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Syrian Yogurt Soup + More Than Food

October 17 2016 Green Kitchen Stories 

Syrian Yogurt Soup + More Than Food The recipe for this soup is at the end of this post, but we hope that you will take the time to read this text as well. It is slightly longer but way more important than our usual posts. Let’s start from the beginning. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the European Commission asked if we would be interested in meeting Syrian refugees living in and outside of camps in Turkey to bring home some of their stories, learn how modern food aid is working and explore the different aspects of food. It was doubtless the most meaningful request we have ever received and something we really wanted to do. Timing wise it wasn’t perfect. I had to leave Luise alone with the kids while she was 36 weeks pregnant, but she gave her blessing. So a few weeks ago, I went on this mission. I flew to Istanbul, Turkey on an early flight and then on to a domestic flight to Hatay, a few miles from the Syrian border. During my days there, I visited a refugee camp to see how it works and talk to some of the people living there. I got to know the WFP staff and was amazed by their compassion. I was also invited home to a few Syrian families living outside of camps. Their situation is often a lot more difficult than inside the camps, as they have more costs and less support but the families were incredibly friendly and inviting. We talked, drank tea, cooked together and shared food. If you follow me on instagram, you might already have read the stories of some of the people I met. I have included the story from one of the families in this post, and I have also recreated one of the dishes that I learnt to cook together with them. It is very easy to look away from the horrible situation that is going on in Syria. But I hope that by reading these stories that do have bright moments in the midst of all the darkness, you will get a better understanding and openness towards the millions of Syrian people that have been forced from their homes and don’t wish anything more than being able to return to them one day. It was a very emotional trip and it affected me a lot deeper than I was prepared for. I am still trying to figure out what to comes next. Obviously, we want to continue working with recipe development and food photography as it is something we love doing. But it’s my hope and intention that we also will continue working more actively with human aid and support this cause any way we can in the future. Enough about this. Here is Suad. (1/­­5) I had everything before the war. My husband and I were the owners of a supermarket in Aleppo. We lived in a large and beautiful two-story house in a rural area. All my furniture was new - nothing was second hand - and we had many rooms. There was a big courtyard outside our house where the children played and rode their bicycles. ***** This is the story of Suad. She is Syrian and fled from her home together with her family when the conflict came to her town, 4 years ago. Suad is nine months pregnant and lives with her husband, their two sons Ahmed (10 years) and Muhammed (6 years) and their daughter Nurulhuda (12 years) in a small one-bedroom apartment in a rundown building in the old town of Antakya in Turkey, close to the Syrian border. Her parents and sisters live in an apartment one floor up. Her husband now works as a tailor so they can pay the rent. Even though they have lost everything, Suad is not broken. Her strength and pride really got to me. They cant afford decorating their home but have instead made paper and textile decorations and drawings that are covering the walls inside, making it less a lodging and more of a home. I had the honour to be welcomed into her home and I spent a day together with her and her family, listening to their story, drinking many cups of tea, going to the supermarket and preparing a dinner together. (2/­­5) Back in Aleppo, we renovated our kitchen entirely when we got married. It looked very nice. It was a big, bright kitchen with a large marble countertop. The kitchen was the colour of cappuccino and some of the cabinets had glass doors. I used to place some of my finest colourful vases and glasses there, so you could see them through the glass. ***** I was invited into Suads kitchen to assist her in dinner preparations. There were no marble countertops. And no glass doors. But she still placed her best looking glasses and plates on the shelf above the sink, hiding the rest behind a curtain her husband had sewn. Due to the small space, we did all chopping and preparations while sitting on the living room rug. The family laughed at my difficulties sitting with my legs crossed on the floor doing the chopping and they kept telling me that the tomatoes needed to be more finely chopped for the tabbouleh. Her mother also pointed out that I had very thorough knife skills (meaning slow). (3/­­5) My mother-in-law taught me most of these recipes in Aleppo, as she was living in our house. And cooking this reminds me of our life there. Now, my mother lives in the same house as us, so I am actually passing these recipes on to her and my daughter as well. Food means sharing to me - with my neighbours, friends and family. Before the conflict, we were a couple of families that took turns inviting each other over. We baked sweets, cooked food, ate and sang together. Now, the most important thing is to make sure my children arent hungry, but we still share food with our neighbours, even if it just is a small plate or the smell of our cooking. When we first arrived, we didnt have any money to buy ingredients and therefore we had to eat whatever food was provided for us. But after we were approved for