Makes 4 burgers
I have been fretting lately about my city’s inexcusable lack of interesting food inspired by German cuisine. For those German bars that serve up pretzels with eight separate mustards, ich libe dich, but sometimes I need to swoon over more than your flat palettes of yellows and browns. I’m not expecting anything like The Generator (although, Philadelphia, you’re not doing so badly, yourself), but, come on, Germans were some of the earliest immigrants to the Pacific Northwest, and yet we struggle to incorporate their food traditions into our own, insisting on keeping them separate from the others, like some black sheep we don’t want mingling with our prized flock. We hide them in stained-wood bars, below the sidewalk, or at the bottom of menus.
Well, not today. It’s sunny today, so I decided to barbecue. In the fridge are jars of curried sauerkraut I made back in December when the green cabbage was sweet and crisp. But, since January, I’ve hardly touched the stuff. You see, I too have been struggling to incorporate the German food into my diet, even that one that’s insanely good for you. I guess that fermented cabbage never sounds good with black beans or salad or pizza.
Then it hit me: I was making the same excuses as my city. Well, guess what? Sauerkraut is not meant for only sausages and potatoes! And, if you give me a chance, I’ll show you why…
When it comes to food, I usually take it in strides. Most days I’m whimsical. I cook whatever I have laying around the kitchen mixed with some seasonal vegetables. Sometimes, I’m not so decisive and I can’t even figure out what to eat for dinner, and I spend yet another night with a big bowl of popcorn.
But crab is an exception. I look forward to the crab season every year. It’s one of those foods so marinated in nostalgia that no adulterant or flavor could conceal its triggers: the briny aroma of the Puget Sound on an early morning, the pink-orange sun rising over blackish Olympic Mountains, severing white-grey cloud-wisps; the jubilee and cramps and cold, wet fingers while reeling up the crab pots, in anxious hope of trapping a treasure; and, the jitters and eagerness in maneuvering around the claws to get the crab at just the perfect angle so as to clench it, jiggle it out, and drop it in the cooler.
Crabbing isn’t only my tradition, though. It’s a tradition of this whole region called Cascadia. We have festivals for them in towns small and large. We serve them from aerated tanks at supermarkets, on ice from the farmers markets, and on a plate or in a bowl at restaurants. But the most memorable way for me, and for many others, is scattered on newspaper with lots of butter and lemons.
Caldo Gallego is a tradition. It was born in the rural, northwestern Spanish province of Galicia. Bringing together dried white beans, potatoes, fatty bits of cured pork, and hearty greens, it is a beautiful arrangement of the area’s harvest and the farmer’s prescient attitude of using as much as that harvest as possible.
Each autumn, I prepare Caldo Gallego and freeze it through the winter. While I have thawed and eaten it in the spring or summer, it is never as satisfying as eating it on a cold night next to a fire’s flame. It is heavy, warming and full of flavor.
This pork roast is quintessential Pacific Northwest, comprising three seasonal ingredients: farro, chestnuts, and Brussels sprouts.
Washington, it turns out, is a huge producer of the nation’s farro, an ancient relative of the wheat berry. Meanwhile, chestnuts continue to gain popularity, as they too are suited to our weather. And Brussels sprouts? Another delicious green product of our abundant, year-round Brassica farming.
What a warm summer night will make me crave: crunchy, crusty artisanal toast; crispy, pillowy roasted eggplant; salty, smokey cured pork; and sweet, succulent caramelized onions. This isn’t your typical garlic- and tomato-topped bruschetta. Don’t go skipping to the wine cellar just yet. It’s going to be messy, it’s going to be oozing with all kinds of bold flavors and textures. Stacked and finished with some stinky cheese and an unsympathetic drizzle of balsamic syrup, this wild and earthy bruschetta is comforting and unabashed by whatever dirty secret you might squeal.
Impress your friends and buy a pig’s head. Invite them over when you turn it into cheese. Share beers and eat cured ham.
At the markets here in Seattle, head cheese can run you about $25/lb. So, if you prefer to buy yours already made, please do it. The torta will still be delicious and filling. But it will lack the wholesome tanginess, with such incredible and rich flavors, of this one.
For the adventurous or interested cook, making head cheese is a simple and rewarding endeavor. Plus, pound for pound, it is very cheap. I bought a 14-lb. head for $25. It makes about 6-7 lbs. Plus you get the bones leftover for soup or stock and pounds of fat you can render into lard. Compared to the markets, you’re getting an incredible deal.
I made this from the leftover sheep’s liver I prepared a few days ago. This is a stew with a passionate heart. The flavors in here are strong: sour red wine, savory liver, pungent-sweet epazote, sweet cinnamon and clove, smokey Spanish paprika. Uninhibited too are the textures: thick, buttery lima beans; large, crunchy croutons; tender chunks of liver; melty, tender sliced vegetables.
One afternoon, I made a friend some macaroni & cheese. The oozing, bubbly mug of the browned stuff turned out to be a saving grace for her that day. It was one of the worst in recent memory. Some weeks passed as her smile returned. Then, just yesterday, she surprised me with a few duck eggs. They came from some of her friends who keep the ducks, and she wanted to share the same pleasure she received with me. So, this morning, for breakfast, I put together this rich, creamy dish, which I dedicate to friendship.
This should be called Eggs Seattleite because, 1, we love Eggs Benedict up here, 2, we love bacon up here, 3, we love crusty bread up here, 4, we love wine up here, and, 5, the porcinis love to grow up here.
Thinly sliced sorrel stem on the rhubarb.
My friend’s brother-in-law, grateful for my friend’s help, gave him the liver of one of his sheep. In turn, my friend passed the liver onto me. So, I wanted to do something different from the traditional liver with onions. (Sorry, Mom.)
I found the recipe for calf’s liver with sorrel sauce in one of my favorite Spanish cookbooks, The Foods & Wines of Spain, by Penelope Casas. Casas mentions that this dish, originating in Segovia, was traditionally made with rhubarb leaves. Rhubarb leaves, despite being toxic, have a very pleasant citrus taste. (I had to take a pinch just to see.) However, due to their known poisonous properties, Casas uses sorrel, instead. Since they are in the same plant family–Polygonaceae–and very closely related, they share similar qualities, including that illuminating tartness from all the oxalic acid.
I did make a few modifications to the recipe.