Red Cabbage Coleslaw

Coleslaw, seemingly an American staple salad-condiment, is actually from Holland. “Koolsla,” pronounced in Dutch exactly like coleslaw (double “o” in Dutch sounds like the long O in “rose”), is the shortened form of “koolsalade” -- cabbage salad.

Red cabbage produces a spectacular, if unorthodox, coleslaw. The dark, purplish color of the raw cabbage will brighten to deep red due to the acidity of the vinegar (the red-violet anthocyanins that give the cabbage its color are like pH indicators, changing color with acidity or alkalinity).

This dish serves well on a holiday buffet table. The recipe serves six to eight as a side dish, with easily stored left-overs.

1 medium head of red cabbage or 3/4 of a medium-large head
1 medium-large carrot
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (“real” preferred)
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
6 tablespoons white vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Discard any tough outer cabbage leaves. Cut off cabbage’s bottom inch. Cut the head in half through the stem and cut it again into quarters. Set a quarter on a board and cut away the core and any big ribs on the exterior.

Shred cabbage finely crosswise, either with a sharp knife on a cutting board, or with a food slicer (or in a food processor fitted with a 2-millimeter slicer blade). As you shred it, place the cabbage in a very large bowl for mixing.

Peel carrot and shred it, using the coarse side of a grater or the food processor fitted with a grater blade. Add it to the cabbage.

Add mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix well. It will be dry at first. Let it sit 15 or 20 minutes, mixing from time to time, until the cabbage softens and the juices increase. Taste and adjust salt, vinegar or sugar as desired.

Coleslaw is best if allowed to chill for an hour or more, or even up to several days, covered. Mix well and taste before serving and adjust salt, vinegar or sugar if needed.


Fig (or Apricot) and Feta Appetizer

Here’s a holiday appetizer combining two of my favorite foods, dried Turkish figs and feta cheese. Adding bacon makes the result even more joyous. The appetizer is great spread on non-salty breads, like water crackers or baguette slices. An alternate fruit is dried apricots.

The recipe makes enough appetizer for 8 or more people. Serve unsalted crackers or baguette slices to spread it on.

1 cup dried figs (Turkish preferred) or dried apricots
1 cup feta cheese, drained and crumbled
3 strips fried bacon (optional)
1/4 cup orange juice (or 1 tablespoon frozen orange concentrate plus 3 tablespoons water)
1/4 teaspoon salt (less if using bacon), plus more to taste – feta varies on saltiness
A pinch of cayenne

Bacon version on right
Platter by Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens, GA
Cut the tough stems off the figs. Slice then chop fruit finely with a chef’s knife on a board, or chop by pulsing in a food processor. (If using dried apricots, chop by either method). Crumble the feta into tiny pieces, using the back of a fork. If using bacon, crumble then chop it finely.

Combine all ingredients and mix well. If too dry and firm, add a little more orange juice or water. Let sit for a few minutes, then taste the mixture. Add a little salt, if it tastes bland.

Let sit at least half an hour before serving, or better yet, refrigerate for hours to several days.

Shape into a mound on a decorative plate or small platter. Serve with water crackers or baguette slices to spread it on.


Green Beans and Rice: It started as Red Beans and Rice

I had intended to make Red Beans and Rice, a major comfort food from Louisiana, for my wife’s staff meeting. I had already purchased the ham and seasoning vegetables plus cans of small red beans. Then my son in law, Clyde, turned up with about four quarts of delicious homegrown green beans.

There is, in fact, a Cajun green beans and rice dish, called smothered green beans, though I didn’t know it when I started making my dish. I simply made my style of red beans and rice but used cut-up green beans instead of cooked red beans. Same roux, same “holy trinity” of flavoring vegetables, same ham, same Cajun seasoning.

And here it is. It’s pretty tasty. I’ll wait a bit until the weather’s colder and make what I originally intended.

The recipe serves six to eight. Cook the rice separately (see rice cooking in my blog post of 8/8/2019).

1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
1 Poblano pepper or green bell pepper, cored and diced
1-1/4 pound big slice of ham (such as Smithfield), fat removed, meat cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon tomato paste or 3 tablespoons ketchup
Low-salt chicken broth or water as needed
2 quarts green beans, tips cut off, beans cut 1-inch long
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (such as Louisiana brand or Chacheré’s) plus to taste
3 cups cooked short or medium grained rice (1 cup dry rice) for serving

In a heavy pot, cook the flour and oil together over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the roux starts darkening. Stir very frequently until roux darkens to the color of peanut butter. Add the diced vegetables, and stir and fry together for a few minutes until the vegetables start softening. Add the ham, and stir and fry several more minutes.

