eat in my kitchen

To cook, to bake, to eat and to treat.

Category: STARTERS

Meet In Your Kitchen | Heather and Emily celebrate LA’s vegetables at Botanica

Botanica

One of the kitchens that I visited on my trip to LA – the first stop of my new adventure together with Zwilling – was at Botanica, a stunningly beautiful restaurant founded by the wonderful Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer. Both women had been working in the food industry as editors on the East coast for more than a decade, but they were hungry for more. They chose LA to bring a project to life, giving it all their love, passion, and honest determination. An old run-down liquor store in Silverlake looked less than promising when they first saw it, but Heather and Emily knew from the start that this would be the right place to give their vision a home. They gutted it and after a year of sweat and work you can’t even imagine how this gorgeous bright and airy space looked before the renovations. A tall wall touched up in a soft Tuscan pink holds the old wooden beams above the restaurant’s rustic wooden tables and the little market where you can buy the products and produce used in Botanica‘s kitchen.

The two ladies also started an online magazine, a collection of the recipes used at their restaurant to complete their customers hungry needs: you can eat a dish at Botanica, fall in love with it so much that you want to cook it at home, buy the ingredients right away, grab the recipe from the magazine, and go straight to your own kitchen and cook it again.

Sitting at this restaurant feels a bit like being in Heather and Emily’s home and this was an important aspect for them when they first started thinking about their restaurant baby. The design, the menu they put together, the way they work together with their employees, this all shows a philosophy of working and living together in a community. They have strong connections with the other restaurants in their neighborhood, many of which are also run by women, and together they put the spotlight back onto LA’s culinary scene (like “Kismet” that I wrote about last week and Jessica Koslow’s “Sqirl”, which will be featured here on the blog in 2 weeks). They not only share the same work ethics, but also their farmers and suppliers.

And they all have one more thing in common, all these restaurants celebrate vegetables. Heather and Emily manage to turn a potato, cauliflower, squash, or carrot into a vibrant feast. They shift the traditional focus from meat and seafood centric dishes to roots, cabbages, and legumes. Botanica is not a vegetarian restaurant, but ribs, steaks, or fillets aren’t the star of the meal anymore, they can be a part of a greater composition, add flavor, be a luxurious treat of outstanding quality, but they aren’t essential anymore. And the two women’s recipes are so fantastic that you won’t even miss it, you just indulge in a dish like their seared vegetables with romesco (recipe below), which is so rich, balanced, and exciting that you don’t ever think of anything but tasty vegetables. And apart from this more than satisfying pleasure for the taste buds, you can be sure that you just enjoyed food that is good for your body, locally sourced in a strong community that works with and not against nature and our environment.

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Botanica

 

Botanica

Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer’s Seared Vegetables with Romesco

Serves 4

For the romesco

4 red bell peppers
1 jalapeño, seeds removed
2 medium cloves garlic
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 small lemon, zest and juice
2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
1 cup (140g) toasted almonds
1 large handful fresh cilantro leaves (about ¼ cup chopped)
Sea salt

For the vegetables

20 tiny potatoes (preferably purple), boiled in salted water until just tender, drained and cooled
Olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Spanish smoked paprika
Broccolini, summer squash, romanesco, Brussels sprouts or cauliflower (or a mix)
3 leeks, white and light green part only, cut in half lengthwise

For the topping

About ½ lemon, zest and juice
1 small handful fresh cilantro flowers (or cilantro leaves)

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).

To make the romesco: Roast the bell peppers until blistered and fully soft. Transfer to a large bowl and let them cool for a few minutes. Remove and discard the seeds and stems, collect the thick juices that run off the peppers. Peel the skin and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the roasted peppers and their skin, the jalapeño, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lemon zest and juice, smoked paprika, almonds, cilantro, and a splash of the liquid from the peppers. Blend until fully incorporated, but not fully uniform; some texture is ideal here. Add more sherry vinegar, salt, olive oil, and cilantro to taste.

For the vegetables: Lightly crush each potato with the side of a knife. Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan over medium heat and sauté the potatoes on one side until just starting to crisp, then flip and crisp up the other side. Remove from oil and season well with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

While the potatoes are crisping, prepare the remaining vegetables: Cut the vegetables into bite size pieces (except the leeks) and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, then grill or sear until al dente, with nice char in spots. In a large pan, cook the leeks, cut-side down, until they get a touch of caramelized char, then flip and cook for a few minutes on the other side, until soft through. Cut in two-inch lengths, season, and set aside.

Mound the romesco in the center of a large plate and arrange the potatoes, leeks and vegetables in a ring around the purée. Garnish with a good drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, lemon zest, a sprinkle of salt, and the cilantro flowers and serve immediately.

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Watch my interview with Heather and Emily in LA in September 2017:

“I think that for many women in the industry they are very aware that this is a moment in time when they can be actively involved in changing the culture of the restaurant world.”

