The New Convivialist

Tag: recipes

A Marriage and a Seaside Paella


A couple weeks back I was fortunate enough to be a guest at the wedding celebration of our friends and across-the-hall neighbors Nikolaus and Clarissa on the stunning island of Ibiza. No, it did not take place at the mega-club where Skrillex was in residency. The Ibiza we experienced was instead a dry, rolling farmland sheathed in a quiet interrupted only by lambs trotting through clumpy fields. All the wedding festivities were centralized around the hills of the tiny village of Santa Agnes de Corona, which the bride’s family has known as a home for nearly four decades. Read the rest of this entry »

Blue Sky Bakery Muffins a la Vegan


I always love a good challenge in the kitchen. Some years ago I started trying my hand at ‘special diet’ baked goods, not because I was vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, paleo, low-carb, or anything really, but because I thought it was fun. This may also have coincided with my decision to join the local food co-op, whose alternative diet offerings were endlessly appealing. The rows of organic produce, whole grains and nuts and fresh spices inspired eating in a specific (healthy) way. But maybe I really just wanted an excuse to buy that big brown bag of teff flour or huge squeezy container of agave nectar. They just looked so exotic that they needed to take a rightful place in my kitchen cabinet. Read the rest of this entry »

A Better Potato Salad (mayonnaise-free)


Both potato salad and egg salad, in their traditional senses, have always left me cold. Potato salad recalls a sweltering August afternoon, an enormous Tupperware container of gooey white mass, hanging out somewhere between the gas grill and the Dr. Pepper. And egg salad, even worse: grade school lunch. Smushed between two slices of white bread, mummified in plastic wrap, the sickening smell divulged all at once, as the thermo-bag in which it has been fermenting for five hours is unzipped. Read the rest of this entry »

Bulgogi and Vegetarian ‘Bulgogi’ : A Recipe

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In rural Spain, the tastes of South Korea are elusive. Or… not really. During my stay in the mountains outside Barcelona, I didn’t learn how to prepare calçots (the seasonal specialty that’s everywhere this time of year) nor did I try to recreate a melt-in-your mouth dish of stewed pigs feet I ate at the local restaurant. Instead I observed how to cook a staple of the Korean kitchen. Bulgogi, or ‘fire meat’ is one of the most popular Korean dishes, eaten both in the home and in barbecue restaurants as well as, apparently, in rural Catalunya.

I recently returned home after spending a couple of weeks in Catalunya at art artist residency, which consisted of a big old farmhouse renovated to accommodate up to twenty artists and writers living and working for short periods of time. I found myself there rather spontaneously and arrived without too many expectations. One perk of the residency is that dinner is prepared for all the artists nightly, allowing focus and attention only on the work at hand and not on such ‘mundane’ tasks as cooking a meal. While I appreciated this gesture in theory, naturally, being me, after three days I was itching to get into the kitchen and cook something inspiring for myself, even if it did take precious time away from working.

I was thrilled that among the other residents, two artists from Seoul were invited for the month. Apparently fed up or bored (or both) with Spanish food, they began at lunchtime a gradual commandeering of the kitchen to make Korean dishes. That is, within the confines of the limited ingredient availability found in rural Spain. One of the Koreans, Daniel, a bad-ass (just no other way to describe her) sculptor and street artist, was determined to perfect a version of Bulgogi and share it with the others in the group one night near the end of her stay. So, every day for a week, she could be found in the sunny kitchen chopping heads (yes, entire heads-see photo below) of garlic and marinating beef in a pungent soy sauce mixture, practicing her technique.

That last Thursday night, at the exceedingly early hour of 7pm – remember this is Spain – the dinner of beef and vegetarian bulgogi, along with a thick spring onion-cheese omelet was inhaled all of us, including the most traditional of the Spanish eaters, in utter silence.

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Recipe: Bulgogi

½ kilo beef, best is rib-eye or sirloin steak, cut across the grain in thin slices

½ head of garlic, minced

1 onion, cut in half and sliced into moon shaped pieces

2-3 spring onions, white and green parts, sliced

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1-2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

red chili flakes, to taste

black pepper, to taste

neutral oil, for frying pan


1. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, sesame seeds, chili flakes and pepper in a bowl and stir together.

2. Place the sliced beef, garlic, onions and spring onions in a bowl. Pour the marinade over the top and gently stir with your hands, lightly massaging the meat to infuse it with the sauce. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight, or at least a few hours.

