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Silvasgombocz_first

I recently read on a blog (which I can not find for the life of me, but if it was you, kindly mention it with a link in the comments) a rant about restaurant service where wait staff remove empty dishes from the table before everyone has finished eating. This is a HUGE issue in Toronto, particularly with the roadhouse-style (3 star or less) establishments. It is a disgusting trait, particularly when there are ONLY TWO people dining. Because JT inhales eats much quicker than I, I am often left eating at the table while his plate is cleared away. Just because restaurants here only pay servers minimum wage, it doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be training! UGH.

I mention this trend because on a recent dinner with neighbours (progressive dinner folks) at a fairly well reviewed French restaurant in our historic Distillery District they actually went one step further. It wasn’t a busy night but service was slow and we were through a bottle of wine before our first course even arrived; eventually we casually ate our appetizers and chatted up a storm so when they removed the dishes I got up for a quick bio break. I ordered my favourite bistro dish, Table Side Wellington Country Beef Tartar which is prepared in front of the guest. Can you guess what’s coming next? The server actually PREPARED MY DISH WITHOUT ME BEING THERE! OMG, did that really happen? Oh yes, it did. I was so aghast, I was speechless! So now, several weeks later I am ranting on my blog. Shame on you, French restaurant in the Distillery District, the remainder of the experience wasn’t even worth mentioning (OK, I will say the steak frites came in pieces (what? did they gather up the leftovers from other plates?) AND it was over-cooked). Strike that place off my list.

It is no secret that Hungarians love food and we love to cook; so while my cousin and his lovely wife, Éva were visiting, I asked her to show me how to make a traditional, light Hungarian supper called Szilvásgombóc (Plum Dumplings). I’ve read many a blog that this dish is NOT a dessert and the Hungarians are quite adamant about it. When I was a child, we had this dish during plum season but I can’t recall if it was a main or a dessert. I have never made it on my own so I was happy to have Éva make it while I watched. It is delicately sweet and seasoned generously with toasted bread crumbs and cinnamon. We always had it with sour cream so my presentation included Greek Yogurt, but Éva always had it plain with extra cinnamon or with some lekvár (thick jam).

We made the dish at the cottage, so I wasn’t able to document the weights and measures and I still have some in the freezer so I won’t be making it any time soon. For an experienced cook, like most of my followers, it is a recipe made by feel (similar to making Italian Gnocchi), but I will reference Ilona Horvath’s recipe from The Traditional Hungarian Kitchen published in 1996 and 2000. It is an excellent cookbook translated and worked into North American cooking standards and according to my dear Mom, good, old fashioned Hungarian recipes.

Below, I present my dear Mother’s recipe from her Mother’s cookbook that she brought with her on her escape from Hungary in 1956, Az Ínyesmester Ezer Új Receptje published by Athenaeum, 1935. It is a well-loved, faded copy and the recipe for szilvásgombóc in the book is entirely by feel (no measurements documented!).

Cookbook

That’s a recipe for Roquefort Dressing written in my Mom’s handwriting in Hungarian.

Magyar Szilvásgombóc (Hungarian Plum Dumplings)

Makes about 24 gombóc

Ingredients:

  • 12 sweet plums (the small Italian ones are best, we were not able to find them so we cut them in half)
  • Boiled potatoes (we used 5 medium-sized yukon gold potatoes)
  • All purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp cinnamon, divided
  • 3/4 cup of unseasoned bread crumbs (we made our own from whole wheat bread)
  • 2-3 tbsp sugar

Directions:

  1. While boiling the peeled potatoes, wash, pit and cut the plums in half and season with 2 tbsp of cinnamon, set aside.
  2. Rice potatoes while still warm (Éva made a point of this). Beat the egg by hand and combine it with the riced potatoes.
  3. Slowly add flour to the potato and egg mixture to make a soft dough.
  4. Using about two tablespoons of dough, press out to about 1 cm thick in the palm of your hand (about the size of the palm of your hand), add a quarter of a plum to the centre and cover entirely with the dough, pinching the seams shut.
  5. Boil water with a pinch of salt. Boil plum dumpling until done (they should float to the top, just like gnocchi).
  6. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, toast the breadcrumbs until golden and while still warm, add the sugar and mix gently until the sugar has melted and caramelized. It should not be a sopping mess. Turn off the heat. Add the remaining 2 tbsp cinnamon and mix well. Roll each cooked dumpling in the bread crumbs and plate.
  7. Serve warm or cold, with or without yogurt or sour cream
This plate survived two bombings during the second world war.

This plate survived two bombings during the second world war.

Notes:

  • We tested one plum ball first to make sure it didn’t fall apart during boiling and decided it was a bit too soft and we added more flour.
  • The old cookbook describes a good plum dumpling dough to be thinly wrapped around the plum, a fine and light texture, somewhat pillowy (not chewy). “A jó szilvásgombóc téstája vékony, finom és könnyu, sőt omlós.”
  • I wish we had tasted the plums because they had very little taste and we should have seasoned them with a touch sugar to bring out their plum taste. This dish should not be sickly sweet, it is delicately sweet.
  • Ilona Horváth adds lard to the dough but we did not.
  • My relatives LOVE cinnamon so the proportions may be a bit much for the average person, add according to your own personal taste. Cinnamon in Europe is the real McCoy and is a lot stronger than our Cassia. Too much cinnamon may make the dish bitter!