the e-food card we were able to buy our own ingredients, so now I can cook food that reminds me of home. ***** We prepared a Syrian version of Tabbouleh with cucumber, tomatoes, lemon, lettuce, fresh parsley, fresh and dried mint, pomegranate syrup, tomato paste and a finely textured bulgur. We also did a delicious yogurt, rice and mint soup called Lebeniyye, a fried eggplant dish with tomato sauce called Mutabbaqa and a vegetarian version of Kepse, which is a flavorful long-grain rice dish topped with toasted almonds and walnuts instead of meat. (4/­­5) Me being a man, a stranger in their house and also a foreigner, I was aware that my visit would be an awkward situation and a difficult environment for everyone to be relaxed in. And the first hours of conversation were quite honestly very polite and trembling. But something happened when we started cooking. Once we gathered around the ingredients and Suad started explaining the dishes we were making, she suddenly began smiling. In the complete sadness of their situation, food definitely brings out a spark of joy. It connected us. In-between exchanging chopping boards and mincing vegetables, they suddenly started asking me questions about how we eat in my country, how my kitchen looks and how we take care of the elderly in our families in Europe (her father gave me a disapproving mutter, when hearing my response). We started sharing photos of our children and all of a sudden, we werent strangers anymore. We finished preparing the last recipe just as it got dark outside. Nurulhuda placed all the food on a large tray on the rug in the living room. Suad invited her children, parents, all her sisters and even the driver of our car to join. And with one spoon each, we all shared from the same plates. It is a very intimate way of eating, sitting on the floor, dipping our spoons into the same bowls of soup. They also ended the meal with a traditional Arabic saying: Now that we have shared bread and salt, we are like relatives. (5/­­5) My story is the story of every Syrian ***** The Syria conflict is the worlds largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. There are currently over 2,7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. Only about 10% are living in refugee camps and have guaranteed access to food, shelter and basic needs. The rest are living off-camps - in small apartments, basements, garages and even caves. If you found this story interesting, please also read Emira’s story. And the story of Semira, who works as a Field Monitor Assistant for WFP. I have also written about the E-cards that WFP have developed with help from the European Commission to support refugees and give them the ability to shop and choose food themselves. The trip was part of a initiative that WFP call More Than Food. Pauline and Rens will also be going on similar trips. Here is a short video that explains the project and the E-card a bit more. Thank you for following along! Lebaniyye - Syrian Yogurt Soup Serves 4  I was particularly intrigued by Suad’s Yogurt Soup as I had never tried anything similar before. I have now been cooking it a few times since I returned. Warm yogurt might sound awkward but I found its tanginess really tasty when combined with the mint and rice. Suad served it more as a starter (traditionally I believe it is served with meatballs) but I have taken the liberty to add a bit more topping to make it even more nourishing and flavourful. Suad also cooked the rice and yogurt together from the start but I found that if you dont stay focused and stir continuously, there is a risk that the yogurt will curdle. So I instead cook the rice until its almost done before slowly stirring in the yogurt mixture. Make sure to check the cooking time for the rice. Our rice cooks in 30-35 minutes, but some are pre-steamed which would half the cooking time for the soup. Yogurt Soup 1 cup /­­ 200 g wholegrain rice or brown rice 5 cups /­­ 1,25 liter vegetable stock (or water) 1 garlic clove, grated or finely chopped 4 cups /­­ 1 liter full fat yogurt (we use Turkish yogurt) 1 egg 1 tbsp cornstarch 1 tbsp dried mint 1 tsp salt black pepper   Garlic & Chili Oil 1/­­4 cup olive oil 2 garlic cloves 2 tsp chili flakes    To serve 2 cups /­­  500 ml cooked puy lentils (or chickpeas) 1 large handful fresh spinach 1 large handful fresh mint 1 large handful fresh parsley Rinse the rice and add it to a large, thick-bottomed sauce pan along with vegetable stock and garlic. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down slightly until it simmers. Meanwhile, add yogurt and egg to a mixing bowl and whisk rapidly until combined and smooth. After the rice has cooked for about 20 minutes, add the cornstarch to the yogurt and then use a soup spoon to ladle some of the warm stock into the yogurt mixture while using your other hand to stir (this is to slowly heat the yogurt and prevent it from curdle when mixed with the rest of the stock and rice). Then pour the yogurt mixture slowly back into the large saucepan with rice and stock while stirring. Add mint, salt and black pepper. Keep the heat on low/­­medium, so it just barely simmers and keep stirring slowly but frequently. When the rice is cooked through and the soup has thickened slightly, it is ready. Taste and adjust the flavours to your liking (I find that it needs quite a bit of salt to balance the tanginess). Remove from the heat and prepare the Garlic & Chili Oil. Heat oil in a small sauce pan on low/­­medium heat. When warm, add garlic and chili flakes, let sauté for about 45 seconds and then remove from the heat. Let steep while you ladle the soup into bowls and chop the spinach and herbs. Top the soup with a generous scoop of lentils, chopped fresh spinach, mint, parsley and a drizzle of the Garlic & Chili Oil.

