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Nearly Night (Fastnacht Kuecheles…recipe and lore)

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This is a recipe that I post every year just before Lent. I usually post it on Shrove Tuesday–the traditional day these doughnuts are eaten–but thought I’d post it a day earlier in the event anyone would like to make them (and I hope you do). I was lucky enough to be brought up with food traditions on both sides of my family. I had mentioned in an earlier post that I was Lebanese-American on my father’s side, well my mother’s side of the family is of German-French ancestry. The recipe below I received from one of my sisters, who learned it from our mother, who learned it from our grandmother, and so on.. The name of these doughnuts in German is fastnacht kuecheles and they are very similar to the French or New Orleans biegnet. They are traditionally eaten the day before Lent as a (now mostly symbolic) act of using up all the rich, luxurious, and fatty foods before spending the next 40 days in introspection (living lean). The names of the day may change from one tradition to another but they all basically mean the same thing. The English name is Shrove Tuesday…shrove is the past tense of shrive, loosely meaning to offer confession or penance. In French, Mardi Gras translates literally as Fat Tuesday…the last of the “fatty stuff” for 40 days. And Carnival, translates loosely as “farewell to meat,” or “farewell to flesh,” meaning goodbye to meat and/or carnal pleasures for a while. What I find interesting is something new I learned about the German version of these doughnuts, not so much the recipe itself but its etymology. I have been fascinated with languages my entire life but know almost nothing (fast nichts) about German. Anyhow, I always thought that the word for these doughnuts–fastnachts–meant fast night, or the night before the fast…Lent. And this still may be true. But when I did some electronic translating and broke the phrase into two words–fast nacht--I’ve come to see that it translates literally as almost night, likely making reference to the somber darkness that shrouds the next 40 days of the Christian Calendar. Unrelated but still related to this recipe, the word kuecheles, is likely a variation of küchle, meaning fritter. Anyhow, these are very simple to make and super-delicious. The one thing that’s not shown in the photos but is included in the recipes (and is the best part) is that they are tossed in powdered sugar while still warm. And I can still hear my mother’s voice from when I was a boy and tossing the kuecheles with eager anticipation (just as I do today)…”Joey,” she would yell while standing in front of her frying pan, “You’re getting sugar everywhere.” And I likely was.

Fastnacht Kuecheles

Makes about 3 dozen

 

1 cup water (room temperature)
1 cup milk (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons yeast
6-7 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar

Combine the water, milk, sugar, yeast, and two cups of flour in a large bowl. Allow to rest for 1 hour, or until the yeast is fully active. Transfer to an upright mixing bowl with a dough hook. Add the eggs, melted butter, salt, and 4 cups of flour. Run the mixer on low for 1 minute (if the dough seems too sticky add the remaining cup flour) then turn to medium and knead for 5 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rest at room temperature for about an hour, or until double in size. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and cut into three pieces. Shape into balls, cover, and let rest 20 minutes. Roll into large circles about 1/4 inch thick, then cut the dough into diamonds 2-4 inches wide. Cover the diamonds with a cloth and let rest 10 minutes. Preheat a couple inches of vegetable oil to 350F in a heavy skillet. Carefully fry the fastnachts in batches, cooking them for a couple minutes on each side until they are puffed and golden-brown; drain on absorbent paper. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, then toss a few at a time in a paper bag with confectionery sugar.

Urban Simplicity

Maghmour!

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So before I begin discussing this recipe I have to mention my usual mantra that is common to most of the recipes which are posted on this blog…this is so delicious but also nutritious and incredibly simple to prepare. Also, this is simply a suggestion, not a blueprint. Meaning add or delete ingredients and seasonings as you like. It is, after all, your food.

That said, this is a Lebanese eggplant and chickpea stew. Some refer to this as a Lebanese version of moussaka but personally I don’t see the connection. This recipe is sort of large but it is one of those foods, like soup, that actually tastes better the second day. What I really like about this recipe–besides everything–is that the eggplant melts into the sauce giving it a sort silken quality. In this recipe I used canned tomatoes but in the summertime I would likely use fresh. This is also a chameleon of a recipe in that not only can it be eaten as an appetizer (on toast points or with flat bead), as a side dish or part of mezze table, but also as a main course over rice or with a fried egg on it (as I ate it the other night). 

For additional Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here


Maghmour
(Lebanese Eggplant and Chickpea Stew)

Serves 6-8

¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium eggplant, diced
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons crushed hot pepper
2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
1 cup water
1 (28oz. can) crushed tomatoes
2 (15oz. cans) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small bunch mint, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook for a few minutes while stirring, until the onion just begins to brown.

Add the garlic and the diced eggplant. Initially the eggplant will absorb the oil and begin to stick to the pan, it is for this reason you should stir nearly continuously for a couple minutes.

