More about Edible Weeds

Don’t be surprised I am talking about weeds again. And their culinary potential. It is just due to the fact that their presence is in direct interdependence to my (very regular) absence from my garden.
Luckily I am relaxed about weeds in the garden. Because most of them are not just edible, but a culinary upgrade for my cooking. I am cooking a lot with herbs. And with weeds.  Today I harvested and cooked with chickweed (lat: stellaria media), one of my favorites.
The tiny, light green leaves are hiding between salads, under zucchini plants, between parsley and mint – simply everywhere. In summer they prefer shade to grow their tender leaves. But you can find them already in early spring until autumn. Even in mild winter. In my kitchen they play often a star part for salads, soups, and garnishes. I love them and cut them like cress. They are equally delicate, delicious and so beneficial. They provide Vitamin C, iron, copper, manganese, zinc and kalium. They help to strenghten the heart and the eyes, cleanse the blood and have a cooling effect.

Chickweed has been even in the limelight and photographed last week in our kitchen cum once-in-a-while-temporary photo studio by a professional photographer and dear friend, Klaus Maria Einwanger for his project  We, my mother and I, are very honored to be part of his culinary art project! More about it soon on this blog.
See how our Majlis looked when Klaus and his creative team were at our home in Berchtesgaden:

If you find chickweed in your vegetable patch, come with a scissor and cut the tips carefully to support continuous growth of this lovely herb/weed. You then could try the following recipe, another bavarian staple of my home:

My Bavarian Potato Salad

What to buy
6 medium size salad potatoes
2 eggs
1 white onion
4 table spoons apple cider vinegar
100 ml vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon agave syrup or acacia honey
6 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 good handful chickweed (I often substitute it with either curly parsley, wild dandelion leaves or wild watercress)

How to Make It
Steam the washed potatoes in their skin for around 30 minutes until they are entirely soft inside. Peel the skin off the hot potatoes and allow them to cool just a little bit before you slice them. Boil the eggs for 8 minutes and peel them as well. Cut the eggs to wedges. Dice the onion and braise it in olive oil. Add the oil and the onions while still hot to the potatoes. Bring the vinegar, vegetable stock and honey to a boil, stir in the mustard and season with salt and pepper. Gently mix the potatoes with the hot mustard stock. Check the seasoning again, it could be you need to add a little bit more salt or vinegar. Add the eggs and arrange on plates. Garnish generously with the picked and washed chickweed and serve the salad immediately.

Chef Gabi’s Tip
To make a good potato salad is a science. Not really difficult, but a few things are vital to achieve the best result. First: Use salad potatoes. They are totally different to those used for mashed potatoes for example and most important, they don’t fall apart when mixed with the dressing but absorb the delicious liquid. Second: Use warm potatoes, not chilled ones. And use a hot dressing. So they can absorb flavors much better. Third: The Bavarian potato salad has an oily and a watery part in the dressing. Add the oil first to the potatoes and then the vinegar part. So you get the desired shiny and succulent texture. And last: Serve it at room temperature. There is not much worse than fridge cold potato salad.

Enjoy my Bavarian comfort food and don’t forget to check your garden for edible weeds!

After Eight, deconstructed

Chocolate and Mint – this is not new. It is a culinary classic. However, I just love that flavor combination of smooth darkness (chocolate) and bright freshness (mint) in this dessert. This is for mint lovers. And for chocolate fans. Or both.
We made it yesterday, at the end of a sunny summer day and it was just the perfect finish of a dinner. Simple, but surprisingly good! Instructions: You have to take a spoon ful of the mousse, followed by a sip of the mint shooter, and so on….
Get the lemonade recipe here.
The mousse is melted dark chocolate (sugar free, honey sweetened), stirred hot into a mix of whipped cream, sour cream, crème fraîche, honey and a little bit of organic orange zest. Grated chocolate sprinkled on the surface once the mousse is plated in portion glasses, and garnished with the true dark peppermint. The mousse can be prepared in advance, the lemonade is best à l a minute, as we call it.

