think that’s more of a Russian custom. The Estonian cuisine is quite Slavic, with influences from Finland and Sweden. Rye bread, potatoes and pork form its core. Fish, especially Baltic herring, has also been very important. Many dishes are served cold, such as rosolje, a beet salad with potatoes and herring – a similar dish is eaten in Finland as rosolli. Soups are popular and often feature (fermented) dairy. There is also a dessert soup made with rye bread and apples. Cabbage, wild berries and mushrooms are enjoyed when in season and preserved for the winter.

Roosamanna (isn’t that a beautiful name?), also known as mannavaht, literally means pink semolina/cream of wheat. In Finland it’s called whipped porridge and most commonly made with lingonberries instead of cranberries (though they are very similar) and without the cinnamon stick (which does add a nice touch). The recipe says you can use store-bought cranberry juice, but in my experience for the porridge to whip into a fluffy pudding you need pectin, and pectin is present in pureed berries, but scarcely in juice. While not as traditional, you can also try this with fruit, e.g. plums or rhubarb.

For best results you should whip it just before it starts to really solidify, many recipes instruct to place the pot in a bath of cold water, but I haven’t found that necessary. There are quite different amounts of semolina used in different recipes, this uses less than most Finnish recipes so I used a bit more. May depend on the type of semolina, too.

Finnish recipe sites suggest the recipe can be made gluten-free by using either coarse rice flour (and stirring vigorously when adding it) or polenta, but I haven’t tried it. You can also easily make this sugar-free by using stevia or erythritol.

Roosamanna

Roosamanna

2 cups/4.8 dl water
2 cups/4.8 dl cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/3 cup/0.8 dl sugar
1/4 cup/0.6 dl wheat farina (cream of wheat/semolina/mannaryynit)
small cinnamon stick
(vanilla)

Boil the berries until they split. Press the mass through a sieve. Add water (if needed) to juice to make 2 cups of liquid. Add sugar and cinnamon. Bring to a boil adding wheat farina gradually and beating constantly. Boil for 1-10 minutes, until done (depending on the type of farina you’re using) and let cool. Remove cinnamon stick. Beat (preferably with an electronic mixer) the slightly warm mixture until pink in colour and somewhat fluffy in texture. Pour into individual dessert dishes. Serve cool, as is or with soy milk.

Creole sauce, or ketchup-based condiment with herbs (Saint Barthélemy)

Posted in Caribbean, Dips, sauces and condiments on October 18th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Saint Barthélemy or St. Bart(h)s for short is a small island nation on the Caribbean. “Discovered” by Columbus, for a short time St. Barts was a colony of Sweden, but this only shows in a few places, like the country’s coat of arms and the name of the capital city (Gustavia) and its airport (Gustaf III airport). It still belongs to France as an “overseas collectivity”, uses French as the official language and the culture has heavy French influence. The population is less than 10,000. Nowadays the island is mostly known as a luxury holiday destination, especially in the winter. Rugby and watersports are popular.

Both French and Creole cuisine are popular on St. Barts, often with West Indian influences. Seafood is of course eaten a lot. Because of the wealthy tourist population, the island is full of fine dining restaurants serving different cuisines. There are also gourmet festivals. It is hard to find information on what kind of dishes the locals eat. The land is arid, so pretty much all food has to be imported.

This condiment of unknown authenticity is based on ketchup. One would think that adding vinegar and lime juice to ketchup makes for a very tart sauce, not so. Ketchup is full of sugar and when it’s heated, some of the acetic acid evaporates. So the result is actually quite sweet. Here it’s served with store-bought seitan carpaccio (which is pretty good) and a variety of foods I just happened to have (including baby avocado and some really nice heirloom cherry tomatoes) which seemed to fit the theme, aka “white girl’s idea of Caribbean food”.

Creole sauce

Creole sauce

1 tbsp oil or margarine
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1.5 spring onions, trimmed
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 cup/1.2 dl ketchup
1/4 cup/0.6 dl water
1.5 tsp vinegar
1.5 tsp lime juice
dash Caribbean hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil/margarine in a frying pan. Add onion, spring onion, garlic, parsley and thyme and cook over medium heat until soft, about 3 minutes. Add all the other ingredients. Bring sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Add more hot sauce, lime juice, or salt to taste. Let cool and serve as a condiment. Makes about 1 cup/2.4 dl.

