Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Curried meatballs from South Africa

South African meatballs are called 'rissoles" in more English-influenced circles and 'frikkadels" in more Africaner circles. I wound up using the Afrikaner name because it is more accurate, closely resembling the words for meatball, or meat cake, in Denmark, parts of Germany and Holland. Rissoles, by contrast, are more like croquettes in their original European meaning.

I wrote a column on meatballs around the world in my food commentary and recipe series in the Athens Banner-Herald. Here's the South African feature.

The curried version of frikkadels I selected is a fusion of several of the food traditions that form South African cuisine, including Dutch-Afrikaner, Indian, Cape Malay and English.

South African Frikkadels in Curry Gravy


2 tablespoons finely minced onion
1 egg
1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3/8 to 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 pounds ground beef or lamb
Flour for dusting
Oil for frying

Combine onion, egg, bread crumbs and seasonings in large bowl. Add meat and combine, handling mixture gently, without kneading it.

Form into 12 burger-shaped cakes, 3/4-inch thick. Dust lightly with flour on both sides.

Fry over medium heat in pan with a little oil, turning occasionally, until lightly browned. Remove to a plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil.

Curry Sauce:

1 small-medium onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2-inch fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup water
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 medium tomato, cored and chopped
Salt to taste

In pan used for the meatballs, fry onion gently with the reserved oil, stirring frequently. When they begin to turn golden, add garlic and ginger. Stir and fry 1 minute.

Add curry powder plus pepper. Fry very gently, stirring, 1 minute.

Add water, apple and tomato. Simmer gently, covered, stirring frequently, until apple softens. Add sufficient extra water to make the sauce somewhat soupy. Add salt to taste. Simmer 1 minute.

Add fried meatballs to the curry. Simmer, turning them occasionally, for 5 minutes. Taste sauce, and add salt if needed.

Serve with rice.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sautéing brings out flavor of Brussels sprouts

Here's my first Athens Banner-Herald column of the new year.

Le Gourmet Fauche

Athens Banner-Herald

Published Wednesday, January 05, 2011

That classical winter vegetable, the Brussels sprout, is beloved to many and reviled by others. As with other vegetables exhibiting real character - such as eggplant, okra, fennel and endive - Brussels sprouts fit the cliché of "an acquired taste." I love them.

Although dreary if overcooked and gone gray, when handled well they are delightful. Their mild bitterness can be balanced by the tartness of apple or a little vinegar, or mellowed by cream or butter. The cook's challenge is to get the texture, color and nutty flavor right. Fortunately, that's not too difficult.

A fascinating plant, the Brussels sprout's tall stalk is studded throughout its length with sprouts resembling baby cabbages (which is what my kids used to call them), and is topped with a plume of kale-like leaves. The sprouts are members of the Brassica, or mustard, family and are an exotic variant of the same species as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

Named for Belgium's major city, these sprouts have been cultivated for centuries in North-Central Europe, though they were known to the ancient Romans. The city name applies not only in English, but also in French (choux de Bruxelles), the principal language of Brussels, and in Flemish (Brusselse spruitjes), the language of the surrounding countryside.

With their hearty flavor, Brussels sprouts hold up to vigorous culinary treatment. They pair well with robust meat or vegetarian fare, but would overpower delicate dishes.

The most familiar style is boiling them whole and salting, peppering and either buttering them or drenching them with heavy cream. Alternatively, boiled sprouts can be marinated like artichoke hearts or caramelized by frying in butter or, in Belgium, goose fat. They also can be puréed and seasoned with nutmeg and butter.

If the raw sprouts are shredded or their leaves are plucked off, the vegetable can be sautéed. Raw shredded sprouts make a hearty slaw-like salad or even a Thai-style salad. Recently, I've been sautéing shredded sprouts with a little onion and finishing them with cream or Balsamic vinegar. Here are these two variants, differing only in terms of what's stirred in at the end.

Either style makes a good side dish to strong-flavored meats or part of a vegetable plate. An alternative trick is to cook several smoked sausages, or previously fried savory meatballs, on top of the shredded sprouts to make a savory one-pot main dish.