Chocolate Mousse and Mint Lemonade

Have a lovely day and stay refreshed in summer.

A Smart Gardener Cooks with Weeds

Bad weeds grow tall. Everyone owning and maintaining a garden knows what this means. Painfully. Apart from gardening in Dubai, there is a lot less weeds around thanks to hot climate. I have never seen the below described weed there. Lucky me! But anywhere else there is a constant fight against the ever growing weeds hiding between the beautiful flowers and plants we want to spread their leaves. Weeds just mingle and try to match as long as they are young. Later they take over your garden. This can happen before you know it. And then it becomes a big task to eliminate them. But necessary, if you wish your wanted plants to have space to breathe. I am sometimes undecided about so called weeds. They can be a delicious asset to the kitchen. Sometimes at least.
Gardeners for sure know ground-elder. It belongs to the carrot family and is named the worst weed ever for a garden.
BUT: It is edible! Ah, great idea: The smart gardener cooks with weeds. Organic weed management, ha!
Let’s eliminate it by heavy use in the kitchen then…I thought and yes, this works if you manage to use it often enough. Here is one recipe I like, with crispy fried ground-elder leaves. Fried their taste is really lovely. The raw leaves can be eaten in salads as long as they are young and tender. They have an earthy taste, matching well with anything of sweeter taste like sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin for example.
The picture shows ground-elder leaves with marigold blossoms, both picked for the following recipe. (You can see I am on summer holidays in my Bavarian home, and gardening. Sometimes.)

Pumpkin Soup with Fried Ground Elder and Marigold
2 Portions

What to Buy
200 g pumpkin, peeled, deseeded
1 small potato, peeled
1 carrot
1 onion, peeled
1 small piece of ginger, peeled
350 ml vegetable stock or water
75 ml cream, whipped
salt, pepper to taste
1 organic orange (juice and zest)
1/2 red chili, deseeded, chopped
1 good hand full of young ground elder leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 marigold blossoms for garnish

How to Make It

Cut the carrot, onion, potato, ginger and pumpkin into chunky pieces. Boil them for around 10 minutes in 250 ml water or vegetable stock until they are soft enough to puree. Blend water/stock and vegetable pieces to a creamy soup. It could be that you need a little bit more additional liquid to achieve the right texture. Then season the soup with salt and pepper. I often add a dash of orange juice and zest, and sometimes I love to add a little bit of fresh chili too. But this is my very personal taste. Without you get the milder version. Just try it….!
For the crispy ground-elder preheat a non stick pan. Fry the leaves in the hot oil for just a few seconds and pat dry them on a kitchen cloth. Note: The oil must not be too hot though, otherwise the leaves turn brown.
Garnish the soup with whipped cream, topped with crispy ground-elder and marigold blossoms.

Chef Gabi’s Tip

Ground elder has got some remarkable health benefits too: It can be used against rheumatic diseases, and strengthens kidneys and bladder. Overall it is said to activate our metabolism, helps to detox our system and provides us with chlorophyll and Vitamin C. Not bad for a so called “bad ” weed, isn’t it?

Stay healthy, balanced and enjoy life!

Summer Greetings from Dubai

Summer greetings from Dubai !

To maintain a herb garden is providing much culinary joy for a chef. I do have one in Dubai in Madinat Jumeirah (picture on the right with Burj Al Arab in the background) and one in my Bavarian home. These two herb gardens work quite different. While the garden in Dubai comes live and lush in the winter season, the other one disappears under a thick layer of white snow from December until February. And while my lovely Dubai herbs are suffering in the summer heat, I can harvest large bunches of various herbs in Germany. When I am there.
I usually don’t plant any new herbs in Dubai between June and October to avoid my disappointment when the young greens are slowly reducing until they have vanished. Without me cutting them.
But I leave what is already there and strong. And see, what is nicely growing as if weather is pleasant and not hot at all? My mint!
Just to compare: Mint in Dubai ……..