Maschi, or stuffed tomatoes in tomato sauce (Sudan)

Posted in Africa, Casseroles on September 22nd, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — 2 Comments

Sudan used to be the largest country in Africa and one of the largest in the world, until the southern part separated into South Sudan in 2011. There are hundreds of different ethnic groups, but most Sudanese are Muslims and speak Arabic. English is the second official language. With the names Nubia and Ethiopia (which nowadays is a different country) Sudan has a rich history of ancient civilizations, spanning over 10,000 years, most of which resided along the river Nile. Since its own independence in it 1956 it has gone through two civil wars and the Darfur war. Sudan suffers from many problems, from human rights violations and hunger to desertification (most of the country is already desert). While the economy is growing, the oil reserves haven’t been able to abate poverty. Football and various kinds of traditional music are important parts of the culture.

Because of the huge ethnic diversity, the Sudanese cuisine is also very diverse. It has got significant influences from Middle East. Stews served with porridge or bread form the traditional meal, especially a bread called kissra made from durra or corn. For porridge sorghum and millet are also used. Stews often contain offal, fish potatoes, eggplant, onion, greems. tomatoes and okra, sometimes dairy as well. They may be flavoured with cinnamon and cardamom, sometimes dates or peanut butter. Alcohol is banned by law, but illegal alcoholic drinks are brewed from e.g. dates. Some non-alcoholic drinks are made from fruit, others from corn flour. Coffee and hibiscus tea are very popular. Coffee is often spiced and sweetened with plenty of sugar.

This was a bit of a peculiar recipe (I don’t know how authentic): tomatoes in tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes. They are, however, stuffed with something other than tomatoes. In Europe when tomatoes are stuffed usually a slice is removed from the top and the innards scooped out. Here, however, a deep cross is cut into the tomato before scooping. They were a bit hard to fill without spilling the stuffing, and somewhat difficult to fry, as well. Plus they hardly even look like stuffed tomatoes in the photo. I used kumatoes (tomatoes that are green when ripe), hoping for a nice contrast in the photo, but you can barely see it. The dish was okay, it tastes like you’d expect – tomatoes, dill and cinnamon. The cinnamon makes for a very nice smell when baking it. The original recipe didn’t have cooking times or temperatures, so I had to make them up.

Maschi

Maschi

2/3 lbs/300 g mock minced meat (e.g. finely chopped seitan or 1 1/4 cup/3 dl reconstituted TVP)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
4 tbsp chopped fresh dill
7 oz/200 g cooked rice
8 firm, large tomatoes
4 tbsp (coconut) oil
1.5 cups/360 ml tomato paste
1.5 cups/360 ml water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp garlic powder
green olives for garnish

Preheat the oven to 390F/200C. Mix the rice, mock minced meat, salt, pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder and dill together.

Slit the tomatoes halfway across the centre (to create a fairly deep cross in the stem end). Squeeze the tomatoes to open the slits and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the tomatoes in the fat, rolling them constantly until they become dark red on all sides. Remove the tomatoes along with the oil and place in a casserole dish.

Combine the tomato paste and water along with the salt, cinnamon and the other 1 tsp garlic powder. Stuff the tomatoes with the rice mixture and cover with the tomato sauce. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Serve hot, surrounded with sliced raw tomatoes and top each slice with green olives. Makes four portions.

Cucumber tomato salad with sumac (Iraq)

Posted in Middle East, Salads on August 30th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Iraq is a large country in Middle East, with about 36 million inhabitants, most of them Muslims. Almost 10 million live in the capital of Baghdad. Iraq contains the region of Ancient Mesopotamia, often considered the birthplace of human civilization. The population has been estimated as 30 million already in year 800! These days Iraq is unfortunately better known for recent wars, Saddam Hussein and ISIS. The country mostly consists of desert and mountains, but the deltas of the legendary rivers Tigris and Euphrates also allow for plentiful agriculture. Oil is, of course, a very important export and Iraq has the second largest remaining oil reserves in the world. One of the main problems is the lack of housing and the country is struggling to build enough new homes. The most important form of culture is maqam, traditional sung poetry.

