Monthly Archives: September 2010

When life gives you apples, make applesauce

I will never tire of having an orchard in my backyard

The Orchard Cottage apples are finally ripe enough for picking. I’m overwhelmed by the bounty, and couldn’t resist picking as many as I could fit into my garden geek basket (courtesy of Tim, who is ace at picking out birthday presents).

Apples galore

I decided to turn the glut into applesauce, one of my favorite things to make now that I have a food mill. No peeling or coring required! And as Claire points out on Food Junta, applesauce is a great way to turn otherwise sub-par apples into something spectacular. Not that our orchard apples are sub-par – they are the best apples in the world, albeit a little tart yet (a good excuse to make crumble and pie).

Applesauce in progress

Here is the recipe I use for applesauce, courtesy of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.


apples – as many as will fit into your biggest pot

Fill your biggest pot with about 1/2 inch of water and a generous pinch of salt.

Halve or quarter the apples and put them in the pot.

Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Uncover, turn down heat to medium, and let simmer, stirring/mashing occasionally, until apples reach desired consistency. This should take about half an hour.

Let it cool down a bit until its cool enough to handle.  Put the whole lot through a food mill. Eat some now, store the rest in the freezer.


Mushroom Cashew Bulgur Burger

Cooks Illustrated'

Overall Rating 2.8/4

What first intrigued me about this veggie burger was the mayonnaise. Not on top of, but INSIDE the burger. The rest of the appeal largely came down to ethos. This is Cooks Illustrated‘s vision of the “ultimate veggie burger”.

Their approach:


We didn’t want [our veggie burgers] to taste like hamburgers, but we did want them to act like hamburgers, having a modicum of chew, a harmonious blend of savory ingredients, and the ability to go from grill to bun without falling apart.

Their solution: bulgur and lentils for texture, onions, garlic, celery and leeks for depth of flavor, and “to replace the meat-like taste, we turned to food rich in umami –specifically, cremini mushrooms and cashews.”

Umami – what a brilliant idea. But do they hold up to the test?

Ingredients 3/4

There are people in the world who like mushrooms, and there are people who don’t. I fall in the former camp, fortunately, and so appreciated the pound of mushrooms that went into these burgers.

Beyond umami, the burgers have a pleasing balance of vegetables (mushrooms, leeks and celery), protein (lentils and cashews) and grains (bulgar wheat and breadcrumbs).

As already state, the burger mix includes mayonnaise, but no egg (aside from what’s in the mayo). Fat phobics who shudder at the thought of mayo should rest easy – it’s only 1/3 cup distributed across 12 burgers. At about 10g of fat per 4-inch burger, the result is not excessively fatty, and in fact is choc full of fiber (7g) from all the lovely nuts, legumes and whole grains.

As a bonus, the lack of egg would make these easily adaptable to a vegan diet, if that’s your thing.

Preparation 1/4

As others* have mentioned, these burgers are not easy to make. Each ingredient needs to be prepared separately – boil the lentils, boil the bulgar, saute the veggies, grind the chashews. It takes a while. (I suggest that, next time you make lentils, beans, rice, bulgur, whatever, make extra and freeze it for occasions like these.)

Once everything is prepared, it all gets blitzed in the food processor, but this step is easy to get wrong – if you don’t blitz it enough, the burgers won’t hold their shape (as I woefully discovered with my first trial – see “Crumble Factor”). In fact, no matter how much I pulsed my food processor, I couldn’t achieve the “coarse-textured paste” called for in the recipe. So I turned to the VitaMix.

If you do make this recipe, I recommend using a blender. You will have to push the mix into the blender as it goes, but it helps immensely, and results in easy-to-form burger patties not unlike the one pictured in Cooks Illustrated (shown above).

Texture 4/4

Cooks Illustrated'

When it comes to texture, these burgers are a win. The bulgar and cashews give the burger excellent “bite”, while the soft lentils and mayo keep the burgers from being too dry. I’m sure the sauteed celery and onion have something to do with it, too.

Mush Factor 4/4

At last, a burger that is not a mush burger.

As the picture shows, the burger did not ooze from the bun as I bit into it, as is often the case with so many ill-fated bean-based burgers, where by the end of the burger you’re left with something more akin to hummus than a burger. Not so here. This is a solid burger. I credit the bulgar and cashews which helped keep the moist lentils in check.

