Archive for ‘Salads’

May 22, 2007

Salad Dressing and Olive Oil

I remember the story going something like this: One evening early in my parents’ relationship they were cooking dinner together. My mom said, “I’ll wash the salad if you make the dressing.” My dad looked at her, “Make?” He’d never thought of making dressing, and didn’t know where to begin.

My mother has a delicious vinaigrette recipe, which she promptly taught my dad, who has since then mastered it (though he and I disagree on the amount of herbs he uses). When my sister and I were little, there were always two groups in the kitchen: the prep and clean-up groups. My sister and I were support for our parents and I always preferred being the sous chef over the dishwasher – fancy that! Jobs would rotate and thus my sister and I also learned quickly how to make this dressing.

Vinaigrette is easily adapted – you just add things you like and experiment. If you’re anything like my family, you eat enough salad that it won’t take long for you to figure out your own tweak to the recipe. Sometimes I’ll add a shot of lemon juice or whipping cream, or I’ll leave out the garlic when I’m (gasp!) too lazy to peel it. Other times I’ll leave out the mustard, and I don’t even use dill because it’s not included in my spice rack – shame on me!

But enough of my culinary confessions. Let’s take a moment to talk about ingredients, and especially olive oil. There is a debate going on in the food world about quality ingredients. Now yes, fresh, organic, locally-grown ingredients are best. But that’s not really what I’m talking about here (unless you live in Italy, France, or California and can get local olive oil). Celebrity chefs, who tell you to use the best olive oil available, are making so much money these days with their specialty ingredients and utensils deemed to be of the highest quality. As Adam Roberts, the Amateur Gourmet, discovered in his home experiment, a blind test may surprise you and the cheapest is actually the tastiest. Another example is the discount grocery chain Aldi, whose olive oil is much better ever since Stiftung Wahrentest rated their olive oil so low that Aldi replaced its supplier with a different one and demanded a retest. I pay about four Euros at Lidl for my Bertolli olive oil and I’m happy with it. I know there’s better stuff out there, but this is just fine for me and my wallet.

In the end I figure that you have much more control over any homemade dressing you make and can design it to match your taste, even if you don’t use “top of the line” ingredients. That must be better than any expensive, celebrity-recommended store-bought dressing.

Margit’s Salad Dressing

5 Tbsp Olive Oil (my mother actually uses half sunflower and half olive oil)
1 ½ Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 clove Garlic

1 dash of Oregano (dried)
1 dash of Dill (dried)
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a canning jar with a screw-on lid measure in oil, vinegar, garlic, and herbs*. Start off with small amounts, because you can always add more. Add a knife-tip of mustard, or to taste, and shake the jar vigorously. Taste the dressing and adjust seasonings (usually this involves adding salt and/or vinegar). Store in refrigerator until ready to use. It will hold a couple days chilled, but it won’t last as long as your store-bought varieties.

*If you use fresh herbs, your dressing will thicken, and you will have to recalculate your liquids accordingly.

April 25, 2007

Tomaten-Mozzarella Salat

I know what you’re thinking: “That’s a Caprese Salad, and that’s not German, it’s Italian!” Well, caprese salad is perhaps as German as pizza or spaghetti is American. The first time I had this salad was at the Micha’s house (family friends of ours who are both called Micha, one short for Michael and the other short for Michaela, pronounced with the German “ch” in the back of the throat). It was summertime and they were putting together a light supper for us all. My whole family fell in love and we have eaten this salad ever since.

Like most things, it tastes best when its ingredients are in season. Thus we absolutely love it in summer when we can use our own garden tomatoes. I was excited when I made my first salad of the year today, though the tomatoes are still lacking in flavor and I look forward to better ones in the coming months! My family has used everything from tiny cherry tomatoes to roma and beyond. In Germany it’s very easy to find buffalo mozzarella; however, in the States this proves harder (though it can be found at Trader Joe’s and other specialty food stores if you’re willing to pay the price!). Therefore, my family often chooses to crumble feta cheese on top instead, which has a stronger flavor but still works very nicely with the other flavors.

We slice the tomatoes thinly and arrange them on a plate. Then we slice buffalo mozzarella, equally as thinly, and arrange that around the tomatoes. Next comes garlic, chopped in small slices as well (see a pattern?). This is spread on top of the tomato and cheese and sprinkled with ripped basil leaves. Top it off with a drizzle of quality olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and serve immediately!

January 30, 2007


Food presentation is an interesting phenomenon. Not the fact that one can have a career in making food look pretty (which is admittedly impressive), but the fact that we have the need for making food look pretty in the first place. No matter what our first-grade teachers told us about finding the beauty of a person on the inside, humans seem to be, by nature, obsessed with looks. Looking at it this way, it doesn’t seem surprising that we would also let aesthetics influence our taste long before we’ve taken a bite.

