It is again that time of the year where white signals of smoke dot the valley.
Germans love grilling. Even at Christmas markets there is always a grill stand, with a spectacular round grill hanging from the ceiling, suspended over glimmering charcoals. They grill the much-loved Wursts in all varieties, but also Frikadellen (the über-fatty original of hamburgers), and pre-marinade steaks, mainly pork. There was a recent article on the local newspaper about how local political representatives decided to volunteer for grilling for charity – the CDU, the right-wing, conservative party, has decided to take care of the Würstchen, while the SPD, the more left-wing party, is going to barbecue pork steaks. Whether the Greens were offering a vegetarian option was not reported, but highly unlikely in my opinion. It was specified however that in order to simplify the organisation, the public should bring the drinks – that is, beer. Both parties are quite moderate in their positions anyway, and the newspaper made it clear that no political connotation would be given to food choice. Here is the picture appearing on the original article:
Another different grilling contribution is given by the numerous Gastarbeitern (guest workers) of Turkish origin who live here. I recently read a book written by a German-Turkish journalist, who grew up in Duisburg, a stone’s throw away from where I live. The title is sweet – “Einmal Hans mit sharfer Soβe”, Hans being the archetypical German boy. The title can be translated as : ‘A Hans served with hot sauce, please’. A phrase you’d use to order a kebab. Such a pretty way to capture the author’s torn identity between being German and Turkish, especially when it comes to finding the right man. She herself does not cook, but devotes pages and pages to her mom’s epic cooking and her dad’s equally epic barbecues. Allegedly in Berlin the Turkish habit of grilling in all spaces of public green, particularly in front of the Parliament, has caused some initial grumbles among the Germans, who, after an adjustment period, have actually joined the Turks in their grilling frenzy.
I find Italians and Turks are alike in this: we may not cook, but we surely are obsessed with food. We can spend hours talking about food, and it never struck me as weird until I met people from other cultures – people who were not foodies, just normal people who find it a bit weird to spend half an hour ranting over the best recipe for that dish (more often than not, a purely theoretical ranting). We are populations of foodies in a way. There are very few Italians who don’t care at all about what they eat.
We have a garden we share with other people, and since the weather has been incredibly warm, we had a barbecue. I was commenting with a friend how everyone seems to get drunk at barbecues – not (only) of alcohol, but of sun and open air. Part of its charms is that for once I am not in charge of most of the cooking – not that I mind it, normally, but it is a nice change now and again. For some reason guys love playing with fire. I am pretty sure I can whip up a decent barbecue if need be, but both my dad and my partner are keen firemakers and I’m happy to save myself a sweat and stinky hair. Add to all this that I whenever I can (ie, whenever it is vaguely acceptable from a social point of view) I eat with my hands. So yes, barbecues are my thing.
Apart from one detail. I eat meat, but I don’t really like barbecued meat. I can eat it, but it tastes so … ice age. Thank goodness I have discovered the huge world of Middle East cooking, with their delicately spiced brochettes and kebabs. Meaty, sure, but interesting. The recipe I prepare most of the times comes from Claudia Roden’s Middle East cookbook, again. I have adapted it to suit my taste, going quite heavy on the harissa. I like making my own when I have time, but for this recipe I always use store-bought one – we are talking about barbecue here, which translates strictly into ‘lazy cooking’ for me. And for the vegetable lovers, a recent discovery: via Melissa’s blog, Heidi Swanson’s white beans dip from her new book, which I just have to order, like, yesterday. It is very good. Veeeery good. Like, so good you may even stop doing hummus. Especially if you bring a big bowl at the barbecue, and eat it on toasted bread. And then grill some thin aubergine slices, and wrap them around a generous amount of that dip. Eat with your hands, making sure you drip the rosemary and garlic infused oil all over. Then eat a mushroom – little mushrooms are very good and very easy to grill on skewers, and totally delicious just dressed with a bit of olive oil and salt. Then bite into another slice of bread topped with tomatoes, a proper bruschetta.
And make sure you invite enough people who care enough about meat to eat it, because I guarantee you won’t.
Moroccan beef brochettes
500 g beef minced meat, with a good fat content (at least 20%) – or use pork, lamb or a mixture
1 onion, grated or very finely chopped
1 handful of flat leaf parsley, very finely chopped
2 teaspoon harissa
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix the meat with all the ingredients, making sure there are no big bits of anything. When then mixture is uniform, chill it for at least half an hour. Prepare the skewers you are going to use. I like using the very small oriental wood ones to make individual tiny brochettes, but also long metal ones work. Take a portion of the mixture the size of a small egg, and shape it around the skewer so that a thin cylinder of meat is formed. It should be very long and thin. Put in the fridge and chill well; cook on a barbecue. Cladia Roden warns to put enough fat on them, or they will stick to the grill. I certainly use fat enough meat, and this, together with keeping the skewers very cold until cooking time, has always prevented problems. They break quite easily if they are not cold, so don’t skip.
White beans dip
Note: I normally cut the amount of fat in all recipes I make. For some reason decided not to skip on the amount of olive oil in this one, and I am happy I did. It is an important taste component and brings the dip to a completely different level. It makes the dip so tasty that you’ll end up eating less of it anyway, if you only manage to have a little self-control. Same thing for the amounts of rosemary and garlic: like Melissa notes, it works like this, you don’t need more. Trust Heidi and Melissa, a good piece of advice.
60 ml extra virgin olive oil (4 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary (use fresh if you have it)
1 garlic clove
340 g cooked cannellini
50 gr peeled almonds
juice and zest of half a lemon
about 100 ml hot water (use the cannellini’s cooking water if you have it)
salt and white pepper, to taste.
Warm together olive oil, garlic and rosemary over a low heat until the mixture starts to sizzle very lightly. Remove from the heat (don’t let it fry any more!!) and let it rest for ten minutes. Strain off garlic and rosemary.
Meanwhile lightly toast the almonds and roughly chop them.
Using a had blender combine beans, 2/3 of the almonds, salt, lemon juice and 2/3 of the flavoured oil, adding enough water to have a thick paste. Taste and adjust seasoning. You want the lemon acidic note to be quite bright because it mellows out as the dip rests. Transfer to a bowl, smooth (or swirl, to taste) with a fork and top with remaining almonds, lemon zest and oil.
In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil, rosemary and garlic. Over medium-low heat, slowly warm the mixture until the oil just barely starts to sizzle, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside for 10 minutes. Pour the oil through a strainer and discard the garlic and rosemary bits.
In a food processor, combine the beans, two-thirds of the almonds, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the lemon juice and two-thirds of the rosemary oil. Pulse a couple of times to bring the ingredients together. Add the water 1/4 cup (60ml) at a time, pulsing all the while, until the mixture is the consistency of thick frosting. You might not need all the water; it really depends on how starchy your beans are and how thick you want your spread to be. Taste the mixture and add more salt and/or lemon juice to taste.