Truffled Vichyssoise with Video Demo!

Let me tell you something, it is HOT in Tel Aviv right now.  Not that I ever had any doubts that summers in Israel were anything less than scorching, but after spending a year in the climate controlled comfort of suburban New Jersey, weeks on end of 90+ degree weather (fahrenheit, or about 32C for the rest of the world) with upwards of 70% humidity can be a bit of a shock to the system.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love the summer, days spent on the beach, cool drinks, warm nights, and everything that comes along with it, but it also means regularly trying to find ways to beat the heat without the benefit of 24/7 air conditioning.  This mostly involves well-placed fans, icy cold drinks, and meals that taste good cold.

Last week, I decided to try out a box of vegetables delivered fresh from an organic farm in the area.  I’ve always loved the idea of CSAs and vegetable co-op boxes, as it forces me to get creative, and eat a greater variety of vegetables than I normally would choose of my own volition.  Our box, which was delivered directly to my kitchen, included such goodies as arugula, parsley, onions, scallions, leeks, a winter squash, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes.  Upon seeing the bounty of alliums and roots, I knew I absolutely had to make vichyssoise, otherwise known as cold potato leek soup.  There weren’t quite as many leeks as I would have liked for the soup, so I supplemented with some regular onions, which I slowly caramelized with a ton of minced garlic in order to deepen the flavors of the soup.  I then added white wine, cubed potatoes, and lastly the leeks, which I cooked just long enough to soften, in order that they keep their bright, fresh flavor.  To round it all out, I pureed the veggies, then added a few pinches of truffle salt, a bit of truffle oil, and a can of light coconut milk.  The deep, heady aroma of the truffles counterbalances the bright punch of the leeks and white wine, while the coconut milk softens all the flavors, and brings them together in a smooth, velvety soup.  To help cool it down more quickly, I dropped several ice cubes into the cold soup, rather than thinning with water, but we were so hungry for dinner that night, that we ate it while it was closer to room temperature than chilled.  Of course, after chilling in the fridge overnight, it was even more heavenly, and the perfect meal for a hot summer’s day.

Making vichyssoise tonight! This week I ordered a box of organic vegetables from a farm in the area, and it included a ton of potatoes and leeks, so naturally I couldn't resist turning them into soup! Of course, it's so hot here, that it worked out even better to make a soup that's meant to be eaten cold. In order to add more flavor, I caramelized some onion and garlic as the base, then added the leeks at the very end so they just softened up. That way the soup retains the bright, fresh flavor of the produce! #vegan #whatveganseat #vegansofig #veganfoodshare #veganlife #veganlifestyle #plantpower #paleofriendly #kosher #pareve #soup #summer #fresh #local #healthy #eatclean #dairyfree #french #israel #telaviv #personalchef

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Truffled Vichyssoise

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 7-8 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 cups white potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 c white wine
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • salt
  • 4 small leeks, cleaned and sliced (not including the dark green part)
  • 2 tsps black truffle salt
  • 1 tbsp white truffle oil
  • 1 16 oz can light coconut milk
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced

In a large pot over medium-low heat, add the olive oil, onions and a pinch of salt.  Sweat the onions for about 10 minutes, until they’ve released their juices and are translucent.  Add the chopped garlic, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. The onions should be a deep caramel color, but take care not to burn them.  Add the potatoes to the pot, then deglaze with the white wine, scraping up any bits of onion that may have attached themselves to the pan.  Add water to cover the potatoes, and another generous pinch of salt.  Bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.  Add the sliced leeks to the pot, and stir.  Cook about 10 minutes, until they’ve softened but are still a bright green.  Remove from heat.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth and velvety.  Stir in the truffle salt, truffle oil, and coconut milk.  Adjust the seasoning and let cool.  If it’s too thick, you can add some water until it reaches your desires consistency, or add several ice cubes, which will help it cool down faster.  Serve chilled.  Garnish with sliced scallions if desired.