Once the eggplant softens, begins to brown, and releases the oil, add the smoked paprika, salt, hot pepper, and cumin seed. Cook the spices for a minute or two.

Stir in the water, tomatoes, and chick peas. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower to a slow simmer. If it is too thick add additional water. Simmer the stew for 15-20 minutes.

Stir in the mint and remove the stew from the heat. This can be eaten hot, room temperature, or even chilled in the summer months.

Urban Simplicity.

Journal Entree 1.12.17, or how to make potato pancakes, or a day in a life.

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In the same way that an auto mechanic may repair other people’s cars all day yet he himself drives a jalopy, I being a lifelong professional cook often have a refrigerator and cupboard that are spartan to say the least. Such was the case today when deciding on dinner.

When surveying possible options I noted an odd assortment of ingredients…a couple potatoes, a half-head of cauliflower, a spaghetti squash, a bell pepper, an onion, an avocado, and a few other things. Potato pancakes is first that came to mind, and I’d also add cauliflower for added flavor and nutrition. So I peeled a potato and hand grated it. The sound of the grating brought the dogs running, hoping to catch scraps. I put the grated potato in a bowl and mixed it with a couple eggs to keep it from tarnishing while I prepared the remainder of ingredients.

While removing the core of the cauliflower I noticed that some of the plant was a bit soft and gray, so I cut that away as well. A metaphor of life, I suppose; not everything is perfect but you simply deal with it, focusing on the good parts and letting things unnecessary fall away. I then chopped the florets small—the size of grains of rice—and added them to the bowl with the potato and egg. Mixing it with my bare hand it felt cold from the fridge, and the contrast of textures felt odd.

After julienning a small bell pepper and half an onion I added them to the bowl as well, along with some crushed hot peppers, sea salt, shredded cheddar, and about ½ cup whole wheat flour. I then mixed everything together, put a plate over the bowl and set it in the fridge. It was late afternoon and I was planning ahead. Before heading to the local JCC for a steam and swim I texted my son, “Making potato pancakes for dinner. They’ll be ready around 6:30.” Home cooked food is always bait to a young broke college student.

On my bike ride to the JCC it was drizzling a little, more of a mist than rain. What an odd winter, I thought; it should be snowing now. But I’m not complaining. And on the way home the rain had stopped and the temperature dropped. It was dark now and the streets seemed oddly deserted. I was still sweating from the steam room as I pedaled home and the cold air felt good; refreshing. My phone buzzed in my pocket and when I stopped at a traffic light I checked it. It was a text from my son, “I’m here.” I looked at my watch and it was 6:30.

Arriving home, and after parking my bike off to the side of the living room with the others, I put another log in the wood stove, which was down to embers, then went to the tiny kitchen to feed the dogs.  While the dogs ate I retrieved the pancake batter from the fridge and mixed it. Then while my son minced garlic I began frying the pancakes, dropping them in the hot oil by the spoonful and shaping them as they spat and sputtered. Some of the oil jumped onto my fingernail and I exclaimed, dammit!, startling the dogs.

While the pancakes cooked in batches, we cooked spaghetti squash in olive oil with garlic and hot peppers. When the first batch of pancakes came out of the pan I cut one and we ate it with our hands. It was delicious and also tempting to eat the rest that way, but we refrained.

When everything was complete—the pancakes, spaghetti squash, sliced avocado drizzled with olive oil and hot sauce, and a couple small peeled sweet oranges—we ate together at the kitchen counter and talked. I learned some things that have happened in my son’s life recently and he in mine.

When we were finished, I wrapped the remaining pancakes, first in paper then in plastic, for my son to take with him. After he had left I put another log on the fire to keep the chill at bay while I headed out for an evening beer. The cold air felt good as I walked the few blocks to a local cafe. And as I sat sipping my beer I thought of the dinner we had together, and how delicious it was—literally and figuratively—and it was made with just a few simple things. It was a dinner, yes, but also it was another day in a life.

Potato-Cauliflower Pancakes with Cheddar

Makes about 8 pancakes

1 cup grated potatoes

1 cup minced cauliflower

2 eggs

½ onion, julienned

½ bell pepper, julienned

½ cup shredded cheddar

½ cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

½ teaspoon baking powder

vegetable oil for pan-frying

Combine all of the ingredients except the vegetable oil and mix well. Cover and let stand for a few minutes. Mix again, then pan-fry I about ½ inch of hot oil until golden and crisp on both sides ad the potatoes are cooked. Transfer to absorbent paper.

Aloo Gobi…

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Aloo gobi…the classic Indian dish consisting of mostly potatoes (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi). Peas are often included. Spices vary and can be interchanged to your liking. In the version I made for dinner last night (pictured) I also added whole coriander seed. I used dry chilies but fresh can be used as well. Interchange ingredients and seasonings. Eat this as a side or main course with basmati rice. It’s simple to make, super delicious, and healthy. Make it and you won’t be sorry.