The history of Iraqi cuisine goes back as far as 10,000 years. Old “cookbooks”, written on clay tablets, have been found in ancient ruins. Like Middle Eastern cuisines in general, vegetables (e.g. tomatoes, okra, eggplant, potatoes, zucchini and peppers), cereals (especially basmati rice and bulgur wheat), legumes, nuts and seeds (e.g. sesame seeds, pistachios, almonds and walnuts) and fresh and dried fruit (e.g. dates, raisins, apricots, citrus fruit and pomegranates) form an important part of the cuisine. Lamb and chicken are also popular and fish, beef and cheeses are eaten too. Food tends to be flavourful and aromatic, thanks to the aforementioned ingredients, tamarind, olives, olive oil, spices and herbs. The latter include thyme, parsley, oregano, mint, dill, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, fenugreek and saffron. Mezza is a collection of salads, dips, pickled vegetables and finger foods. Other popular types of dishes include e.g. stews, casseroles, skewers, pastries and the originally Indian rice dish biryani. Desserts are often flavoured with nuts, rosewater and honey.

I try to avoid posting very similar dishes in a row, but now I’ve posted another cold salad. Well, it is summer? Found on Food.com, this is a very simple salad, but the addition of sumac makes it special and delicious. I’ve had sumac in my cupboard for many years, but for some reason I never thought to use it like this. I thought the result would be too tart, but it’s not, even though tartness is the main flavour of sumac. You can find it in Middle Eastern stores. It is also used in za’atar, a mixture of herbs, sesame seeds and sumac. The salad should be eaten pretty quickly, as the acidity in the sumac starts to pickle the cucumber. So if you don’t have many eaters, maybe don’t make a full portion.

Sumac salad

Iraqi sumac salad

1 large cucumber
1 large tomato
1/4 medium onion (or red onion)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sumac
salt to taste

Cut the cucumbers in half. length-wise. Slice these halves into thin semi-circles. Cut the tomato into chunks. Cut the onion into long slices. Mix all the vegetables together in a salad bowl. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the salad and add the sumac and salt to taste. Mix well and serve immediately.

Cold tofu salad (Taiwan)

Posted in Asia, Protein main dishes, Salads on July 25th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

The official name of Taiwan is “Republic of China”, which may be confusing as the official name of China is “People’s Republic of China”. Taiwan has been ruled by the Japanese and the Chinese and the current existence of the state is a bit muddled, as China (PRC) – and as a result a lot of the international community – considers it a part of their country. A founding member of the UN, Taiwan was kicked out of it in 1971.

99% of Taiwan consists of the smallish island of Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa. It used to be inhibited by Austronesian aborigines until the arrival of Spanish and Dutch settlers in the 1600s. There are still half a million people of aborigine origin (16 officially recognized tribes) living there. Taiwan is a highly developed country both economically and socially. Most people speak Mandarin and are either Buddhist or Taoist, with a large Yiguandao minority. Confucianism is also a major influence on other religions.

Bubble tea may be the best known Taiwanese food and tea (black, green and especially oolong) in general is widely enjoyed. Most styles of Taiwanese cuisine have major Chinese and some Japanese influence. Seafood, pork, chicken, rice and soy products are main ingredients, traditionally also taro, sweet potato and millet. Beef used to be rarely eaten, but beef noodle soup has become very popular. Besides rice, soups, vermicelli/noodles and hotpots, omelets and pancakes are common. Tofu is served in many ways, including stuffed and stinky tofu. As in mainland China, most seasonings aren’t herbs and spices as such, but soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, fermented black beans, pickles etc. Xiaochi are snacks that have been compared to Spanish tapas. Desserts include pastries, jellies, ice creams and moi-ji, similar to Japanese mochi, all of them often featuring beans.

This tofu salad recipe originates from Wikia. It’s perfect food for hot weather: a bit salty/umami because of the soy sauce, but the rice vinegar, ginger, cilantro and the tofu itself make for a cooling, refreshing flavour. I wasn’t sure which tofu to use as the recipe said to use “Mori-Nu Lite” tofu, but there are several varieties of Mori-Nu lite (firm, soft etc). So I used silken tofu, which is used in many Asian dishes. You have to be careful when cutting and moving the tofu (I recommend sliding it off the cutting board into the serving dish) as it is quite fragile, but I liked the result.

Cold tofu salad

Taiwanese tofu salad

1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce (I used tamari)
0.5 tbsp oil
1/4 cup/0.6 dl chopped cilantro
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 finely sliced spring onion (green parts only)
1 pack Mori-Nu tofu (see notes)

Cut the tofu into large cubes. Mix all the other ingredients together and pour over the tofu. Serve immediately.