Tous végétal en Provence: Vegan Travels Through the South of France

IMG_2838My arrival into the heart of Provence was accompanied by ravenous hunger.  Though the memory of my earlier socca lingered, vegan goodies proved to be scarce during the long journey to the farm.  As luck would have it, there was a railroad strike in progress–of which I was thankfully informed by the front desk staff at the hostel in Nice–and with each leg of my journey, I found myself scrambling to find the information assistants, show them my tickets, while explaining (tout en français, I might add), where I was going.  After two trains and a bus, I arrived in the small Provençal town of Tarrascon, where I was picked up by the farmer.  We drove through a picturesque countryside that was straight out of a Disney movie, before turning off of the fast-moving main road directly into the driveway of the farm.  The house was a stone cottage, renovated on the inside, with an exceptionally large garage.  At the time of my arrival, the volunteers–including myself– numbered four, two Korean girls who spoke no French (and farmers who spoke no English), and Jannette, another American girl.  As dinner neared completion, I set my large amount of luggage in the garage, which was the only place we had extra space, before washing up and readying myself for the meal.  The first course was a delightfully refreshing salad accompanied by fresh melon–the perfect start to a summer supper.  Our second course could only be described as a bit of a let down, given that the main component was a whole boiled eggplant.  We were each provided with our own eggplant and given a mixture of fresh chopped parsley and minced garlic with which to top it.  The final component was a drizzle of local, organic extra-virgin olive oil.  I was too hungry to refuse, and wanted to make a good first impression besides, so i mashed the eggplant as best I could, and heaped it with garlic.  The farmers warned us (and the Korean girls, who also heaped on the garlic) that it was very strong, but I’ll take raw garlic over plain eggplant any day.  We finished the meal with a bit of soy based pudding, and settled in for the evening.IMG_2915

The next morning, the Korean girls departed, leaving just Jannette and I to fall into the morning routine.  We would be up and dressed by about 7:30/8 o’clock in the morning, and take a small breakfast of tea, bread and jam.  Some mornings we were also given fresh fruit, but never did we have more protein than what was already in the whole grain bread.  Oh, the things we would have done for even a bit of peanut butter (yes, yes, how American of us). Each morning, we started our work by picking figs off the sprawling tree in the front yard.  We would search through the large leaves to find the ones that were ripe enough to be “torn” from the tree.  We pulled on the supple branches in order to bring higher hanging fruit within our grasp.  Often times, we would climb the regal limbs of the tree, balancing with a finger or a knee, while we pulled another branch further in, in order to grasp another perfectly ripe fig.  All the while, we had plastic baskets strapped onto our bodies, which, when full, we would gently empty into the crates sitting on the low stone ledge by the patio.  Everyday, we managed to fill at least a crate and a half of beautifully plump figs,  sometimes more.  It was truly a marvel of nature’s bounty.  After about an hour and a half of fig picking, we would move on to field work.  Two of the days we spent pulling weeds on the edges of some of the greenhouses, some days we picked potatoes, and others, we picked green beans.  For the potatoes, the farmer would plow the field with the tractor, uprooting the plants, leaving the potatoes mostly exposed.  We would then move up and down the rows with buckets, sifting through the dirt to get all of the potatoes that were big enough.  As the buckets filled, we would bring them over to a pile of crates, and dump them there, filling as many crates as possible until there was nothing left in the row.

Spending time bent beneath the searing Mediterranean sun, and lugging heavy buckets of potatoes was not easy, but surprisingly, it was equal to, if not better than picking green beans.  The chore of gathering green beans, while not particularly strenuous, was not exactly comfortable either.  One would think sitting would be preferred over kneeling, but sitting on a wooden plank that was softened only by a thin, foam gardening mat, while squeezed between two narrow rows of vegetation is hardly a lesson in luxury.  Once seated, with a basket at our feet, we would comb through each plant, ensuring that we collected only the fully grown string beans.  Each plant took several minutes to pick through before we could continue our crawl towards the end of the row.  While the farmers were well versed in green bean picking, and could manage a full row in perhaps two afternoons, us volunteers would move at half speed, completing only about a row and a half in a week.  The wooden board and inherent twisting of the spine required in order to collect the beans wore on the body significantly more than would be expected, and so it came to be that green beans were perhaps our least favorite of the tasks we were set to do.  At the end of each session of either green bean or potato collection, we would evenly distribute the crops among wooden crate, before they were taken out to be sold at various markets throughout the region.IMG_2800