3. Heat the oil over medium flame in a frying pan. Sauté the mixture in batches, browning the meat on one side, and then turning over (flip only one time)

4. Serve with rice or lettuce leaves


Recipe: Tofu Bulgogi

¼  kilo firm tofu, cut into thin bite-sized squares

½ head of garlic, minced

1 onion, cut in half and sliced into moon shaped pieces

5 spring onions, white and green parts, sliced

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1-2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

red chili flakes, to taste

black pepper, to taste

neutral oil, for frying pan


1. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, sesame seeds, chili flakes and pepper in a bowl and stir together.

2. Place the tofu, garlic, onions and spring onions in a bowl. Pour the marinade over the top and very gently stir with your hands, since the tofu breaks easily. Cover tightly and refrigerate at least a few hours.

3. Heat the oil over medium flame in a frying pan. Sauté the mixture in batches, browning the tofu on one side, and then turning over (flip only one time).

4. Serve with rice or lettuce leaves

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Ukrainian Varenyky

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Before we can even begin to discuss Ukrainian food, please follow this simple set of instructions: chill a tumbler and a bottle of vodka in the freezer until they are both opaque with frost. Remove and pour yourself, oh, about 20 cl (I do hope you’ve chosen a large enough glass). If you are a man, drink in one fluid swill. If you are a woman, you are permitted to sip, but not too leisurely.

Good. Now that the most important element of our mise en place is taken care of, let’s talk about Ukrainian dumplings. The process of making Pelmeni (meat-filled dumplings) and Varenyky (vegetarian dumplings) from scratch is admittedly a time-consuming one, but also fun and even meditative, so if you have time, I would recommend inviting few friends, chilling a larger bottle of vodka and whiling away a few hours over small rounds of dough.

This is just the way we did it in friends’ Theodora and Benjamin’s cozy kitchen a couple weeks ago. Both are excellent cooks, interested and skilled in an astonishing range of cuisines, but at my urging Theodora kindly demonstrated some classic dishes from her native Ukraine. During our lengthy dumpling preparation, Benjamin proved just as capable with quintessential Eastern European tastes, producing palatable appetizers of smoked trout toasts with cucumber dill salad and serving up perfectly spicy Bloody Marys, all while tending to a rich stock simmering steadily on the stove.

Theodora emigrated with her family from Ukraine to Germany in the early ‘90s. Though she describes her own parents’ cooking as eclectic, growing up she managed to learn the ways of the traditional cuisine on visits back to Ukraine with her grandmother, who would think nothing of spending a few hours in the kitchen making Varenyky from scratch. Compounding the difficulty of this feat was the fact that the inside of Gran’s house in rural Ukraine was without running water. Taking into consideration our contemporary habits of popping a pack of ravioli in a pot of boiling water, this indeed sounds challenging. But on a visit outside to the well to get some water, one also would encounter parsley or dill plants the size of small trees growing in the garden, alert and ready for picking.

In Berlin we are blessed with a great number of resources for Russian groceries, including one in particular that I’ve been meaning to visit for ages, a 24-hour supermarket in Charlottenburg. So, if you get a hankering for Varenyky at, say, 3 am on a Thursday morning, rest assured you can pick up a jar of preserved tomatoes like the kind we used as a side dish, or a package of pickled cabbage, which we fried with onions as the dumplings’ filling. Even still, Ukrainian dumplings can be made easily with very normal ingredients found just about anywhere in any season: flour, eggs, ground meat, root vegetables and, of course, dill. The combination of flavors like beets and dill will taste definitively Eastern European to most. When you recall how many different cuisines have a proprietary version of dumplings (I’ve already written about a bunch of them- for example, here and here), you realize that they represent a kind of lowest-common-denominator food. Roll out some dough thinly and fill with basically whatever you have lying or growing around. Close it up somehow (this usually depends on what the filling is and where you come from, but interestingly enough, I experienced the same style of dumpling closure for both Pelmeni and Chinese dumplings). Boil in a broth or water and serve hot with a simple sauce.

Call them what you will, but dumplings have that satisfying and simple constitution that makes them the go-to comfort food the world round.