Crumble Factor 3/4

When prepared correctly, these burgers do NOT crumble. But it’s easy to get wrong, which is why I give them a 3 out of 4. My first batch of burgers were not blended enough, and so the result did not hold together but fell apart immediately on the bun.

The very definition of a crumble burger

However, after pureeing the burger mix in a blender, the crumble disappeared and the burgers held their own.

Cooks Illustrated'

Flavor 2/4

These burgers taste like a cross between Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup (thank the mayo and the mushrooms for that) and good ol’ fashioned stuffing (thank the celery). Bot of these foods I really like, but not so much in a burger form. The stuffing-effect also made me feel like I was eating a bread burger.

Overall Rating 2.8/4

I must hand it to Cooks Illustrated – they created a wonderfully well-textured burger that did not fall apart on the bun. It’s a shame, though, that for all that effort, and such promising ingredients, that its flavor isn’t all that it should be. Perhaps a few spices would help – maybe some mustard, or soy sauce? It needs something more substantial. Alas, I’m not sure if these burgers are worth the effort it would take to experiment.

Mushroom Cashew Bulgur Burgers

Originally published in Cooks Illustrated; recipe sourced from (thanks, dan).

3/4 C dried green lentils, rinsed
2 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C bulgur
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 C chopped onion (about 2 medium or 1 large onion)
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 small leek (white and light green parts), chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. brown or white mushrooms sliced
1 C raw unsalted cashews
1/3 C mayonnaise
2 1/2 C panko bread crumbs
black pepper (lots!)

Bring the lentils to a boil in 3 cups of water with 1 tsp of salt over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 25 minutes. Drain the lentils in a mesh strainer and then spread them out on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to dry out a bit. Cool to room temperature.

While the lentils are cooking bring 2 cups of water and 1/2 tsp of salt to a boil in a small pan. Add the bulgur, stir, cover, and remove from the heat. Soak for about 15-20 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Drain in a mesh strainer and gently press out the excess moisture. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, celery, leeks, and garlic. Stir occasionally and cook until everything starts to brown, about 10 minutes. Spread these veggies out on a baking pan and cool to room temperature. (If you’re doing this all in order, the lentils are probably cooked by now, so add them to the mixing bowl with the bulgur and re-use the same sheet pan).

Add 1 Tbsp of oil to the same skillet and turn the heat up to high. Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown. They should give off all of their liquid, and then that liquid should cook off, so you have a pretty dry batch of cooked mushrooms. It takes 12-15 minutes. Spread the mushrooms on the pan with the other veggies and cool to room temperature.

Chop the cashews in the food processor for a few pulses. Coarse is ok since it’s all going to get mixed and chopped again.

Add the cashews, veggies, mushrooms, and mayonnaise to the bowl with the bulgur and lentils and mix everything up. Move half of the mixture to the food processor and pulse about 15 times. It should be a coarse-textured paste (use a blender if the food processor doesn’t work). Transfer this to another bowl and repeat with the second half of the mixture. Combine it all in the big bowl you started with.

Add the panko, 1 tsp of salt, and ground pepper to the mixture and mix thoroughly.

Shape into patties about 4″ in diameter and 1/2″ thick.

Heat 1 tsp of oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat. Cook the patties for 4 minutes per side, until golden. If they’re browning too fast, turn it down a bit.

Makes 12 4-inch burgers. Per burger: 308 Calories; 10.5g Protein; 13.6g Total Fat; 38.1g Total Carbohydrates; 7.5g Fiber.

*What other people say:

“I recently tried the “Ultimate Veggie Burgers” recipe from Cooks Illustrated, and it came out great! It’s not the simplest recipe, but I think it’s worth the effort. It makes a good size batch and they freeze very well.”
– Dan,

“The best non-meat burger I’ve ever had was the veggie burger recipe from Cooks Illustrated. The combo of bulgur, lentils, cashews, mushrooms, onions, leeks, and panko give them a really great, firm texture and a satisfying, round flavor. I’ve served these to vegetarians and dedicated meat-eaters alike with raves from all.”
– JaimePMac,

“These are kind of a pain to make, but they are so awesome! They’re worth the trouble to me because I always freeze some, and we get burgers for a while. Fab on onion buns with seasoned mayo!”
– Tesseract,

“…boy was it ultimate! It took a couple hours to prepare, but was so worth it, that I may be swearing off store bought veggie burgers for good. It was great with some grilled veggies and a cold porter.”
– Linsay Preston,

Also seen on

My quest for the ultimate veggie burger

Mildred's Veggie Burger

Mind the basil-mayo splooge in this otherwise picturesque veggie burger from Mildred’s restaurant in London’s Soho. Splooge aside, this was a close-to-flawless burger from a restaurant I have long-regarded as an expert in veggie burgers.

