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Work in Progress

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I’m very much in catch-up mode these days with shuttling back and forth from one city to the next. It seems like I have barely been home since late December. Black Forest-Munich-Paris-Normandy (region)-Zurich-Munich-Cologne-Zurich-Munich. Ugh. My team is in Cologne these days and the client in Zurich, so there is a lot of shuttling around. This week I have the luxury of being home ALL WEEK. So nice. Next week is the shuttle goes back to Zurich, but I have at least 9 uninterrupted days here. I ran yesterday afternoon, forcing myself out into the -10 degree cold, which I must admit, I really hate. But the view from the bridge I usually stop on on the Isar was beautiful. It looks like sunset, but it was around 3:30 or so…the sun was slowly beginning to go down, but there was a good 90 minutes to go to sunset.

Next weekend Chinese New Year begins. Do you know Meitu? It’s *the* popular photo app in China at the moment. Just upload your photo and it will change your photo into a New Year’s vision. Pretty funny. Where’s the rooster, though? It does a variety of images and montages.

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Thankfully, it also just does a nice brush up of a regular photo too. All wrinkles, freckles, blemishes completely wiped away.

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I have lots of cravings for Asian (chinese, japanese, korean) food these days. My fridge is finally full of Asian herbs and vegetables because of my 9-day stay here. But…I’m anxious to cook from my new cookbook as well. I got this one for Christmas/Hanukah at my request.

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Most people are a bit surprised, thinking that the book must be full of heavy meat dishes, a cliché for Eastern Europe. But it’s instead full of beautiful variety, from noodles and dumplings, to surprising salads and soups. I was reminded again that I had it at home and it needs cooking out of when I was in Cologne last week. I stayed in an airbnb place (definitely recommended: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16564430) owned by a Russian woman. Her kitchen was full of Russian and Bulgarian cookbooks, which I couldn’t help but flip through.

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Pages were bent down and little note cards stuck between pages. They immediately reminded me of my mother’s old cookbooks full of her notes and scribbles. I desperately wished I could read Russian. One of my teammates is Russian, although he grew up in Germany. But he can read it and I sent him a few pages. He looked through and told me that the language in the cookbooks is incredibly old fashioned. He can understand it, but just barely.

I saw this photo and immediately remembered a similar one in my Mamushka cookbook at home.

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It must really be the same thing/recipe.

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But now I have the recipe, in English. A Moldavian giant cheese twist.

Ummm.

It’s coming out of my oven in the next few days for sure.

Anyway, looking forward to a restful, non-traveling week before the havoc begins again. The havoc this week is merely in reading the news as Trump takes his place in office and begins to destroy what he can quickly. Very proud of my mother and my sisters who all marched on January 21, the day after the inauguration,  in Washington DC and Oakland, California.

Have a great week. More progress to be reported when I have a chance to cook a few new things.

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Posted by on January 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Cooking with Ghosts

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Happy Halloween! Well, a day late, but I started this post yesterday and then got waylaid.

First things first: yummy discovery, care of Christian, who posted a photo of the Chinese junkstreet food goodie he had a few days back and which I then needed to try. Jianbing.

Ummmmmm.

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Basically, a wheat flour crepe, with a fried egg coating…and inside a bit of ginger chicken, a spicy garlic sauce and a crunchy fried cracker to make the eating experience especially toothsome. Pour some nice ginger vinegar sauce on top and you are good to go. Very tasty – being served up at LeDu at Karlsplatz, just a couple S-bahn stations from where I work. But I went over there Monday, a day off – yes yes yes…I am finally getting some holidays, a big relief – during my shopping and running around. There are a couple of them apparently, scattered around Munich. Le Du’s, I mean.

And they must have inspired (?) my dinner this evening. The whole food wrapped up in a pancake thing. I had a craving for Indian food – because of the second source of inspiration, which came from the NYTimes’ special food article for Diwali, where they must have posted about 30 really good recipes for various dishes. And then there was the third inspiration. The Ghosts.

Namely, the Carolina (Ghost?) Reapers, given to me by my friend, Kurt, who knows I like a challenge.

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Look at those babies! Cute! So cute. And so deadly. These are currently the HOTTEST pepper in the world. People try to eat these things whole and go to the hospital.

