Saturday, June 28, 2008

Shaken, not stirred: Estonian Cucumber Salad Recipe

Cucumber salad / Klopitud kurgisalat

Here's a simple Estonian cucumber salad that my mum used to make quite frequently when we were younger. We never knew there was a 'recipe' involved - just a technology - but recently more detailed instructions have appeared here and there, most notably in a rather elaborate cookbook Eesti Rahvusköök or "Estonian national cuisine", also available in English and German. So why not share it with my English readers as well.

What's special about this salad, you may wonder?

Well, although I love the crispiness of a fresh cucumber, sometimes I don't miss that in a salad. By mixing the cucumber slices with salt first, and then shaking the mixture vigorously, the cucumber slices soften nicely, and become almost silky in texture.

How's that for a cucumber salad? :)

Note that caraway seeds are optional. I love them in this salad, but many people outside the region are suspicious of caraway seeds, so these can be omitted. I make mine without caraway seeds sometimes as well. And if I don't feel like, I don't add vinegar either. It's still delicious and makes a nice side dish to grilled and barbequed meat and fish.

Shaken Cucumber Salad
(Klopitud kurgisalat)
Serves 4
Ready in 15 minutes

'Shaken' cucumber salad / Klopitud kurgisalat

1 large seedless cucumber (about 300 g)
0.5 tsp salt
0.5 tsp caraway seeds, slightly crushed (optional)
0.5 tsp 30% vineger
finely chopped fresh dill

Rinse and peel the cucumber, cut into thin slices (ca 3 mm, so not paper-thin). Place in a bowl with a lid, season with salt and caraway seeds. Mix to distribute these evenly and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
Now cover the bowl with a lid, and shake the bowl vigorously for 30-60 seconds. This will soften the cucumber slices.
Drain, discarding the cucumber 'juice'. Season with vinegar (the salad should taste very subtly acidic), scatter the dill on top and serve.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Quick Brunch Recipe: Swiss Toast with Egg and Cheese

I seem to get excited about brunch recipes recently. First there was this utterly simple, yet genius idea of cracking an egg into a tomato 'shell' and baking it in the oven (Baked Eggy Brunch Tomatoes). Then I saw a recipe for 'Swiss Toasts' in Oma Maitse, an Estonian food magazine. The recipe was simple enough - slice of buttered bread, boiled halved eggs smeared with mayonnaise and topped with cheese. But I wanted something even simpler, so I omitted the butter and 're-located' the mayonnaise.

It's brilliant, should you happen to find some boiled eggs in your fridge in the morning. We've made it twice during last week alone, so I definitely recommend it. Use a cheese that melts nicely - and although I've made it with white bread, brown or rye bread would work well, too.

Grilled Swiss Toast with Egg and Cheese
(Šveitsi võileivad)
Serves 2, can be easily doubled

4 slices of bread
4 tsp of mayonnaise
2 boiled eggs
4 slices of cheese (f. ex. Havarti)

Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F.
Smear the mayonnaise onto bread slices.
Peel the eggs and cut into two halves lenghtwise. Place one egg half on each slice of bread, cut side down.
Balance a slice of cheese on top.
Put into a hot oven for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is starting to melt and the egg and bread are warm.

Garnish with a sprig of thyme from your windowsill and serve with some sliced tomatoes.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cold Kefir Soup for Hot Summer Days

I start with an apology. I cannot remember where I got this recipe from. But it was in my old recipe card box, and the only note was 'Uzbek recipe?' (refering to Uzbekistan, the country in Central Asia; well, actually it said 'usbeki retsept?' on my recipe card, but you know what I mean). I don't know about that - apart from the Cayenne pepper, it sounds very Estonian to me. And on a hot summer day last week, I made this soup - it took me 5 minutes in total, and I fell in love with it all over again.

If you live in the US, you'll find kefir in Whole Foods and international food stores. Lifeway Foods does a decent one. Here's what they've got to say about kefir:

A creamy probiotic dairy beverage similar to but distinct from yogurt. Lifeway believes it offers the largest selection of kefir in the world. Low-fat or non-fat pasteurized milk is the basic ingredient in kefir. Its effervescent quality stems from the kefir culture, which contains ten active "friendly" microorganisms, compared to two or three in yogurt.