Quick Tomato Mint Salsa (Plus Sandwich Idea)

July 31 2015 seitan is my motor 

Quick Tomato Mint Salsa (Plus Sandwich Idea)Now that the temperature has finally cooled down and we’re back to a regular rainy German summer, I can think so much clearer! And suddenly all those hot weather food ideas are popping up in my head again. There is an abundance of fresh produce to choose from right now. Even though we don’t have a garden we managed to grow some tiny tomatoes on our window sills. Other vegetables we often get for free, like zucchini or chard. A couple of our neighbours also grow mint. And if any of you has ever planted this wonderful herb their garden, you know that it has the potential to overtake your whole patch. Mint invasion. When that happenens you will want to try and limit the damage by harvesting like a madperson and then handing out your herbs left and right. A couple of days ago P met one of our neighbours with a huge batch of mint in her arms and before P could even blink, he had one in his arms, too. Now we’re having everything mint! Mint tea (hot and cold) and mint smoothies, mint in?????? ?  (tabbouleh) and in soups. I try to use a little of that huge bunch we have in our fridge every day. For a quick lunch I made this tomato salsa that calls for mint instead of cilantro. It’s a wonderfully refreshing sauce and a great sandwich ingredient as well. After I had made the salsa, I fried some tempeh slices in a pan and deglazed them with a huge splash of soy sauce. I toasted two slices of whole rye sourdough bread and spread both with a thin layer of peanut butter. Then topped one slice with tempeh, cucumber slices, and salsa. This is a perfect recipe for the next heat wave. It doesn’t need much preparation and you only have to turn on the oven to fry your tempeh. (Which cou could also prepare a day in advance. And now it’s your turn. Please help me out and share your favourite mint recipes! Print Tomato Mint Salsa Ingredients1 small onion (80 g) 1 clove garlic 250 g cherry tomatoes, halved 10 g (2 tablespoons) fresh mint sliced into thin ribbons (or more to taste) 1 tablespoon hot sauce 1 tablespoon lime sauce 1/­­2 teaspoon coriander salt and pepper to taste InstructionsPlace onion and garlic in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add remaining ingredients and process until the tomatoes are all chopped up and have released their juice. Dont process until completely smooth, this sauce should still be chunky.3.1 http:/­­/­­www.seitanismymotor.com/­­2015/­­07/­­tomato-mint-salsa/­­ Copyright (C)2015 All rights reserved. www.seitanismymotor.com