I went to Mildred’s this afternoon to conduct research for a new project I’m working on: my quest for the ultimate veggie burger. My quest even has a home:

What do I mean by “ultimate”? I’m looking for flavour, texture, balance, and an absence of mushiness or crumbliness. I want a burger that isn’t based on bread crumbs or jumbo oats, but rather, fresh vegetables or hearty nuts and legumes. My perfect burger will also omit processed ingredients such as TVP, vital wheat gluten or Quorn.

My goal is to find a recipe so that I can create the ultimate veggie burger in my own kitchen. As part of my research, I will not only try various veggie burger recipes recommended to me by friends, chefs, and readers, but I will also go to restaurants and see how the pros do it. And so, this is how I arrived at Mildred’s.

Mildred's Vegetarian Restaurant

Before today, I’d only been to Mildred’s once a couple of years ago. They have an always-changing “burger-of-the-day” on their menu, served with lettuce, tomato, relish, and basil “mayo”, which I later learned was not mayo at all, but rather a soy-based imitation (I had no idea!). The burger is vegan, too, and on that particular day, it was made up of shredded beets, peas, fennel seed, spring onion and pumpkin.

Mildred’s beet-based burger was phenomenal, and stands out as one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had. So today I returned to see if other burgers stood up to the test.

Today’s burger-of-the-day ways a kidney bean and olive burger. “A strange combination,” I thought. But of course, I ordered it without hesitation, and was very glad that I did.

The olives gave the burger a rich, savoury flavour that worked surprisingly well with the kidney beans. I also enjoyed the occasional whole kidney bean hiding in the burger – this seems to be a hallmark of Mildred’s, whose previous burger was flecked with whole peas.

What's inside a Mildred's veggie burger?


Mildred's Awesome Veggie Burger

My only reservation about the burger was this: I missed the texture of the shredded beet. In fact, there was very little texture in this burger at all, but it made up for it by being well seasoned, pleasantly moist, and not at all mushy.

So the question remains – what is this burger made of? Surely there is more to it than kidney beans and olives.

To find out, I’ve sent an email to Mildred’s head chef, Daniel Azevedo, and await his response with bated breath. In the meantime, the weekend is coming, and is the perfect opportunity for my next experiment.

Following Mark Bittman’s excessively corny recommendation, I am turning to something completely different:

If you have a suggestion for the “ultimate veggie burger”, please visit and click “Suggest a burger.” I promise to try every veggie burger suggested to me, but do mind the rules, and try to be patient – one can only make so many veggie burgers!

Another average blackberry season


The blackberries are here and I went out yesterday to pick a few. They berries look good, so good that I couldn’t stop picking them (and eating a bunch along the way). But their taste is, well, not so sweet. Or rather, too sweet. They seem to be sugarry, but without that nice tart flavour that I love about blackberries.

Nevertheless, I took home a haul anyway. Their juicy sweetness will do in an apple crumble.

Foraged blackberries

Chermoula aubergine with bulgar and yoghurt

Yotam Ottolenghi's chermoula aubergine with bulgar and yoghurt recipe

With a name like “chermoula aubergine with bulgar and yoghurt”, you know it’s gotta have a UK superchef behind it. Sure enough, this is the creation of Yotom Ottolenghi, famed London restauranteur and lover of expensive and hard to find ingredients like orange flower water and preserved lemon.

This recipe makes use of the latter ingredient, which I’m pretty sure isn’t necessary if your grocer doesn’t carry it (thought I was quite surprised to find that Waitrose had not one but TWO brands of preserved lemon, but then again, Waitrose likes to sell things they can charge a fortune for). The lemon is all part of a luxurious, spicy “chermoula” rub that you slather on some halved eggplant and bake until soft and delicious.

(Power tip: make extra chermoula – it’ll keep forever and make future eggplant slathers a snap.)