Children will much more readily eat sliced apples than grab the whole apples sitting on the counter. I experienced this first hand while at a choir retreat with fifth and sixth-grade children last fall: we had apples, bananas, and oranges sitting out all weekend and no one ate them. I recalled one of the cooks at the International Language Camp mention this phenomenon, that sliced fruits and vegetables are more likely to be eaten, and decided to give it a shot. It worked like magic: in the last afternoon, thirty children ate upwards of five kilograms of apples (sliced and unpeeled), three bunches of bananas (chopped into thirds but not peeled), and three kilos of mandarins (peeled and wedges separated). The Germans even have a word for food served in smaller pieces: mundgerecht (literally: suitable for the mouth).

It doesn’t seem to affect choice in general if fruit pieces are peeled or unpeeled, as long as they’re not brown with age. A couple bananas were left over before rehearsal started, and after an hour and a half of singing, no one wanted to touch the slightly browned, though otherwise perfectly fine, pieces anymore. Some people may say slices are more often eaten with other sauces and dips (such as caramel cream dips sold in produce sections of American grocery stores), but in my opinion that’s not necessary either. None of these fruits were served with dips, and they were eaten just the same. My theory is: if the kids don’t know the option is there, they won’t ask for it.

This makes me wonder if the evolution of salads comes from this tendency to want to chop things up and make them easier to eat. Continuing my postings on salads (we’ve had cucumber salad before and I promised more to come) I thought I’d post about the wonderfully tasty carrot salad. Carrots in general seem to be difficult for us as a society to eat plain (in the US as well as Germany): usually when we eat a raw carrot we eat carrot sticks, and in Germany people still chop their carrots up every morning for their snacks. American capitalism, in contrast, has picked up on carrot sticks and produced ready-to-eat flavorless mini carrots in smaller portions, so we don’t have to chomp down on a large, vitamin and flavor-rich root. Even the organic industry has jumped on this bandwagon, with disappointingly little or no taste difference that I can tell. We have been carrot brainwashed to the point that we have all forgotten how a real carrot should taste. And what a surprise it was for me when I bit into a real carrot here in Germany for the first time in years and realized: carrots taste really good! So next time you’re in the grocery store, resist your human instincts for having things mundgerecht: don’t buy the processed minis – reach for the real thing. This won’t only save your taste buds, but it will save your wallet and the environment as well (just think of the waste factories produce in chopping and shaving all those carrots).

Karottensalat (German Carrot Salad)

375 g shredded carrots (about three “real” large carrots)
10 Tbsp vegetable oil (you can try this with olive, but it will give a different flavor)
4 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp mirin (this is a sweet rice wine, you can substitute in sugar, but start with only one teaspoon, as it’s much stronger)

I like to make this recipe with organic carrots, because then I only have to wash them rigorously before shredding them. This saves all the vitamins that are just under the skin. Mix the dressing and pour it over the carrots. Taste the salad for flavor, adjust as desired/necessary. You can also add a shredded apple if you like (Granny Smith is good) or a handful of sunflower seeds for a twist in flavor and texture. Let the salad steep and serve at room temperature. I like to serve this alongside a green salad to make it a bit fancier. Cucumber salad can also be served with these.

January 6, 2007

Happy New Year!

In my family’s tradition, I celebrated this New Year (this time with friends in my apartment) cooking up a storm all day long and preparing a four-course meal. We started off with Udon Noodle Soup, the recipe for which I got from one of the many new cookbooks I got for Christmas (this one was “Harumi’s Japanese Home Cooking” from my sister Hanna). It was the perfect dish to prepare with friends, as it involved us having to stomp on the dough to give it the chewy texture! In China, according to a Chinese family friend, noodles are made when friends who have been visiting for a while leave. The noodles symbolize the bonds of friendship. This was fitting not only for this several-night-stay at my apartment from my Hamburg friends, but also because Emilia has just finished up her 3-month internship here in Dresden and is continuing on to another internship and other adventures that lie ahead.

For our main dish, Emilia and Julian made stuffed zucchini and red peppers with a hint of curry. We also all pitched in to make an amazing salad with passion fruit, pomegranate, tomatoes, cucumbers, really good olives directly from a Tuscan farm (grâce à Emilia), capers, and green-leaf lettuce. Each bite was an explosion of flavors, none too overpowering and all complementing each other nicely. We ate so much that we didn’t make it to the dessert until the next morning at breakfast. It was a mélange of plain yoghurt and quark, with the remains of the passion fruit and pomegranate, as well as chopped pears, apples, and bananas and sweetened with a bit of vanilla sugar and honey.

When I woke up late in the morning on the first, I was struck with a slight tinge of sadness and apprehension. I’m known to have difficulties letting things go (especially good things), and as 2006 has come and gone, I realize it was a very happy, successful year. I thought I’d list some highlights here, as my blog’s birth (in this form) is indebted to last year:

Highlights of the Fantabulous Year 2006: [in somewhat chronological order]

- Dancing with my 91-year-old Grandfather to a Strauss walz just after midnight on January 1st, 2006.

- Opening my mailbox at the Campus Center and getting my acceptance to the Fulbright (involving, yes, jumping up and screaming and causing a scene) How happy I was to know what I would be doing in five months!