Halwa, or spiced candy (Somalia)

Posted in Africa, Desserts and sweets on June 24th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Located in the Horn of Africa, Somalia is sadly nowadays best known internationally for wars, refugees, pirates, famines and female circumcision. The country has a very long history, dating to the Paleolithic age, and used to be a prosperous nation in antiquity. The people used to trade with Indians in particular, making big money with cinnamon. Islam arrived to Somalia very early on. Camels originate from the region and remain very important, with 80 % of the population being nomads. Music and literature have been crucial parts of Somali culture, as is incense. Myrrh and frankincense are also major exports. Population growth is extremely high, but fortunately HIV prevalence is low. One threat Somalia currently faces is desertification. It has very little arable land and temperatures are some of the hottest in the world.

I have a bit of personal relationship with Somalia, as I translated a Somali learning textbook from English into Finnish in 2010. Sadly I’ve forgotten pretty much everything (it is a very difficult language anyway, though has some unexpected similarities with Finnish).

The Somali cuisine is heavily Muslim, so no pork is alcohol is served and all meat must be halal. Indian spice trading influences are still clearly felt, with spices like cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves used a lot, as well as the more unusual sage. Sambuusa is a salty pastry similar to Indian samosa and sabayad is a flatbread resembling Indian paratha. There are also influences from e.g. Ethiopia, Middle East, Turkey and Italy. Canjeero is a spongy pancake-like bread like Ethiopian injera, but traditionally made from sorghum. Polenta and pasta are also popular. Other popular ingredients include e.g. goat and camel meat, fish, ghee (clarified butter), peanuts, coconut, bananas and beans, especially adzuki beans. Both lunch and breakfast are important meals. Some savory dishes are flavored with sugar or honey. Various fruit juices may be served at meals.

Xalwo, xalwad, halwa, halwo or halwad is a popular Somali candy. This recipe was very vague, so I don’t know if the result was what it was supposed to be. At least it was much thinner than in the original picture. It was quite jelly-like, but apparently it is supposed to be. Not really my cup of tea because of the texture. I usually write my own instructions, but here I’m using the original instructions as I don’t know if I’ve intepreted them correctly. I only made 1/4 of the recipe, which still makes plenty.

Halwa

Somali halwa

1 cup/2.4 dl water
1/2 cup/1.2 dl sugar
1/2 cup/1.2 dl light brown sugar
1/4 cup/0.6 dl corn starch + 1/8 cup/0.3 dl water
1/4 cup/0.6 dl oil
1/4 tsp ground cloves (or nutmeg)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
pinch saffron powder

Bring the sugar and the water to boil. Mix cornstarch and water with the saffron, allow it to dissolve. Add the cornstarch to the mixture. Cook the mixture over medium heat while stirring. As the mixture turns thick, start adding oil. This might take about 30 minutes.

Continue adding oil when it sticks to the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring until the mixture gets separated. When it starts to leave the sides of the pan add cardamom and cloves. Put the halwa on a baking sheet. Let cool. Cut into squares and serve.

Black bean, red pepper and squash casserole (Martinique)

Posted in Caribbean, Casseroles on May 7th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Martinique is an island in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean and an overseas region of France, so a part of the Eurozone and officially French-speaking, though the local Creole is also used. The French have also influenced the local culture. Martinique was “found” by Columbus, though it had been been inhabited by indigenous tribes. Most of the population is descended from African slaves who used to work on the sugar plantations. Martinique is a popular tourist destination, not only for its beaches, but also tropical beaches, mountains and volcanoes. Rum and bananas are the main exports. Local music is very important for the culture, including the genres zouk and bèlè, which also incorporates dance.

The Martinique cuisine is a fusion of African, French, Caribbean and South Asian. For example one of the most popular dishes is chicken colombo, a curry with Sri Lankan influences, seasoned with spice, tamarind, coconut milk and often wine and rum. In general many dishes are quite spicy and may be flavoured with e.g parsley, thyme, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, vanilla and ginger. Seafood is used in most dishes, often served as a curry or soup. Besides rice, other starches like yam, cassava and breadfruit are eaten. Other popular ingredients include bananas, plantains, chayote, avocado and squash. Desserts often feature rum and/or pineapple.

A veganized version of this recipe made for a pretty nice, slightly tart casserole, even if nothing special. I roasted my squash a little too long, which meant that instead of cubes it turned into a mush when I mixed the ingredients… But I don’t think that was necessarily a bad thing.