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I cut one of the itty bitty ones Kurt gave me in half and then in half again. See. No, I didn’t dare to put that in my mouth. I lightly crunched a sliver of that between my two front teeth to see how bad it would be. I spit it out after about 5 seconds and went to find a cracker. It was that bad. But they were indeed very flavorful, if insanely hot. You breath fire for a few minutes, but it is a very fragrant sweet sort of fire. You don’t know what I am talking about…yeah, well, come over for a pepper, needless to say, they are not going very fast. But they’re keeping well.

But….a little bit went into a dish of dal. A bit went into some sauteed cauliflower….a whole small one went into my pressure-cooked chicken. And all in all, we were not gasping for breath at the end of my meal.

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After cooking the chicken, I broke it down into bits and cooked it with some onions and herbs,

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Defrosted some pizza dough and turned it into fake naan…

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And served it up with the cauliflower, dal, some yogurt and an apple and tomato salsa for some Indian Burritos (patent pending 😉 )

Which were quite ok.

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How’s that for cooking with ghosts?

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Nothing rhymes with Okinomiyaki

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Friday night I felt…unsurprised. Resigned. It felt like it was only a matter of time before the craziness in the world would actively hit Munich. And then finally it did. I was home before I realized what was happening, although it even happened before I left work. I was riding my bike home around 6 pm, just minutes after the shooter at the Olympia Einkaufszentrum was putting people to death. Police car and ambulance and fire trucks all crossed by me and I wondered why so many of them…but it had seemed like so many of them anyway in the last days that I did not wonder too much.

When I got home, I cooked dinner. Like any normal evening. And then I checked email at 7:30 finally, when I noticed that siren after siren screamed its way by the apartment, without pause. But I feel too much nothing. I have been numbed to the tragedies after the most recent incidents in just the last couple weeks. Nice, Turkey, Republican Convention, Würzburg – all very different tragedies, but somehow they add up to numbness and inability to process what it all means and what one can even do. I can hardly compare, though, in my little insulated and sheltered world. It feels like a big farce to live here in the bubble sometimes.

So the next day you go out there and move on and don’t concentrate too much on the craziness. I moved.

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A lot. Getting ready for a marathon run in October. Maybe. My first moments of doubt came with yesterday’s half marathon training run. It was hot, close to 30 degrees. And I was careless with hydrating and eating enough and timing things correctly in the morning before leaving. When I hit 17k, I ran out of water. Still a good 4k from home, no money, no id, nothing but a phone and a key with me and a Powerbar. In the end, I could have gotten help had it really been critical, but I was frustrated that I wasn’t going to make my goal time, that it wasn’t feeling as good as it had the week before.

We went to a movie last night – Star Trek Beyond – no, I don’t recommend it. I woke up in the morning and heard that the shooter had shot himself, so wasn’t roaming the city anymore. So I said “ok” to going to a movie at night. Feeling like I was playing in a TV show of unreality. How can this be the world? A guy kills 10 people and himself 3 kilometers from where you live just hours before and the next night you are going to a movie as if nothing has happened. Well, but life goes on, right?

We didn’t have time to eat dinner before leaving for the film and afterwards it was too late. So I have been hungry the whole day somehow after burning 1700 calories in about 2.5 hours yesterday. Trying to fill in the hunger with fruit and nuts. Nothing seemed to help. Finally I began assembling dinner at around 5:30 tonight, dreaming of fat and carbs and protein and just feeling… not hungry anymore.

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That’s the beginning of Okinomiyaki. Yeah, I know, it’s hard to say without practice. Well, it’s a Japanese pancake. Made with a special Japanese yam and cabbage and in my case, seafood and a bit of ham. The easiest and fastest recipe is over here.  

The name is derived from the Japanese word okonomi, meaning “what you like” or “what you want”, and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked” (cf. yakitori and yakisoba).

It does require a trip, most likely, to an Asian supermarket, if nothing else for that weird yam, which you need to shred into the batter.

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It shreds very quickly, and is gooey. You add it to the flour, salt, sugar, dashi broth, and baking powder and then let it all chill in the fridge for about an hour.

And then you add the cabbage, the eggs, the seafood, etc.

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In the end, to cook it, you pile it into a saute pan and let it cook for about 10 minutes or so in total. It should be a nice fat pancake. 2 centimeters thick. You can dig into it.

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A giant pancake.

Which you then take off the stove and garnish with a special sauce (recipe with the recipe above), some mayo, some green onions, some pork floss (or bonito flakes are more traditional).