To add to the oozy soft aubergine is the perfection of bulgar wheat, well seasoned with mint, cilantro, toasted almonds, raisins and, unusually, green olives.

The whole thing is rounded out with Greek yogurt, for which I can recommend Fage / Total brand, the full fat stuff (0% Fat Greek Yogurt is an abomination).

Chermoula aubergine with bulgar and yoghurt

Adapted from this recipe by Yotom Ottolenghi.

For the aubergine:

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped preserved lemon skin
  • 90ml olive oil, plus extra to finish
  • Salt
  • 2 medium aubergines

For the bulgar wheat:

  • 150g fine bulgar
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 50g sultanas
  • 10g fresh coriander, chopped, plus extra to finish
  • 10g fresh mint, chopped
  • 50g green olives, halved
  • 30g flaked almonds, toasted
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

To serve: 120g Greek yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. To make the chermoula, mix together the garlic, cumin, coriander, chilli, paprika, preserved lemon, 90ml olive oil and half a teaspoon of salt.

Cut the aubergines in half lengthways and score the flesh of each half with diagonal, crisscross lines, making sure not to pierce the skin. Spoon the chermoula over each half, spreading it evenly, and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, or until the aubergines are very soft.

Meanwhile, place the bulgar in a large bowl and cover with 140ml boiling water. Soak the sultanas in 50ml of warm water for 10 minutes, then drain and add to the bulgar, along with the 50ml olive oil. Stir in the herbs, olives, almonds, spring onions, lemon juice and salt, taste and add more salt, if necessary.

Serve the aubergines warm or at room temperature. Place one half-aubergine per portion on a serving plate, spoon bulgar on top, allowing some to fall over the sides, spoon over a little yoghurt, sprinkle with chopped coriander and finish with a dribble of olive oil.


Mark Bittman’s Midsummer Vegetable Burger

Midsummer Vegetable Burger

Overall Rating: 2.3 / 4

Last week I sent Mark Bittman a tweet asking for his recommendation for the ultimate veggie burger. He came back with a recipe for his Midsummer Vegetable Burger, one of the burgers in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

According to Bittman

This light, colorful burger, which gets its crunch from corn, is terrific on a bun, especially with a little Salsa, Chile Mayonnaise, or Roasted Pepper Mayonnaise, or with sliced ripe tomatoes and drizzled with basil pesto.

As a great lover of corn on the cob, corn bread, corn salsa, and pretty much all things corn, I was sure this burger would be a hit. The base ingredients are fresh corn, cornmeal [1], grated zucchini, and chili, all bound together with a puree of fresh corn.

Alas, having made this burger and considered all of its components, the burger rates slightly below average for my tastes.

Preparation 2/4

Tim and I argued over this – he claimed it was fairly easy to make but if you ask me, once you get blenders and food processors involved, it takes a recipe beyond simplicity into a mess. Add to that the necessity of cutting corn kernels off an ear of corn (and yes, you should be using fresh corn if you make this recipe).

Most of my prep troubles had to do with the instructions (something Mark Bittman usually excels at), some of which seemed unachievable by my food processor (the recommended tool).  For example, “Put the onion, garlic, and chile in a food processor and pulse a few times to grind almost smooth” and “Put the remaining corn into a food processor and let the machine run until it becomes a thick paste.”  For some reason, my food processor could only create “chunks” rather than “paste”.  I had to turn to the Vitamix to achieve the desired result.

Onion, garlic and chili Corn puree

Fresh corn! Midsummer Vegetable Burger in progress





Ingredients 1/4

To me, a good veggie burger should be balanced in favor of hearty proteins and vegetables – after all, I’ll have plenty of bread to eat with the bun.  I don’t want my burger to be made of bread, too. But, at nearly 50% Carbohydrates and only 7% protein, this burger is essentially burger-shaped cornbread.  Still, we’ll give it a point for being vegan [2] – not an easy feat for a non-mushy, crumble-free veggie burger (see below).

Midsummer Vegetable Burger Ingredients


Texture 2/4


The corn kernels offered some texture, but the cornmeal was a little chalky for my liking.

Midsummer Vegetable Burger

Mush Factor 3/4

At last, a burger that was not a mush burger.  There was some slight oozing out of the bun as I ate my way through it, with one small bit falling overboard, but overall it maintained its shape throughout the meal.