Black bean, red pepper and squash casserole

Black bean, red pepper and squash casserole

1 butternut squash
1 1/2 cup/3.6 dl sliced onion
2 tsp oil
1/4 cup/0.6 dl dry sherry
2 red bell peppers
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup/1.2 dl soy yoghurt + 1/2 cup/1.2 dl sour cream (or 1 cup cashew yoghurt)
1/4 cup/0.6 dl minced parsley
1 cup/2.4 dl cooked black beans
1 cup/2.4 dl cooked brown rice
1 cup/2.4 dl grated vegan cheese or 1 tsp corn starch + 2 tbsp nutritional yeast

Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Split squash in half and place on a baking sheet, cut side down. Bake the squash for 20 minutes.

In a large skillet saute the onion at medium heat. Add the oil, sherry, red peppers and garlic. Stir-fry until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.

Remove the seeds from the squash and peel. Cut it in cubes and mix all the ingredients together. Spoon the mixture into a large greased baking dish. Bake for about 25 minutes at 350F/175C. Serve hot. Makes six portions (or so).

Vegan surströmming, or fermented herring (Sweden)

Posted in Europe, Starters and appetizers on April 1st, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — 2 Comments

Sweden is one of the largest countries in Europe, located in Scandinavia, in Northern Europe. A whopping 65 % of the land area is covered by forests, which explains the low population density. There are also plenty of lakes and some mountains. A constitutional monarchy led by a king, it ranks very high in democracy, equality, human development and other such indices. It has mostly managed to avoid wars since the 19th century, remaining officially neutral in both world wars (though it helped several of its neighbouring countries in WWII). It is a part of EU, but not the Eurozone. Nowadays Sweden is perhaps best known for being the origin of IKEA (in fact owned by the Dutch), the band ABBA (and many other artists), the Pirate Bay/Pirate Party, as well as quite a few authors, including seven Nobel prize winners, children’s author Astrid Lindgren and bestseller king Stieg Larsson.

The Swedish cuisine has traditionally built on meat, seafood (especially herring and salmon), potatoes and various types of bread, with some dairy products thrown in. Rutabaga used to be a popular root vegetable which the Brits even call “Swede”. Spices aren’t used much, though fresh dill and chives are popular in summer dishes. Pea soup served with mustard and followed by pancake is a traditional Thursday meal (as in Finland). Swedish meatballs are probably the most famous Swedish dish, not that unusual as far as meatballs go, but traditionally served with (mashed) potatoes, gravy and lingonberry jam. (Wild) berries in general are important, often served as thick dessert soups like bilberry soup. There is also a tradition of various sweet buns, pastries, cakes and cookies, enjoyed with coffee. Swedes drink a lot of both milk and coffee. There are also several traditional candies, most of them flavored with peppermint or salty licorice.

Surströmming (literally “sour herring”) is a fermented (essentially rotten) herring product which smells very putrid. Like really, utterly horrible. Even as a kid in Finland I heard stories of surströmming cans exploding (from the fermentation gases building up) rendering the house permanently uninhabitable. Some airlines banned surströmming cans a few years ago. According to Wikipedia, German food critic and author Wolfgang Fassbender wrote that “the biggest challenge when eating surströmming is to vomit only after the first bite, as opposed to before.” And that’s not a hyperbole – see YouTube for proof (you were warned). Truly a dish worth veganizing, right? Sadly(?) this is just an April Fools joke. (However, the existence of surströmming nor the claims made about it in this passage are not jokes!) Stinky tofu and natto may be the closest vegan equivalents to surströmming, though much less nauseating.

Gravlax is salmon prepared by salt-curing (originally also mildly fermented), which results in a very salty, dense and fairly slimy product, which some people love and others hate. It is traditionally served on e.g. Christmas and also popular in Finland. Dehydrating watermelon became trendy a few years ago. You either marinate the melon in a salty brine/marinade and only dehydrate it a bit to get a juicy product, or dehydrate it all the way for “jerky” (not surprisingly with very low yields). Both are quite tasty, IMO, and good ways to use the watermelon you bought and disappointingly turned out not at all sweet. When I experimented with dehydrating watermelon I immediately thought the end-product resembled gravlax in texture and appearance, so I set out to develop a version. Of course you won’t get a perfect mock fish out of a fruit, but I found my results intriguing. (The surströmming is an April fools joke, but this recipe is not.) You can replace the seaweeds with other strongly sea-flavoured types.

