18 December 2008

Curious things

I’ve always wanted to write up a post sitting cross-legged on the floor of the airport.

It’s an early morning now. I am at the Amsterdam airport, Schiphol. Sitting on the floor. Cross-legged. Enjoying my breakfast. Typing up this post. (I’ll tell you what - it feels good, much better than I imagined!)

As it happens, I have just checked in and have another hour to spare before my plane to Russia takes off. Also, I have bought cheese(s) at the Duty Free Shop, ogled chocolates (I was tempted to buy a few, but then the ratio of chocolate versus clothes contents of my luggage is already 70:30 by the moment, hence I did not – hard times, no less), sprayed numerous perfumes on my both wrists, both forearms and even cheeks (for lack of more wrists and forearms): in short, I am good at managing my time like this, don’t you know.

By the way, you don’t think I mentioned my breakfast for no reason, do you? Good, because there are indeed a few serious reasons: a) I am having braised Savoy cabbage for breakfast (!) on the floors of the airport in Amsterdam (just for a record, usually my morning meals have more or less continental aspect about them), and b) this is the best braised Savoy cabbage I have ever had (on the floors of one of the largest airports in Europe, come to think of it).

I like to believe you tend to read these rambles of mine in order of their appearance. Yes? If not (sigh), then let me gently (re)acquaint you with this fact: I have a certain kind of affinity to cabbage. (You would have too, if it was the only vegetable – besides carrots, potatoes and beetroots – you were exposed to in your childhood, at cold winter times.)

Now, where was I? Ah yes, until recently though, I specialised in white cabbage mostly. The sort of Savoy was a grey ‘cabbage’ area for me. As I was busily eating my way through all the perishables before grabbing my luggage and going to visit my family, I somehow left a head of Savoy cabbage forlorn (I am rather foggy as to why I let this happen in the first place). Not wasting more time, I successfully utilised the dying vegetable with an assembly of rather different, but working well together, spices: East meets West, if you like. Now I am bound to think this is the best version of any braised/stewed cabbage I had come up with before in my kitchen in all my born days.

Braised Savoy cabbage: fusion

Yields 4-6 servings

1 medium head Savoy cabbage, quartered, cored and finely shredded

1 can peeled whole organic tomatoes

1 small dried red chilli, crushed

1 Tsp black mustard seeds

2 (smoked) garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp turmeric powder

a large pinch of salt

2 Tsp olive oil

In a large non-stick saute pan (I used wok), heat the oil and add the mustard seeds , crushed chili pepper (flakes) and crushed garlic – make sure, you wear kitchen gloves before crushing the chili, otherwise, you might as well learn how it feels to be torched .

Fry the spices for about 30 seconds, or until the mustard seeds start to pop up.

Add the cabbage and turmeric powder, stir well. Sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the cabbage is wilted.

After that, add diced tomatoes (with juices from a can), season with salt and stir well. Bring heat to medium-low and braise the cabbage uncovered for about 25-30 mins. At this point I also added a few small sprigs of thyme (for even deeper flavours). At the end, the cabbage should be tender but not mushy. You may want to garnish it with finely chopped flat-leaved parsley, just to add more colour to the reddish from the tomatoes and yellow from the turmeric. The colour parade, in other words!

So on the floor (still at the airport) I am sitting now, finishing up this curious breakfast.

That said, something makes me aware that all this crazy cabbage talking isn’t exactly what you would like to hear. Indeed, who in their right state of mind is preposterously praising cabbage NOW, at this time of year? It is just possible that this may occasion the startled look and what not. To avoid such a frost, I’ll tell you about oliebollen (a.k.a.oil balls in English). So if you are still with me on this, please hear me out.

'Sweet '

'Oliebollen’ remind me of Russian ‘ponchiki’ (pronounced pon-chi-ki or pon-chik ,if singular). Both are the roundel of dough (made of flour, eggs, milk, yeast, salt, baking powder and optional sweeteners such as raisins, currants, finely diced dried apricots etc), deep-fried in oil and sugar-coated (powder-sugar-coated, to be entirely correct).

In Amsterdam, street oliebollen vendors galore lure you into getting your hands, face, clothes pleasantly greasy. Honestly, you do not want their oliebollen, produced in large quantities without much care and passion. What you really want is oliebollen from Lanskroon, one of a few truly dutch bakeries in the city of many peoples, in the city of Amsterdam.

These fine oliebollen - crisp from the outside, with soft chewy and pleasantly yeasty interior, speckled/freckled with bits of walnuts and raisins, and seasoned with a curious spice I could not yet identify - brought back into my mind moments long-forgotten. When my grandmother made her ponchiki (Russian oil balls of sorts; for reference please see a paragraph above), she always carefree left them rest piled on a large plate, uncovered. Never would she remember that her granddaughter (me) would always sneakingly lick sugar powder off every single ball leaving them ‘glossy bald’.

Those were my memories as I was standing at the counter trying to quickly decide how many I wanted to buy. I bought a bagful.

So Folks, that’s the catch: first, you eat the cabbage. Then you go to town on desserts. And if you excuse me, I’ll finish off for now. Because I have only a few minutes left before boarding and I want to use this time reasonably – I intend to finish up that small(ish) bag of oliebollen before I get on board. I’ve got a long day ahead. I need to fortify myself.

Lanskroon (dutch bakery, plus ice-room - in summer)
Singel 385


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