How to get the best out of your sauerkraut

Some fantastic news for those of you who are fans of sauerkraut: my experiment with vacuum bag sauerkraut was a success! Forget all about those recipes that call for jars and sauerkraut pressing. Vacuum bag sauerkraut is a set and forget method: shred some cabbage, salt it, put it in a vacuum bag and vacuum seal it. Two or three weeks later, and the kraut is made! And once you do make it, there’s no turning back to store-bought sauerkraut. Let me know if you decide to make sauerkraut and how it turned out.

For many, the flavour of sauerkraut is a bit too much like vinegar and is off-putting. I happen to like vinegar and therefore sauerkraut, but I also like a bit of variety, so I’ve come up with a recipe to turn my sauerkraut into a delicious salad. Drain some sauerkraut and dress it with olive oil, a few drops of sesame seed oil and sprinkle it with isot pepper (or any chili you like) and sesame seeds. This sauerkraut salad is the bomb. I like eating it on its own but it goes brilliantly with roasted meats.

Memories are made of this – The Food Blog in the SMH Good Living

Below is an article about me and my labna/labneh making that was published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Living last Tuesday, written by the lovely Carli Ratcliff. If you haven’t made your own labna, you must start now. It’s so easy, there’s really no excuse. A nifty trick I recently learned from my good friend Lili from Pikelet and Pie, which was subsequently verified by the wonderful Charlotte from How to Shuck an Oyster, is to incubate the mixture in a thermos. That way, the temperature is always steady and the yoghurt will be a guaranteed success. Of course you can use store-bought yoghurt to make your labna, but making your own is much more fun. I mean, who doesn’t want to father/mother billions of probiotic bacteria? You can read my previous labna post here, and my post on yoghurt here.

 

Omani Tourism Dinner – Photos

Above is a collage of photos from the dinner I planned and executed for Omani Tourism. We had the dinner at the beautiful Embers Mezze Bar in Darlinghurst. My main man was head chef Simon Zalloua – a brilliant Lebanese-Australian chef who trained at Rockpool and who brings much needed discipline, skill and technique to Sydney’s Middle-Eastern scene. I totally encourage you to go try out Simon’s food. It’s contemporary and clever without being pretentious. I included some of Simon’s dishes for the event and they worked perfectly with mine.

From top left:

  • Baba Ghanouj with Green Chili Pistachio Relish and Pomegranates
  • Puy Lentil Salad with Hazelnuts, Roast Pumpkin, Thyme and Isot Pepper
  • Shanklish Sambousek with Preserved Lemon Salsa (Simon’s Recipe)
  • Lentil Salad
  • Scallops
  • Scallop Moghrabieh with Chickpeas and Caraway Jus
  • Spatchcocked Poussin with Shish Tawook Spices (Simon’s Recipe) & Muhammara (my recipe)
  • Chef Simon dishing out the Slow-cooked Lamb Shoulder with Cardamom and Cinnamon Pilaf, topped with Crisp Onions, Barberries and Almonds
  • Embers’ Trifle: Sumac Strawberries, Rose and Lychee Jelly with Peanut Brittle (Simon’s recipe and one hell of a dessert)

 

 

Puy Lentil Salad with Hazelnuts, Preserved Lemons, Thyme and Isot Pepper

I’ve been commissioned to organise a Middle-Eastern feast for a cool PR event and this dish is one of the first on the menu. I always attempt to use ingredients that are typical in the Middle East but rarely seen in restaurants. I feel people get a sense of authenticity, despite any contemporary take on the ingredient. This dish, for instance, is not one you would find anywhere in the Middle East. The ingredients are eclectic and not singularly regional. But they work.