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Cream or Balsamic Vinegar

1 pound Brussels sprouts

2 tablespoons minced shallot or onion

4 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Moderate sprinkle of black pepper

Small pinch grated nutmeg (optional)


Either 4 tablespoons light to heavy cream or 1 1/2 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar

Cut off bottom 1/4-inch of stem from sprouts. Cut sprouts in half, then slice 1/8-inch thick, or put trimmed sprouts through 2mm shredding blade of a food processor.

Mince shallot or onion and add them to pot with oil. Heat over medium burner until just starting to sizzle. Add sliced sprouts, salt and spices. Stir frequently and fry just until beginning to turn golden.

Add 4 tablespoons water, and stir to moisten. Cover, and let sprouts simmer, stirring frequently, until they become tender, but still are green (total of 8-10 minutes). Stir in cream or vinegar. If too dry, moisten with a little water. Bring just back to a simmer and remove from heat. Add salt if needed.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Hot Chocolate for a Wintry Day

With the arrival of the winter solstice, how about a classic wintertime drink? This is my column in the Athens Banner-Herald for my Wednesday spot three days before Christmas.

Here's a hot chocolate that's fancier than what Mama served after we played outdoors in the cold. I include an adult version, less sweet than some, with a touch of liqueur or liquor. The junior version has a marshmallow.

Chocolate, from "xocolatl," the Nahuatl (Aztec) word for a spicy, bitter drink made from cocoa bean paste, vanilla and hot chilies, was encountered in Mexico by the Spanish conquistador Hern n Cortéz. That Aztec drink, containing native Central American plants, goes back at least 2,000 years to the Mayans.

Introduced to Europe by the Spaniards, chocolate, especially once sugar and milk replaced the hot chilies, became a fashionable drink among the upper classes.

The terms "hot chocolate" and "hot cocoa" are virtually interchangeable. Both are made from cocoa powder, which is what remains of cocoa bean paste after the cocoa butter is largely removed. Cocoa dissolves, or is at least thoroughly wetted, when heated with liquid.

Cocoa powder is sold with the baking supplies, not with the drink mixes. Hershey's, the traditional U.S. brand, makes good hot chocolate. It still has the flavor from many people's childhoods. San Francisco's Ghirardelli produces a premium American cocoa. Several supermarkets carry their own brands of cocoa that are quite decent, too.

International cocoas, available sometimes in specialty shops or online, include Van Houten and Droste from Holland, Cadbury's from England and Kras from Croatia.

In addition to pure cocoa powders, there are instant cocoa mixes. I find those quite avoidable.

However, two good "drinking chocolate" solid preparations are available to dissolve in hot milk, one by Ghirardelli, the other, "Abuelita," from Nestlé of Mexico. The Mexican version is heavy in cinnamon.

My mother had a "secret" for rich creamy hot chocolate (which she called cocoa). She added canned evaporated milk - not for economy, but for flavor. Similarly, I make hot chocolate with a mixture of milk and canned evaporated milk.

Hot chocolate can be fancied up. For adults, stir into the cup up to a tablespoon of Kahl a, Cointreau/Grand Marnier, Baileys, Drambuie, Amaretto or Frangelica. Peppermint schnapps and cr me de menthe also are fun. Lacing it with brandy, rum or bourbon makes more serious hot chocolate.

The drink can be frothed, like cappuccino. It can be topped with whipped cream and dusted with cinnamon or nutmeg.

For kids, forget the adult flourishes. Just put a marshmallow in the cup before pouring in the hot liquid.

The recipe makes a quart of hot chocolate, or four to six servings. For convenience, the syrup part can be done ahead, and the hot chocolate made by heating the syrup with milk later.

Hot Chocolate

1/4 cup cocoa

1/4 sugar

1/8 teaspoon (scant) salt

Large pinch of cinnamon

1/2 cup water

1 (10-ounce) can evaporated milk

21/4 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix dry ingredients in pan. Using whisk, mix in water to moisten ingredients thoroughly.

Bring to gentle boil. Simmer 2 minutes, whisking frequently. Add both milks. Whisk occasionally while heating. Bring just to a simmer, but do not boil. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

Pour into cups to serve. If desired, stir into each cup up to a tablespoon of liqueur, brandy, rum, bourbon or a marshmallow.

Top with whipped cream, if desired. As an option, dust with cinnamon or nutmeg.