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Recipe: Ukrainian Dumplings (Varenyky and Pelmeni)

Note about amount: you can scale these up if you want to serve lots of people or freeze leftovers, very handy given the lengthy process

For the dough:

2.5 cups all-purpose flour (plus a few more tablespoons as needed)

½ cup water (plus a few more tablespoons as needed)

1 egg

1 tsp salt

For the Pelmeni filling:

1 carrot, finely grated

1 onion, very finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely grated

approx. ¼ kilo ground beef

lots of salt and pepper

For the Pelmeni finishing:



For the Varenyky filling:

1 onion, finely chopped

1 package (500 grams) sauerkraut (‘kapusta’) or cabbage

For the Varenyky finishing:

1 onion, finely chopped

lardons or bits of bacon

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1. Make the dough: Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl, turn out onto a working surface and form into a mound. Make a hole in the center of the mound and crack the egg into it. As you begin to mix the dough together with your hands, gradually add the water. After a few minutes of mixing, it will come together. Knead for a few more minutes. You may need to add a bit more flour or water depending on how sticky or dry it is. You know it’s ready when it is smooth and elastic. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and set aside to rest in the refrigerator (at least 20 minutes) until just before you roll it out.

2. Prepare the fillings: For the Pelmini, finely grate a carrot and two cloves of garlic (yes, Ukrainian cooking uses a lot of garlic and onion, but if you are drinking vodka, you shouldn’t have to worry about their effects). Finely dice one onion and mix together in a large bowl with the ground meat and lots of salt and pepper.

For the Varenyky: finely dice one onion. Warm one tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet and sauté the onion until soft. Add the package of sauerkraut or the cabbage (we used a 500 gram package of a polish brand of ‘kapusta’) and continue to cook over medium heat for about five minutes.

3. Remove dough from refrigerator and divide into two pieces. Roll out the first piece very thinly on a clean surface dusted with flour. Using a biscuit cutter or the top edge of a wine glass, cut 2-3 in (5-7.5 cm) rounds in the dough. For a really fun way to roll out dough and stamp the rounds, take a look at the ladies’ preparation in this video about Ukrainians cooking in New York City.

4. Fill the round with a tablespoon or so (however much you can fit without it bursting open) of filling. If you are making Varenyky, fold the round of dough in half to create a half-circle, and pinch around the edges, using water if needed to make the edges stick to each other. When you reach the two ends of the circle’s radius, pull both sides of the dough down to meet each other and pinch to seal (see photos). If you are making Pelmeni, the beginning is the same. Form a half circle, but then, starting from the left bottom edge, pinch with your left thumb and fold the pinched dough forward slightly with your right fingers. Continue along the length of the edge, from right to left (see photos – I found this one trickier to master). Repeat with the other half of the dough and filling and set aside folded dumplings.

5. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. If you have some handy, you can also use broth. We used half chicken stock and half water to cook our dumplings. Toss the dumplings into the boiling water and cook through until they float, and then a couple minutes longer- the meat-filled ones will take a few minutes longer than the vegetarian.  With a slotted spoon, remove the dumplings from the pot and place in a bowl or serving dish.

6. For the Pelmeni, sprinkle a couple tablespoons of butter over top, along with some fresh chopped dill as garnish. For the Varenyky, we sautéed a chopped onion and some lardons in a frying pan and then slicked it over the finished dumplings as a sauce.

To lighten the dish, serve with whole jarred tomatoes and a simple side salad of cooked and grated beets, with grated garlic, chopped dill, walnut oil and a squeeze of lemon.

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Looking Forward and Glancing Back: A Cocktail for the New Year

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Now that 2013 has faded away and with it all the requisite year-in-reviews for restaurants (here, here and here) and pop music (here), 2014 has taken the stage with lists of its own: Oscar-hopeful releases and politico-cultural predictions by just about anyone who thinks you’ll listen.

I myself will not make any recaps or predictions other than a libationary one: if 2013 was the year of the Manhattan (cocktail), then let 2014 be the year of the Big Apple.

The Big Apple is a little something I invented for the dark days of winter. It has the whisky and angostura punch of a Manhattan, but with an additional soothing element of hot-spiced apple juice. I do like a good Hot Toddy in the cold months, but sometimes I find it lackluster without loads of honey or sweetener. The Big Apple, on the other hand, won’t disappoint with its full and spicy flavors that match perfectly to bourbon whiskey.

Admittedly, I started drinking this cocktail before we rounded the corner into 2014. It was just too perfect for that period between Christmas and the New Year. While I think it is best suited as an after-dinner drink or nightcap, why not serve it up at a January brunch? It is mildly refreshing, given the apple juice, thus suited for heftier dishes like eggs, potatoes and bacon. It’s also easy to make for a group. Just slow-heat a big ol’ pot of apple juice and simmer with spices for as long as you like. Therefore your mix is ready-made– just add the alcohol and go. (A fair warning, though: during the day I think a couple of these would sufficiently knock you out until nightfall.)