Rhubarb Vanilla Meringue Tart

May 6 2015 seitan is my motor 

Rhubarb Vanilla Meringue TartI am so behind on blogging, it’s embarrassing. My draft folder is full. But there is something that keeps me from posting here. One and a half months ago I took up learning another language. Right now my head is spinning. I am trying to memorise personal pronouns, tense prefixes and suffixes, and weekdays. Before that I spent three weeks learning to trill the r. Which I was never able to do before, and believe me, I tried. But now, with the help of several Youtube videos (especially this and this one), I can do it most of the time if it’s surrounded by some nice vowels. I also learned to read and write. Yes, that is right. I am learning to read and write all over again. Because I left my European comfort zone by taking up an Arabic class. I was always decent at learning languages – except for Latin, but that was because there’s no one to talk to unless you’re friends with the pope – and I guess that’s why I signed up for this new class without thinking twice. Well, it has been challenging. And slow. We learned to read, we’re practicing to write, and we’re doing tons of grammar. My small talk skills are still very lacking. But I guess I should be more patient.  I am getting a general concept of the language and that is very important and useful. It’s something you don’t feel you have at first when everything is written in letters you can’t read. When even the alphabet comes in a completely new order and with several letters you cannot pronounce. And when there’s not a single similarity to any other language you learned before. Because those languages were either related to Latin (Spanish) or Latin and German (English) or German (Norwegian). All of this is very exiting but naturally it steals a lot of time. Time I would normally spent cooking and photographing for this blog. Instead of baking or reading other blogs,  I am now watching Arabic Youtube videos. Last Sunday, when I tried to practice for a dictation exercise, I was reminded that there was about a kilo of rhubarb in our kitchen. And  I had promised to make a cake. But what cake? My brain was toasted, I had no ideas for any kind of recipe. So I looked at my blog and decided to do a simplified version of a rhubarb pie I posted four years ago (wow!). At that time I felt bad for putting the recipe up. It was a delicious cake but it called for an uncommon ingredient: dandelion honey. Rhubarb is such a simple and humble vegetable, so why add something as fancy to the ingredient list of this pie? I probably was just super exited about my little jar of vegan honey. (To be honest, it’s not really fancy. You can make it at home, it’s made from sugar, water, and dandelion flowers.)Whatever, last Sunday I rewrote the recipe. The tart/­­pie is now made with the most accessible ingredients you can think of. It’s a simple recipe, with a very tender, sweet crust and  a tart filling that calls only for a hint of sugar. But there is a little twist to it. I made another batch of marshmallow fluff  for an easy and super sweet and sticky meringue topping. A perfect Sunday treat and some brain food that made learning those letters and prefixes a lot easier. Notes: Refinded coconut oil is very common where I live. If you cannot get it and don’t mind the coconut flavour, use unrefined coconut oil instead. Margarine should work fine, too. To make the marshmallow fluff for this recipe, double the amount of sugar (100 g or 1 cup powdered sugar). You can also omit the fluff and use coconut whipped cream instead, or leave the tart naked. Print Rhubarb Vanilla Meringue Tart IngredientsFor the rhubarb filling 750 g rhubarb, sliced into 1 cm (1/­­2 inch) pieces (6 cups or 1 lb and 10 oz) 50 g (1/­­4 cup) sugar 1 tablespoon cornstarch For the crust 1/­­4 teaspoon salt 250 g flour (2 cups plus 1/­­2 tablespoon) 200 g (1/­­2 cup) sugar 110 g (1/­­2 cup) soft refined coconut oil, cubed zest of one orange For the custard 240 ml (1 cup) soy milk 30 g (1/­­4 cup) cornstarch 50 g (1/­­4 cup) sugar For the soft meringue 1 recipe marshmallow fluff made with 100 g (1 cup) powdered sugar InstructionsTo make the filling, combine rhubarb, sugar, and cornstarch. Let sit for about an hour and stir well from time to time. To make the crust, mix salt, flour, and sugar in a bowl. Add coconut oil and orange zest. Mix with your hands and form into a crumbly dough. Make sure the fat is incorporated well and there are no lumps of coconut oil remaining. Grease a springform pan (26-27 cm or 10 inch) with fat. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Pour the dough into the pan. Press into the bottom and the sides of the pan. (Only line about 2.5 cm or 1 inch of the sides with dough. You just want a small border, so the filling doesnt leak.)Set aside. For the custard, combine soy milk, cornstarch, and sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk until the starch is dissolved and bring to a boil. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until thickened. Pour over the crust. Sprinkle rhubarb on top. Bake for 40 minutes. While the tart is baking, prepare the marshmallow fluff. Transfer to a piping bag with a star tip right before the cake is done. Pipe dollops on top of the tart, increase the temperature to 200°C (400°F) and bake for another 10 minutes, until the meringue is browned. Let cool completely and remove from pan. 3.1 http:/­­/­­www.seitanismymotor.com/­­2015/­­05/­­rhubarb-vanilla-meringue-tart/­­ Copyright (C)2015 All rights reserved. www.seitanismymotor.com Rhubarb Vanilla Meringue Tart is a post from: seitan is my motor