This salad is all about balance, freshness and texture. The lentils need to be cooked just after the al dente stage, the pumpkin needs to be creamy, and roasted hazelnuts add crunch and nuttiness. Oven-dried tomatoes are a great alternative to fresh tomatoes: they’re sweet and not overly moist. Preserved lemons and fresh thyme contribute that “je ne sais quoi” element, where the flavour is somewhat fleeting and exotic, only identifiable by an experienced palate. The real kicker here is isot pepper – one of my favourite all time chilis, second only to Maras chili. I went crazy for isot in Turkey and am always well stocked. Find a Turkish shop and buy some. That smoky sweet flavour of isot pepper goes with anything.

Puy Lentil Salad with Hazelnuts, Preserved Lemons, Thyme and Isot Pepper – Recipe

Since this is a salad, quantities and proportions are up to you. Want a bit more kick? Add some more isot pepper. Love preserved lemons? Go crazy!

Mix the following ingredients together:

  • 2 cups puy lentils, boiled until just after al dente. I added a bouquet garni in there but you can omit. Also, I couldn’t find puy lentils, so I bought something labeled “french lentils” which are brown in colour but tastes like puy.
  • 1/2 cup roast pumpkins, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup oven-dried tomatoes – Make your own or use good quality semi-dried tomatoes – coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp preserved lemon peel – rinsed and finely chopped
  • A handful or two of roasted hazelnuts, peeled
  • 1 tbsp isot pepper
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • olive oil and salt – to taste

Homemade Sauerkraut

In effort to further learn how to make specialty foods from scratch, I gave sauerkraut a go around 2 weeks ago. I’ve been eating sauerkraut in serious quantities ever since I switched to a Paleolithic diet. It ticks many boxes – sauerkraut is very low in carbohydrates, its acidity helps when eating copious amounts of butter and meat, and it’s full of beneficial bacteria that are supposed to help with gut flora population and all that. My go-to brand was a German-style sauerkraut from my local supermarket, but then I read somewhere that most, if not all, supermarket sauerkraut are actually pasteurised. In essence, my sauerkraut was dead, killed by heat. The beneficial bacteria I thought I was consuming were no longer there.

That upset me for a while, but then I decided to look on the bright side and that it was a chance to have a go at making it myself. I bought half an organic cabbage from Eveleigh markets and took it home. My experience with fermented food had so far been limited to yoghurt and beer, both of which need the bacteria/yeast to be introduced from an external source. Sauerkraut is somewhat magical: its starter bacteria grow on the cabbage leaves while the cabbage is still in the field. Sauerkraut can be made flavoured by using caraway seeds, juniper berries or the like, but for my first go I decided to stick with plain sauerkraut. I tried the traditional method of fermenting the cabbage in a jar, and I also came up with a different approach and fermented the cabbage in vacuum bags. I’m yet to taste the vacuum bag patch (if that works, I’ll certainly be doing that from now on), but have tucked into the jar and it’s unlike any other sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted. There’s a delicate flavour of vinegar, but overall the flavour is earthy and somehow malty, similar to a beer. It’s delicious and the leaves are still crunchy and crisp. Making sauerkraut is easy and recipes abound on the Internet, so I won’t give detailed instructions. Find a recipe that appeals to you and try it (here’s the one I followed). But at a high level, you simply chop up the cabbage leaves and rub them with salt. Then, you put them in a clean jar, press them down and close the jar. A few weeks later, you have sauerkraut – healthy, living sauerkraut. And you become the god of millions, if not billions, of beneficial bacteria. It might be useful for you to know that my sauerkraut did not develop a bloom or scum like the recipe suggested would happen. I’m not sure if that is due to winter temperatures or anything else. In any case, the recipe worked really well is and is worth following.

Got any tips to share on making your own sauerkraut? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.

Awesome Food of the Week: Small Cow Farm Blue Cheese

I started watching Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” yesterday. I know I’m a few years late on this, and yes, I am completely aware that Season 1, Episode 1 of No Reservations does not classify as hot off the press, but hey, let me have this one.