What I've got to say about this soup, is following: it takes 5 minutes to put together; it tastes fresh and refreshing; it's highly versatile - you can use any herbs you like or have around; it looks pretty gorgeous; it's good for you; it's very easy to digest :)

Cold Kefir Soup
(Külmsupp usbekkide moodi)
Serves 4

1 litre of plain kefir
250 ml/1 cup cold water
Cayenne'i pepper
2 green 'English' cucumbers
1 bunch of crisp radishes
3 - 4 scallions/spring onions (incl. green parts)
4 Tbsp or more fresh chopped herbs - parsley, dill, coriander/cilantro

Mix kefir and cold water, then season with salt and Cayenne'i pepper to taste.
Wash and dry the cucumbers and radishes, then cut into small cubes or slices. Chop spring onions/scallions and herbs finely. Divide between four soup bowls. (Add an ice cube to each bowl, if it's really hot outside).

Pour the cold kefir mixture over, and serve the soup at once.

See also:
Ximena's El gazpacho de Escolástica, or the best gazpacho in the world
Ajoblanco: the other Spanish chilled soup

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nami-nami turns three and makes a great brunch dish

On Sunday this little food blog of mine, NAMI-NAMI, turned three. On June 15, 2005 (while still living in Edinburgh), I wrote my first post, which has led to three more years of food-related posts. Starting this food blog was one of the best decisions I made that year, as it has led to making and meeting many good friends both in 'real life' and on the Internet. Lots of other things have changed during that time. I've moved back home to Estonia. I've started a new life with K. I've started a new job. More importantly, during that time I've become a better cook. I've learned a lot from reading your food blogs, dear readers. I've read zillion cookbooks, taken two professional cookery courses here in Tallinn, done an 10-day internship in a top gourmet restaurant, relaunched my Estonian site. I've got a new camera, and even took a short photography course last year. Life is good..

Thank you all for being such generous readers and a special thank you to K. for putting up with this somewhat obsessive blogging of mine..

Here's what we ate on the morning of Nami-nami's third blogday:

Baked Eggy Brunch Tomatoes
(Küpsetatud tomatid munaga)
Serves 4, can be easily halved, doubled, trebled
Adapted from BBC Good Food (June 2006)

4 large tomatoes
4 medium free-range eggs
freshly ground black pepepr
4 slices of thick rye bread
8 slices of smoked bacon

Heat the oven to 200 Celsius.
Cut a lid off tomatoes and scoop out the seeds, using a small spoon.
Place tomatoes on a baking sheet, season the insides with salt and pepper.
Break an egg into each tomato and top with a small piece of butter. Season again and replace the lid.
Bake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for about 25 minutes, until the eggs are set to a suitable degree (20 minutes, if you prefer your egg runny).
Place the bacon slices ionto the baking sheet for the last 10 minutes, so they could crispen up.
Toast the bread, and smear with butter.
Place two slices of bacon onto each slice of bread and top with a tomato.
Garnish with some fresh herbs and serve. (Note that baked tomato is very hot in the beginning!)

Other relevant posts:
Nami-nami turns ONE
Nami-nami turns TWO
Moving back home

Friday, June 13, 2008

Estonian Deviled Eggs Recipe

There are plenty of recipes for devilled eggs on the blogosphere (just check out this). But you know what - I think the way I make them is just enough different to justify yet another blog post on these :)

There are actually two major 'schools' of making devilled eggs in Estonia - one using something similar to canned anchovy liquid to season the egg yolk filling, the other one prefering mustard. I belong to the latter 'school'. Here's my usual recipe, and I do make these quite frequently for various festive tables - most recently for my birthday, alongside these cute quail egg mushrooms, where they were devoured by the kids and grown-ups alike..

Deviled Eggs, Estonian style
(Täidetud munad)*
Makes 12

6 medium or large organic eggs, boiled**
50 grams butter, not too cold
1 to 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 to 2 tsp strong mustard
salt, to taste

To garnish:
fresh parsley or dill, finely chopped
fresh or frozen cranberries or redcurrants

Peel the boiled eggs and halve lenghtwise along the middle. Scoop out the yolks.
Mash the butter with egg yolks (either press both through the sieve grate finely - I do the latter). Stir in mayonnaise and mustard, season with salt.
For a nicer finish, put the mixture into an icing bag with a serrated tip and fill the egg white 'bowls' with the egg yolk filling.
Garnish and keep in the fridge until serving.

* They're simply known as 'filled eggs' or 'stuffed eggs' in Estonian.

