samedi 21 mars 2009

Spring in Luxembourg

Happy Spring!

Living in the SaarLorLux region means that I get introduced to many different traditions from France, Germany and Luxembourg. A lot of the traditions in Luxembourg and Germany seem to involve wine or beer and sausages. However this weekend, there is a uniquely Luxembourgish tradition that involves pretzels and not wine, beer or sausages. The 3rd Sunday of Lent is Bretzelsonndeg or Pretzel Sunday. The pretzels involved are not the small salty snack ones that North Americans are familiar with but large sweet pastries. I would not have known about this tradition except for asking one of my friends what the significance was of the stands along the roadside selling pretzels this weekend, thinking that maybe it was some rite of the first weekend of spring.

The Luxembourg tradition is that a young man gives the young lady he fancies a ‘bretzel’ on the 3rd Sunday of Lent and if she is interested she will return the favour by giving him an Easter egg on Easter Sunday. In leap years, the young women are the ones who give the bretzels.

Sadly I did not take a picture of one of the stands or the bretzels nor do I have a recipe for pretzels of any kind either but especially not one for the large sweet type that are the specialty here.

samedi 14 mars 2009

Vegetable Soup

The weather is warming up but it is still a long way off from truly feeling like spring. It is too early yet for the first spring arrivals in the grocery stores. Here there are specials on the large and not very tasty strawberries. I admit that, against my better judgement, I did buy some but they were disappointing. I really should not support buying out of season things but I get a little desperate for something different here.

I decided to make a vegetable soup to increase my intake of vitamins and shake off the late winter blahs.

Vegetable Soup
Serves 2 - 3

15 mL (1 Tbsp) olive oil
1 leek (white part only), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 small turnips (rutabagas or navets), diced
1 tomato, diced
750 mL (3 cups) water
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) dried thyme
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) harissa powder
15 mL (1 Tbsp) fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add leek and celery; stir for about 5 minutes. Add carrots and turnips; stir until leeks and celery are softened. Add tomato, water and seasonings; cover and simmer until vegetables are cooked.

samedi 7 mars 2009

Apricot Banana Muffins

This winter seems to have been exceptionally long and severe so it is great to finally see real signs of spring. The first of the spring flowers are appearing along with buds on the trees. The colours of spring are making up for the grey skies and rain.

The taste of bananas changes as they ripen. I like them before they get too ripe - when they are past green and in the early days of yellow before they get speckled with brown. Once they are very ripe they are good for baking. I also had a bag of dried apricots so I thought why not combine the two for a change of pace.

Apricot Banana Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

170 g (6 oz) dried apricots
Boiling water

30 mL (2 Tbsp) vegetable oil
1 egg
300 mL (1 1/4 cup) plain yoghurt
2 ripe bananas, mashed

80 mL (1/3 cup) brown sugar

500 mL (2 cups) all-purpose flour

10 mL (2 tsp) baking powder

2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) baking soda

2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) salt

1.25 mL (1/4 tsp) nutmeg

Preheat oven to 180°C (375°F).

Cover apricots with boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes; drain and coarsely chop.
In large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg; mix in apricots. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, egg, yoghurt, bananas and sugar: pour over dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin tins ¾ full and bake for 20-25 minutes.

dimanche 1 mars 2009

Moroccan Eggplant Dip

This weekend the temperatures stayed above zero and even climbed to a balmy 13°C on Saturday making it feel like spring really is on its way. It was a relief not to have to scrape the car off before going anywhere. I decided to make an eggplant dip. Eggplant (aubergine) dips are very popular throughout the Mediterranean region like “Baba Ganouj” or “Baba Ganoush” made with tahini (sesame seed paste) in Lebanon, “Melitzanosalata” from Greece and “Caviar d’aubergine” from France. This time I made a Moroccan version with tomatoes, harissa and argan oil.

Argan oil is the rare and precious oil that is ground from pits of the fruit of the argan tree that grows in south-western Morocco. It has a rich golden colour and nutty flavour. The fruit is harvested and the oil produced by cooperatives of Berber women in Morocco. The cooperative provides the women with jobs that would not otherwise exist and ensures that the trees are maintained in a sustainable manner. As with most programs designed for women this one also benefits the entire community.

The oil has been highly praised for its nutritional and cosmetic properties. It was the Berber women’s beauty secret – the oil is very high in vitamin E and is excellent for dry skin and has anti-aging properties. As a food product it is best used in dips, salad dressings, couscous or drizzled over fish and meats. The 250 mL bottle I purchased in Thionville, France cost about 25€.

Moroccan Eggplant Dip
Makes approx. 250 mL (1 cup)

1 medium eggplant
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
10 mL (2 tsp) tomato paste
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) each of harissa, ground cumin and sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
60 mL (1/4 cup) each coarsely chopped parsley and cilantro
30 mL (2 Tbsp) argan oil*

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F).

Use a fork to pierce eggplant all over. Wrap garlic cloves in foil. Place eggplant and garlic on baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes or until garlic is soft. Remove garlic and set aside to cool. Turn eggplant, return to oven and continue roasting for an additional 20 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, stir together tomatoes and tomato paste in medium pan. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 30 minutes or until reduced to a thick sauce. Set aside to cool. Split eggplant in half and scoop out flesh; chop coarsely and transfer to a colander to drain off liquid. Squeeze garlic cloves into food processor bowl. Add tomato paste, lemon juice and zest, harissa, cumin, salt, pepper, parsley and cilantro; pulse to purée mixture. With motor running, add oil in a steady stream. Add eggplant and pulse until blended to a chunky consistency.

* Walnut oil or olive oil can be substituted for the argan oil