Aloo Gobi

(Potatoes, Cauliflower, and Peas)

Serves 4

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 small onion, diced

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 slices ginger, minced

1 tablespoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon whole cumin seed

½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper

1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets

¼ cup water

¼ cup lemon juice

1 cup frozen peas

1 small bunch cilantro, washed and chopped

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet and add the onion and potato. Cook these for a couple minutes, until they just begin to change color. Add the garlic and ginger and cook another minute. Stir in the black mustard seeds, salt, turmeric, cumin seed, and crushed hot pepper; cook for a minute to release it’s flavor and aroma, then stir in the cauliflower, coating it with oil and spices. Add the water, then cover the skillet and cook the potatoes and cauliflower for a couple minutes. Stir in the peas and lemon juice; cook for a minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cilantro.

Urban Simplicity

Sweet Potato Latke with Cheddar and Jalapeño

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After scrounging around my fridge and kitchen counter the other evening I came up with the ingredients for the following recipe. So I made these. I ate half of them, then my son stopped over and ate the other half. Super easy to make. Super delicious. Slightly sweet, slightly spicy. Try to eat just one. I dare you.

Sweet Potato Latke with Cheddar and Jalapeño

Makes about 12

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and grated
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ medium onion, sliced thin
2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
canola oil for pan frying

Combine all of the ingredients except the canola oil and mix well. Heat about ¼ inch of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Using a large spoon, drop dollops of the latke batter into the skillet and flatten them with the back of the spoon. Cook them on both sides until golden brown and cooked throughout. Transfer to absorbent paper.  

Urban Simplicity.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies!

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I made these at my job today, mostly because I really like peanut butter and chocolate. But whenever I smell–and then taste–peanut butter cookies it brings me back to my childhood with Rockwellian memories; my mom used to make these (sans chocolate). They were one of my favorite then and still are. These are exceedingly simple to make. The recipe is below.

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup butter

½ cup peanut butter

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1¾ cups mini chocolate chips

granulated sugar for garnish

 

Preheat an oven to 350F.

Mix the flour and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an upright mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the butter, peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Run the mixer on low for a few seconds, then turn on high. Cream the ingredients for a few minutes until light in both texture and appearance. Then add the egg and mix on medium for another minute. Add the flour and mix on low speed until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and mix until combined.

Spoon or scoop the cookies onto a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper (but not oiled). Dip a fork in the remaining sugar and make an ‘X’ pattern in the cookies, pressing them down gently. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the centers are still soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before eating.

Urban Simplicity.

Spicy Kibbet Batata with Broccoli (yum!)

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Ok, so first of all…these tasty little nuggets are addictingly delicious. The recipe may look like a lot of steps at first glance but this is really easy to prepare. This is, of course, a vegetarian version of the famous Lebanese dish, kibbeh. I have posted other versions or variations of this recipe here, and also variations of kibbeh here. And yes, before you ask, these can be baked rather than pan-fried, but they wouldn’t be as crispy-crunchy. They are delicious as is, dipped in yogurt, over rice, or as I ate them, over a salad. The dough can be made and cooked when you need it. These really are simple to make, bursting with flavor, and nutritious as well. For additional Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here.

Spicy Kibbet Batata with Broccoli

Makes a couple dozen patties

2 potatoes, peeled and diced

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced

1 head broccoli, chopped

1 bunch parsley, washed and chopped

1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped

1 cup bulgur wheat

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon whole cumin seed

1 teaspoon whole coriander seed

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ cup whole wheat flour

oil for pan-frying

Boil the potatoes until soft, then drain them and set aside.

Combine the onion, garlic, and jalapeno in a food processor and process until finely minced, then set aside.

Combine the parsley and cilantro in a food processor and process until minced, then set aside.

Place the chopped broccoli in a food processor and process until finely minced, then set aside.

While the potatoes are still warm, combine them with the bulgur wheat in a bowl and mash and stir them until thoroughly mixed, cover the bowl and let rest while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

 

 

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or shallow pot, then add the onion, garlic, jalapeno mixture; cook until it just begins to brown. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, hot pepper, and salt. Cook the spices for just a minute, then add the broccoli. Cook the broccoli, while stirring, for a few minutes, until it is softened. Add the spiced broccoli mixture to the bowl with the potatoes and bulgur; mix to combine. Add the parsley and cilantro; mix to combine. Then add the flour and mix that in as well. All the mixture to rest for about 20 minutes.

After the resting period, knead the dough for just a minute, then shape into small patties (if the mixture is too loose add additional flour; if it is too crumbly add a small amount of water). Heat about 1/8th inch oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the patties in batches on both sides until golden brown and cooked throughout.

 

 

Urban Simplicity.

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