Necessity is the Mother of Invention: Cherry Salsa/Chutney

 I had never really thought of cherries as a savory food, but after harvesting a bucket full of cherries and already filled three and a half jars full of jam, I was kind of under pressure be creative.

The thing is that cherries tend to attract insects and their offspring while on the tree. While swallowing a maggot or two never harmed anybody, I didn’t fancy getting a belly full of maggots. That, and cherries tend to mold quickly so that you had a three day time window to consume them. The secret is to not wash the cherries until just about the point that you are to consume or use them!

I spotted a recipe from a colleague’s North & South, a monthly magazine from New Zealand, in their February 2008 issue.  It featured a family’s cherry farm, and also shared some recipes of their own, which included a cherry salsa

All you need to do is to mix together 36 stoned and diced fresh cherries, ½ diced red onion, 174 handful flat-leaf parsley, Zest of half a lemon, 100 ml olive oil, 25 ml vincotta, Sea salt, and cracked pepper.

Because I didn’t have vincotta, a sauce made from sticky grape extract, I decided to play around this recipe a bit and made a chutney instead, using the pan drippings from the accompanying beef steak that night.

So I sautéed the onions in low heat, added the cherries, added all the seasonings and sprinkled the parsley just before serving. It tasted great and was a good contrast to the salty beef steak. A great way to use cherries!

Tokwa and Togue

Photo by: K. Simbulan

Sorry for the long silence, I’ve been very busy juggling a couple of projects. This weekend is all about me and my bed, uh-huh.

I had to cook a meal for 200 people! It had to be easy to make, cheap, vegetarian, and Filipino! It’s surprising that Filipinos would spice up any vegetarian dish with meat, it was difficult to think of something where all ingredients are found in Germany. I ended up with making Togue and Tokwa, or bean sprouts and tofu, a very easy vegan stir-fry.

To make enough for four to five people, you’d need a block of tofu and about 150 g bean sprouts. One can use more to strech the dish to feed more people.

First take the tofu block out of water, strain, and blot with a towel until the tofu is dry-ish.

Take a large clove of garlic (or more if desired), smush it up with a pestle or the back of a knife, and chop it up. Cut up the tofu in 1 inch blocks. Warm up three tablespoons of oil in a pan with higher walls. Sauté  the garlic in the oil and remove when brown. Fry the tofu blocks to brown, for five minutes, stirring every so often. Add the sprouts, then add four tablespoons of soy sauce. Add the garlic, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Other veggie strips like carrots and bell peppers can also be added.Eat with steamed rice.

Cherry season

Sweet, sweet cherries have arrived!

There are two cherry trees in the city that I forage cherries from. One is right next to my son’s kindergarten. I’ve been patiently been watching the cherries turn red, and here they are!  So I took three lunchboxes with me last week, and turned my three-year old son into a criminal by trespassing into someone’s unguarded property to pick some cherries together.

Cherries are normally a pain to turn into jam, since you have to pit them all to work with them.  These cherries were so sweet that it took two packets of citric acid and a dash of extra pectin to get them to jelly.

So basically, the best thing to do with this kind cherries is…to eat them! Though because these are organic cherries, they are bound to have a maggot or two in them every so often. Not for the squeamish, but I don’t mind the extra protein 🙂

I am eagerly awaiting the end of July, during the sour cherry season. They are better suited for jam-making. What I’m  not looking forward to are days of darkened fingernails and stained aprons. Oh well, the product is worth it anyway.

Strawberry Jam





Now that jam season has descended upon us, my weekends are devoted to foraging for fruits and turning them into jam. The glass jars I’ve been assiduously saving the whole year are now all almost all filled with jam.

So how do you make jam? In Germany it’s quite easy, since stores stock up on jam sugar, or sugar already mixed with pectin, a jelling agent that can be extracted from the seeds of fruits like apples and pears. I’ve seriously considered extracting my own pectin from apples, then I decided the last minute that it means I’m certifiably nuts.

So, there are three different kinds of jam sugars in Germany; 1:1, 2:1, and 3:1. That means that 1 part fruit to the whole bag of sugar, two parts fruit to the bag of sugar, and three parts fruit or juice to one part sugar. I always use 3:1 for making jelly, like elderberry jelly. 

For strawberry jam, I always take 1:1, since they always give me the best results.

So take a kilo of strawberries. You can safely add about 100 grams more, since these berries will diminish considerably from here. Take a medium-sized to big stock pot, and proceed to remove the green tops, slice away brown portions, and quarter the strawberries then put them in the pot. Slicing away the brown or moldy portions of the strawberries improves the shelf life considerably.

Then I dump the whole bag of sugar into the pot. If I want to make chunky strawberry jam, I let the fruit steep in the sugar at least half an hour, stirring it every so often with a wooden spoon. If I’m making confiture, I puree it with a hand mixer. Meanwhile, I take some clean from the dishwasher pop-up, screw-top jars, leave them in the sink,  and douse the whole lot with boiling water. You can then use a pair of tongs to drain them of water and leave them on the sink. I do not pat dry.