Add the tomato paste or ketchup, plus enough chicken broth or water to come up just below the surface of the ingredients. Simmer about ten minutes, or until the celery bits are tender. Add the green beans, and a little water, if needed, to keep it quite moist. Simmer, covered, a few minutes, then add Cajun seasoning. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, adding a little water if becoming dry. Taste for salt, and add more Cajun seasoning as need to get the salt to the desired level.

It’s best to let the stew cool and store, refrigerated, then reheat to eat. Spoon the mixture over hot cooked rice. Offer Louisiana style hot sauce as a condiment on the side.


Sautéed Winter Squash over Jalapeño-Cheese Grits: Demonstrated at Athens Farmers Market

Here’s the dish my grandson August and I demonstrated at the Athens Farmers Market this morning, October 5th. All the vegetables we used we purchased from the local farmers’ stands at the Market.

Prepare the grits first, and keep them warm while sautéing the squash. The recipes serve six-eight people.

Jalapeño-Cheese Grits:
1 cup milk
3-1/2 cups water (or 3 cups water plus 1/2 cup white wine)
1 cup stone-ground grits (Georgia, and yellow, preferred)
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon grated black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

In a heavy pan, bring milk and water (or water plus wine, if used) to a boil, being careful they don’t boil over. Stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, add the grits in a thin stream. Reduce heat to medium, and continue to stir frequently, scraping the bottom of the pot, as the grits begin to thicken, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the minced jalapeño, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to the lowest, cover the pot and simmer, stirring from time to time, until grits are becoming tender, 20 minutes or more depending on the grits used. Stir in the cheese. Taste, and add a little salt if necessary. Continue to simmer (or place the pot in a larger pan with an inch of boiling water to serve as a hot water bath as they simmer) until ready to serve, stirring from time to time and adding a little water if becoming thick. The longer the grits simmer the better. Before serving, do a final taste and adjust the salt, if necessary.

Sautéed Winter Squash or Pumpkin:
1 medium-large butternut squash or 2-pound piece of heirloom pumpkin (e.g., “Long Island Cheese” or French)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small-medium green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 very large clove garlic, minced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 large tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup water (or white wine), plus more water as needed
6 medium-large fresh basil leaves, cut in half
2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
A little more grated cheese, or minced parsley, for garnish

Peel the butternut or other pumpkin/squash, cut it across into 3/4-inch slices, scooping out the seed cavity when you get to that part. Cut the flesh into 3/4-inch chunks. Fry (sauté) these gently in a large pan with the olive oil, stirring frequently. Meanwhile prepare the other vegetables as indicated, keeping the tomato separate.

A sample at the Athens Farmers' Market
When the squash is just starting to become tender (test with a toothpick), add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeño. Add the salt and pepper, and sauté the mixture, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the bell pepper and onion become tender. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and sauté about 2 minutes, stirring carefully several times. Add half a cup of water and sauté briefly until the vegetables are tender. The mixture should be slightly wet. If not, add a little water to moisten. Taste several bits of vegetable and stir in a little salt, if needed. Remove from the heat, and stir in the basil and grated cheese.

To Serve
Spread a portion of grits on a plate. Spoon some of the squash mixture over it. Sprinkle with either a little grated cheese or minced parsley.


Hungarian Cottage Cheese (“Pot Cheese”) Appetizer Spread

I’ve been cooking a lot of Eastern European food recently, Russian “Tefteli” meatballs (see my blog posting of 10/2/2019), cheese-potato Pirozhki, radish salad with sour cream (see my blog posting of 10/2/2019), Transylvanian goulash. Maybe it’s fantasizing for cooler weather as this dry heat wave continues in Georgia.

Bowl by Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
Here’s a common appetizer from Hungarian cooking, which I encountered repeatedly at an authentic Hungarian restaurant I frequented when I was in school. It’s easy and satisfying.

Pot cheese, the homemade fresh cheese in Central Europe, is relatively close to the old fashioned dry-curd cottage cheese that used to be sold in the US. What seems available now is wetter “creamed” cottage cheese. It can be turned back into the drier version by letting sit in a sieve for an hour or so to drain.

The recipe will serve 8 to 12 as an appetizer with bread or crackers.