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During our rare time off, we were taken to various nearby tourist sites, in order to better acquaint ourselves with the history and culture of the area. Our first free afternoon, we were dropped off at Les Baux de Provence, a medieval village situated in the midst a rock formation referred to as l’enfern (the inferno, because they look like flames).  Underneath the peak on which the ruins of the chateau is perched, is an old quarry that has been repurposed into a multi-media art exhibit.  Called the carrière des lumières–the quarry of lights–we were utterly baffled as to what exactly it was, until we entered the exhibit space later in the day.  We decided to head into the old town first, and make our way up its winding stone roads to the chateau set high above us.  As we walked, we ducked into the many shops littered throughout the streets–my favorite being those selling speciality foods of the region–as well as shops that sold traditional souvenirs and quirky kitchenwares.  We stopped by the mayors seat, which also held an exhibit of photos in a downstairs room, showing residents of Morocco during the French occupation.  As we continued to ascend the slopes of the mountain, I was reminded of being in Tzfat’s old city, from the steep cobblestone streets to the stone buildings, which were also dated to the 15th and 16th centuries.  The ruins of the castle crowned the top of a cliff, offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside.  We bought our tickets, and began to explore, passing models of trebuchets and battering rams, old churches, and dozens of heady lavender plants, while drinking in the breathtaking scenery.  The highest points of the chateau were the two watch towers, which remained stable enough for visitors to climb, thought not without a warning for windy days.  The steps leading to the tower were ancient blocks of stone, some of which were so worn out from centuries of footsteps, that there were depressions so deep, it made climbing nearly impossible.  I couldn’t help but think that such conditions would never fly in the United States, given our proclivity for frivolous lawsuits, thus requiring either that the site was closed to the public or that authenticity was lost in favor of reconstruction.  The last of the most magnificent view points was on the ledge that formerly constituted part of the great hall.  It towered over the stone village and the rest of ruins, crowned by a large open archway, where I imagine a window once stood.  While we once again took in the landscape doted before us, with fields, towns, and even the tiniest shimmer of the Mediterranean at the farthest reaches of our sight, I remarked on what it must have been like to actually sit down to dinner to that view on a regular basis.

From there, we worked our way back down the slope, and over to the quarry.  Inside, the bare, stone walls were alive with light, as the colors of paintings done by artists from the Austrian secession movement danced around us.  The paintings shifted, immersing us first in a field of flowers, then surrounding us by grotesque figures, all while set to a somber classical score.  We were utterly transfixed.  The immersive nature of the project and the juxtaposition of light and dark, compounded with the soaring and eerie music, was more evocative than any of the pieces alone could have done.  My only mode of expression in such a setting could be movement.  Alas, a live dance recital could only be provided by me. As the last of our outing passed, consumed by the continuously swirling colors, we sadly wrenched ourselves away, if only to be on time for our ride back to the farm.

IMG_2792 IMG_2884 IMG_2886 IMG_2889 IMG_2908After several more grueling days under the sun, we were finally given a full day off, though a day of rest was not in our cards.  Early Saturday morning, we were shuttled off to the nearby town of Fontvielle to catch a bus to the ancient town of Arles.  Situated along the Rhône river, Arles houses the remains of a number of Roman structures, and holds distinction as one of the cities in which Vincent Van Gogh lived for a period of time.  Our visit coincided with a day long music festival in honor of the summer solstice that took place in various spots throughout the city.  There was also a considerable amount of space given to an outdoor market, part of which housed home goods, clothing, and decorative jewelry, and a larger part of which was given over to produce and prepared foods.  We made our way through the first part of the market, before heading over to the banks of the river for an early morning walk.  We took in the ruins of the Roman columns that had once supported a moving bridge.  From the river, we worked our way back through town, this time seeking out the ancient colosseum.  Given my tight budget, I decided to view the ruins from the outside only, while Jannette toured the inside.  Our early start coupled with all the walking worked up our appetites, so we went back over to the market, and slowly made our way through, carefully inspecting every stall.  In the end, I decided on a baguette, some olives, and a truly decadent artichoke and garlic spread as my lunch, while Jannette bought some magnificent looking strawberries.  We spread our picnic on a patch of grass in the shade, and took a much needed rest.

