Spring weather is finally here and this dish couldn't be more wrong--you should be eating a lot of fruit, cucumbers, and grass clippings. Perhaps it is because, as I write this post, I am visiting my family in Illinois, but I like the heavy old Eastern European classics sometimes, even when they're out of season.
You can enjoy this alone as a stew or serve it over egg noodles, spaetzle, or rice. I like it over spaetzle and sprinkled with a little fresh dill and sour cream.
Hungarian Goulash Serves 6-8
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 onions, sliced
2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper (or less if you're a baby)
2 large Russet potatoes, scrubbed and diced into 1-in cubes
8 oz. chopped mushrooms
1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 cups water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
chopped fresh dill and sour cream or plain yogurt for serving
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook onions until very soft, stirring frequently. Remove onions and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine paprika, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper. Coat beef cubes in spice mixture and cook in oil until brown on all sides. Add the potatoes, mushrooms, and cooked onions, as well as the tomato paste, red wine, water, garlic, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2-2 hours, or until meat is tender.
When I was a kid, I loved buttered noodles. We would have them as a side with pork chops and salad (iceberg, hold the chopped vegetables). Now I realize that what made this kind of meal so Midwestern was actually its German roots, for there are many Germanic peoples in the Great Lakes Region (which still doesn't explain the accent, but anyway...) When I am in Germany, I love spaetzle, which are German noodles that are basically little clumps of pillowy pasta dough, boiled to perfection. I don't like the casserole dishes with heavy cream, cinnamon, cherries, and spaetzle (a popular Sunday evening meal in Bavaria)--I prefer plain old buttered spaetzle. It's not adding much, nutritionally, to your life, but it's so comforting and chewy. This version throws in some mushrooms for variety. It makes a nice side, but don't eat this alone day after day. You might get scurvy.
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
4 minced shallots
3 cups mushrooms, scrubbed and quartered
1 1/2 cups beef or vegetable broth
1/4 cup flour salt and black pepper to taste
Bring salted water to boil and cook the spaetzle as until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Saute shallots until clear. Toss in mushrooms until mushrooms are sautéed. Place flour in a separate bowl, slowly whisk in broth. Pour broth mixture into mushroom pan boil for 5-10 minutes until thickened, stir fairly often so it doesn't stick. Mix together the cooked spaetzle and the mushroom sauce and season with salt and pepper. Some fresh herbs would be nice in there, too.
This is another great salad from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, but it's fussy. Here's the original recipe as copied by the lovely and talented Dana Treat, and here's my version below, slightly simplified (and just as delicious). I also added cilantro, just because.
SK's Snap Pea Salad with Miso Dressing
salt ½ pound sugar snap peas, untrimmed ½ pound Napa cabbage, sliced (about 3 cups) 4 medium radishes thinly sliced 3 large scallions, thinly sliced 3 tablespoons sesame seeds 1 handful chopped cilantro
for the dressing: 1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger 1 large garlic clove, minced 2 tbsp. miso 2 tbsp. tahini 1 tbsp. honey ¼ cup rice vinegar 1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil 2 tbsp. olive oil
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and prepare a small ice-water bath. Boil the sugar snaps and the cabbage for about 2 minutes, or until just barely cooked but still crisp. Drain in a colander. Trim ends and cut sugar snaps into thin slices. Toss in large bowl with cabbage radishes, scallions, and the sesame seeds. Place bowl in refrigerator to cool if there's time.
In a small food processor or a blender, combine all dressing ingredients and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust; it will be a bit salty, but the sugar snaps peas will mellow it out.
Toss salad with half of dressing, and taste. Add more dressing if you want, or save the rest of other salads.
Well, one of them, anyway. Before I moved to the Rockies almost ten years ago, my knowledge of Mexican food was limited to Taco Bell, watching Rick Bayless on PBS (but not actually cooking the stuff, because I couldn't find the ingredients), and that bastion of Midwestern cuisine, Chi-Chi's "Mexican" Restaurant. I liked it. I liked all the ingredients separately, and I was accustomed to bland food. Plus there was melted cheese.
Then I moved to Greeley, Colorado in 2003. Greeley has its low points (it smells like shit all the time from the nearby feed lots, we have a gang problem, the restaurants suck), but a definite plus in my book is the sizeable Mexican population here, and that means we have access to authentic ingredients, great banda music, and real Mexican culture in action. I still marvel at the festive quinceanera dress shops (like little, brightly colored wedding dresses) dotting a street full of bail bond offices and check-into-cash shops. The local tortillaria makes their tortillas fresh every day, along with beautiful green chili and tamales in the deli section, and some of the most elaborate cakes I have ever seen. The Cinco de Mayo parade that runs down our street is small, but full of heart and great music (and some pretty kick-ass paint jobs on the low-riders). And in the side of our local grocery market, there is a taco stand, which is where I will always claim I began my induction into the world of authentic, delicious Mexican food. Small corn tortillas topped with freshly grilled marinated meat or beautifully seasoned vegetables will then be ornamented with the appropriate condiments (cilantro, diced red onion, and a lime wedge for carne asada; queso and pickled onions for the pork). Although I recognize every nation's pride in their unique independence movements, Cinco de Mayo meant nothing to me before moving here. And it still can never mean to me what it does to the majority of my neighbors, but I feel a deep respect and appreciation for them, their culture, and most certainly their food.
Here are some of my favorite taco attempts at home:
Quick Fish Tacos
1/2 pound firm white fish (I like Swai)
peanut or some other neutral oil
salt + black pepper
about 3/4 cup cornmeal for coating fish
small corn or flour tortillas condiments: shredded red cabbage, lime wedges, jalapeno slices, sour cream, chopped cilantro
Rinse the fish and pat it dry. Cut into equal bite-size pieces (about 2 inch x 1 inch chunks), season with salt and pepper, and dredge through cornmeal, shaking off excess. Heat about 3 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan on medium high heat, and when it smokes, add the fish. Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve with all remaining ingredients.
Grilled Shrimp Tacos Serves 4-5
1 tablespoon olive oil 1 teaspoon chipotle or blended chili powder 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar 1 pound medium shrimp (about 20), peeled and deveinned
small corn or flour tortillas condiments: 1 large chopped tomato, 1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed and drained, chopped avocado, sour cream, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, chopped red onion
I like to do these on skewers just so it's easier to turn the shrimp without losing any in the coals. Combine shrimp with oil, salt, and chipotle powder in a bowl and stir to coat. Thread through skewers and cook over hot coals about 20 minutes, turning once so that they brown on both sides. Remove from skewers and serve with all remaining ingredients.