Vegan gravlax

Vegan gravlax

1 pound/450 g red watermelon (preferably not very sweet)
1/4 cup/0.6 dl water
1 tbsp nori flakes or finely chopped nori sheets
1 tbsp dried dulse (a seaweed)
1 heaping tsp salt
2 tbsp dark (=very salty) soy sauce
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
(1 tsp chopped dill)

Heat the water until boiling and dissolve the seasonings in it. Let soak (and cool) for a while, then strain out the seaweeds. Cut the watermelon into chunks a little less than 1 inch thick. Remember it will shrink down a lot. If it has seeds, remove as many as you can without turning the flesh into a mush. Drain/pat the fruit down to remove excess liquid. Place in a ziplock bag with the marinade and refrigerate for a few hours, turning the bag over a few times to make sure all the melon is covered.

Place in the dehydrator (depending on the type you may want to place some parchment paper underneath) or in the oven on the lowest setting, e.g. 50C with the door open. Dehydrate for a few hours, turning once, until it has shrunk down quite a bit and feels dense and slimy, but not in any way dried out. Serve cold with bread. The bread in the picture is knäckebröd, a Swedish rye crispbread.

Jeow mak keua, or spicy eggplant dip (Laos)

Posted in Asia, Dips, sauces and condiments on March 13th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — 4 Comments

Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, much less known in the West than many of its neighbours like China, Thailand and Vietnam. Its population is only about six million, very little in the Asian scale. It used to be a colony of France and gained independence in 1953. Laos is now a single-party socialist republic and Buddhism is an important part of the society, though animism is also practiced. The infrastructure and human rights situation are quite poor, but the economy is growing thanks to rich mineral resources. Tourism is also rapidly growing. Because of the small population quite a lot of wild nature still remains, mostly forests and mountains. Muay Lao, a type of kickboxing, is the national sport.

Sticky rice, eaten by hand, is the most important part of Lao cuisine – and even a very important part of the culture and national identity as a whole. Most Lao families grow their own rice. Larb is the most famous Lao dish, a spicy mixture of meat (sometimes fish), herbs, greens and spices. Spicy papaya salad, as well as other salads, is also popular in Laos. Grilling is a common preparation method. Lemongrass, galangal and Lao fish sauce are important seasonings. Other common ingredients and spices include kaffir lime, shallot, Lao eggplant, tamarind, cilantro, Lao dill, mint, several types of basil, chili, garlic, ginger and various greens and flowers. Main dishes may be be bitter, but never sweet. French cuisine is still visible in the capital Vientiane, where French baguettes remain popular. Kaipen is a popular fried seaweed snack.

It’s very hard to find vegan Lao recipes or even recipes that can be veganized, as so many Lao recipes are based on things like raw meat or fermented fish. I found several recipes for this jeow mak keua (or jaew mak khua), but based mine mostly on this one. The biggest difference I found that some versions included both roasted shallot and fresh green onion, some only green onion. I love roasted shallot, so I obviously went for that version. Traditionally the dip is eaten with sticky rice, but many people might want to dip something else, like vegetables.

I found the dip quite nice. My husband doesn’t normally like eggplant and isn’t the biggest fan of excess cilantro, but surprisingly he enjoyed this dip with kropoek (Indonesian crackers that normally contain shrimp, but vegan version are also available – I prefer the normal vegan type, I find the emping type quite vile). Do note that the recipe makes surprisingly little, like half a cup or so, so for more than two people you might want to double the recipe.

Jeow mak keua

Jeow mak keua

1 small purple eggplant or a few Asian ones
1 red bird’s eye chili (or other chili), chopped
1/4 tsp salt
2-3 cloves garlic
1 small shallot
1/2 cup/1.2 dl cilantro, chopped
dash of soy sauce/Maggi
1 green onion, white part removed, chopped

Pierce the eggplant with a fork several times. Grill or roast the eggplant, shallot and garlic until mushy, naturally they will take different amounts of time, a purple eggplant up to 45 minutes in the oven (200C/390F). Scoop out the eggplant flesh and squeeze out the shallot and garlic. Mash or puree (I used an immersion blender), but let it remain a bit chunky. Add the other ingredients Serve at room temperature.