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And then you sit down, ideally when it is still piping hot, and eat it.

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Ideally with a very cold glass of rosé. Or two.

I am no longer hungry.

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Posted by on July 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Hot. Hotter. Rome.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

I don’t know why, but 33 degrees in Rome last week felt like someone had dragged me into the pit of hell. There’s some point where I just totally lose it when it comes to heat. I thought I had everything under control – careful use of umbrellas, stepping into the air-conditioned apartment or shop when needed, drinking lots of water, etc. But on the last morning before I left, I walked around outside for about two hours – last minute shopping –  and ended up back at my aunt’s hotel absolutely dripping. And not in a sexy steamy shimmery way, instead sporting more of a drowned poodle look.

I could relate to this sign which we ran into during sightseeing.

Pepper scale

Pepper scale

Yeah, that’s me on the right. At least during dinner, when drinking wine and wondering why they couldn’t turn the air-conditioning up a notch. 😉

Despite this, we had a good time. I just had to think back to Singapore and realize that *nothing* is that bad. The tours were great – our guide was great – it was amazing how she packed in a whole eight hours of the Colosseum, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, etc. without making us lose our marbles from the heat and crowds. My aunt Sue very generously sponsored that part of the trip along with all the lovely dinners we had with her and my cousin.

Joshua and his ancient Roman cousin

Joshua and his ancient Roman cousin

Yes, Rome is PACKED with tourists during the summer. I really look forward to going back sometime in the late fall or early winter, when the city is more of just an amazing city and less of a tourist destination.

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Here we are, somehow reasonably sweat free after an hour walk in the evening to The Forum – before our official tour. It was wonderful to walk around for a weekend even before my aunt arrived and we did the tours just to see the architecture and try the food for a few days. Experience it without the official learning part first.

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The Colosseum had just been cleaned in the past year or so – and the grey/black soot was gone from must of the facade. In the early evening sunset it glowed orange and gold, as did much of the city.

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Inside, a few days later, we braved the heat and had a look at the huge space that used to hold up to 70 thousand people at a time to watch the fights and the spectacles. Can you imagine the wonderful odor of the crowd watching the games during the summer? Ummmmm…..

Two of the best things we ate? Well artichokes were everywhere. In the Jewish quarter during lunch we ordered the “jewish” artichocke preparation – essentially just a deep-fried artichoke that was amazingly crispy and salty and oily in a frech-fry kind of way.

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And even better that that was a seafood pasta with fresh shaved truffles that we found and ordered in a little trattoria near the apartment we stayed in. It competed with *the best pasta I have ever eaten* near Milan some years ago, coming close but not topping it.

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I’m back home now, and the heatwave has followed us, although it’s far more tolerable here, and not as hot.

But I still wanted something cool and refreshing for dinner tonight so I went with a spicy raw fish bibimbap that I love. Chopped vegetables, steamed rice, raw fish, and a delicious garlicky sauce all come together in this yummy creation.

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The recipe is from Maangchi – the little Korean YouTube sensation. The link takes you to her simple 8-minute video where you too can learn how to make this dish, called Hoedeopbap 회덮밥.

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As long as you have the ingredients for the sauce on hand, the whole thing comes together in about 30 minutes – the time it takes to make the rice.

Cool, refreshing and filling with both the rice and the fish, it’s more than a salad, but light enough that you walk away from the table without feeling like you need a nap.

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Next trip begins in about a week and a half, although I’m not yet sure where I am being sent. Around Germany, from what I hear. Stuttgart and…? No idea. Hoping to stay cool.

 

 

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Posted by on July 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Green Tea and Me

Green tea ice cream with red beans

Green tea ice cream with red beans

I love green tea desserts and they’re hard to find here, although I recently had some pretty yummy green tea ice cream over at a new Korean restaurant in Munich about a month ago. See above. It got me thinking that I’d like to try to make some green tea sweets, and so when I came across a crazy looking zebra striped green tea and chocolate cake I didn’t hold back anymore.

I know it’s odd that I am writing up two baked good posts in a row, but that’s somehow because on the savory side of my life I am doing a lot of repeats.

Inspired by this blog, and having a bag of matcha in my cupboard, I got to work in the afternoon so we’d have the cake by evening.