We were soon back to wandering about the town, stopping at the ruins of the amphitheater (the entirety of which I could see from outside), as well as the Van Gogh museum.  The endless cobblestone squares passed under our feet, each one recalling the last we saw, until another break was in order.  We stopped at one of the hole in the wall cafes, where there was barely room to stand, let alone sit indoors, but which provided several tables outdoors, sheltered from the sun by large umbrellas.  As we took stock of our travels, we decided that no further exploration was necessary, and though we still had several hours before we could return to the farm, our walking would remain at a minimum.  To help pass the time, we went back to the colosseum, where earlier we had met a young American ex-pat, who made his way by cutting coins into jewelry.  He had a large stock of precut pieces that included coins from all over the world, including the old francs, American money, and even a few Israeli agurot (like pennies, except 10 agurot is the smallest denomination available).  I was quite taken with the agurot until he showed me a piece not on display, an old Israeli shekel, adorned with the magnificent lion, and an embossed ישראל (Israel).  IMG_2955 IMG_2959 IMG_2974 IMG_2977 IMG_2981

This piece was not for sale, but it happened to be the only photo of the coins that I took.

This piece was not for sale, but it happened to be the only photo of the coins that I took.

To my misfortune, I had neither the money nor anything interesting to trade for it, though it was not for lack of trying.  We sat on the curb of the street, chatting with him while he wrapped up his sales for the day (though I think we also proved to be a considerable distraction to business), before setting off to engage in the age old French pastime of wine drinking.  The three of us found a small wine shop not far from the river bank, where we purchased a bottle of local rosé, and then split while sitting on the steps to the river walk.  There was a band performing at a nearby cafe that served as our live soundtrack, enhanced by the golden sunset dancing across the water. When we once again met up with the farmers, after dusk had fallen, we took a brief detour to participate in some French folk dances that had sprung up around one of the bands.  The last dance saw us mixed with a crowd of locals, in a large circle, alternating men and women.  The men and women then split into an outer and inner circle by gender, where we followed along with the movements, twirling together with a partner, only to be spun away to the next.  It was the kind of spirited, cultural affair one imagines could only happen in a movie, but it was magical just the same.

Rhymes With Bacon: Veganz Take Berlin

Rose and I at the East Side Gallery

Rose and I at the East Side Gallery

“Rhymes with bacon, which we don’t eat. Because we’re vegan…” sang Rose, as we stood on the train platform, eager to begin our evening.  We bristled with anticipation, and the warmth of a shared bottle of Prosecco–a welcome sensation in the brisk Berlin air that was chilling the train platform.  Tonight was to be my formal introduction into the world of the famed Berlin nightclubs that Rose adores.  Though it’s still not really my scene (despite my love of dancing), I was eager to traverse the dark corners of the nightclubs, as well as participate ever so slightly in the local drinking culture.

When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is immerse myself in the local vegan food offerings.  Even in Moscow, I unearthed favorable reviews for vegetarian restaurants, though I wouldn’t have been surprised were they completely absent from the local landscape.  Given that I had my trusty, local vegan tour guide in Berlin, I did far less research on the vegan offerings before I arrived.  From what I had heard, not only were there plenty of delicious vegan foods available, there was even an entire vegan grocery store chain in Berlin!

Berlin is so vegan friendly, that mushrooms can even DJ!

Berlin is so vegan friendly, that even mushrooms can DJ!

To start things off after my arrival, we swung by a local burger joint that happened to have late night hours.  While neither of us were particularly impressed by the tofu burger, which was actually just a slice of crisp, fried tofu on a bun with lettuce and tomato (we added the ketchup and mustard ourselves), I was just happy to be able to find something filling to eat at that hour.  It always surprised me that in a city with clubs that are open for literally 3 days straight, many restaurants still closed on the earlier side, frustrating both hungry travelers (from the land of 24 hour diners at least) and those suffering a case of the drunchies.