Happy New Year!

Recipe: Big Apple hot cocktail

For the hot-spiced apple juice:

1 liter apple juice or apple cider*

2 cinnamon sticks

a large pinch of whole cloves

a slice of fresh ginger

-Simmer this mixture in a saucepan or pot over very low heat for at least 20 minutes, longer if you like, for a spicier flavor.

For the cocktail:

Hot-spiced apple juice

1.5 oz or 44 mL (1 shot) bourbon whisky

1 dash Angostura bitters

cinnamon stick

-Ladle some hot spiced apple juice into a small mug. Pour in the whisky and dash of Angostura bitters. Stir and serve with a cinnamon stick as garnish.

*If you are in the US, I would highly suggest using apple cider for this drink. In most countries in Europe, though, if you say apple cider, it means the alcoholic kind. The closest we have to what you want in Germany would be naturtrüber Apfelsaft, basically an unfiltered apple juice. Using this just adds to the overall spiciness and depth of the drink.



Old School Christmas Cookies


If there’s one time of year to get traditional in the kitchen, let this be it. Growing up, this meant pulling out the shoebox of ancient aluminum cookie cutters and rolling out batches upon batches of Ethel’s Sugar Cookies. There were years when my mother made up to five or six times the instructed batch size. Once my sisters became bored with the cookie production (usually after about 10 minutes), I would continue, maniacally rolling, cutting, and decorating for hours until the red and green toppings had dwindled to sugary dust.

The recipe for Ethel’s sugar cookies is from a Betty Crocker cookbook, called the ‘Cooky Book’. I think the odd spelling of the singular form of ‘Cookies’ is a testament to just how old that book is. Pages and pages are dedicated to Christmas cookies, and there are two recipes for the classic Christmas sugar cookie: our family’s standby, Ethel’s, and another called Mary’s. Once, as a child, I convinced my mother to try out the Mary’s, just for fun. They were fine, but did not come close to the perfectly simple vanilla sugar flavor of Ethel’s, which seemed only to get better into the first weeks of January.

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The recipe is incredibly easy. You’ll see that it calls for a mixture of ‘shortening’ or margarine, but please ignore this and go for all butter. That book was printed back in the day when people thought margarine was a health food. Another recommendation from years of making Ethel’s is to leave the dough to chill in the refrigerator overnight. It will seem very hard when you take it out to roll, but the chilling time is important to give the flavor a chance to develop and keep the dough from getting too sticky as you work with it.

This year we will be staying in Berlin for Christmas. I managed to whip up a double batch of Ethel’s last week to have plenty of sugar cookies on hand for our holiday party over the weekend. Some I decorated with colored sugar, others more maturely with tiny rose leaves or vanilla sugar with cardamom. Alas, I (inadvertently?) neglected to put them out on the buffet. Oooops. At least it ensures we’ll be eating Ethel’s into January, just as it should be.

Recipe: Ethel’s Sugar Cookies

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Pad Thai: Recipe for the Original Street Food

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Having never travelled to Thailand myself, what little experience I have had with Thai cuisine has been stir-fry dishes from your average, “westerned-down” restaurant. No doubt there are some excellent ones out there: one of my favorites from my New York years is Sripraphai, a renowned Thai eatery hidden away in Woodside, Queens. But in Germany my usual experience is that even among decent quality Asian restaurants, there is a frustrating lack of spice and surprising flavors, a dumbing-down to palates that are accustomed to blander foods. Though there are a couple of great Vietnamese restaurants and one or two Korean places that are passable, authentic Thai restaurants in Berlin remain elusive.

This is precisely why I had been trying to find an excuse to visit the Thai Food Market in Wilmersdorf ever since I heard whispers of it through various food-loving friends. Admittedly it’s no big secret, having appeared on countless ‘insider guides’ and blogs to Berlin food and culture. That said, it always felt a bit off my own worn and beaten weekend path of Mitte-Kreuzberg-Prenzlauer Berg’s ternion. The excuse came the last two weekends in a row: the unmistakable dread of winter setting in, what feels like just a few weeks too early. There’s something special about the fleeting days of autumn, when the only really pleasant times to be outside are the sunny hours of high noon. It becomes that impetus that pushes you out of laziness or routine, in an effort to gulp down a few last outdoor adventures before winter conquers indefinitely.