Vegan in Malta

January 9 2015 seitan is my motor 

Vegan in Malta I have been to a few places in Europe and so far my favourites were the capitals of Hungary and Portugal. But now Budapest and Lisbon have to move over, as my new number one is Malta. At the beginning of December P was able to take a few days off and he wanted to go on vacation. We didn’t take any this summer because we both worked a lot, so now was the perfect time for a break. We ended up in Malta mostly because the weather was nice. And because I’ve always wanted to go there. I am interested in languages and history, and there’s much to discover about both on this little group of islands. It turned out that Malta wasn’t the easiest destination to get to for us. We took a train from Dresden to Leipzig and stayed in a hotel to get up very early the next morning in order to take a train to the airport. That morning started great with a kid that refused to get up (I completely understand) and an almost missed train. When we arrived in Düsseldorf, we were supposed to pick up and transfer the luggage, but of course we coldn’t find it in time and missed our connection. Thankfully the airline was very accomodating  and booked us on a new plain to Valletta via Zurich.  We had gotten up at 6 am and finally landed in Valletta at 8 pm where we took three different busses to get to our apartment in Sliema, which is a town close to Valletta. In the past I would have been a little bit anoyed about all the delays and the chaos. But if you travel with a three year old child, your only concern is to keep her in a good mood. And I am still amazed by how calm she was. We had taken books with us to read to her, spent a lot of time on carousels and playgrounds at the airports and tried to keep her occupied somehow. It seems that she is the perfectly calm and patient traveller! I think I also hat such a positive experience in Malta because this was the first vacation with our child that truly enjoyed. In March we went to Mallorca and made the mistake not to take a stroller or push car with us. We ended up carrying our child everywhere and that was not very enjoyable. This time we simply put her in the push car and walked while F was sitting in her stroller singing and talking. The next day we tried to explore the island. Malta is the most interesting place I have ever been to, I think. So much has been going on on these islands since the stone ages and so many historic monuments have been preserved on so little space. We made a walk around the coast and finally reached a spot where we had the most fantastic view of Valletta, the capital. This city was once built by crusaders, the Knights of St. John. They made Valletta into a fortress and ruled it until Napoleon drew them out. It’s very easy to get around in Malta. The public transport by bus is slow, but very good and cheap and you can reach every destination by travelling this way. There are also a couple of ferries and cruises which will take you to Valletta or the second biggest island Gozo. The islands are small but highly populated and urban. Every person speaks both Maltese and English so you will have no problems getting around. We took the ferry from Sliema to Valletta, which was much faster than the bus and only took ten minutes. We walked around the city to find the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, where we wanted to look at two Caravaggio paintings. Unfortunately it was a public holiday and the church was closed in between services. Malta has a long Catholic history and you can see the big role the church and the Catholic belief play or have played here on every street corner. Houses are often decorated with little sculptures and tiles that picture prominent Catholic characters. The churches in Malta are quite impressive. One day after a walk through ?al Tarxien and Paola (Ra?al ?did), two places famous for prehistoric temples, this huge parish church popped out of nowhere. The light building with the shiny roofs was very beautiful to look at with the blue sky and the sea in the background. In ?al Tarxien we visited the Megalithic temples. We have lots of old sites in the area where I grew up, but I have never seen anything nearly as striking as these ruins. Malta is a very small country and it’s kind of isolated from other countries because it’s an island group. You cannot just get there by simply walking over an European border. I come from a large country with several big cities, a very long history, and nine neighbour countries which all are part of our history somehow. Much of that