And it’s actually relatively straightforward – the only difference between this one and any other standard tea cake is that you are making two batters – one green, rich with the perfume of Japanese matcha tea, and the other dark brown, a chocolate lover’s heaven. Before you bake it, the batters are carefully marbled together in order to produce a dramatic green and brown swirl when you cut the cake.

Before baking, I had a few read throughs of the recipe and decided to make a few adjustments. This is the adjusted recipe – both ingredients and steps.

Ingredients (adapted slightly from the original)

batter 1 (common batter used in both the following batters):
4 eggs
200 g sugar
100 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

batter 2:
3 tsp matcha powder
3 tsp water
75 g butter

batter 3:
100 g dark quality chocolate
75 g butter

icing 1:
75 g icing sugar
3 tbs cocoa powder
whipping cream

icing 2:
75 g oz icing sugar
1/3 tsp matcha powder
whipping cream

Common batter:
Whisk the sugar and eggs and vanilla extract in a bowl until fluffy. Add the milk and stir. Sift in the flour and baking powder in the bowl and stir until smooth. Divide in equal halves and separate into two bowls – do this by weight.

Batter 2: Mix the matcha powder with the water. Stir until smooth. Add 75 grams butter and combine again until reasonably smooth. Add the mixture to one half of the first batter and stir to combine.

Batter 3: Melt 75 grams butter and chocolate in a small pan on low heat. After the chocolate has melted completely, take off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Then add this mixture to the remaining half of the common batter.

Ultimately you should have two batters:

Double batter

Grease a cake pan (22-3 cm/9 in diameter) and dust it lightly with flour. Spoon in the two batters, mixing between them a bit. In my case they were quite dense, and it was a matter of adding a spoon of one, then a spoon of another in order to ultimately get the marble effect I was looking for.

Assembling the cake

The directions said then to take a stick and mix the two batters a bit, but I wanted to be able to really see a sharp difference in color and flavor.

Bake in a pre-heated oven (175°C/350°F) for approximately 45 minutes (original recipe said 30 min, but my cake was far from done at that point.) Take out the cake, turn it out on a plate and let it cool down.

Ready for frosting

Meanwhile mix up your two icings. You want to add enough cream to get them to a consistency that will work – not too liquid if possible, although the green tea icing is more fluid than the chocolate version. When the cake is cool, go crazy. 😉

Frosted Green Tea and Chocolate cake

Play with designs.

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This cake lasted perhaps three days. 😉

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I think it tasted best on the first day – stronger flavors of both chocolate and green tea (a very nice combination, by the way). After a day or two it was still very nice, but had a milder flavor.

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It goes without saying that LOTS of vegetables were served before allowing ourselves to dig into the cake.

Loved these – and I HATE brussels sprouts most of the time. But I guess anything that David Chang makes is pretty darn yummy.

David Chang (Momofuku) Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce vinaigrette. The bitter flavor that I don’t like with the sprouts was still there, but not so prominent and well-covered with the tang of the vinaigrette. Will make this one again.

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Scent of Cardamom

It’s been awhile – sorry about that. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking, it’s just that I have been cooking, working, running (literally), sleeping, commuting between cities, and haven’t had much time for blogging. And when I had time I was usually too tired.

But some delicious food has crossed my path many times in the last month – quite a few new restaurants as well, not all my food.

I made a cake recently that is worthy of a mention and a word of warning. Actually two words of warning. But first, understand that the absolutely STUPID winter we’ve been having here in Munich obviously forced me to make cake. It’s drizzly and cold and grey out almost every single freaking day. But this cake is a slice of sunshine, I swear it. I read Shayma’s blog pretty regularly and somehow her recipe for Cardamom tea cake called out to me. I scrolled past it a couple times, but then it stuck. My finger wouldn’t move further and before I could think about it much I was in the kitchen with iPad in hand, ready to bake.

Here is warning number 1. Sometimes it is better not to improvise the first time around. Very important. More specifically, I could smell the cardamom in my head reading that recipe. And then a stray thought moved in along with it…”ummm….what about apples? what about if I chopped up some apples very small and mixed them into the batter?” Sort of a pound cake…with apples…and cardamom. And don’t get me wrong – there are definitely delicious recipes out there with cardamom and apples, it is just that this was not it.

But I did it anyway.