 

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My friend John (from the Bartolini Kitchens) did a post on June 6 for Straw and Hay Pasta including fresh peas that were shelled. It was that vivid picture that John painted sitting at the kitchen table, shelling the peas that brought back such fond memories of my childhood that I had to recreate the recipe that his story conjured: Hungarian Sweet Green Pea Soup with Dumplings — Zold Borsóleves. I didn’t search the internet nor did I look at my mom’s recipe book as that would have been futile, my Mom cooked from memory and instinct. It used to drive my Dad crazy; she would make something he thought was delicious and he’d say, “this is delicious, did you write it down?” And she’d wave him away and say “no, but I can recreate it”. But it was never the same. It could have been our memory of the dish, or that she added a pinch of this or a pinch of that, and on this round may have gotten missed. At any rate, there is no recipe. I haven’t had this soup in over…(oops, there, I almost spilled the beans), in many, many years, but I have recreated it to my best recollection. And as I sat in the kitchen, eating this soup, I felt like I was 10 years old, sitting at the formica top and aluminum lip edge kitchen table. Thanks John.

This is a simple soup dictated only by the simple ingredients. Just water is used as the stock, to allow the sweetness of the peas to come through. After I made the soup, I did search the net to discover people put in carrots, potato, celery root, etc, but our’s was just peas, onion and garlic. My mom also used the young pods in the soup by carefully removing the hard membrane from the inside of the pod after it has been shelled. You can do this by bending the tip in toward the inside of the pod until the exterior cracks, and carefully peel the membrane away. It is hard and plastic-y, you won’t be able to eat it, so make sure you remove it entirely. Or you can just drop the spent pods into the soup for flavour and fish them out before serving.

Even though I pictured the dumplings made with Quinoa flour, I wish I had splurged and made white flour dumplings. The quinoa was OK, but it certainly didn’t have the bite and chewiness that the normal dumplings had. If I were to do it again, regular white flour dumplings. Although, I must say the quinoa made it a filling dinner.

The flavours of this soup conjured up all kinds of childhood memories

Hungarian Sweet Green Pea Soup with Dumplings — Zold Borsóleves

Serves 2 as an appetizer or lunch, or one good-sized bowl for dinner

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup white flour (I used quinoa flour but it didn’t turn out as well)
  • 1 large egg or egg white equivalent
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 12-15 fresh green peas, shelled and pods prepared
  • 2 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 300 mL water
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Shell peas and remove membrane from pods. Roughly chop pods into bite sized pieces.
  2. Mix the flour and the egg in a small cup. The mixture should be thick so you can pinch small bits off and it doesn’t stick to your spoon (in fact, the chewier you like your dumplings, the thicker the dough should be). Set aside.
  3. Coat the bottom of a soup pan with a good spray of non-stick spray and sauté the onions until translucent (you may need to add a bit of water to help it along). Add the garlic and cook until you can smell the wonderful aroma. Add the pods (not the peas) and cover with 300 mL water. Salt and taste, adding more as required (I ended up adding a good pinch — it should not taste salty, it should just bring out the flavours of this simple soup: peas, onions and garlic).
  4. Bring to a boil and begin ‘pinching’ the dumplings into the boiling water. I used a small spoon which worked out to about 1/2 tsp size (or you can roll the dough into a narrow roll and cut with a knife) the dumplings will grow because of the egg. Add the peas and give give it a stir. Cook on boil for an additional minute until all the dumplings float to the top.
  5. Serve immediately on your favourite Hungarian placemat. Sigh and enjoy the memories.

The Quinoa Dumplings were OK, but nowhere near the wonderful texture of my Mom’s old fashioned white flour chewy dumplings

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This is a relatively easy and lite recipe I came up with for my mushroom-loving friends. When I say mushroom-loving, it means that it is indeed very mushroomie and you really have to love them to like this soup. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The was the soup course from the Vegetarian Valentine’s Dinner. Of course, I eyeballed this recipe, so the measurements are vague. By using dehydrated mushrooms you will get a mushroom stock from the hydrating liquid that compares to none. Costco sells a giant tub of dehydrated field shrooms for a reasonable cost, or you can buy them from the grocery store for a small fortune. I like the mix Costco has. Some Asian markets also sell interesting dried shrooms, but you have to be a little daring.

Mushroom Consommé with Mushroom Onion Dumpling

Serve 4 smallish soup bowls (1 1/2 cups each).

Just a light broth with some Valentine dumplings. Who are you calling dumpling?

Ingredients:

  • about 1 cup of dyhydrated field mushrooms soaked overnight in about 5 cups of water. You will want to put a cover on this otherwise your entire house will smell of the shroom!
  • about 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
  • 1 clove garlic finely minced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp of cognac per serving
  • 4 sheets of wonton paper
  • Egg white as glue

Directions:

  1. Through a fine sieve or coffee filter, strain the mushroom water to capture any loose sand. Wash the mushrooms well under cold water.
  2. Melt butter in a sauce pan, add onions and sauté until translucent. Add mushrooms and the garlic and sauté a bit more.
  3. Add the mushroom water and the soy sauce and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  4. Strain the mushrooms, garlic and onion from the liquid and return to the pan.
  5. With a small food processor, process the mushrooms, onion and garlic with the Parmesan cheese. Taste and salt as needed.
  6. Taking a heart-shaped cookie cutter about 6 cm in diametre, cut out 8 heart shapes. Place a small teaspoon of the puréed mushroom mix into the centre of each heart. Brush egg white along the edges and seal with a second heart directly over top. Seal well with the tines of a fork. Repeat until you have finished 8 of these little dumplings.
  7. Boil about 4 cups of water with a sprinkling of salt. Drop each dumpling into the water and cook until they float to the surface. Remove from the water and add two into each bowl of mushroom consommé. Enjoy while hot

    I HEART U

    Note: for the photo I actually had to prop up the dumplings because they sank to the bottom like lead. You’ll have to tell your guests they have heart-shaped dumplings in the soup…

Thanks to Charles who pointed out (very subtly) my typo on the word consommé. I have corrected it now.

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