I was surprised by how low-key the Thai Food Market was. I knew it was outdoors, but had expected something a bit more established, similar to how food trucks operate in Los Angeles, perhaps. When I arrived in the small, but quite green Preußenpark, however, if I hadn’t known to look out for the group of Thai vendors, I might have mistaken the ‘market’ for a series of private picnics. Because basically it is just that: the Thai ladies actually began selling their savory and sweet dishes as a result of interest in homespun picnics that would take place with their friends and family every weekend in Preußenpark. Each ‘stand’ is merely a series of colorful tarps, umbrellas, tupperware, hot plates and pots spread out to a varying degree, with two or three seated ladies gently hawking their wares to passer-bys. Which brings me to my nagging question of how these vendors actually slip by the health regulators!? Don’t get me wrong, I found the operations all to be exceedingly sanitary and overall clean-looking. Kind of like being in your grandmother’s house. If your grandmother had a habit of schlepping her entire kitchen to the park every weekend and cooking for you cross-legged on the ground. Regardless, I would guess that half of the restaurant kitchens or cafes in Berlin are not nearly up to snuff with the cleanliness standards of these women cooking on tarps spread out over the grass.

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My favorite stand was that of an older Thai lady, tiny and weather-worn, with a sizable line in front of her impressive spread. Sitting on her tarp with socked feet, surrounded by tubs and containers of fresh ingredients and bottles of sauces, it became apparent that she was making something to order. This was in contrast to most of the vendors who tend to have large pots of stir-fry already made or fried dumplings churning consistently out of a magical cast iron cooker powered by god-knows-what. The Little Thai Lady didn’t need to hawk. She was queen of her kingdom, taking in orders, single pan in hand, calm and focused, despite the ever-growing line in front of her. She was making Pad Thai, with either chicken or tofu, fresh per single order.

I had the opportunity to watch her in action during the course of a few rounds, as I waited to order my own dish. It was astonishing to observe how easily the Pad Thai came together when all the ingredients were ready and prepared, sitting in tubs waiting to be tossed in. A good dose of oil into the frying pan, and crack! a whole large egg straight on top. Let it sit, no need to be fussy. Pivot over to the enormous vat of cooked rice noodles, grab a handful or two on a plastic plate, reserve for later. Pivot back to hot plate. Break up the egg slightly, not quite a scramble. Grab handful of bean sprouts, another of green onions. Throw ‘em in. Noodles, yes, toss those in now too. Squirt, squirt: lots of lime juice. Now some tofu or chicken, pieces pre-cooked. To the left is a large vat of thick, brown sauce- pour two ladles over the noodles. Stir again, more furiously this time. Maybe another squirt of lime. Stir stir stir. Scrape out onto plastic plate. Top with more green onions, plus a slice of fresh lime and some cilantro leaves. Finally a couple good spoonfuls of finely ground peanut. Done. Repeat. And, mind you, all while never leaving a seated position.

Since Pad Thai is a classic street food in Thailand, I think the unfussy way Little Thai Lady cooks her version is probably pretty close to authentic. It was certainly delicious, with the perfect ratio of savor to sweet, plus a good dose of sour from the plentiful lime juice. And at five euros for a heaping plate, you can’t really go wrong. As we happily ate on the grass behind her ‘kitchen’, we continued to watch her frying away, guessing at how much profit she makes in a day. Probably not much, we gathered. Even with a steady stream of patrons, her preparation time must be significant. Although she had two able-bodied young grandsons on the side, to whom she would occasionally beckon for reserve green onions, they for the most part just lounged on a blanket, playing with their space phones.

Little Thai Lady was a true force. She was out there cooking in the elements – sure, to make a living – but also, I think, out of passion for her food and her culture. She does what she does well, and with care. What I saw was not a woman at work but an act of generosity, of bringing real Thai spice to some unsuspecting Berliners.

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After observation, I attempted to re-create Little Thai Lady’s tofu Pad Thai. It is my own humble recipe, but do give it a try. Feedback welcome!