Crumble Factor 4/4

This burger did not fall apart in the bun.  I believe the grated zucchini helped create a lattice structure within the burger to help keep it together.

Flavor 2/4

Too sweet.  It tasted more like a corn fritter than a burger.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the flavour of corn fritters.  But I wouldn’t put a corn fritter on a bun with lettuce and tomato and call it a burger.

Overall Rating  2.3 / 4

I wouldn’t make this burger again, but those with a greater appreciation for sweet corn and bread-based burgers may find this more “ultimate” than I did.

Midsummer Vegetable Burger

Bittman recommends serving these with a little salsa, chile mayonnaise, roasted pepper mayonnaise, or with sliced tomatoes and drizzled with basil pesto.  I reckon avocado is a better match for these corny patties.

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, halved
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 minced fresh chile (like jalapeño or Thai), or to taste, or hot red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 2 cups corn kernels, fresh if possible
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • A little all-purpose flour, if needed, for binding
  1. Put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a deep nonstick or cast-iron skillet with a lid over medium heat. Put the onion, garlic, and chile in a food processor and pulse a few times to grind almost smooth. Add the mixture to the pan with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and cook and stir.
  2. Stir the zucchini into the onion mixture along with 1 /2cup of the corn and another sprinkle of salt and pepper. Put the remaining corn into a food processor and let the machine run until it becomes a thick paste. Continue to cook and stir the zucchini mixture until the vegetables release all their water and it starts to evaporate, about 5 minutes. Stir in the corn paste and the cornmeal. Remove from the heat, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. If the mixture seems too wet, stir in a little flour to help bind it. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  3. Form 4 to 6 patties and let sit for a few minutes if you have time. (You can make the burger mixture or even shape the burgers up to several hours in advance. Just cover tightly and refrigerate, then bring everything back to room temperature before cooking.) Wipe out the pan, put in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and turn the heat to medium. A minute later, add the patties. Cook until nicely browned on one side, about 5 minutes; turn carefully and cook on the other side until firm and browned.
  4. Serve on plates or on buns with the usual burger fixings. Or cool and refrigerate or freeze for later use.

Fresh Summer Vegetable Burger with Cheese: A little richer and creamier: In Step 3, when you stir in the eggs, add 1/2cup grated cheddar, mozzarella, Jack, or Parmesan cheese.

Makes 6 burgers. Per burger: 196 Calories; 3.6g Protein; 10.3g Total Fat; 25.3g Total Carbohydrates; 3.2g Fiber.

[1] Word to the wise – use a fine cornmeal for this recipe.  I initially tried this with polenta – what a mistake!  I ended up with a crumbly mess and had to start over.

Trial 1 Fail

Fortunately, the above crumble makes a great topping on chili (make the chili, then put it in a ramekin, distribute the corny crumble on top, then bake until the top is crispy).  I am sure it would be yummy on other casseroles, as well (which is good because I have loads of the stuff).

[2] There is some question to whether this recipe is intentionally vegan.  The book and his blog post both mention a variation which states: “In Step 3, when you stir in the eggs, add 1/2cup grated cheddar, mozzarella, Jack, or Parmesan cheese.” However, the recipe does not call for eggs. Queries on his blog post have so far been unanswered. One comment offers a suggestion that may improve the textures of these grainy patties:

I’ve been making Mark’s veggie burgers by following the chapter in his book and, while I don’t have it in front of me, my guess is that the egg goes in when you add the corn paste and corn meal to the cooked mixture. The egg will help hold everything together, but it also adds moisture which you may have to counter with more corn meal and/or some breadcrumbs. Just experiment, you can’t really go wrong here as long as you get the mixture to a consistency that holds its shape when pressed into a patty.

Lithuanian Cold Beet Soup

Cold Beet Soup

The source of my love of food must have something to do with my parent’s love of going out to eat. Even when I was very young (single digits) my parents would take the family for a restaurant meal at least once a month (or so it feels like now). My parents weren’t well off – not even close – so the restaurants typically fell into the “cheap eats” category of dining. But as many of you know, cheap eats can often been found in small, family-run establishments, and are especially prevalent in large, multi-ethnic cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.