IMG_2625The next day, Rose took me to a favorite Vietnamese restaurant of hers, Hamy, which served vegan options alongside their regular menu.  The space was small and cozy, and featured a large chalk board detailing the daily specials, of which there were only two.  We chose the curry option, and asked for it vegan, with tofu instead of chicken.  Within minutes, we were served an incredibly large portion of heavenly curry, which was perfectly spiced and balanced.  Even chock full of coconut cream and fried tofu, it didn’t feel heavy or greasy.  In my eight months in Israel, I hadn’t had anything that came close (mostly because I only had curry from a restaurant once the entire time I was there, and try as I might, I’m no expert on Southeast Asian cuisine).  After lunch, we headed over to the East Side Gallery, a large section that remains of the Berlin wall, which was then covered in various murals by a number of different artists.

Depictions of the fall of the wall

Depictions of the fall of the wall

The rest of the afternoon was spent whiling away the hours in the sun, pursuing such Berlin past times as drinking cheap beers from a corner store in a park.  We also made our way to a bakery called Cupcake Berlin, which served several vegan options alongside the rest of their baked goods.  Rose and I decided to split a cupcake, and I also bought a brownie to save for later.  I can honestly say their vegan cupcake was amazing, in all of its simplicity.  It was a golden vanilla cake, with a perfectly moist and springy crumb, topped with a rich, buttery vanilla buttercream.  During my travels, I rarely found a cupcake that could compete with those I make myself, but the vegan cupcake at Cupcake Berlin could definitely give me a run for my money (though I think my flavors are by far more compelling).

Drinking 79 cent beer from the corner store in a random Berlin square

Drinking 79 cent beer from the corner store in a random Berlin square

Behold, Cupcake Berlin!

Behold, Cupcake Berlin!

Practicially perfect in everyway

Practicially perfect in every way

Friday was the first rainy day I had experienced in months, but luckily the light drizzle didn’t deter us from our explorations, and we went to the DDR museum, an interactive exhibition dedicated to the years East Germany spent under the communist regime.  We had a chance to look at everything from toys, to a model house, to the clothing (which was frequently made of such poor quality fabrics that many did what they could to smuggle American made clothing in from West Berlin).  There were also videos discussing the housing of the future in East Berlin, as well as clips of radio and television programs.  We quickly passed several hours opening drawers and lifting doors to read about life in the DDR, and how it compared to life in West Berlin at the same time.

With a bear for mom

With a bear for mom

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Welcome to the DDR! The best of all possible worlds….

IMG_2666As the afternoon cleared up, we took a walk across the city and through the Brandenburg gate to see the Holocaust memorial.  On our way there, we took a slightly wrong turn due to an apparent obstruction in our path in the form of a World Cup Carnival (or something like that).  Our detour took us on a leisurely stroll through the Tiergarten before we finally found the memorial.  One of the things that struck me most on my trip was just how late the sun was setting, late even for a trip that nearly coincided with the summer solstice.  As we took in the memorial–both the large stone slabs situated outdoors, which slowly envelope you into their abyss, before receding as you reach the other side–as well as the underground exhibit, we were entirely unaware of how late it was, and just how close to closing the exhibit was.  The indoor exhibit was a more personal display dedicated to works of art made by victims, information detailing the destruction that was wreaked upon each specific communities throughout the rest of Europe, and spotlights on several families that were deeply affected by the events of the Holocaust.  I was rushed through the final exhibit, as the staff closed down the memorial for the evening. It was a sombre start to Shabbat, which I insisted we celebrate in some small amount, especially after an evening spent connecting to the darker moments of our history.  It was then that I finally cracked open my last bottle of wine from the Tzfat winery, and in sharing it with Rose in Berlin, it tasted even better than I remembered.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