** Use whatever perfected egg-boiling method you prefer. I leave my eggs at room temperature for an hour before boiling. I then place them in a pan filled with water, bring to the boil and boil for 7 minutes. After that, I quickly cool them under cold running water. Always works for me, but you can check out what Alanna or Elise or Kalyn or Thredahlia are doing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Jamie Oliver's Panna Cotta with Roasted Rhubarb Recipe (slightly adapted)

I'm back from my 12-day US trip, when I managed to present a paper in Bloomington, spend 4 wonderful days in St Louis with Alanna, and finally wander around the hot-hot-hot New York for five days. During the trip I ate lots of food and met many lovely foodbloggers, and I'll certainly tell you more soon..

But it's good to be back home, where the temperatures are much more tolerable, and where my dear K. had baked a batch of
cannelés to welcome me back :)

I thought that rhubarb season would be over by the time I got back. But no. Mysteriously, a whole basketful of rosy stalks has appeared in our garage, and I've been given various hints about various rhubarb desserts I should be making in the coming days. I'm an obedient girl, so I'll think of something. One thing I'm tempted to do again is this delicious vanilla panna cotta with roast rhubarb. The recipe is from Jamie Oliver, but I've very slightly adapted it (I used less vanilla and slightly more gelatine, instead of lemon zest I used some pure orange oil). I made it for the panna cotta cooking event on my Estonian site - you can check out the fabulous contributions here.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Roasted Rhubarb
(Vanilje panna cotta röstitud rabarbriga)
Serves 4

For panna cotta:
100 ml milk
1 vanilla pod, halved lengthwise
0.5 tsp pure orange oil
400 ml whipping cream (35%)
2 to 3 gelative leaves
50 g icing/confectioners sugar

For roasted rhubarb:
500 g rhubarb (peeled, if necessary)
100 g caster sugar

To make panna cotta:
Place the gelatine leaves into a cold water and let to soak for 5 to 10 minutes (I used 2 gelatine leaves, but you can use 3 for a slightly firmer texture).
Mix the milk, vanilla pod, vanilla seeds, orange oil and half the cream in a small saucepan. Bring slowly into a boil and simmer on a gentle heat for 10 minutes or until reduced by a third.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the soaked gelatine leaves until dissolved.
Allow to cool at a room temperature, then place in the fridge for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
Remove the vanilla pods.
Whip together the icing sugar with the remaining cream. Mix the two cream mixtures together and divide into four serving moulds. Cover and chill for at least an hour, preferably four.

To roast rhubarb:
Meanwhile chop the rhubarb into 5cm pieces, sprinkle with sugar and roast at 200C/400F for 30 minutes, until softened, but not mushy. (I've added chopped candied ginger sometimes - gives an extra kick to the rhubarb).

To serve:
Dip the small moulds into some simmering water for 5 seconds to loosen the panna cotta a little, then turn it out on to a plate. Spoon the roasted rhubarb onto the plate and serve.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Rhubarb Sponge Cake with Almonds Recipe

Rhubarb sponge / Rabarbribiskviit mandlilaastudega

Should you still have couple of rhubarb stalks lying around, then here's a simple cake recipe. It's a real classic here in Estonia*. I made this couple of times during May, and will be certainly making it again soon. Although my favourite fruit to use here is rhubarb, it would be just as good with any other seasonal fruit and berries - raspberries, gooseberries, apples - you name it. I've 'spiked it up' with some almond slices, and think it makes all the difference, as the almonds give a nice crunchy texture and lovely flavour to the otherwise very simple cake.

If possible, then try to use good free-range organic eggs for this cake - this gives you the prettiest shade of yellow, and a good rise to the cake.

Rhubarb Sponge Cake with Almonds
(Rabarbribiskviit mandlilaastudega)
Serves 6

300 g rhubarb
1 Tbsp caster sugar

4 Tbsp caster sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
4 Tbsp plain/all-purpose flour, sifted
a handful of almond slices

butter for the dish
icing sugar, to serve

Butter a 25x25 cm square dish or line with parchment paper.
Cut rhubarb (peeled, if necessary) into thin slices and scatter into the dish. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp of sugar.
Whisk eggs and sugar into a thick and pale foam (it takes about 7-9 minutes, using an electric mixer). Carefully fold in the flour.
Pour the batter onto the rhubarb slices in the baking dish.
Scatter almond slices on top.
Bake in the middle of a pre-hreated 175 Celsius oven for about 35-40 minutes, until the cake has risen and is light golden on top. Do not open the oven door during the first 30 minutes, or the cake will collapse!
Cool in the tin, then lift onto a cake plate and dust with icing sugar.

* It feels weird saying 'here in Estonia' when I'm actually writing this post from Alanna's lovely home in St Louis, Missouri :)