 

 

Thank you, Heather and Emily!

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

 

Botanica

Meet In Your Kitchen | Kismet LA’s Persian Cucumbers, Melon & Rosewater Labneh

Kismet

White brushed walls, pale wood, and strong geometric lines turn Kismet into a minimalist spot of casual elegance right on LA’s sunny Hollywood Boulevard. Sitting on the wooden bench at the wide window, the fleshy leaves of a tall banyan tree playing with the light, I felt immediately captured by the restaurant’s laid-back vibe and exciting Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-style menu.

Sarah Hymanson and her partner Sara Kramer created a beautiful place to enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner with a group of friends – following their philosophy that food tastes best when you share it. Kismet is a neighborhood hub where you can fill your table with plates full of colorful vegetable focused delicacies and indulge in the pleasures of wonderful treats such as Little Gem Lettuce with Plums, Sprouted Lentils and Tarragon, Freekeh Polenta with Lamb, Green Chili, Greens and Poached Egg, or the wonderful Persian Cucumbers with Melon, Rosewater Labneh and Parsley Seed Za’atar – this recipe is a feast for the taste buds thankfully shared with us by the two chefs. You just dig in and feel happy, inspired by new flavor combinations focusing on taste and freshness. Or celebrate some precious time just for yourself and a book, have a coffee, and nibble on a Scone with Lemon Cream or Brioche Toast with Date Butter.

“LA is an exciting place to be right now, there’s a lot of young creative energy”, Sarah says. She doesn’t hide that she loves the East coast, she’s from Chicago and worked in New York for years, moving west wasn’t an obvious step for her. In 2015, she met NY native Sara Kramer at Glasserie in New York, Kramer was the opening chef at the acclaimed restaurant and won Eater’s NYC Chef of the Year award for her celebrated way of cooking. Yet the two strong willed chefs and highly creative minds who developed the vision of opening their own place, had to find out that it wasn’t in the East but West, in California, where their first “baby” would open its doors. An organic falafel shop at the lively Grand Central Market in Downtown LA called Madcapra was their testing ground. It became a huge success and so Kismet came next.

Rooted in California through the produce that the Kismet chefs get from their beloved farmers and friends who are such an important part of their community of chefs – “their produce is what makes our food” – yet their style of cooking is very much based on their experiences in the kitchen and their upbringing. Thanks to the similar climate, they can use a lot of fruits and vegetables that are prominent in Middle Eastern cooking, such as pomegranate, dates, olives, and fresh herbs. This is the kind of food that both of them loved all their life, what they grew up with – Sara’s mother is Israeli – it’s the food that fascinates both of them and constantly feeds their inspiration.

LA has always offered a great platform and an excitable open-minded audience to female chefs, like Nancy Silverton, Suzanne Goin, Marie Sue Milliken, and Susan Feniger to name just a few. There’s a history of inspiring women in this city and also in California in general who try alternative ways of producing food, cooking, but also working together. Over the past few years, there have been changes in restaurants all over the US that touch the roots of this industry. Work ethics change, the tone in the kitchen that was very male for decades, changes. “The women today try to challenge these norms by treating people as people. It’s not an easy process, but it’s a responsibility to the industry and the people working in this industry.” Sarah and her partner introduced a 20% service charge on top to improve payments and also even out the gap between front and back of house at their restaurant. It’s not easy, but it’s an important part of the place that they want to create, where it’s about good food, but also about a healthy community, in and outside Kismet.

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey,  for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Kismet

 

Kismet

Persian Cucumbers with Melon, Rosewater Labneh and Parsley Seed Za’atar

By Kimset / Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer

Serves 6

For the Za’atar

2 tablespoons untoasted sesame seed, ground
1 tablespoon whole toasted sesame seeds
¾ cup (about 12g) dried rose petals, broken up
1 ½ teaspoons sumac
1 teaspoon parsley seeds, ground
¼ teaspoon salt

For the rosewater labneh

2 cups (470g) labneh
1 teaspoon salt
Zest of 2 lemons
2 cloves garlic, grated on a Microplane
2 teaspoons honey
¼-1 tablespoon rose water, to taste
Black pepper, finely ground, to taste

For the salad

9-12 Persian cucumbers, rinsed, shaved lengthwise on a mandoline
1 cup (about 160g) melon, cut into oblique pieces
Juice of 2 lemons
Olive oil
Salt, to taste
Fresh chervil, leaves only

For the Za’atar, in a small bowl, combine the untoasted and toasted sesame seeds, rose petals, sumac, parsley seeds, and salt. You can keep the Za’atar in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

For the labneh, in a large bowl, combine the labneh, salt, lemon zest, garlic, honey, and ¼ tablespoon of the rose water and season to taste with pepper and additional rosewater. You can prepare the rose water labneh in advance and keep it in the fridge for 1 day.