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In the thick of it

In the thick of it

We spent Saturday relaxing at home, in preparation for our big night out (we also had a tame night out Friday, where I was introduced to Rose’s friends as well as a DJ they were fans of).  We decided to eat in that night, in order to be more budget conscious, and just as we were discussing the merits of making homemade pizza for dinner that night, one of Rose’s roommates informed us that he and his girlfriend were planning on making pizza–effectively deciding that pizza was indeed the right choice for dinner.  We stopped off at the vegan grocery store that was several blocks from Rose’s apartment, and I marveled at the selection of vegan products I hadn’t had access to during the previous months.  I managed to reign myself in, and only bought a vegan candy bar from, GoMax Go (and basically the thing I missed the most in Israel), and a block of Italian style Cheezly, which I’d heard about, but never seen in the US (or Israel for that matter).  Rose’s roommate made the dough, and we individually topped our pizzas. I chose to make a white pizza with a creamy vegan bechamel, spiced with some black pepper, and enriched with just a touch of the Cheezly.  I also added succulent caramelized onions, razor thin slices of mushroom and yellow bell pepper (two ingredients I’m not generally a fan of, but were totally perfect in this application), some sliced fresh tomato, and then topped the cooked pizza with fresh arugula.  It was absolutely delicious, which lead me to stupidly eating the whole thing (despite its relative heft and richness…I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat for a week after polishing off the last bite).  Luckily, I had the chance to dance it off later that night, when we finally were admitted to the club.

Veganz, vegan grocery store!

Veganz, vegan grocery store!

A vegan pizza in the making

A vegan pizza in the making

Side by side with Rose's pizza, ready for the sauna

Side by side with Rose’s pizza, ready for the sauna

Omnomnomnom. Vegan white pizza complete

Omnomnomnom. Vegan white pizza complete

We started Sunday morning off by going to sleep (and we arrived home early by Berlin standards).  Our plan for the day was to check out a vegan cafe near Maur park, and then hit up Bear Pit Karaoke, within the park proper.  Fast Rabbit (the cafe) was cute and funky, and its menu featured two different wraps, plus a soup of the day.  Rose informed me that they also have THE BEST fries (which I think are named something like the gang bang….).  I decided to get the half and half wrap, which combined both filling options.  I am well aware as I struggle to describe this meal that I should have taken notes, or at least tried a little harder to document our lunch, however, I’m blaming my subpar memory of that particular hour on sleep deprivation.  I do remember Rose having a cauliflower based soup that was so good, I kinda wanted to steal it all from her.

Maur Park

Maur Park

The unexpected highlight of my trip to Berlin was definitely Bear Pit Karaoke, which was held in an open-air, stone amphitheater in the middle of the park.  It’s run by one guy, who brings in a small karaoke machine, laptop (and umbrella), and sets it up Sunday afternoons for some free entertainment. We clearly weren’t the only ones who thought this sounded like a fun time for a lazy Sunday, as the amphitheater was filled with people of all ages, and from all over the world.  After the first song or two, we made our way to an empty bench smack in the middle of the audience, where a man was making the rounds with a cooler of beer, while the host cracked jokes both in English and German.  We were just in time to see the most adorable little girl get up to sing a german song, aided by her mother–followed by a tween who sang a song of her own.  Rose and I contemplated getting up there, but with neither liquid courage, nor the perfect song in mind for the two of us to sing, we kept our hands by our sides.  Our favorite participants were always the American bros, likely in Berlin at the end of a study abroad trip, and dared by their friends.  But even American college guys in polo shirts and boat shoes belting out the Backstreet Boys couldn’t compete with Drunk German Lady.  I can’t remember the exact moment of her arrival, but at some point in the middle of the song, she made her way towards the singer, and began her booze fueled groove.  With each successive singer, she continued to assert her presence, until the host finally (and quietly) asked her to please leave the spotlight.  She refused.  The karaoke continued, and Drunk German Lady continued to dance.  Each of the singers took it in stride, which possibly encouraged her more.  The host’s intermittent pleas became more desperate, as he even appealed to Drunk German Lady’s husband (slightly less drunk, Drunk German Man) to escort her away.  Drunk German Lady began to protest.  She stumbled around the circular stage, appealing to the audience with shouts I couldn’t understand.  At some point she even laid down on the stone.  Her greatest and final attempt to remain a part of the festivities was to drop trou.  And no, she was not wearing any underwear.  The crowd simultaneously gasped, and covered their (or more likely their children’s) eyes.  Unlike in the US or Israel, throughout this whole ordeal, there was not a single security guard in sight.  The gig was only up when a large biker dude stood up, grabbed Drunk German Lady, and unceremoniously threw her out of the Bear Pit area.  She fled the scene, and her husband followed.  As we were leaving later, we passed her laying down in the middle of a walkway in front of a band.  I guess drunk habits die hard.