history sometimes gets lost because there is an infinite number of pieces you have to put together and they are all over the place. There are so many places, so many people, so many events. Of course Malta’s history is like that, too. Especially since it has been occupied so many times due to geostrategic reasons. These occupations are a big part of the Maltese culture: the first official language derived from an Arabic dialect, influenced by Italian and written in Latin. The second official language and the left-hand traffic brought by the British. The Catholic church and belief brought by the Maltese knights, and so on. But Malta is also small. On this tiny island group with very small distances and a very urban infrastructure, you can find history everywhere and you can put together the bits and pieces yourself without travelling far. You also don’t have to travel far when you want vegan food. I have read quite some complaints about Malta not being vegan friendly but I didn’t find them to be true. It is definitely true that on these islands vegan restaurants don’t pop up at every corner as it is the fashion in several European cities right now. It shows that we have bee spoiled lately amd many complaints are simply about missing convenience. When I travel food is not my main concern. I want to get around and see things. I want to explore a city, a country, an area. I want to get to know people and learn about their culture and life. I don’t mind living on potato crisps and white bread for a day. Although that is definitely not neccesary in Malta. The local cuisine is very heavy on meat, but there is an abundance of Italian restaurants, too. Since everybody speaks English, it is absolutely no problem to order a vegan pizza or a vegan pasta dish. This is what I had for dinner in Sliema one evening. I don’t remember the place, but it was an Italian restaurant at the harbour: This was the pizza marinara from the menu, which had items marked as vegetarian, lactose free, etc. I probably could have gotten a pizza with vegetables as well but I liked this! F had pasta marinara and that is basically what she lived on during our trip. Sliema also has several Arabic restaurants that we unfortunately never got to try because they were either closed or too crowded. I assume that they have vegan options, too. (Kebab Ji and Mamounia are example – to be fair, we tried to eat out on a public holiday.) Mint is another option for vegan food in Sliema. They have a counter where all the food is displayed so I wasn’t sure if it’s an option to get something customised. They usually close already at 4 pm, so we decided to go there for breakfast. The vegan items were limited to lasagna, a bean salad, and a rhubarb ginger crumble (vegan without ice cream). Since I am not a very big breakfast eater I chose a small serving of bean salad and the crumble. The salad was nothing special but the crumble was very good! In Valletta we had lunch at Soul Food, which is a very small Italian restaurant in the centre of the capital and the have several vegan and vegetarian options. I had a burger patty with some side dishes. You can choose what kind of patty you want and I went with the chickpea variety, which was very dry, unfortunately. We ate out only on these few occasions, most of the time we cooked food in our apartment. The supermarkets carry lots of fresh vegetables, you can get all kinds of pulses, plant based milks and Alpro soy yoghurt, fresh bread, hummus, and other spreads and so on. Many foods are imported from the UK, Germany, Austria, or Italy and the supermarket frequency is not very high. You can find many small grocery stores though which are open on public holidays and weekends. Malta has several markets where you can buy fresh food, too. We had fresh bread for breakfast every morning and I topped it with jam, hummus or bigilla, which is a vegan bean spread available all over the islands. Malta is a very beautiful country with lots of interesting places to visit, it’s easy to get around and you can see a lot even with a toddler, because distances are short. We’ve enjoyed simply walking  trough streets or around the coast all days long. Of course we had to explore playgrounds with F, too. There were plenty, especially along the coast. Temperatures in December were always around 18°-20°C and even though it’s one of the rainiest months, we only had one rainy day. It was really hard to leave and I am already dreaming of going back! Vegan in Malta is a post from: seitan is my motor


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