For the salad, mix together the cucumbers, melon, lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Toss to coat and set aside.

Divide the rose water labneh between bowls, arrange the cucumbers and melon on top, and sprinkle each portion with about 1 teaspoon of the Za’atar and a little chervil. Serve immediately.

Kismet

 

Kismet

 

Watch my interview with Sarah in LA in September 2017:

 

 

Thank you, Sarah!

 

Kismet

 

Kismet

 

Kismet

 

Kismet

 

Kismet

Meet In Your Kitchen | Alana Kysar’s Hawaiian Poke & her sunny life in LA

Alana Kyser

Driving up and down Hollywood’s soft hills is like swinging in a cradle in one of those dreams that you never want to end. Seduced by the sweet city cocktail of warm asphalt and colorful blossoms popping up behind the iron gates of the elegant Spanish-style mansions along the endless streets and boulevards cutting through the city, I had to pinch myself to believe that I finally arrived at the first stop of my culinary trip around the world, an adventure I started together with Zwilling.

These trips will take me to different continents to meet the locals and dive into the secrets and excitements of their cuisines. The cooking of each country, region, or even village is unique, but despite the differences, we have one thing in common wherever we live: we meet in the kitchen, at the table, to eat, drink, and feast together with the ones we love. This has never changed and I don’t believe that this will ever change.

LA wins me over in an instant, always, whenever I go there. There seems to be freedom in the air, no boundaries, but opportunities. Palm trees gracefully grow into the endless blue sky, and even the Pacific hitting the long beaches of Venice and Malibu with its wild waves seem to mellow down as it touches the city’s golden sand. LA just puts a smile on your face, you can’t help it, it makes you focus on what’s possible rather than the obstacles. It’s magical and this might be the reason why so many people from all over the country working in the food scene come together in this beautiful spot in California, to work together, to create, and to let their visions come alive.

This, and the fact that the state’s unbelievably pleasing weather lets the produce grow so lusciously that it turns the land into a Garden of Eden. Whoever I met in LA, praised the gift of having the best fruits and vegetables at hand almost all year round. All the chefs, home cooks, and farmers who I met in California, who often came from far-flung places and left their home town or country behind, were pulled and inspired by the ingredients that California brings to their kitchens.

Alana Kyser

This woman has the sweetest smile and the cutest sausage dog and I don’t remember what hit me first when I met Alana Kysar in the hall of her elegant home in LA. The blogger and soon to be cookbook author lights up a room with her positive attitude and aura and makes you want to just sit in her kitchen and chat – and that’s what I did.

I had been following Alana’s work on her food blog, Fix Feast Flairand on Instagram for years and she successfully made me curious to learn more about the cuisine of her roots. Born and raised in Hawaii, she has an inspiring cooking heritage that shines through most of the creations that come out of the kitchen in her new hometown LA. Her poke recipe in particular roused my appetite just by the look of the pictures on her blog and to finally cook this dish together with her in her minimalist kitchen perfectly equipped with a knife collection that would make every chef jealous, felt just right. We stood at the long counter, attentively watched by her sausage dog, LA’s skyline sparkling right behind us, cutting tender tuna fillets that felt like butter. I can honestly say that I considered moving to California in that moment and becoming my host’s sous-chef.

According to Alana, it’s best to enjoy a bowl of poke on the beach, with a six pack of beer and a bunch of friends after work. It’s a Hawaiian classic, slightly similar to Peruvian ceviche, however, the fish stays raw, it’s not cured in citrus juices as in the South-American version. It’s a very minimal dish that impresses with its simplicity and ingredients of outstanding quality. The spotlight is on the ahi (yellowfin tuna), cut into cubes and tossed in sesame oil, soy sauce, and Hawaiian salt, then you add some onions, nuts, and seaweed, the result is unbelievably tender and tasty. It’s usually served with rice, which points to the fact that the roots of Hawaiian cooking are versatile but strongly connected to Asia. Japan, Korea, the Philippines, all these countries left a mark on the cooking of America’s 50th state, but the Hawaiians adapted it to the produce that their islands offer: mainly fish, fruit, and vegetables – and lots of sugar.

Alana was born in Kona and raised in Kula on the island of Maui, surrounded by a family of true food lovers who also brought a great portion of humor into her life. Her father often cooked with young Alana and established a judging system for her creations: she’d get points for ingredients, creativity, and presentation. Her mother introduced her to the local cuisine, laid back dishes, she’s a master in the kitchen who Alana admiringly describes with the words: she’s all that I want to be in the kitchen. One of her chicken recipes must be so good, that the daughter is still trying to beat it.

However, you shouldn’t be deceived by a beautiful woman’s smile, the soon to be author describes herself as a dictator at the cooker. She knows how she wants everything chopped and done and doesn’t accept compromises, even when it comes to her mom who had the honor – and pleasure – to test all the recipes in Alana’s new book. The feedback was content from both sides, so I guess Alana Kysar isn’t that far away from fitting in her kitchen idol’s footsteps.