Welcome to the Bear Pit

Welcome to the Bear Pit

Adorable, courageous toddler

Adorable, courageous toddler

Drunk German Lady getting  her groove on

Drunk German Lady getting her groove on

My last full meal in Berlin was a green thai curry from a pan-Asian place a short ride from the park.  As we exited the park grounds, we passed through a flea market, and spotted a young guy packing up one of the tables, wearing a shirt with Hebrew writing on it.  This was my third Israeli sighting on the trip.  Somehow, we ran into the same guy and some of his friends on the train back to Rose’s, after getting our dinner, and I was quite excited to make sure I hadn’t forgotten all of my Hebrew in the preceding 4 days (it’s been 2 1/2 months since I left now, and I seem to still have the ability to hold a conversation).  For a final Berlin thrill,we made our way back to Berghain for a Sunday evening dance sesh, before my departure the next afternoon.

So long Berlin, hello France!

So long Berlin, hello France!

I managed a final German culinary hurrah at the airport, where I purchased a beer and a bag of paprika chips (which is apparently the flavor to try), and got ready to start my Provençal farm adventure.  All in all, I had a great time.  Even if I could have only eaten bread for the visit, it would have been worth it to see Rose.  As it stands though, Berlin has an amazing vegan scene, and it’s definitely one of the most affordable cities I’ve ever experienced.  I definitely hope to make it back for another visit in the near(ish) future, and try even more amazing vegan noms.

The Last Supper: Polentils and Broccoli

As my penultimate day in Israel transitioned into my ultimate Israeli night, I realized that despite wanting to enjoy the many delicious vegan meals on offer in Tel Aviv (before setting off on my European adventure), I had a lot of food left in my kitchen that needed to be used up.  I also had the good fortune to already be spending my time with friends who needed feeding.  After a quick stop at the corner store for some supplemental fruits and veggies, I devised a plan to use up the abundance of herbed polenta chilling in my fridge, as well as the garlic and lentils that had been generously given to me by a friend several months ago (I preferred to save personal food items such as these for when I had guests, so that I didn’t incur the wrath of my ever temperamental roommates should I share anything hailing from the communal pantry).  Earlier that morning, I had begun my polenta experiments, attempting to both pan-fry and bake the starchy squares.  Baking was the clear winner, from the ease of execution , to the crispy exterior.  The pan-fry used too much oil, inducing a veritable volcano of grease, while failing to achieve a crisp and golden outer crust.  That morning, I served the polenta with a sauce of succulent caramelized onions and creamy techina (because I didn’t have quite enough onions to serve them alone).  This style of polenta preparation had the potential to be not just an upscale snack or brunch, but also a deceptively fancy dinner.

Crispy polenta cakes, topped with brilliant broccoli and two scoops of delectable lentils Photo by Steven Winston

Crispy polenta cakes, topped with brilliant broccoli and two scoops of delectable lentils
Photo by Steven Winston

Inspired in part by a paté I’d had at lunch the day before, I wanted something similar to top the polenta.  While the paté I’d consumed for lunch consisted of a combination of mushroom, cashew and walnut blended to smooth and creamy perfection, I only had lentils (and no blender), which luckily lend themselves exceedingly well to the base of a vegetarian paté.  In order to add depth and richness to the lentils, I opted for roasted garlic, with its silky texture and sweet, deep garlic flavor.  To heighten the effect, I also threw an onion into the oven, and roasted it until it was also soft and sweet (way easier than traditional caramelization I might add).  With the lentils and polenta, or dare I say ‘polentils’ covered, it was time to turn my attention to the meal’s main vegetation, fresh broccoli.  While I am normally a big fan of crispy roasted broccoli, I wanted something bright and crunchy to offset the polentils, so I quickly braised the florets with garlic, white wine and lemon juice, infusing the stalks with tons of flavor, without roasting them to death.  It was the perfect ending to an incredible eight months in Israel, shared with good friends (and some good wine).