…..and Mint in Bavaria (a different type though, called apple mint)

I love mint. This refreshing taste. So cooling. Perfect for summery dishes. Look at below little salad I made today – steamed baby carrots, fava beans, baby zucchini with feta cheese, toasted pine nuts and a good hand of picked mint leaves. I added a few mint blossoms just because they are so pretty. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a dash of fresh pressed lemon juice and voilà, a nourishing, cooling and summery dish is ready to serve.

For aromatic drink with mint you can also see a recipe here.
Enjoy the summer.

Ruby Red and Pink- my new favorite colors

Recently I cut my roses in the garden. They have suffered in the heat and dried out a little bit, despite the fact I gave them enough water. So I thought I have to pamper them with an extra dose of ground coffee (leftover when coffee is made – recycle!) after the cut. It was good to see how fast they recovered, they became very green. Now they rewarded me with even more beautifully smelling blossoms. I took one off, trying to get more excitement to my daily intake of 2 litres of water (pure water is sometimes boring, isn’t it?), and mixed the rose blossom with diced strawberries, vanilla pod, organic lemon and plenty of still spring water. After a couple of hours in the fridge this drink was so refreshing and delicious! Look also here for another flavored water.

About Parsley and Hand Made Pesto

Herbs are such a wealth in the kitchen. I love using them plentiful. Being a dedicated herb lover (with a very own organic garden here in Dubai at Madinat Jumeirah, we do even composting) I recently showed in one of my cooking classes a hand made parsley pesto which is versatile for many dishes and food preparations. It turns out so much better with mortar, pestle and muscle power than the soft and smooth puree you get when you make it in a blender. The original would be with basil though, but made with parsley it is equally delicious and worth trying.
And so beneficial!
Parsley is providing a generous portion of vitamin C, A and K, and chlorophyll (helping your body to absorb oxygen). It is good for your bones, strengthens the immune system, helps you getting radiant skin, is detoxing in general and supports kidney function. So many reasons to eat parsley as often as possible. Cheers to Arabic food having invented parsley packed and lovely Tabouleh!

So now back to the kitchen: We used a stone mortar and pestle, in the best spirit of the word “pesto” rooting from “pestare”….! This makes in my opinion the best pesto ever. It is worth all the effort.

A pesto can be used as bread dip (get one easy bread recipe here),  with grilled vegetables, oven potatoes, or pasta…
In this class we prepared  Purple Potato Vegetable Kebabs with Parsley Pesto, they were served along with Green Pea Gazpacho (see recipe here) and made a great summer starter.

4 Portions
What to Buy
40 g parmesan cheese, grated
15 g pine nuts, toasted
1 organic lemon for a little bit of lemon skin, grated
1 small chili (optional)
½ garlic clove, peeled
½ bunch parsley
8 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 bamboo skewers
2 baby capsicum
4 cherry tomatoes
100 g purple potatoes (you can also use white potatoes or sweet potatoes instead)
½ zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil

How to Make It
Cut the potatoes and the zucchini into 2×2 cm and steam them for around 2 minutes al dente. Also steam the capsicum for 2 minutes (and cut them only if they are too big). Stick all vegetables on the skewers. For the pesto chop the parsley coarsely and, if you like it hot, a little bit of chili or some more…. Combine the ingredients for the pesto in a mortar and pestle starting to mash with very little salt (because parmesan is salty too) the garlic, lemon skin and chili. Then constantly sprinkle in small portions of pine nuts, parmesan and parsley, and top each helping with a drizzle of the olive oil. Continue until all ingredients are used up and the pesto looks shiny, creamy, but with small bits and pieces in it. Check seasoning and add some coarsely ground black pepper, and salt if necessary.
Braise the skewers in olive oil in a non stick pan for 2 minutes on all sides and serve them warm with the room temperature pesto on top. Truly convincing flavors!