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures when I’m too busy chatting and laughing!

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

Alana Kysar’s Ahi Poke Bowl

Serves 2

1 pound fresh ahi steak (yellowfin tuna), sashimi grade, cut into cubed, bite size pieces
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more to taste
¼ cup thinly sliced sweet Maui onion (or sweet yellow onion)
¼ cup chopped green onions
½ teaspoon Hawaiian salt, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) or chili pepper flakes
2 teaspoons finely chopped toasted macadamia nuts
1 teaspoon toasted white or black sesame seeds
1 handful fresh chopped ogo/ limu/ edible sea moss (optional)
Shredded nori (dried seaweed) or furikake (dried seaweed seasoning), for the topping
Cooked white rice (optional)

Place the ahi in a bowl.

Start by adding one tablespoon of sesame oil, soy sauce, the sweet onions, green onions, Hawaiian salt, shichimi togarashi or chili flakes, toasted macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, and the ogo/ limu (if using). Using your hands or wooden spoons, gently toss together and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

Divide the rice between 2 bowls. Arrange the poke on top of the rice and sprinkle with shredded nori or furikake, serve immediately.

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Watch my interview with Alana in LA in September 2017:

 

 

Thank you, Alana!

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kyser

 

Alana Kysar

Peach, Chèvre and Rosemary Tart

Peach, Chèvre and Rosemary Tarte

I allowed myself a few treats during our Mediterranean summer in Malta. I went snorkeling far more often than in the past few years, when my cookbook determined my schedule, I had a few girly shopping moments, and my man and I relaxed at the stunning – and newly renovated – Phoenicia Hotel in Valletta. We enjoyed stunning views from their infinity pool with a glass of crisp Maltese wine close at hand and indulged in lush breakfast buffets and fine French inspired cuisine on their gorgeous terrace overlooking the gardens.

Malta treated us well, the Mediterranean pace and hot climate force me to slow and calm down, something I only truly manage there. Nothing feels as heavy, as worrying or threatening as it might feel anywhere else, everything feels manageable and enjoyable. It’s not so much about duties, but about collecting and treasuring the good moments in life. This also reflects in my cooking. If I spent a couple more hours at the beach, we just cooked dinner a bit later, or kept it simple by throwing a fish on the grill and drizzling some fresh lemon juice over it. It’s pure, it’s good, and it allows me to have more time to chill and chat with a friend, to sit on the rocks a little longer and see the sun disappear into the sea’s faded evening-blue.

Another one of my lazy summer recipes is this lovely little sweet and savoury tart: ripe peaches, soft chèvre and Mediterranean rosemary spread on top of (store-bought!) puff pastry. You could also make your own, or use short crust pastry, but my lazy self just went to the supermarket and bought frozen Maltese puff pastry – the best I know.

The tart turned out even better than expected, offer it to your friends who don’t have a sweet tooth at teatime, or slice it up for a relaxed late summer dinner in the garden or on the balcony and pop open a bottle of wine. Heaven.

This recipe also works with grapes!

Peach, Chèvre and Rosemary Tarte

 

Peach, Chèvre and Rosemary Tarte

Peach, Chèvre and Rosemary Tart

Makes 1 (28cm / 11″) tart, serves 4-6

frozen puff pastry, defrosted, 320g / 11 ounces (you can also use short crust pastry)
large ripe peaches, cut into wedges, 4-5
mild soft chèvre, crumbled, about 150g / 5 ounces
fresh rosemary, finely chopped, 1 generous tablespoon
liquid honey 2 1/2 tablespoons

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F and butter a 28cm / 11″ tart pan.

Line the tart pan with the puff pastry, pushing the pastry into the pan, and put in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Spread the peaches in a circle on top of the pastry, sprinkle with the chèvre and rosemary, and drizzle with the honey. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and crisp at the edges (mind the heat, I use a gas oven in Malta, which is not as precise as my oven in Berlin).

Let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving and enjoy!

Peach, Chèvre and Rosemary Tarte

 

Peach, Chèvre and Rosemary Tarte

 

Peach, Chèvre and Rosemary Tarte

 

Peach, Chèvre and Rosemary Tarte

 

peachchevrerosemarytart_IG7

 

peachchevrerosemarytart_IG6

 

peachchevrerosemarytart_IG4

 

peachchevrerosemarytart_IG3

Langostini al Cartoccio cooked in seawater

Langostini al Cartoccio

I’m sure I spent more time in the water than on land in the past few weeks. When I’m in Malta, I turn into a fish, I practically live in and from the sea. Crystal blue water, secluded bays, and hidden caves under limestone arches are my very own little Mediterranean paradise. And once I’m out of the water, there’s often the freshest seafood on my plate. Simplicity rules Malta’s summer cuisine, a whole fish or pink crustaceans from the grill seasoned with a squeeze of lemon and some parsley from the fields, tender octopus in an aromatic stew – great quality ingredients don’t need much to shine.

