I’ve been thinking lately about what to cook in my newly acquired outdoor Moroccan oven. If you haven’t seen one, It’s a small earthenware container that houses a little charcoal fire. You put a tagine (also earthenware) on top and voila — you get an outdoor slow cooking oven that is compact, transportable, low tech, and downright fun to use.
A grainless Grill.
Poor old grains. They’re getting such a bad wrap these days. You haven’t heard? Maybe you don’t live in the US. Over here rabid gangs of seedy paleo nuts run the darkened streets, pushing animal fats and intimidating all to drop their grains and follow their fad. As if paleo man and wife dined on rib-eyes and arugula every night.
Gluten free, my friend, no longer cuts it. That’s what the book Wheat Belly was about. Now you got your rice belly, your buckwheat belly, your cookie belly and here in Denver your pot belly, which comes from hoards of stoners stuffing themselves silly with sugar — the munchie affliction. I think the whole belly thing is going to be a big flop. Mine is. So’s Ionah’s. That’s why for a 2 week period she’s decided not to eat any grains. So, I go along. I like the challenge.
Normally, we love to eat Asian style noodle bowls, Italian pastas, risottos, arroz con pollo, couscous, croissants, potatoes. I love pastries, I love burritos. I make corn tortillas all the time— sourdough bread on the grill, toast with butter and jam, I love a nice pear tart and I love beer… but I make an exception, a concession: I will continue taking my daily intake of oatcakes. My friends at Oats of Allegiance would be too upset if I cancelled my subscription.
Lately I’d been thinking, one of these days, I need to make a fire. I have always loved the act of preparing fire. Not only is it warming and key to survival for some, it’s ancestral and it promotes council and community — but really, its the mischief of flame that I like.
We sat outside on a beautiful May evening, watched neighborhood cormorants cross the sky above our heads and listened to chirps of newly arrived blackbirds and the urgent wale of city police sirens and enjoyed our wood fire grilled meal.
Ionah, who casually flirts along the frontiers of veganisn, is mostly a loyal vegetarian. And I usually go along. But I wanted some beef, a Mid-Eastern flavored plump lolli stick seemed in order— along with stuffed poblano peppers with corn and black beans, slices of zucchinni, scallions, tahini sauce, harissa mayonnaise. Avocado too.
Normally I would serve a platter of glorious steamed couscous, fruity with olive oil and alive with a mound of mint stubbled with toasted pine nuts and golden raisins— but it was not to be.
Start a fire. I am lucky to have an indegenous mix of juniper and piñon. It usually takes a couple of hours to develop down into hot glowing coals. If you are a beer drinker, this would be the time.
For the beef, chop some parsley,
grind up some cumin and rosemary,
Add these to a pound of ground beef in a bowl and add some chopped garlic, onion and salt and black pepper.
Form it into a nice ball
and divide into four lollipop shapes. Skewer each one with a pre-soaked (10 minutes in water) bamboo skewer. I forgot to photograph this. Oh well.
Next blister the chilis on an open flame
Get them black all over. Put them into a paper or plastic bag and seal for 10 minutes.
Remove from the bag and peel them
Slit them down the middle and remove as many seeds as you can. Rinsing under running water can make this easier.
For the filling sauté some onion until soft,
add corn (I used frozen, it will thaw as soon as it hits the pan).
Add a few chopped herbs
Add cooked black beans. Season to taste with salt.
Stuff the chilis with this mixture
Close them as best you can, adding a scant amount of olive oil to prevent sticking on the grill.
Peel the asparagus. Cut the zucchini into 3 long slices, having removed the skin on both sides and cut these in half. You should have 6 even slices. Season with salt and roll in a tiny amount of olive oil—too much and the grill will flame up. You do not want that to happen.
Now get out there and grill…
You got your beef,
you got your zucchini, your scallions, your peppers,
And where did it all go?
When I was a kid, for three or four summers in a row, my parents took us on holiday for the month of August to a giant old country house outside of Cobh, in County Cork. It belonged to a friend of my father’s. The ground floor was a giant stone slab polished with age. There was no bedding, kitchen equipment or electricity provided. Still for my parents, it was a free holiday away from the bustle of Dublin and for us kids it was like heaven beside a stony shore.
The amount of stuff we took— it was like getting ready for a siege — the roof-rack piled high with roped down blankets, sheets and pillows; the car stuffed to the gills with jams and jellies, butter and cheese, pots and pans, candles, cutlery, sardines and lots of cabbage.
For we were off for a month and the old house had little to offer in the way of kitchen equipment except for a propane stove, a sink with cold running water and a white enamel table which looked like it was salvaged from an army hospital.
And we were a mere throwing distance from the sea; a beautifully protected cove perfect for kids wanting to hone their stone skipping and periwinkle gathering skills. The month passed and it felt like a week.
Most afternoons I veered towards the kitchen where my mother was busy with supper. It was a plain whitewashed affair with the table stationed up against the wall. The light was provided by the window, which was adequate in August as it’s still light in Ireland at 9pm. She of course did all the cooking. I helped with peeling potatoes, always potatoes, but I also learned how to prepare her red cabbage, German style.
Before I was born, you see, my parents lived in Glasgow for a while after the war, and their little flat had a shared kitchen. It was shared with Herr and Frau Kulak, a German couple. What they were doing in Scotland I’ve no idea — I seem to remember he might have been an engineer — but anyway, on a Skype call to my dad I asked if he remembered her.
“I’ll never forget her,” he said. “She was a cross between a demon and a dynamo. She scoured the kitchen every day until it glistened and shined, and she insisted your mother did the same. And she insisted your mother learn how to make her red cabbage of which she was very proud.
And so it happened that I learned from Frau Kulak through the medium of my mother how to prepare German red cabbage. I think I was 13. It think it was 1966. I think she called it, Rotkohl.
Frau Kulak and my mother used grated apple, some kind of vinegar and brown sugar. I like dried cranberries, apple cider vinegar and maple syrup. By all means, try it with grated apple, or use currants, raisins or dried cherries. Red wine vinegar works well instead of apple cider. You can add a few cloves or coriander seeds instead of juniper berries. Some folks add a sprinkle of flour; I don’t think it’s necessary.
It’s a simple dish, but, it can take a little time depending on how you cut the cabbage and of course, it needs to cook a while. A lot of recipes call for two hours, but I like the fresh flavor and brightness that one hour yields. Experiment. Go easy on the sweet and the sour. Too much of either and you will not succeed. Add these in small amounts and please, taste as you go.
Olive, coconut oil, butter or bacon fat.
1 medium onion finely diced
A medium red cabbage quartered, cored, and sliced or minced either by hand or shredded in a food processor.
A scant handful of dried Cranberries.
A decent splash of apple cider vinegar.
A smaller splash of maple syrup.
1/4-1/2 cup of water.
5 or 6 juniper berries.
Salt and black pepper to taste.
Cover the bottom of a heavy skillet with fat.
Add the onion and sauté gently without browning until soft.
Add the cabbage and everything else.
Cover with tight-fitting lid and cook at a low simmer for an hour or more. Check along the way and add water if necessary. It should be moist, a little bit crunchy and a little bit soft and it should glisten and shine like Frau Kulak’s floor.
Throw on a couple of Brats if you like.