In many countries there are a lot of simple recipes for leftover bread. One of the sweet variations is French toast (or in Germany “Arme Ritter”), which is bread soaked in milk an egg. In Hungary this dish is typically served as a savory meal under the name “bundás kenyér”, which translates to “a bread with coat”.
I’ve been following the blog of the ingenious Dave Arnold for several years now. Back in 2009 he posted a recipe of an egg yolk bread, which I was able to try only now, since I haven’t had a pressure cooker. The “bread” consists of egg yolk, salt and baking powder only – so no flour, no yeast, no nuts, no milk. It is great when freshly “baked”, but it really surprised me when toasted in butter. This egg yolk “bread” perfectly resembled both the texture and the flavour of the aforementioned Hungarian leftover meal – although in this case without the “coat”.
What I really like about my new local market(s) is that there are not only stalls specialized in e.g. potatoes, apples or fish, but also a lot of regional organic farmers selling their excellent seasonal produce. Local organic food has several advantages. For example no manufactured fertilizers or pesticides are used for growing the plants. This requires more attention and work from the farmer, which in the end really makes a difference in taste. Since the farms are located in a 50-100km radius around Berlin, the produce is absolutely regional. The offered range of produce is both limited and rich at the same time: limited due to seasonality, and rich due to cultivating old species and a wide range of varieties.
I’ve encountered the oyster plant roots at one of these organic farmer’s market stalls. This vegetable looks like a really hairy, dirty and thin root. Because it is so thin, I only removed the root hairs and carefully scraped the surface of the roots using a relatively dull knife. The scraped surface of the root tends to turn brown quickly, so it’s advised to boil or steam the roots right after peeling them. I would not recommend this root to be served raw, since it has a slightly bitter taste. Its raw taste also reminded me of liquorice. During cooking the bitter taste evaporates, so when heated the oyster plant root tastes like a mixture of black salsify and corn. In this current dish I paired the oyster plant root with turnip, black spanish and radish.
In the last few months I’ve been reading the first two books of Modernist Cuisine on the train to and from work. To my opinion, it’s the very best book on cooking science currently available. At first the 20kg heavy cyclopedia might seem pretty expensive, but if you consider that it actually contains all the knowledge from your complete bookshelf, it’s quite a bargain. What I also like in the book is that it goes very much into detail on the science behind food and cooking techniques, but everything is explained in n easily readable and comprehensible way.
The chapter on cooking techniques and utensils in the second book was so inspiring to me, that I tidied up my kitchen and preserved some space for new kitchen equipment. One of the kitchen tools I acquired recently was a microwave. Yes, a microwave, the one and only kitchen tool that has been neglected in the past decades by several professional cooks. Only recently cooks started to use microwaves due to some of its unique applications. From a culinary perspective, a microwave has a lot more to offer. I read about these possibilities in the second book of Modernist Cuisine and I’ll feature each one of them in a post on my blog in the future. First I start with the simplest basic recipe, which is based on a recipe by the famous and well renowned chef Thomas Keller.
Usually, I take two different approaches when transforming traditional recipes. I either use all the original ingredients, but prepare and serve them in a different (to my opinion more optimal) way. Or, I keep the same presentation, but use very different ingredients. All my Kaiserschmarrn variations belong to the latter category – though they were desserts only. This time I wanted to create a savory version using goat cheese – in a way uniting Käsespätzle with Kaiserschmarrn.
In general, I try to find the corresponding counterparts for all traditional ingredients. For example, the traditional recipe calls for raisins soaked in rum. For the savory version I got inspired by the typical combination in a Bloody Mary, so I soaked sun-dried tomatoes in high-quality gin. Instead of orange or lemon zest and vanilla, I added herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage. Since my goat cheese purveyor – from whom I bought the cheese as well – offers kefir made from goat milk too, I replaced the milk from the traditional recipe by goat kefir. Usually Kaiserschmarrn is dusted generously with powdered sugar, so for the savory version I grated some aged goat cheese on the top. Finally, I poured bell pepper coulis and tarragon oil on the Kaiserschmarrn, which where the counterparts of the traditional apple puree.
When a recipe refers to neutral oil as an ingredient, it most often takes sunflower seed or grapeseed oils as examples. Until recently, I preferred using a perfectly neutral grapeseed oil for making my green herb oils, because it never interfered at all with the herb’s original flavor. A few weeks ago a friend of mine gave me a bottle of her very special grapeseed oil, which already blew my mind just after screwing off the plug when I smelled its scent. It has a very strong (and addictive) nutty scent (somewhat similar to walnut) mixed with an aged red wine perfume. The flavor of this grapeseed oil is extremely rich and combines (similarly to its scent) the aromas of red wine, grapes and nuts. Due to its quite unique flavor, I used it as an unusual “spice” in the appetizer below, featuring ingredients from the current autumn season.
Next to experimenting with new flavor pairings and techniques, thinking about classic dishes and transforming them into new and more interesting forms is my biggest passion in cooking. Sometimes I start meditating about a classic dish, its ingredients, the involved techniques and the possibilities behind them. The ideas pop up and evolve during this creative process. Some other times I keep thinking and enhancing distinct single ideas, which I quite suddenly assemble into a new dish or a reinterpretation of a classic. This time I combined several ideas and applied it to a Hungarian classic: the lecho (orignally: lecsó). Traditionally lecsó is a mix of onions, long bell peppers and onions simmered similarly to a stew and served either immediately or stored in glasses for the forthcoming winter. Sometimes lecsó is enhanced with garlic, Hungarian sausage (kolbász), sweet paprika powder or lard. Lecsó is usually served mixed with rice or eggs, or it can be eaten simply with a few slices of bread. I prefer the version with rice and – very nontraditionally – a lot of cinnamon, which works especially well with chorizo-like sausages.
You might ask now: why to serve a lecsó in form of a sushi? Well, I figured out how to make endless variations of nori algae sheet substitutes (the sheets you wrap your sushi into), how the texture of tomatoes and peppers can resemble soft fish meat and how to replace the wasabi by another traditional Hungarian ingredient. With the combination of the ideas described below, serving a sushi with lecsó flavor surely will make sense to you as well. So read on below for the birth story of the Lechosushi.