Although I enjoy visiting the islands’ villages on Malta and Gozo a lot, walking down the quiet alleys and stopping for a cappuccino or ice cream at one of the old cafés, if there’s a chance to put my goggles on and snorkel, you can be sure to find me in the water within a split second. In the first week, I went to my beloved Fomm ir-Riħ to sadly find the gravel beach considerably narrowed by clay swept down from the steep hill behind it. The sea was rough, so we didn’t even bother walking down the hidden track along the cliff face. We went to Sliema’s city beach instead and I finished the day with my obligatory sun-downer – a glass of Ricard at the Exiles bar. Sitting on the warm rocks and smelling the salty air – after a dip in the sea of course – is one of the best ways to end a day in the Mediterranean.

Another trip took us to Marsaskala, a seaside village that I never really gave the attention it deserves. It’s a very Maltese place, not many tourists, old houses, bars, and palm trees lined up along the promenade where the young and old meet after sunset. I had a Ftira sandwich for dinner, but before we dove into village life we discovered a beautiful rocky beach north of the Xrobb l-Għaġin Temple. It was so peaceful, the endless sea framed by chalk-white cliffs softly sliding into the water. We were alone there, my Maltese family, my man and I snorkeled and Mama tried to catch our dinner – without success.

On one of our trips to Gozo, I discovered a recipe that I’d love to share with you today. Noel, the excellent chef at his open-air restaurant at the deep Mgarr ix-Xini bay – which is a bit tough to find – cooked the sweetest langostini al cartoccio in seawater. He doesn’t have to go far, a few steps from his place he finds the cleanest Gozitan sea, always at hand to cook seafood in his preferred method: wrapped in a package, al cartoccio, with a splash of seawater, on the grill. Don’t worry if you don’t happen to live at the sea, just use normal water mixed with the best sea salt you can find, that’s what I did in my Maltese Mama’s kitchen. We got Maltese langostini, which are the sweetest I know. Noel’s crustaceans were a little smaller than ours and tastier, however, my fish monger only had the larger size. You just have to add some lemon wedges to the package and cook it on the grill for a few minutes (or in the oven). They cooked to perfection, with a gentle touch of the salted water. I used Gozitan salt, which I find not only subtle in saltiness, but also tastier than any other I’ve tried. Choose a good one, it’s worth it when you follow simple cooking.

Langostini al Cartoccio

 

Langostini al Cartoccio

Seawater cooked Langostini al Cartoccio from the Grill

You can cook the langostini on the grill or in the oven.

Serves 2

extra wide aluminium foil
medium langostini, fresh and uncooked, 8-10
sea salt 1 tablespoon
water, warm, 300ml / 1 1/4 cups
olive oil
organic lemon, cut into wedges, 1

Start the grill or preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (conventional setting).

Lay 2 pieces of aluminium foil on top of each other, large enough to wrap the langostini.

Stir the salt into the warm water and let it sit until the salt dissolves. Or, if you happen to live close to the clean sea, use the same amount of fresh seawater.

Lay the langostini in the middle of the aluminium foil and fold up the sides. Add the salted water / seawater, a generous splash of olive oil, and the lemon wedges. Wrap the package and seal the ends well.

Cook the langostini for about 3-5 minutes on the grill (I closed the lid of the grill), or in the oven, until they are just done.

Serve immediately with fresh bread and, if you like, a glass of chilled white wine.

Langostini al Cartoccio

 

Langostini al Cartoccio

 

Langostini al Cartoccio

 

Langostini al Cartoccio

 

Langostini al Cartoccio

 

Langostini al Cartoccio

 

Langostini al Cartoccio

 

Langostini al Cartoccio

 

Langostini al Cartoccio

Maltese Fennel & Coriander Cheeseburger Toast

Maltese Fennel Cheeseburger Toast

A few weeks ago, I received a message from someone excitedly telling me that she visited my ‘fennel lady’ in Malta. I often wrote about this lovely farmer, on the blog and in my cookbook, and I can’t imagine cooking without her aromatic harvest anymore. Every Sunday, she spreads her fennel and coriander seeds on the wooden table at a tiny stand at the farmers’ market in Marsaxlokk, a picturesque fishermen’s village in the south of my beloved Mediterranean island. It seems like this is what she’s done all her life, picking and selling seeds, always with a happy smile on her tanned face. The person who wrote me the email did what I always do in summer: she bought bags of fragrant seeds to fill the spice box in her pantry.

