Plněné papriky – Stuffed peppers

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Sautee onions along with your spices.

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Add passata or (canned) tomatoes, simmer covered for at least 15 min,  remove the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks, and blend with immersion mixer.

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One of these peppers is not like the other… If you choose not to eat meat,  this is one of those rare Czech foods that can be easily made meatless. For the “regular” filling- and since this was for grandparents who like to keep things traditional- I’ve mixed mince, rice, parsley, egg, salt, pepper and garlic.  But mint would be a nice addition, maybe fennel seeds, and any other flavours you enjoy. Leftover meat can be used to make meatballs.

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In the meatless filling, I’ve used red lentils, sauteed mushrooms, parsley, chilli flakes, a bit of rice and some beaten egg to hold it all together. This is just what I had in the pantry, but really, any legumes, pulses, herbs work well.

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Plněné papriky – Stuffed peppers

For the sauce

oil or butter

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

4 whole peppercorns

4 allspice

5 cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

3 bay leaves

½ tsp thyme

2 tsp ground ginger

1 small piece of lemon peel

½ clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp flour

500 ml tomato passata or canned tomatoes

a splash of water

1 tbsp vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

For the peppers/filling

6 banana peppers

400-500 grams mince meat

1/2 cup cooked rice

2 tbsp parsley chopped

½ clove garlic pureed

1 egg

salt and pepper to taste

1. Sautee chopped onions on butter or oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot.

2. Add spices along with sugar and keep sautéing until onions are glassy and golden.

3. Add flour and stir for a minute or so, and add passata or tomatoes. Cover and allow to simmer for at least 15 minutes, turning down heat if it’s bubbling too much.

4. Check the taste- if it’s too intense, add some water- not intense enough, add more of the spices according to taste. Add your garlic and salt and pepper to taste as well.

5. Remove the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, and puree with immersion blender

6. Take another large pot and a sieve/strainer with smaller holes. Carefully, pour sauce through strainer into the second pot- unless of course you prefer a very thick, oniony sauce.

7. Prepare peppers: wash and cut off the very top- like a lid. Scoop out the seeds.

8. Take your mince, rice, parsley, garlic, egg, salt and pepper and mix well in a bowl.

9. Fill the empty peppers with mince filling (or with a meatless filling of your choice), and carefully submerge peppers into pot of sauce

10. Cook on medium/low heat for at least half an hour to cook the meat through and soften the peppers.

11. Add a spoonful of vinegar if the sauce lacks acidity and adjust any flavours by adding spices, or even sugar and salt to taste.

12. Serve with rice or dumplings.

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Hovězí Guláš – Beef Gulash

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I hardly ever order Czech classics like guláš or svíčková in Praha restaurants because, honestly, they’re never half as good as the real (homemade) thing. However, should you ever really crave a proper guláš while you’re out and about in the mean streets of Žižkov, let me recommend the one at Restaurant Olše on Olšanské Náměstí. Flanked by socialist relics such as the Hotel Olšanka, some crumbling paneláks (housing estates), a boxing club and a very grim butcher’s; the surroundings may not be the cheeriest. But there is a certain, indistinguishable atmosphere. And with the TV Tower kindly looking down upon you and with some very good watering holes (like Hapu, U Sadu, and the TV Tower itself)  just around the corner, the location is actually really quite great. And the guláš? I really, really hate to admit this: it’s great. Fantastic even. Sure it’s about 5 sizes too big- accompanied by 5 or 6 (!) snowy dumplings-  and containing unheard of things like tomato (paste?) but yes, it’s really good. Oh and they have tank Pilsner on tap. Need I say more?

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Restaurant Olše

But, if you have the time, ingredients, and willing to make it at home, this is how you my mum makes a proper guláš.