- Visiting Washington D.C. over spring break for the first time and seeing the monuments and museums. Highlight of that trip: seeing Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian.

- Successfully performing the Brahms e minor Cello Sonata with my good friend Kait at her senior recital (which, because the piano part is equally important and arguably more difficult, we affectionately called the “Pello Sonata”).

- Organizing multiple fundraisers to send me and my dorm (La Maison Française) on an almost-all-expenses-paid trip to Montreal.

- Graduating from Smith College with (unexpected) honors and completing what were an amazing, if tumultuous, four years.

- Spending a wonderful summer in Oregon, including being a teacher at the International Language Camps and seeing David on a daily basis!

- Launching Beyond Burgers and Bratwurst in its current form and discovering a wonderful world of food blogs, and the field in which I’d like to continue my studies!

- Successfully beginning my Fulbright in Radeberg, seeing my Hamburg friends regularly, making new friends, and moving into my first, very own apartment.

Can 2007 top that? We’ll only have to wait and see. I plan on it being just as good, if not better. In the meantime, try making some udon noodles yourself – although not quite German or American, they’re tasty and fun!

Harumi’s Udon Noodles

235ml Water
25g Salt
350g Strong Flour
150g All-Purpose Flour
extra Flour for dusting

In a bowl, dissolve the salt in a bit of the water, then mix the rest of the water in. Add both flours into the bowl and knead together. Place on a floured surface and knead 5-10 minutes with your hands (go ahead an push down hard!).

Then place the dough in a plastic bag, wrap in a towel, and walk on it. I believe this releases the gluten thoroughly, thus making the dough pliable, but you’d have to ask a baking expert not me! After a couple of minutes, take the dough out, roll it out, then fold it and place it back in the bag for another walk. Repeat a few times (it will get really smooth), and then (still in the bag) leave it in a warm place for about three hours.

Take the dough out of the bag, form a ball, and then repeat the bag/towel/walk process. This time you’re trying to flatten it out, and Harumi recommends twirling on your heal. I found that holding the dough firmly with one foot while pushing out with the other worked, or just spreading your toes/feet out did the job as well.

When you’re satisfied, or exhausted, take the dough out, place it on a flowered surface, and roll out to about 3-4mm thick in as close to a square as you can get (we ended up with a rectangle, which was fine). Then fold the dough in three ways (like a business letter), and thinly (3-4mm) slice off noodles. The dough might get really sticky, so be sure to keep flour handy to dust the knife and dough. We found that if we held the cut noodles on each end and lightly twirled them, they got even thinner, which is good as they get quite thick in the water! Just be careful not to twirl them too thinly, as they’ll break.

Cook the udon for several minutes in softly boling water until really slippery (for Italian terms until way overcooked!). Drain in a colander, then turn on cold water and hold the noodles under the faucet to cool off. Lightly, with your hands, fluff the noodles to rinse off all the starch. Now you can serve them with a tasty stock made with dashi (fish broth), a bit of soy and mirin and some finely chopped spring onions. You can let your creativity go wild with what other ingredients you’d like – we added julienned zucchini and squares of fresh tofu, though I’ve also had it with pulled chicken (as well as turkey). Some wakame seaweed also adds a nice touch!

Recipe adapted from “Harumi’s Japanese Home Cooking” by Harumi Kurihara, published 2006 by Conran Octopus.

November 22, 2006

German Cucumber Salad

Germany, salads served in restaurants and cafés, sometimes even ones served at home, are actually many different salads put together. A house salad might consist of greens, a carrot salad, and a cucumber salad. Each of the ingredient salads have their own dressing, so at the Mensa (transl: university cafeteria) I never top my salad with an extra dressing. However, Germans love dressing (they even call it Dressing because they’ve forgotten the perfectly good German word for it: Salatsoße) One of the most popular dressings is a yoghurt dressing, with plain yoghurt and herbs. I like the dressing in itself very much, but have yet to experiment with making it. Nevertheless, I thought I’d start my salad postings and give a recipe for a cucumber salad I made recently.

Everyone here in Germany seems to have their own recipe for cucumber salad, and most of the time it’s not written down, so it is only fair to point out that “German” is a relative word here. The only things that make this particular recipe German is that it comes out of a cooperation between me and a German friend of mine, Emilia. It tastes pretty much like cucumber salads you can get in German restaurants and Mensas, though, so I think we succeeded.

German Cucumber Salad

1 cup sliced Onion
1 sliced Cucumber (about 4 cups)
4 Tbsp Olive oil
2 Tbsp White wine vinegar
1 tsp Lemon juice
1 tsp dried Dill weed
Salt and Pepper to taste

Whisk the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, dill, and seasonings together to form dressing. Toss with cucumber and onion, let sit for about 15-30 minutes and serve at room temperature. The key to the salad is to slice the cucumber and onions as thinly as possible, so the flavors can really mix. The easiest way to do this is to use a mandolin. Holds well in the fridge for a couple days.