Malta is the reason why fennel became so prominent in many of my recipes. It grows wild all over the islands, the plants dig their sturdy roots into every patch of soil they can find. I guess its abundance is one of the reasons why you can find fennel in many traditional dishes in Malta’s Mediterranean cuisine – and its wonderful sweet taste of course. If you visit the small local restaurants, you often find baked fennel potatoes as a side dish on the menu.

When Leerdammer asked me if I’d like to create a recipe with their new Toast and Burger Cheese, I didn’t think twice. I love a good cheeseburger. I live in Berlin, a city where new burger joints pop up at every street corner like mushrooms. Although I like to try a new spot once in a while, I still have my favourite place when my meaty cravings creep over: The Bird. I always go for a perfectly cooked steak burger topped with a slice of Swiss cheese. However, in my own kitchen, I’m a little more experimental.

Leerdammer’s aromatic cheese tastes slightly sweet and it melts on top of a warm, juicy burger like butter. The cheese has a fine taste, but it’s not shy, it can easily take a generous amount of warming spices stirred into the burger mixture: fennel and coriander seeds, alongside lots of garlic, fresh parsley, and spicy black peppercorns crushed in a mortar. I felt inspired by the famous Maltese sausage, which is coarse, rough, and so tasty. It features all the spices that you can find in my burger. When it comes to flavour, Malta’s traditional sausage is one of the richest and most delicious I know. And what works in a sausage, can’t go wrong in a burger.

The burgers are bedded on a thinly sliced fennel bulb that adds freshness and crunch, a few red onion rings and arugula (rucola) instead of a lettuce leaf brings a sharp note. Usually, I prefer to buy my cheese in one piece, but when it comes to cheeseburgers, I don’t mind working with sliced dairy products. This way it looks like a proper American style burger, one with a Mediterranean make-over. You could pack the whole thing in a bun, but what about trying something new and layering it between two thick slices of toasted white bread? And instead of using the toaster, make use of the burgers’ buttery cooking juices and crisp the bread in the pan.

Thank you Leerdammer for inspiring me to make a Maltese cheeseburger toast. You can find more Toast & Burger recipes celebrating regional treats here.

Last year I created a few scrumptious sandwiches together with Leerdamer, here are some of my favourites:

Egg, Bacon and Cheese Sandwich with Garden Vegetables
Spiced Plum and Cheese Omelette Ciabatta Sandwich
Grilled Persimmon, Ham and Cheese Sandwich with Basil

Maltese Fennel Cheeseburger Toast

 

Maltese Fennel Cheeseburger Toast

Maltese Fennel Cheeseburger Toast

Makes 4 burgers

For the burgers

minced meat (beef and pork) 500g / 18 ounces
dry breadcrumbs 30g / scant 1/4 cup
organic egg 1
garlic, crushed, 2 large cloves
fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, 1 medium bunch
fennel seeds 1 tablespoon
coriander seeds, crushed in a mortar, 1 tablespoon
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar, 2 teaspoons
flaky sea salt 1 1/2 teaspoons
butter, to cook the burgers
olive oil, to cook the burgers

To assemble the burger toast

fresh white loaf, 8 thick slices
medium fennel bulb, cored and very thinly sliced, 1
medium red onion, cut into thin rings, 1
Leerdammer cheese (or another aromatic cheese that melts well) 4 slices
(I used Leerdammer’s ‘Herzhaft-Intensiv’ Toast & Burger cheese. If you prefer a smoky note, go for ‘Rauchig-Würzig’.)
arugula (rucola), a small handful
olive oil
fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar, for the topping (optional)

For the burgers, in a large bowl, using your hands or a stand mixer, mix and knead the minced meat, breadcrumbs, egg, garlic, parsley, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, pepper, and salt until well combined. Shape the meat mixture into 4 thick burgers.

In a large, heavy pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and a generous splash of olive oil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add the burgers, and, turning them 2-3 times, cook until medium rare. You might have to turn the heat down to medium after a few minutes if the burgers turn dark. This takes about 10 minutes. Add more oil if the pan becomes too dry.

Transfer the burgers to a plate (cover them with a lid), leaving the fat in the pan, and turn the heat up to high. Add the bread slices to the pan and toast each slice on just one side until golden and charred at the corners.

To assemble the burger, lay a slice of bread on a plate (toasted side facing down) and lay a few fennel slices and red onion rings on top. Arrange the warm burger and a slice of cheese on top, then finish it off with some more onion rings and a few rucola leaves. Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with some fennel seeds, and close the sandwich with a slice of bread (toasted side facing upwards). Squeeze and enjoy!