1 pint of fine curd cottage cheese
1 tablespoon minced chives or green onion tops
1/2 teaspoon paprika, Hungarian “sweet” (not hot) preferred
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (herb-seasoned can be good), plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne

Place cottage cheese in a strainer or cheese cloth over a bowl and let it drain for an hour.

Mix cheese well with remaining ingredients. Let rest a few minutes, then stir again.

Taste for salt, and add a little if needed. More paprika can be added if slightly pinker color is desired.

Let mixture sit for a while, refrigerated, to let flavors mellow.

Serve with bread or crackers to spread the mixture on.


Russian Meat-and-Rice Meatballs (Tefteli) are Comforting Home Cooking – and Gluten Free

At the Buford Highway Farmers Market, just outside I-285 in Doraville, north Atlanta, where I used to teach international cooking, I occasionally ate at their international food court. Among other cuisines there, the food court offered several genuine Russian dishes. There’s also a Russian bakery, an extensive Russian deli, and many Russian imports at the Market. The story is that several of the Russian women who baked there introduced their own family-style recipes for meatballs and stuffed cabbage rolls at the food court. I loved both the dishes. Where else in a public place can you get authentic Russian comfort food?

Some research informed that there are various types of meatballs in Russia, including “kotleti” (a variant on the name “cutlet”) and “frikadeller” (the Danish/Scandinavian name for meatballs). The meatballs at the Farmers Market food court are “tefteli” (тефтель), the “porcupine” meatballs containing rice grains rather than breadcrumbs. Those are what I eat at Buford Highway when I get the chance. As it turns out, the tefteli meatball is amazingly similar to the filling of the cabbage rolls (coincidence?), though the sauces for the two dishes are somewhat different.

People familiar with my cooking know how fond I am of meatballs, all kinds of meatballs. There are several other meatball recipes featured in this blog already (Swedish meatballs, 8/30/2019), Greek/Turkish meatballs, 8/20/2019), and Italian-American meatballs with spaghetti (7/30/2019); more will be coming.

A novel feature of tefteli meatballs is they are gluten-free, since their carbohydrate filler is rice rather than bread crumbs. In my own family, but especially among some of the customers at our restaurant, are individuals who cannot eat gluten, the principal protein in wheat, rye and barley. So these Russian meatballs are fine for gluten-intolerant people. That’s a bonus. I love tefteli for their flavors and texture.

The recipe makes enough for four people, Serve with a rice dish or noodles.

1 pound ground beef, pork or lamb
1 1/2 cups cooked unsalted rice
1/2 cup finely minced onion (use remainder of onion in sauce)
2 tablespoons minced flat (“Italian”) parsley, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Large pinch cayenne
2 eggs

Knead everything together well. Shape into 2-inch balls. Set aside while preparing the cooking sauce.

1/2 small-medium onion
2 medium tomatoes
1 small carrot
1/4 red bell pepper
3 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Minced parsley or dill for serving

Place mince onion, tomatoes, carrot and bell pepper, all cut in chunks, in food processor. Pulse the vegetables and scrape down inside of container, until mixture is very fine, but not quite puréed.

Fry the mixture in the oil in a very wide frying pan or casserole, stirring frequently, until mixture dries off and the oil emerges a little.

Add water, vinegar, salt and spices. Simmer several minutes.

Add meatballs in a single layer. Cover pan and simmer 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, but not stirring the meatballs (or they will break). Once meatballs have become more firm, move them carefully and turn them over. Simmer another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and basting them with the sauce. Add a little water if becoming too dry.

To serve, sprinkle with reserved minced parsley or dill.


Russian Radish Salad with Sour Cream and Dill

Generally, radishes are not one of my favorite vegetables because they can have a sharp bite. But they are beautiful, especially when thinly sliced or carved into roses. Happily, when prepared in vinegar and salt, as in a rémoulade or this Russian salad-like specialty, the sharpness is somehow neutralized and I then find radishes very enjoyable.

This radish in sour cream dish is served as an appetizer or a side condiment. The pink to red color, contrasted by the thin green strands of the dill, makes the dish delightful to the eye.

The recipe makes enough for 4 to 6 people as an appetizer or condiment.

Photo: Maria Dondero. Bowl: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
1 large bunch, or about 1 1/2 cups red radishes, smaller ones preferred
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon white or white-wine vinegar
Sprinkle of black pepper
1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill

Rinse and dry radishes. Cut off stems and root. Slice 1/8 inch thick.

Toss sliced radishes with salt. Stirring occasionally, let sit 1/2 hour to shed some liquid. Drain well.