Pad Thai with Tofu

For two large servings

-Pad thai rice noodles (Banh Pho)

-3 Tbsp. neutral oil

-1 package firm tofu

-1 cup roasted peanuts, crushed

-2 eggs

-2 small shallots

-2 big handfuls of bean sprouts

-1 bunch of Chinese chives, cut into 2-inch lengths

-Juice from 1-2 limes, plus extra wedges for garnish

-Fresh cilantro leaves

For Sauce:

-1 Tbsp tamarind paste

-1 1/2 tsp. fish sauce

-1 Tbsp. soy sauce

-3 tsp. brown sugar

-1 tsp. rice vinegar

-1-2 Tbsp Sriracha sauce (to taste)

-2 Tbsp. water

-1/2 tsp. chili powder (to taste)

1. Prepare tofu: I like to slice the block into three pieces, widthwise, and squeeze out water by leaving for 20 minutes or so between layers of paper towels, a plate on top to weigh it down. Remove paper towels and dice into bite-size pieces. Heat non-stick pan or wok to medium. Thinly slice one shallot and fry in a Tbsp. of neutral oil. When soft, add another Tbsp of oil and the tofu pieces and fry until golden. When about half-way cooked, you can sprinkle in some soy sauce if you want an extra flavor kick. Set aside over paper towels to drain oil.

2. Prepare sauce: in a small saucepan on very low heat, combine all ingredients and whisk together. Taste and adjust spice as desired. Remove from heat and let cool- it will become thicker as it cools.

3. Cook noodles according to package directions, immediately rinsing with cold water. Drain and cool in a colander.

4. Chop Chinese chives and slice the thicker white part in half lengthwise. Separate the very green ends from the lighter green/white parts. You will use these as garnish later. Wash bean sprouts and set aside. Squeeze the juice from 1-2 limes and set aside in a small bowl.

5. Now you are ready to put together the stir-fry. Depending on the size of your frying pan, you will need to decide whether to cook one serving at a time or two at once. While Little Thai Lady first cracked the egg into the oiled pan, I chose to pre-cook first a sliced shallot in the remaining 1 Tbsp of oil, and then the Chinese chives and sprouts.

6. After a minute or two, push vegetables to one side of the pan and crack the egg(s) into the other. Let sit for about 30 seconds and then break up with a spatula or wooden fork, incorporating into the vegetables. Add tofu, one spoonful of the Pad Thai sauce, and stir again. Grab rice noodles, by the handful, and toss into the pan. Add lime juice and stir together a little bit. Pour in Pad Thai sauce and stir well with spatula and wooden fork, until everything is incorporated.

7. Turn Pad Thai out onto plate(s). Top with reserved green parts of Chinese chives, a few cilantro leaves and a wedge of lime. Spoon two heaping tablespoons of crushed peanuts over top. Serve with fork and spoon.

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tofu pad thai

Cold Noodles Against High Heat

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Even in the depths of summer, it is unusual for the temperature in Berlin to reach the 30s, never mind reach the 30s for two weeks straight. Not accustomed to the heat and even less to air-conditioning, here we deal the old fashioned way: hand-held paper fans, en-masse exodus to the lakes, and specially-designed-to-cool foods. Like ice cream, loads of it. But eating ice cream multiple times per day (believe it or not) becomes tiresome and you eventually begin to crave something more satisfying and substantial to eat… then what?

Though she comes from Seoul, which surely has its share of hot and steamy, my friend and colleague Hae lan is unable to deal with the heat. When it’s too hot, she gets a sort of dreamy look in her eyes and then, slowly, begins to melt, sliding down her chair in a way that can only be reversed by the thought of something revivifying like…. cold noodles, anyone?

Hae lan and her friends from Maturlich served as guest chefs at our Dritte Mitte aperitivo last winter, but I must admit that on the evening they cooked, I was stuck behind the bar mixing drinks non-stop, and was unable to actually eat what they had prepared. So when she told me last week she would be preparing a cold noodle dish for a work event, I eagerly signed on to observe and assist, my sharpest knife in tote.

Cold noodle dishes are often served in South Korea in the summertime, as they are satisfying, but also cooling. Surprisingly cooling, actually. Despite a good dose of spicy kimchi on top, the dish was served with a hunk of ice on the side, which, although appearing strange, did wonders to help keep the noodles cold while eating. Cold noodles have another function, Hae lan explained. At the über-popular BBQ restaurants in South Korea (and abroad – Korean BBQ has certainly taken other large cities worldwide by storm) plain cold noodles are often ordered at the end of the meal, serving the purpose of soaking up any leftover sauces or bits of meat. YES.