Maltese Fennel Cheeseburger Toast

 

Maltese Fennel Cheeseburger Toast

 

Maltese Fennel Cheeseburger Toast

 

Maltese Fennel Cheeseburger Toast

Camembert, Pear and Thyme Challah

Camembert and Pear Challah

A lot of cracking and aching was going on in the oven while I watched my camembert, pear, and thyme challah bake. At one point I got worried that my braided bread was going to explode. It rose and expanded on all sides, it looked more like a challah pancake than the elegant breaded loaf I had in mind. Maybe I filled the single yeast dough strings a bit too generously with ripe – and stinky – cheese and chopped crisp fruit, but I had a feeling that the recipe needed it. So I trusted, which is always the only sensible thing a baker can do when the object of attention doesn’t perform as expected.

To my surprise, it worked out in the end and the shape still reminded me of a Hefezopf – the German name for challah. I used my classic plain challah recipe and replaced the sugar with honey. It’s common in Germany to use butter and milk for this kind of bread, instead of water and vegetable oil, which you usually find in traditional challah recipes. I like the added richness coming from the dairy products, I find it tastier. Seeing as the fruit and cheese bring in even more juice and moistness, I could have made the dough a bit drier, added more flour to help it keep its shape. But the final texture was so nice, soft and spongy, that I’d rather accept the pancake-look than ending up with a dry Hefezopf.

If you don’t feel like camembert, you can also go for any other aromatic cheese that melts well. I already have a raclette challah in mind, next time. And I’m sure that apricots or peaches would also do a pretty good job instead of the pear. So feel free to experiment, but keep in mind, the juicier the fruit, the more it’ll soften your dough.

This challah is a perfect picnic, brunch, or Saturday lunch treat, preferably accompanied by fresh fruits, wine, and a selection of cheese and prosciutto. A green salad with juicy tomatoes also goes very well with it.

Camembert and Pear Challah

 

Camembert and Pear Challah

Camembert, Pear and Thyme Challah

When I baked my challah, it was a very hot day. So the butter in the dough literarily melted in my hands and turned braiding into a fiddly task. The single braids stretched quicker than I reacted, I was too slow. If you also happen to go for this recipe on a day with high temperatures, to avoid stress and frustration, try to work quickly when you braid the loaf. Keep the braids a bit shorter to begin with, due to the filling they’ll expand in length.

Makes 1 large challah

honey 2 tablespoons
butter, melted, 100g / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons
milk, lukewarm, 150ml / 2/3 cup
organic eggs 2
plain flour 520-550g / 4 cups – 4 cups plus 4 tablespoons
fast-acting yeast 1 sachet (7g / 1/4 ounce)
fine sea salt 1 teaspoon

For the filling

aged camembert, cooled and cut into thin strips (it’ll be a mess if it’s too soft), 250g / 9 ounces
medium to large firm pear, cored and cut into tiny cubes, 1
fresh thyme and a little rosemary (the needles, chopped), a large handful

For the glaze

organic egg yolk 1
water 1 tablespoon

Stir the honey into the hot melted butter and whisk until combined, let it cool until it’s lukewarm. Add the milk and eggs and whisk, the mixture should be lukewarm.

In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the milk-butter mixture to the flour mixture and mix for about 5 minutes or until well combined and smooth. If it’s too soft and sticky, add a little (!) more flour. Continue kneading and punching with your hands for about 3-5 minutes or until you have a soft and silky ball of dough. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place, or preferably in a 35°C (100°F) warm oven, for 60-70 minutes or until almost doubled in size. If it’s a hot summer day, you can let the dough rise at room temperature (that’s what I did this time).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

When the dough is puffy and almost doubled in size, punch it down, take it out of the bowl, and knead for about 30 seconds. Divide into 3 parts and roll them into longish, but not too thin sausage sausage shapes (see picture above). Flatten each piece of dough until it’s roughly 7.5 cm / 3″ wide. Divide the camembert, pear, and herbs between the 3 pieces of dough and spread, leaving a little rim all around the filling. Fold over each piece of dough, roll it gently, and seal the overlapping side and ends well. The filling should be completely wrapped inside the dough.

To braid the bread, work quickly, as the dough stretches. Lay the ends of the dough rolls on top of each other at one end and braid them tightly. If they become too long and thin, squeeze them together a little. Bend both ends of the bread under the loaf and quickly transfer to the lined baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about 40-50 minutes or until fluffy.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F (conventional setting).

For the glaze, whisk the egg yolk and water and brush the top of the challah. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and spongy. When you knock on the challah’s bottom, it should sound hollow. Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting the bread into thick slices.

The challah tastes best on the 1st day.

Camembert and Pear Challah

 

Camembert and Pear Challah

 

Camembert and Pear Challah

 

Camembert and Pear Challah

 

Camembert and Pear Challah

Maltese Stuffed Bell Peppers from my cookbook & a short trip to Malta

Maltese Stuffed Bell Peppers

Old cities and beaches, seafood and wine! When Condé Nast Traveler asked me to take over their Instagram Stories last weekend and share some of my favourite spots in Malta, I immediately booked the flights. There’s no way I would miss a chance to visit my second home!