Mix drained radishes with sour cream, vinegar, pepper and dill. Allow to rest 10 or more minutes. Taste and add salt, if desired.

The pink color emerges more if the salad is allowed to sit. Stir and taste for salt before serving.


Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese: Can be made by new, as well as experienced, cooks

Here’s a very easy mac and cheese that does not require baking. I worked out the recipe for my teenagers’ cooking class. Mac and cheese, of course, is the comfort food of that generation, and it recalls that comfort for older folks. The stovetop version takes less time and fewer steps than the baked version, and is one my young cooking friends are more likely to make themselves for their families and friends.

It draws on several unique techniques in a recipe in the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook and the almost identical recipe online by Alton Brown on the Food Network. Neither source mentions the other, and I cannot find a reference to Alton Brown having worked with America’s Test Kitchen. But virtually identical recipes by two different experts is hard to consider a coincidence.

At any rate, the following recipe is (nearly) what we made in the class, with several added tweaks based on how the class dishes turned out.

The recipe will serve six to eight people. Leftovers heat well in the microwave. This is good accompanied by a simple green salad, and/or buttered broccoli.

1 pound elbow Macaroni
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter for the macaroni
4 eggs
2 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk (regular milk doesn’t work as well)
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon Dijon or brown mustard
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne or 1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 pound (16 ounces) grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup rolled cracker crumbs or dry bread crumbs for topping (optional)
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil for topping (optional)

Boil macaroni in plenty of salted water, stirring very frequently at first so the macaroni pieces do not stick together. When tender but still a little firm (“al dente”), drain in a colander. Return the pasta to the cooking pot and stir in the butter until it melts. Cover the pot so the macaroni stays hot.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then mix in the evaporated milk, ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper and cayenne or hot sauce. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Cook over medium heat, stirring very frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot, for 5-8 minutes, or until creamy and starting to bubble along the edges. Taste and add salt, if needed.

If a topping is wanted, gently fry the breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs with the butter or olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the mac and cheese and sprinkle with the topping, if used.


Moussaka with Eggplant, a Greek and Turkish Delight

What can be more Greek than “Moussaka”? Actually the word came from Turkish, and Turks make the dish too. But actually the name is originally Arab and centuries old, rather than either Greek or Turkish; though the Arab dish is a little different from what we know as Moussaka in the West.

Layers of sliced eggplant covered by a chopped meat sauce, then by a potato-containing béchamel, topped with cheese is the most familiar moussaka. But there is a version with sliced zucchini rather than eggplant, and a winter version with sliced potato. The Greek style of Moussaka typically has red wine cooked into the meat layer, while the Turkish one, due to Islamic restrictions on alcohol, contains no wine.

Here is a Greek style of Moussaka, with a simple cinnamon-scented tomato sauce for the condiment. The recipe serves six to eight, though leftovers are delightful.

2 medium-large purple eggplants
Salt for soaking
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 pounds ground beef or lamb, 85% lean
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
2 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/3 cup crushed tomatoes (Hunt’s brand) from a 14-ounce can (save the rest for a sauce, below)
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 cup instant (dry) mashed potatoes
1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cut ends off eggplants. With vegetable peeler peel narrow strips of skin off the eggplants from top to bottom on 4 sides of the vegetable. Slice eggplants across 1/2-inch thick and soak in salted water (3 tablespoons salt to 3 quarts of water) for half an hour, mixing occasionally.

In a heavy pot, fry the onion with the ground meat and garlic until color has fully changed. Stir in the salt, seasonings, wine and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Let cool.

In a separate pot, cook olive oil and flour stirring with a whisk, to make a roux. Cook about 2 minutes. Add milk and cream and whisk as the mixture heats and thickens. Whisk in salt to taste, the pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat, and mix in the instant mashed potatoes.

Oil a large casserole dish. Drain eggplant well and layer it over the bottom of the dish. Spoon meat mixture over the eggplant and smooth out this layer. Spoon béchamel-potato mixture over this and smooth the top, bring it to the edge of the casserole. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.

Bake in 350-degree oven, using a lower shelf, 30-45 minutes, or until bubbling on the sides and the top browns to a medium-dark golden color. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least ten minutes.

Cut into squares to serve, lifting the pieces out with a metal spatula. Top with tomato sauce when serving (recipe below).

Tomato sauce for Moussaka

2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (minus the 1/3 cup used with the meat, above)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Cook onion in oil until softened. Add crushed tomato and seasonings. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add salt, if needed.

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