In the case of our little meal, we made a very typical dish of Galbi, beef (or some people use pork) marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, green onion, sesame and honey. At a restaurant, you might grill this yourself at the table with your fellow diners, but we just wanted to give everyone a taste of it  (and did not have a table-top grill), so we cooked it in advance and served it as a side dish.

The basic components of the cold noodle dish we prepared are Somyun, thin wheat noodles (look a bit like angel hair pasta); kimchi mixed with Gochujang (a Korean red chili paste mix with fermented soy beans and sweetener) and honey; hard-boiled egg; thin strips of cucumber; and some seaweed crumbles. (see below for ‘shopping list’ photo cheat sheet.) Sounds simple, right? Well, it is in principle, but as I learned from Hae lan, there are lots of subtle ways that a good noodle dish can be made just a little bit better.

When any kind of external condition becomes strenuous, when we feel vulnerable, I think there is always a tendency towards what is most comforting and safe. In no small part is this also the case with extreme weather and eating habits. When the temperatures climb to 40°C, I go for the simple slices of watermelon that I grew up eating during the summer months, or the cold-brewed iced coffee that my roommate in New York would make during the doldrums of August heat. Likewise, if you’re from South Korea, you might grab a package of Somyun, some fermented cabbage and a big block of ice.

galbi recipe


Recipes: Korean Cold Noodles / Galbi


for the noodle dish:

100 grams of Somyun, thin wheat noodles, per person

1 package of kimchi (or homemade)

3 heaping Tbsp. Gochujang, red chili paste

2 Tbsp. honey

a few sprinkles of rice vinegar

1 large cucumber, sliced into small matchsticks

eggs (1/2 per person)

1 package of small sheets of dry seaweed, crumbled

a few green onions for garnish, thinly sliced

for the Galbi:

filet of beef (or short ribs if you can find) thinly sliced, about 1 kilo, or a bit more depending on how many people you are

1 cup soy sauce

a few dashes of sesame oil

small onion, diced

green onions

garlic, mashed

chili powder

sesame seeds

3 tsp. honey

1. Make marinade for the Galbi. In a Tupperware container large enough to fit all the meat that you want to cook, mix together soy sauce, sesame oil, diced onion, finely sliced green onions, a couple of cloves of mashed garlic, a few sprinkles of chili powder, sesame seeds and honey.

2. Slice the meat into approx. 1 cm thick pieces and place inside the container with the marinade. Cover container and refrigerate for at least ½ hour, or as long as overnight.

3. Prepare kimchi mixture. Remove contents from one large package of kimchi (see photo) and cut the cabbage into smaller pieces. Place in a large bowl and add the red chili paste, honey and a few sprinkles of rice vinegar. Here, Hae lan recommended tasting the kimchi right out of the package, before mixing in the other ingredients, and then again afterwards, to get a taste for the difference. You really want to strike a harmonious balance between sour, sweet and spicy. Mix well and refrigerate for about a half hour.

4. Hard boil enough eggs so that each person will get a half. I suggest making one or two extra in case the shells do not come off so beautifully, as was the case with ours! Hae lan told me that the egg is often the first thing to be eaten in a Korean meal, because it is thought to ‘cover the stomach with protein’. When cooled, remove shells and cut eggs in half lengthwise. Set aside.

5. Wash and cut one large cucumber into thin matchsticks. Slice green onions for garnish and set aside. Take one package of the dried seaweed sheets (see photo) and crumble with your fingers into a small bowl. All of these will be used later on.

6. Meanwhile, your meat should be finished marinating. Ideally, this can be cooked on a grill, but frying in a pan coated with a little bit of vegetable oil also works fine. Cook for about 8 minutes or until cooked through but still tender. Remove meat from pan along with its juices onto a plate. Garnish with sliced green onion and set aside.

7. Boil water (can also start this while you are preparing the meat) in a large pot and drop in 100 grams of noodles for each person, being careful not to crowd the pot with too many. The trick to cooking the noodles in the best way, so that they remain tender and not mushy, is to watch the boiling water closely. Have a glass of cold water ready. After a minute or two of cooking, the water will start to boil over. At this point, add the cold water and stir. Repeat two more times when the water boils over, cooking the noodles a total of only about five minutes. Pour out the noodles over a strainer and rinse under cold water tap, massaging the noodles/pulling them apart with your hands.