The slurry is put on the stove over medium high heat, stirring all the time until it comes to a rolling boil. Be careful, since this sugar mixture likes to splatter. This is the time it thickens to a jam, and continue to stir for three to five minutes. Then you can do the plate test.

Jam test

I take a plate from the cupboard in my left hand and drop a droplet of jam from the wooden spoon on the plate, then tip the plate towards me. I’ve labeled the tests 1-6, so you could see the development of jam setting. Once the jam hardly moves after tipping, you are ready to can.

You don’t need to use a jam funnel, but it is very helpful when you have made chunky jam. I fill the still-warm glass to the brim, and use oven mitts to help me screw the tops on the jars, then tip them over in the sink so I don’t have a catastrophe on my counter. Let them stay upside-down until they cool. Once you turn them right-side up again, you will (hopefully) notice that the pop-up lid is depressed. Congratulations! You have created an air-tight seal! Jam for the whole year! They are a brilliant red, but the colors do tend to fade over time. Your jam is still good, don’t worry, even if it’s from 2011.

So, hopefully the rains start to subside, so I can begin cherry season!

Elderberry Syrup

I am slightly allergic to Elderberry sap, but it doesn’t stop me from making Elderberry syrup. This recipe has ensured that I make at least a batch every year. Three tablespoons of syrup mixed with a glass of water is amazing! Citric acid is a powder can be bought in drugstores and is used to remove scale in coffee makers and electric kettles.

With the prolonged winter, the elderberry flowers are just starting to bloom. My gloves will come out of hiding, and syrup-making season has arrived this year at last! And for people in tropical countries, your local IKEA should be selling them 🙂

My Japanese Week-end

Miso soup, Agedashi Tofu with radiccio & white raddish, and sushi rice with Salmon sashimi

I just love, love Japanese food! I’ve been a Japanophile since my cosplaying days, when my obsession with anime pulled me out of a funk (aka as depression) during my early 20s.

I would not really want to live in Japan, but it does seem like a nice place to visit, and I love its food! It’s so sad to realize that people only think of sushi when they think of Japanese food, but it is sooo much more than that! If I had a million dollars, I would go to Japan and eat at Jiro’s restaurant from the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the only 3-star Michelin sushi restaurant in the world. Eating 12 pieces of sushi for 300 euros isn’t exactly a bang for your buck deal, but it’s about the experience, baby! Then try everything my hosts would put in front of me.

I’ve been cooking Japanese for some time now, but when the urge really hits me, I always cook a four-course meal for me and a few other people and put up a Japanese-themed night.

Thursday last week. I was determined to cook Japanese since I’ve been jonesing for Tempura a few weeks now. That Japanese restaurants in Erfurt don’t serve Tempura even that one owned and operated by a Japanese person, boggles the mind.

One of the people invited was a friend who had spent two years in Japan working as an English teacher. I was so interested to watch her and hear how Japanese food is cooked and eaten in Japan.

We had: Miso soup, salad made with julienned zucchini, smoked salmon bits, red caviar and mayo, Zucchini and Mango Sushi, Agedashi Tofu, Salmon Teriyaki, Shrimp and Eggplant tempura, Sushi Rice, and white wine to facilitate girl talk.

On Mother’s day, my friend and I went to EGA Park, where they were having Japanese Appreciation Day. Tea ceremonies, Taiko Drums, Bonsai plants, a Tokyo Shock Boys-type show, and geisha-inspired make-up made up for the weather, which couldn’t make up its mind whether it wanted to rain. The free banana chocolate sushi roll was not so bad, either. Germans trying to be Japanese is a funny thing to behold.

With that, Japanese week-end was over. It certainly won’t be the last!

Taboule Salad

Taboule salad is a great dish to bring to potluck parties. It can be served cold, it can be given to vegans. It is not gluten-free however, so be warned!

According to Wikipedia, Taboule is a Lebanese salad that is pretty popular in the Middle East, Armenia, and Haiti. This is a very popular Arabian dish, quick and easy to make, done in 30 minutes. There are hundreds of recipes for Taboule on the internet, and they are variations of the same ingredients.

When I make Taboule I use:

250 g Couscous, soaked in 200 ml salted water and 1 tablespoon extra vigin olive oil

5 chopped big tomatoes or 8 halved cherry tomatoes

Half a cucumber or zucchino, unpeeled.

1 and 1/2 tablespoon each of parsley, mint and coriander. Leave out the coriander to be sprinkled extra on the salad, since many people don’t like it. This baffles me because I love coriander. Mint is also optional, since I only have fresh mint leaves in the summer.

Juice of 1/2 of a lemon

1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped

1 stalk spring onion, finely chopped.

Approx. 6 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and pepper

In a salad bowl, season the couscous and pour the salted water in with the 1 tablespoon of    oil. Let it stand to absorb the water.

In the meantime, cube the tomatoes and the cucumber, and finely chop the onions and herbs. When you’re done, the couscous should have absorbed the water. Add in the herbs, tossing the couscous and adding seasonings after putting each ingredient in the bowl. Add the rest of the olive oil and the lemon juice, and continue mixing until it is well incorporated.

This is enough couscous to serve 8 people. If this is a side dish, 12. You can jazz it up by adding cubed feta cheese or olives. Enjoy!