I’m in the Mediterranean for just a few days at the moment, but it’s enough time to visit my personal hot spots. An early morning boat ride starting in Sliema took me to Valletta to enjoy my first espresso of the day at the beautifully old fashioned Prego Caffe on the capital’s narrow South Street. It’s a beloved morning ritual of many locals, nibbling on buttery breakfast pastizzi filled with ricotta surrounded by the café’s original 60’s decor. A quick visit to the Baroque Saint Francis of Assisi Church (1607) and then I strolled through the streets – one of the most relaxing things I can imagine. If it had been a Sunday, I would have gone to St. John’s Co-Cathedral‘s early morning mass, which is held in Latin accompanied by the most heavenly sounding choir.

On the way to my next destination, Casa Rocca Piccola, I stopped by at the peaceful Lower Barakka Gardens. This place always manages to overwhelm me with its stunning views over The Grand Harbour and The Three Cities – and its almost meditative atmosphere. Frances de Piro was so kind to show me around the 400 year old private Valletta palace Casa Rocca Piccola, where she lives together with her husband, the 9th Marquis de Piro who’s a Knight of Malta, and their family. Many of the private rooms can be visited during guided tours and are a must see for everybody who loves art, history, and architecture.

My man joined me for lunch, which turned into a little feast at Scoglitti right at the sea at the Marsamxett Harbour facing Sliema. Pasta with Maltese prawns, swordfish from the grill, and a bottle of Meridiana Wine Estate‘s fruity white. Maltese Mqaret filled with dates for dessert and we were ready for a nap. Only the thought of an afternoon swim in Malta’s deep blue waters could stop us from having a siesta. We chose the secluded Delimara bay, limestone rocks and crystal-clear turquoise sea are the best conditions for a good snorkeling trip.

My perfect day in Malta wouldn’t be complete without having dinner at Legligin, my favourite restaurant in Valletta offering the most delicious Maltese tapas cooked by our friend Chris. And if it’s a Friday night, you can stroll over to Bridge Bar for their weekly open air Jazz concerts. Sitting on red cushions on the capital’s ancient stairs in front of the bar, sipping on a glass of pastis, and listening to good music make me ask myself why I should ever leave the Mediterranean (sorry Berlin).

As a part of the Instagram takeover, I also shared a recipe from my Eat In My Kitchen cookbook on Condé Nast Traveler‘s website. It’s a Maltese classic: stuffed bell peppers. Stuffed vegetables are a staple in every Maltese home. Tomato, zucchini, eggplant, pepper are filled with meat, seafood, or other vegetables and turned into the coziest treat to please a large Mediterranean family’s appetite. In my version, which you can find below, I go for green peppers cooked al dente – I don’t like them too soft and soggy – stuffed with white fish like cod, tiny zucchini cubes, tomatoes, and parsley refined with a shot of vermouth.

If you can’t travel at the moment, just cook a dish that reminds you of your favourite holiday spot, close your eyes, and you’ll almost be there.

Maltese Stuffed Bell Peppers

 

Maltese Stuffed Bell Peppers

Maltese Stuffed Bell Peppers with Cod, Tomatoes, and Zucchini

from Eat In My Kitchen, To cook, to bake, to eat, and to treat

Serves 4

4 to 5 medium green bell peppers
Olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons butter
510g / 18 ounces cod fillet (or any firm, white fish, such as monkfish or grouper), preferably 1 thick center piece
Fine sea salt
Ground pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
340g / 12 ounces zucchini, cut into very small cubes
60ml / ¼ cup dry white vermouth, like Noilly Prat, or dry white wine
1 medium tomato, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons for garnish

Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F.

Cut the tops off the peppers. Scrape out and discard the seeds and fibers, then rinse the peppers and set aside.

In a heavy pan, large enough to fit the fish, heat a generous splash of olive oil and the butter over medium-high heat. Sear the fish, turning once, for 1 to 3 minutes per side or until golden and flaky—mind that you don’t overcook it. Remove from the heat, break the fish into chunks, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large, heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Pour in a little more olive oil, add the zucchini, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauté for about 4 minutes or until soft. Add the vermouth and cook, stirring and letting the alcohol burn off, for about 10 seconds. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the tomato and parsley, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To combine the filling, spread half the zucchini-tomato mixture on a large plate, lay the fish on top, and finish with the remaining vegetables. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Season the inside of the bell peppers with salt and pepper. Using a large spoon, generously stuff the peppers with the zucchini-cod mixture without pushing on the filling too much. If you have leftover filling, stuff the fifth bell pepper. Place the tops on the peppers and place them in a baking dish. Add a splash of water to cover the bottom of the dish and bake for about 25 minutes or until the bell peppers are al dente and the tops turn dark. Take the peppers out of the oven, sprinkle with more parsley, and serve warm.

Malta

 

Maltese Stuffed Bell Peppers

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