One such memory is of Tulpe, a Lithuanian restaurant in Chicago we used to frequent, back when we still lived in the city proper (rather than the burbs). My recollections are hazy, almost dream-like: the place was small, badly (but brightly) lit, and all the furniture was made of metal, plastic and vinyl. The staff were way less friendly than the folks at Chucky Cheese, and the seats far less comfortable. But I remember the food. My favorites: potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce, cabbage soup (or at least I think that’s what was – something brothy with cabbage and chunks of unidentifiable meat product – my uni-digit self had not yet heard of “vegetarianism”), and cold beet soup.

For those who have never been introduced, Lithuanian cold beet soup (aka cold borscht) is extraordinarily weird. It begins with the color, an almost unnatural day-glo pink that seems better suited for a rave than a soup bowl. Add to that, the soup is cold. Who eats cold soup that isn’t gazpacho (quiet you raw foodists!)? Finally, one of the hallmarks of this soup is hard boiled eggs, which just sounds gross in soup form. This cold beet soup just doesn’t make any sense.

And yet it works.

Despite its color, cold beet soup is completely natural – it gets its color from the combination of bright red beet juice and creamy white sour cream (or buttermilk, or Greek Yoghurt, depending on what’s going). And for a cold soup, it’s surprisingly hearty and satisfying.

I’ve been wanting to recreate the cold beet soup of my childhood dreams ever since the sun came out and the beets arrived in the Riverford organic box. I did some intense research on the Google and settled on this recipe, purely because my brain for some reason associates early 2000 style websites with the best in ethnic cuisine.

The recipe reflects the flexibility of cold beet soup. There’s little more to it than boiled beets, lemon juice, salt, pepper and dill. Everything else (potatoes, eggs, spring onion, cucumber, and sour cream) is garnish, which you can add as much or as little of as you like. But a bit of garnish is essential – this is the stuff that balances the whole thing out (otherwise you’re just eating a bunch of beets!).

There is something about cold potato and egg soaked up with a bit of dilly beet juice that is thoroughly satisfying.

Another reason why I especially like this soup is that it’s one of the few Lithuanian foods I know of that is naturally vegetarian (what, no ham?!). It’s also prime recovery food, as I discovered after a 6-mile walk last weekend. The cold soup was refreshing, while the potato and egg replenished my energy for the rest of the day.

Cold Beet Soup

  • 3 large-ish beets, scrubbed well
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 green onions, finely sliced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and diced small
  • 1 potato, boiled and diced small
  • 4 boiled eggs, quartered or diced
  • Greek yoghurt or sour cream
  1. Put on an apron.
  2. Put the beets in a large pot, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer beets until they are soft all the way through (about 30 minutes depending on the size).
  3. Drain the beets but reserve the cooking water. Let the beets cool (you can do this in an ice bath to speed things up) then, while running them under cold water, peel off the skin (this should be easy).
  4. Grate the beets and put them into a large bowl. Add enough of the cooking water to make a good soupy consistency. Add the lemon juice, salt, pepper and dill. Check the taste and adjust the salt, pepper and dill to your liking.
  5. Put your desired amoung of potato and cucumber in a bowl. Ladle some beet soup over it. Top it with boiled eggs, Greek yogurt or sour cream, and spring onions. Serve!
  6. As you eat the soup and distribute the yogurt/sour cream, the soup will take on its characteristic pink hugh. You may also wish to mix in the yogurt/sour cream ahead of time – that is the traditional way!

Serves 4 (Give or take)

On a final note, it seems my memory of Tulpe is not altogether inaccurate. I found similar sentiments from Julianne Glatz on

Our favorite [Chicago cheap eat] was a miniscule Lithuanian, Tulpe. Filled (and filling) dumpling-esque dishes dominated. Some were round, some cylindrical, stuffed with meat, cheese or potato; all were topped with bacon, fried onions and sour cream. They were delicious but that wasn’t the only reason we loved Tulpe: On our first visit, the waitress wanted to show the cooks our redheaded 6-month-old; ever after, the cooks played with Anne in the kitchen while we ate. It was impossible to spend more than $10 for two – with leftovers.