Chef Gabi’s TIP:
This dish is great for MISE EN PLACE – a magic word in the restaurant kitchen and so is at home if you expect guests. Pesto can keep in the fridge for some days.  However: I am not a fan of keeping it for more than 24 hours as its flavor is best when it is fresh. I always serve it at room temperature for optimum flavor, so don’t forget to take it out of the fridge on time.
The skewers can be prepared a couple of hours in advance and you are ready to serve your guests without standing in the kitchen for long time. You just need to do the pan frying part à la minute, that’s all.
This recipe works with many vegetables, whatever is available – spring onions, fennel, potatoes, snow peas, eggplants, mushrooms…have fun playing with it!

THE JOY of BAKING – or how to listen to the sound of bread

There is nothing to compare to the smell of freshly baked bread in the kitchen! My mother is a great source of wisdom in this field. When ever she moved into a new house, first act in the kitchen was baking bread to make the place officially HERS and produce that particular scent of a real home. Look at the picture in one of my posts from Bavaria, this is one real BREAD out of my mother’s kitchen. Simple food and truly awesome! 
This is one reason why I sometimes bake bread at home here in Dubai. Another reason is that I am fond of eating wholesome bread aka the good carbs, normal “white” bread can’t deliver (think empty carbohydrates).
A note to people being too busy sometimes to go the extra mile in their kitchen: Freshly baked bread (and also a number of wholesome options bringing the good carbs) are available now daily at the Al Samar Cake Boutique, Madinat Jumeirah. They also take orders.
Just in case you don’t find time to try my recipe….. 
But if you get on it, this bread is heaven when it is still a little bit warm from the oven. I like to dip it in pesto for example. My ultimate pesto recipe I will share with you in a couple of days, please keep checking this blog.
The following recipe is quick and easy, perfect to start your bread baking experience. The rosemary and onion is an extra flavor you can add or not. The same recipe works equally well with fresh sage or fresh zaathar, which I love since day one here in Dubai.

Rosemary Whole Spelt Baguette
1 medium size baguette or two smaller ones

What to Buy
150 ml water
1 teaspoon acacia honey or agave syrup
5 gm fresh yeast
200 gm whole spelt flour
1 small onion
2 sprigs rosemary
10 ml olive oil
1 pinch of salt 

How to Make It
To start the dough gently mix water, yeast and agave syrup or honey. Then add the flour and beat the dough well by hand with a wooden spoon until it is soft and elastic. It needs to get some air bubbles in it. Allow the dough to rest and rise for around 10-15 minutes at room temperature. In the meantime dice the onion and chop the rosemary leaves which you have removed from their woody stalks. Braise both in olive oil for one minute. Add a pinch of salt and add the warm rosemary-onion-olive oil to the dough. Eventually add some more flour and beat the dough again until it starts cleaning the mixing bowl.
Now place a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray. Preheat the oven at 230 degrees Celsius. Roll the dough to a baguette shape bread (you might need some extra flour for the work table) and place it on the baking tray, the closure of the dough (a thin visible long line) upside down. Place slight angled cuts on the skin of the bread every 3 cm. This is important to avoid the bread surface breaking up oddly on the sides and ruining its shape when baking in the oven. Allow the baguette to rise again for around 10 minutes. Note: Air-conditioned rooms are not as supportive to bread rising as normal room temperature. If your bread is not getting volume indoors, just take it outdoors for five minutes. When you place the baking tray with your baguette into the oven, spray some cold water before you close the door. This is necessary to produce steam only for the beginning of the baking process without having that uber professional baker oven with steam function at hand. This makes The Perfect Crust.
Bake the baguette for around 10-15 minutes (depending on size and thickness) until it looks golden and crispy. Now test the result and do the ultimate maturity check:
LISTEN TO ITS SOUND. (don’t get your ears to close though, while it is hot)
The baguette is ready when it sounds hollow knocking at its bottom.

Chef Gabi’s Tip
Rosemary grows very well in this climate. Even in summer. 
I have rosemary since many years in the garden and I am cutting it regularly for culinary use. Rosemary has energizing and antibacterial properties. Its strong flavor matches perfect with onions or garlic, or with orange or lime. In this bread it unfolds its Mediterranean character.

It is also part of the aromatic herb water – remember: Drinking enough water is the perfect tool to beat the summer heat.