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Mama Central Eating cuts up some beef shank in her Nova Scotia kitchen
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Onion and marrow bones sauteeing
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Add the chilli flakes
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Add lots of good quality paprika

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Hovězí Guláš – Beef Gulash

You will need:

5-6 larger onions (yellow)
about 1.8 kg beef shank and some marrow bones (without the marrow)
3-4 tbsp sweet hungarian paprika
1-2 tbsp hot hungarian paprika
chilli flakes/dried chilli if you have it, about 1 tsp
1/2 (ish) cup of water
oil or lard for the pan
salt and pepper

Serves 4 easily

  1. Heat a good amount of oil or lard in a large, heavy bottomed pan
  2. Add chopped onions and sautee until glassy and golden- you may throw in the bones at this point as well
  3. Toss in the beef shank- cut into roughly 4×4 cm chunks (it helps if you just cut along the connective tissue) keep in mind that the meat will shrink a lot and release all of the collagen that will thicken the sauce. This is why we use cheaper, tougher cuts of meat.
  4. Cook at a medium heat until the meat is seared on the outside
  5. Cover the pot/pan with a lid and cook for about ten minutes/ until juices are released
  6. Preheat your oven to 320 F or 160 C
  7. Once the juices have been released, add salt and pepper to taste, paprika, some water, put it in the oven, and LEAVE IT ALONE for at lease 1.5 hours- of course check on it occasionally to make sure it hasn’t dried out and add water if necessary. You can eventually turn the oven off, and leave the pot of guláš inside (even overnight).
  8. Serve with fresh rye bread or dumplings and some fresh raw onions

The Madeleine

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photos by http://www.alchymister.com

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”

—Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Breaking the rules completely with this very first post, the madeleine is neither central nor eastern European in origin. And yet this humble, seashell-shaped cake from the Lorraine region of France does serve as a jumping off point of sorts.

Depicting Proust’s own nostalgia, a trigger of involuntary memory, the Madeleine can be something different for us all: sharp creamy chicken paprikash, summer fruit dumplings bursting with mouth puckering apricots, even the dreaded breaded Christmas carp and the slightly less odious- but no less distressing carp soup.

And isn’t all of this cooking and eating in effect an exercise in nostalgia? I think that most immigrants share a need to recreate home with simmering pots and familiar smells, and while my earliest days in Canada are a blur of confusing kindergarten songs and cultural missteps, I vividly remember mealtimes (whether I enjoyed them or not!) as my Mum tried to improvise and recreate home with strange, foreign ingredients from strange, foreign supermarket shelves.

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photos by http://www.alchymister.com

Madeleines

These small cakes are extremely quick and easy to make. They go well with coffee and guests.

3/4 cup (105 grams) all-purpose flour- hladká mouka works best in ČR
2 large eggs- room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar (cukr krupice)
Grated zest of one orange
2 teaspoons vanilla extract*
5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces; 70 grams) melted, cooled unsalted butter

1. Whisk eggs and sugar together until they thicken and lighten in color- making sure to incorporate a lot of air. This should take about 3 min.

2. Whisk in the zest and vanilla and carefully fold in flour. Stir in the cooled melted butter  and cover and chill batter for 1-3 hours (can keep up to 2 days).

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) and grease your Madeleine tray with butter, dust with flour, and shake out the excess.

4. Fill your tray with batter (about a tablespoon per mold) and bake in the centre of the overn for 11-13 minutes. The finished madeleins should still be soft, pinkish in colour and have that characteristic bump in the centre.

5. Gently remove madeleines with a fork and allow to cool on a rack or plate. Dust generously with icing sugar while still hot as this will make a nice crust. If you are making more than just one tray of the cakes, be sure to thoroughly clean and dry the pan in between each batch.

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photos by http://www.alchymister.com

* M&S sell real vanilla extract, otherwise many of the supermarkets sell entire vanilla beans. Cut these lengthwise and scrape out the black seedy paste- you can use this paste in place of the extract.

** You may find that a pinch of baking powder or soda sifted into the flour at the start gives you a fluffier cake. I personally don’t think it’s necessary if you whisk the eggs well enough.

*** Madeleine trays are notoriously hard to come by in Praha but your Grandma may have those little forms for making pracny at Christmas, and these work just as well. Just make sure to keep them upright to prevent spilling!