Alas, Tulpe is no longer – an unfortunate trend? My reading suggests that many of the good old-school Lithuanian restaurants are falling to the wayside. Say it ain’t so…

I just got back from trip to Chicago, during which I sampled Lithuanian from “Healthy Foods,” 32nd & Halsted. My friend and I (both originally from “the old neighborhood”) ordered tons of stuff: Potato pancakes, kugelis, sausage, kraut, meat dumplings, cheese dumplings, hot beet soup, etc. Sad to say, it was OK, but no comparison to mine and not even much of a comparison to the old, now defunct restaurants that used to line 69th St. (Tulpe, Ramune’s) and nearby Western Ave. (Ruta’s, Palangas). I’ve tried (a few years ago)Mabenka (sp?) in suburbs (79th & Wolf Road??–not sure about address at all) and it was also OK, but again kind of mediocre.

Trouble in Paradise?

The garden is getting the better of me lately, especially the container plants, none of which seem happy at all.

The cucumber plant, which once showed great promise to produce the gherkin glut of my dreams, seems only produce tiny hints of cucumbers, which wither and die before becoming anything useful.

Cucumber trouble

Cucumber trouble

Meanwhile, the pumpkin vines are withering away, leaving me with cute little gourds for Halloween, but nothing I can turn into a pumpkin pie.

My pumpkin vines are dying

And what is with the sage, which was once so full of life, but has now been reduced to a few droopy leaves?

Alas, sage

All of my container plants seem stricken by yellowed leaves and, at best, lacklustre produce. Such is not the case in the raised bed, where the tomatoes are thriving and the peppers are going strong.

Lots of tomatoes

There have been a few faint glimmers of hope from the containers, largely of the pepper variety. These jalapenos, though oddly stunted, still made for a delicious sweet heat when roasted whole with a bunch of aubergine, courgette, garlic and tomato.

Chili harvest

And what is this? A strawberry hanging on for dear life?

Strawberry hanger-on

A jar of homemade pickles to any kind soul who can explain to me my yellow leaves and shrivelled cucumbers. Anyone?

Marscapone and roasted red pepper sandwich

Marscapone with roasted red peppers, basil and mint

I recently acquired a tub of marscapone cheese, a necessary ingredient of this zucchini and parmesan tart I wanted to make. But the recipe left me with a lot of leftover marscapone that I wasn’t sure what to do with.

Then I had a marscapone revelation: A few weeks ago, my dad and I shared a few dishes at Demuth’s Restaurant in Bath, one of which was a “summer salad crostini”, described as “lightly toasted thoughtful bread with mascarpone and regato cheese, ribbons of courgette, fennel and cherry tomato, finished with basil and mint”.

Summer salad crostini

So I decided to make my own “summer salad” open-faced sandwich with no knead bread, marscapone, grana padano, cherry tomatoes, roasted red pepper, basil, mint and rocket. It was really nice! Good enough to eat for lunch two days in row, and very quick to prepare.

Marscapone is a lot like cream cheese – only more fancy sounding and way tastier. In fact, it’s a triple-cream cheese (leave it to the Italians) made from crème fraîche, denatured with tartaric acid. It is a main ingredient of tiramisu and is sometimes used instead of butter or Parmesan cheese to thicken and enrich risotto.

Marscapone is very mild on its own and, for sandwiches, best mixed with something a bit stronger (like grana padano or other hard italian cheese). What makes the sandwich is the fresh herbs. In fact, you could probably get rid of the cheese altogether and use something like hummus and this would be just as good – but don’t leave out the fresh herbs!

It turns out, marscapone is also very nice with strawberries. This experiment with marscapone, strawberries, basil and mint was delicious:

Marscapone with strawberries, basil and mint

Everything goes down a treat with a nice salad. I’m digging the lemon and olive oil lately, but this salad was made even nicer with some fresh basil, parsley and oregano (plus lots of crunchy romaine, cucumber, sweet cherry tomatoes, spring onion, salt, pepper, and the clincher: creamy avocado).

Herby salad

Marscapone and roasted red pepper sandwich

  • 1 thin slice of nice bread that toasts well
  • a couple spoonfuls of marscapone
  • a bit of grated grana padano or other hard cheese
  • 1 roasted red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • a few leaves of basil and mint, thinly sliced
  • a handful of rocket
  • salt and pepper

Toast the bread until it’s nice and crispy then leave it to cool.

Smear the marscapone on the bread and sprinkle with the grana padano.

Top with sliced cherry tomatoes and red peppers. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and fresh herbs.

Pile on the rocket. Eat. Enjoy.

Serves 1.