The cook at work, documenting before dinner Photo by Steven Winston

The cook at work, documenting before dinner.
Photo by Steven Winston

In order to pull this meal off relatively quickly, I recommend making the polenta the night before (or even several days in advance).  Then the day of, all you have to do is pop the polenta in the oven with the garlic and onion, and let the squares bake while everything else cooks.  I would put the lentils in to boil next (and don’t salt the water until they are cooked, otherwise they will take longer).  Should you decide to cook the lentils in advance, warm them gently before mashing.  To my American readers, sorry for the metric measurements, but I followed the initial cooking instructions given on the bag of Italian polenta, which was in grams and liters.  Feel free to follow the given instructions for whichever brand you buy, and rather season according to my suggestions.

Hebred Polenta Squares

  • 500 g Italian coarse ground polenta
  • 2 liters of water
  • 1 tbsp each: dried thyme, oregano, and basil
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil

Bring water to a boil and salt generously.  Slowly add the polenta, whisking steadily in order to avoid lumps.  Ad the herbs and adjust the salt.  Cook for about 50 minutes, stirring frequently, until polenta is soft, very thick, and creamy.  Pour into a greased pan (or two if necessary, I used a long foil loaf pan, as well as a 9×13 in loaf pan), and let cool until firm (preferably overnight). Cut into 2 in squares that are about an inch thick each.  Preheat the oven to 400 F (~250 C).  Lay polenta squares on a greased baking sheet and bake until slightly brown and very crispy, about 30-40 minutes

 

Mugging for the camera. Photo by Steven Winston

Mugging for the camera.
Photo by Steven Winston

Rustic Roasted Garlic and Lentil Paté

  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2c brown or green lentils
  • water to cover
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F (~250 C).  Cut off the top of the head of garlic, leaving a small amount of each clove exposed.  Place on top of a sheet of foil and drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Wrap the garlic well with the foil, and place in the oven.  Repeat with the onion (no need to slice off the top).  Roast both the garlic and the onion until soft and caramelized, about 30-50 minutes.  It is ok if one takes longer than the other. In the meantime, place the lentils in a medium-large pot with 3 1/2c of water.  Simmer over medium-low heat until very soft, about 30 minutes.  Do not salt the lentils until they are done cooking, or else they will take much longer to soften.  When the lentils are done, add the garlic and chopped roasted onion (both should be similar to a paste, but the garlic you will only need to squeeze out of the skin, the onion might need a little more coaxing), plus 3 tbsp of olive oil.  Mash together until mostly smooth (or throw it in a food processor, especially if you want it completely smooth), adding a little extra water if necessary.  Taste for salt and adjust the seasonings.

 

I don't know why there was a towel on his head. Photo by Steven Winston

I don’t know why there was a towel on his head.
Photo by Steven Winston

White Wine Braised Broccoli

  • 1 crown od broccoli, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • salt

Place a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and warm for a minute or two before adding the garlic and crushed red pepper.  Sauté  until just fragrant, and add the broccoli, wine wine, lemon juice and salt.  Let simmer for about 5 minutes, until broccoli is cooked, but still a vibrant green.

To assemble:

Place a polenta square on a plate, add the broccoli, and then a large dollop of lentils. Serve and repeat.

The diversity of reactions to this dish were certainly amusing.  All of my dining companions that night were certified meat eaters, and each claimed a different part of the meal as their favorite.  Two of the boys were amazed by the heartiness of the lentils, and continued to exclaim their surprise that a meat-free meal could be so satisfying.  Monica, my only other female companion that night, couldn’t get enough of the succulent, flavor-infused broccoli, and Steve (also our brilliant photographer for the evening) kept going back for more polenta. I couldn’t have asked for a better last night in Tel Aviv.