8. Once the noodles are cooled by the running water and drained completely, take a one-portion-sized amount in your hand and wrap slightly around your fingers to create a kind of ball of noodles (Hae lan did this very elegantly, but I suspect it takes some practice.) Put onto a plate and top with two scoops of the kimchi mixture, making sure to get some of the spicy juice as well, some cucumber matchsticks, crumbled seaweed, one half of a hard-boiled egg and some garnish of green onion.

9. Take one ice cube (straight from the freezer) and place it just beside the noodles on the plate, to keep the whole dish as cold as possible.

10. Serve a portion to each of your friends and the Galbi in the center of the table to share.

I found it deliciously spicy, but nevertheless cooling on a hot night.

korean food recipe

convivialist food blog berlin

Shopping list cheat sheet (sesame oil, gochujang, somyun, kimchi, seaweed sheets)

korean food recipe

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convivialist food blog korean food recipe

korean food recipe

Seasonal Salsa – A Recipe from Maine and… France?


Everyone was talking about my aunt Nancy’s strawberry salsa when I was home visiting Maine a couple weeks ago. Strawberries are perfectly in season there now, and though I would have preferred being in Maine a month later for blueberry picking, I was not in any position to turn down these perfectly-ripened berries. The strawberry is never something I had considered for a savory dish. When freshly picked, I think they’re perfect just the way they are and don’t need much fluffing and fussing to make delicious. But strawberry salsa, with tortilla chips. Hmmm, well, why not? Come to think of it, strawberries and fresh tomatoes can have a similar texture, and when a tomato is good, it is in fact also quite sweet. So, matched with something more vegetal and sharp, it might just be a golden summer treat. And it was. Everything I had hoped for. My aunt and sisters matched the salsa with these cinnamon chips, which made the snack more dessert-like, but I found it more satisfying with normal tortilla chips.

When I saw the recipe, I was surprised (confused?) to see a half up of “Catalina Dressing” on the list of ingredients. What in god’s name is Catalina Dressing, I thought. Is that like, a bottle of Thousand Islands or Creamy Ranch, or something equally turn-offish? Where does the name Catalina come from? It sounded vaguely Italian to me. Or from Catalina Island in Southern California? Yes, that must be it.

Like me, you might be suspicious of recipes that include a bottle or a can or a jar of something or other from the salad dressing aisle of the grocery store. “Just add two cans of Campbell’s mushroom soup and bake at 350°- it’s delicious,” you can practically hear a one of the Stepford Wives declare. But the strawberry salsa tasted so perfect and naturally sweet, that I couldn’t believe this “secret ingredient.”

A quick google search yielded a photo of a reddish colored Kraft bottle with the subtitle “Anything Dressing”. Ok, great, but what IS it? I urge you to check out and take a peek under their portfolio of dressings. Yes, portfolio, as if they were works of art and not chemical compounds. Kraft Catalina Dressing is, and I quote: Red French dressing characterized by a sweet, tomato flavor and tomato-red color. Basically, upon researching a bit further, I learned it is a kind of ketchup and mustard salad dressing with a bit of chili sauce. This is apparently what American food giant Kraft considers to be French.

The original salsa I tasted in Maine was exceedingly fresh and, I admit, had no taste of anything processed or Kraft-like. So, if you have access to the above-mentioned in your local supermarket, do go ahead and give it a try, for convenience’s sake. A simulation of Catalina Dressing using fresh ingredients is, however, quite easy and probably cheaper. It should stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, so it can be a great way to process strawberries that you may have over-picked. From my experience, though, with a group of eight people on a hot summer day, it won’t stay around for more than a half hour.

(photo above: adorable wooden strawberry – flea market find; odd thing found inside a bell pepper; fresh strawberry)


recipe strawberry salsa


Recipe – Strawberry Salsa

Yield:  approx. 3 cups

2 l/2 cups or about 500 grams finely chopped fresh strawberries

1 medium sized chopped green or yellow bell pepper

2 Tbsp. chopped green onions

2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley

1/3 cup “Catalina salad dressing”, homemade version uses the following:

-1 small/medium tomato, halved and seeded

-1/4 cup vegetable oil

-2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

-1 tsp. grainy mustard

-1 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar

-a few dashes of hot sauce or to taste

-salt and pepper

Tortilla chips

1. In a bowl, combine the strawberries, green pepper, onions and parsley.

2. To make the salad dressing, place the tomato pieces in a food processor or blender and process with the oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar and hot sauce. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

3. Stir the salad dressing into the strawberry mixture.

4. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

5. Serve with tortilla chips and lemonade.