Apple Pound Cake with Cardamom

Apple Pound Cake with Cardamom

Yeah, I know it looks ok. Good even perhaps. But if you take a second glance you’ll see that the edges are a bit burned and the inside looks dense and gummy. And that is really sort of what it was. No one refuses cake, though, at least a first time, so over the course of a couple days it was eaten.

I was really intrigued, though, and I knew that the original recipe would be vastly better if I would bother to follow it. Which I did a few days later. I don’t have a picture of the cake as a whole, which is where,

Warning number 2 comes in:

2) Do not bake this cake when you are on a diet. I’m not, but just saying…if I were. 😉 Because it is amazing. Simple and delicious. The scent of the cardamom is haunting. And if you are not careful you will slice yourself a piece. And then another. And maybe just a third sliver. At the end of it (don’t worry, couple days later), we were arguing over how evenly to cut the last chunk of it. Halves? But who ate more of it over the course of its lifetime? Who ran further today? Who cleaned the cat litter religiously this week? Yes, that good.

It looks a bit homely perhaps in this photo, but one of my favorite ways to eat it would be lightly toasted in the morning with a cup of coffee. Sweet black milky tea would have been lovely too. Maybe next time.

Cardamom tea cake

Cardamom tea cake

Recipe? Yup, here. And you can pretty much cook anything on her blog – all the recipes are delicious.

 
 

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Mexi-xmas

IMG_6960Mexican Christmas? Well, not really. But I was put in charge of dinner on Monday night, the 23rd, and really really wanted to try out pozole. The taqueria I really like here in Munich keeps serving it, but somehow I keep missing it whenever I am there to grab lunch. They are either out of it already or haven’t made it on that day. And apparently, pozole is quite a traditional dish to serve on Christmas in Mexico. So the pozole was at least appropriately timed if not culturally fitting.

Pozole is made with meat (generally pork, although I used chicken) and a special form of corn – in english, called “hominy.”  According to wikipedia: “To make hominy, field corn (maize) grain is dried, then treated by soaking and cooking the mature (hard) grain in a dilute solution of slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) or wood ash, a process termed nixtamalization.” It helps soften the corn, more or less removing the outer layer of the kernel. You can buy it either canned (forget this in Germany, or at least in Munich), or dried – so it needs to be reconstituted with water over night and then cooked for a very very very long time.

soaking the corn

soaking the corn

There is a fairly wide variety of recipes out there for pozole. Some people make it green and sour – with tomatillos and green chilis and such. Others go for a red version – rich with red chilies. I ended up with my own version. I used this recipe as a guide, but went off-road fairly quickly. 😉

First step is to make chicken soup – which I did with dark meat only. Rather than using flat Italian parsley in the soup I put in cilantro/coriander to imbue a Mexican flavor from the get-go.

Make chicken soup

Make chicken soup

The recipe called for a variety of chilis, but I had no chance of getting them all here. I’d bought some canned poblanos from a local mexican grocery, which was at least a good start. Although what I wasn’t able to do was char the skin of the peppers and roast them. So…compromises compromises…

Canned poblanos

Canned poblanos

To make the pozole itself, I blended a mixture of chilis, garlic, onions to form a sort of paste/base flavor. This gets gently sauteed in oil for a few minutes, and then I added tomato puree and the chopped up poblanos.

Getting the pozole started

Getting the pozole started

After a few stirs, the corn went in next.

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And finally the chicken stock.

Simmer for about an hour, letting the flavors meld and the corn soften further. Then add in the chicken (which you have removed from the bones) and let the whole stew cook for a bit longer.

Meanwhile you can chop up all the toppings for pozole – not a few. Cabbage is traditional, as is chopped up and fried tortillas, lime, cilantro, onions, creme fraiche (well, it should have been a Mexican version, but close enough).

Toppings for pozole

Toppings for pozole

I baked some tortillas to make them into “tostadas” as well – a nice crispy alternative to bread or rice. Topped with black beans, some salsa and guacomole and a sprinkle of cheese, they rounded out the meal.

Tostadas with toppings

Tostadas with toppings

Not the flavors of Germany, but a nice spicy zing the day before the more traditional German Christmas fare.

Definitely a recipe to make again (and if you want a more exact recipe, just message me, I’ll try to come up with the amounts I used for everything) – but next time the corn needs to be cooked even longer. Now off to the taqueria again today. Maybe they’ll have pozole for me to try and compare mine with.

 

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