Episode 1 kicks off in Paris – and what better place to start a food show than in Paris, really? Let me say, seeing that man leave a blazing trail of smoke around the city makes me want to have a cigarette myself. I’m no smoker, but there’s something deeply attractive about wandering around ancient Parisian walkways with a pack of Gauloises Blondes.

The show took me back to the time when I visited Paris a few year back and it reminded of what I loved about that city. You guessed it – the food. Man, the French know how to eat. Twenty minutes into the show and I was depressed. I wanted to have what these people posses in such abundant surplus. I wanted to trade Sydney for Paris. I yearned for a food culture. A real one. Still now, I am aching for a local, unpretentious bistro, somewhere where I can be a regular, where I can grow old eating the same dish for 60 years, week in, week out. Somehow, I don’t think the local chicken stir-fry with cashew nuts will meet my requirements. Please, find me a pot of coq au vin made with a proper rooster or suitably old chicken. And also, while you’re there, some potatoes cooked in duck fat and a big glass of red would be great, too.

We have good food in Sydney, but it’s not always around the corner and not always budget-friendly. With food being so trendy here, a good feed almost always comes served with a big dose of celebrity chef ego and a side of the ensuing foodie crowd. Honesty is out the window. Another gripe of mine is the quality of food. In the city, I struggle to find anyone serving chicken that is not intensively farmed and it’s nearly impossible to get grass-fed meat (unless you’re willing to pay through the nose). Has anyone else noticed that pubs and restaurants try to make grain-fed beef sound like it’s a good thing? Are we that susceptible to marketing?

To avoid disappointment, I now mostly eat at home. For a slice of Paris, cheese and wine are a good, easy go-to option. Australian wine is world-class and I’m lucky I have access to a great cheese. Small Cow Farm is a local family business making cheese out in the Southern Highlands and they produce a bloody awesome blue – one of the best I’ve had. The milk is locally sourced from happy, grass-fed cows from Country Valley in Picton (Country Valley also provides the cream that makes the unbelievable @pepesaya butter, and their milk is worth seeking out, too). Get yours from Eveleigh Market on Saturday from Ester Winbourne (@DairyGoodness) and tell her I sent you. I might get a discount next time I’m there.

Awesome Food of the Week: Booza – Ice Cream from the Levant

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to share some of my favourite food findings on The Food Blog with my readers. I wasn’t sure what the best way to do so was. Today, I came up with the idea of doing a weekly post that highlights a product that I love and think is worth sharing. The recommendations I make are my independent views – I haven’t been paid to namedrop (see here) and, unless otherwise stated, have fully paid for the product myself. I follow an ethical code of complete disclosure.

The inaugural Awesome Food of The Week is Booza, a high-quality Levantine ice cream made locally in Tempe. The Levant is the region that covers Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, as well as parts of Cyprus and Turkey, and “booza” is the Arabic word for ice cream. The distinctive thing about Levantine ice cream is its stretchy texture, achieved by the addition of salep, a thickener from wild Turkish orchid tubers. This is the ice cream I grew up with, and it’s such a treat to have access to a premium version (made with high quality ingredients) right here in Sydney. I first tried Booza a few months back and was extremely impressed, and have since visited and revisited the owners factory in Tempe so many times that they’re probably sick of me. I really love the halewe (sesame halva) booza, but I have also used the pistachio praline booza as well as my favourite, fig and walnut booza as dessert in my latest pop-up dinner and it went down a treat. You can find more details on Booza including where to buy it from at http://www.booza.com.au.

 

My Article on Gaziantep, Turkey in the(sydney)magazine

Yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald included this month’s copy of the(sydney)magazine, and I’m extremely excited to see my own contribution in there. The article is a short story on a trip I took to Gaziantep, a city in south-eastern Anatolia in Turkey. I talk of my journey through the city streets in search of kebabs and pistachio desserts, and the interesting encounters I had during my brief stay there. Click on the image above to have a read and let me know what you think.

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