Sunday, October 13, 2013

karelian pies: vegan, two ways

Unless you are Finnish, you are probably asking, "what is a Karelian Pie?" I never knew until I went there and had them for breakfast multiple times. Eaten warm, and slathered with not-so-vegan egg butter, these savory rye and rice pastries are so good. In Finland, I saw them in one format: plain. Which is absolutely delicious and when I make them now, I do half plain and half in some other flavor. Because I am not Finnish, I guess it's ok for me to riff on the original. If you are a Finnish investor and would like me to come and live in Helsinki, and run a Karelian pie bakery that isn't afraid to take these classics to a new level, please contact me and we can talk.

I have broken from tradition here in two ways. In Finland, Karelian Pies are filled with a porridge of milk, salt and short grain rice. The first time I made these, I made two different kinds, one with cow's milk and one batch with coconut milk. I am not sure why, but it was virtually impossible to tell which one was which. This is good news for vegans and people avoiding dairy. The other liberty I took was to stir boiled, pureed carrots and a bit of oil tempered with cumin seeds in to half of the finished rice porridge before stuffing the pastries. This resulted in a creamy, slightly sweet cumin laced pie, which I have to say I like even more than the original. One thing I have learned about Karelian Pies: the flavor must be simple and pure so as not to overpower the subtle flavor of the rye flour crust. 

A word on rye, gluten and other ancient grains. I have been floating on a sea of information and observation for years now, trying to decipher and filter out what works for me in regards to what I eat, and how it makes me feel, both psychologically and physiologically. The island I have landed on in recent months is one that I like, and think I will stay here for a while. I do not have celiac disease. And I may or may not have a sensitivity to gluten, as I sometimes notice if I eat too much wheat, or believe what my allergy blood test tells me. But I often wonder if it is not just the super-sized wheat mutant monster that scientists have created to satiate America's gluten addiction that some of us are reacting to? Perhaps the more delicate, sensitive gluten found in ancient, unadulterated grains such as rye, spelt, kamut and barley are more digestible? I am no scientist, and I am not going to cross-reference my readings here. But this is where I am at, and I have been baking a lot using these wheat alternatives, which have gluten, but my body seems to know what to do with. I was so healthy and happy in Finland, as if my system was finally in its nutritional homeland. Don't even get me started on the bread there. The rye bread alone was worth the trip.

Back to Karelian Pies. This is a food you are unlikely to see outside of Finland very often. Luckily, they freeze well, and hold together well enough to pop into the toaster or toaster oven for a quick breakfast. Although whenever we make them here, they don't make it to the freezer at all. 

Karelian Pies are typically eaten with egg butter (I love egg butter). It is basically hard boiled eggs mashed up with room temperature butter, and this is the part of the puzzle that I haven't tackled for the vegans, as I do eat eggs. If you eat eggs but not dairy, like my man, you can make the egg butter with coconut oil and it is just as good as the one made with butter.

This is one of those cooking projects, like tamales, that is more fun done with friends and wine and when you have time to cook. Make lots, share with everyone, eat a bunch, and hopefully you'll even have enough left over to freeze.

If you are inspired to make some other flavor, please share...these things are ripe for experimentation!

Here is a good recipe for traditional Karelian Pies, and the one that I adapted from.

Vegan Karelian Pies 
(makes 40 pies)
600ml water
3 14oz cans coconut milk (minus 1/4 cup)
2 cans water
370 g abborio or other short grain rice
1 tsp salt

(for carrot version)
6 large carrots, peeled & chopped
2 Tablespoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds

600ml water
600-700 g rye flour
pinch of salt

50g coconut oil
1/4 cup of coconut milk
600 ml water
3-4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cooled
100g soft butter or coconut oil
Make the porridge. Boil the water in a large pan. Add the rice and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the coconut milk and bring to a soft boil. Simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, until it is a thick, creamy porridge. Add salt and let cool completely.

Make the carrot-cumin element. Steam or boil carrots until soft. Puree in blender. In a small pan, heat the coconut oil until it spatters when you drop a single cumin seed in there. Once ready, temper the oil with the remaining cumin seeds, allowing them to pop, toast and spatter for about 15 seconds. Remove from heat, stir into the carrot mixture. Divide the rice porridge in half, and add the carrot cumin mixture. You will now have two flavors of Karelian Pie!

Make the rye dough. Combine water, salt and 500 grams rye flour in a bowl. Continue to add flour until the dough can be kneaded and handled. Cut the dough into quarters, and then roll each quarter into a cylinder.  Divide each cylinder of dough into ten equal portions and flatten each portion to make a round disk. Cover the disks with cling wrap to avoid drying. 

Make the pies. Roll one disk at a time into a thin (2-3mm thick) oval, spread couple of tablespoons of porridge onto the disk, and wet the edges of the disk with water using your finger. Pinch the sides together around the disk, creating a little basket using your thumb and index finger. 

Bake the pies. Place the pies on baking trays lined with parchment paper and bake in a preheated oven (425F) for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are slightly browned.

Heat coconut oil, coconut milk and water in a saucepan. Dip each pie in the hot mixture to soften. Place on drying rack for 5-10 minutes so the milk does not make the bottoms soggy. 

Use a fork to mix the eggs with soft butter and serve the pies topped with this mixture. These pies can be frozen (minus the egg butter).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

fabulous finland

We have had such a lovely time in Finland. The entire two weeks were spent enjoying the best food, drink, scenery, company & conversation. We camped. We rode bikes in the archipelago between Finland and Sweden. When my leg began to hurt, we were rescued by a wonderful couple who are destined to become longtime friends. They hosted us, fed us, and helped us rent a 1600cc motorbike. We skinny dipped in pristine lakes amongst wild moose and deer. We drank apple cider and ate delicious dark rye bread, Karelian pies with egg butter, baby carrots in cream thickened with spelt and tempered with a pinch of brown sugar, new potatoes drenched in butter with dill, sea salt and black pepper, blueberry rhubarb pie, squeaky cheese with cloudberry jam, and fresh salads with grilled haloumi cheese and dried berries. We had fresh chanterelles from the forests of nearby Estonia. Our fingers are stained red from strawberries both wild and cultivated. We enjoyed countless fresh peas, popping them straight from the pods into our mouths, while sitting on the edge of the Baltic sea, or in a green park in Helsinki, or in a lake, on an island. We had coffee and cardamom rolls while waiting out a thunderstorm in the town of Navu. We devoured top notch Thai food on a tiny island, after a blissful private sauna that included lots of scrubbing and cans of cider that stayed surprisingly cold in the 90°C air, at a place called Bjorkslund's Batslip. We went to a 15 year old girl's communion party, where we were invited to the neighbor's wine cellar to drink a delicious bottle of Spanish Albarino wine. We had a picnic on the fortress island of Suomenlina, watching cruise ships navigate treacherous & narrow straights.

Hostess Hanna

And we window shopped... because Finland is not only one of the prettiest places I have ever been, but also one of the most expensive. If not for the open hearted generosity of the people we met and are visiting, we'd be deep, deep into the black. But do not despair, budget travelers! If you are willing to camp, picnic, and get off the beaten path, you too can have a blissful, vegetarian and affordable adventure in this often overlooked wonderland. And if you open yourself up to the people you meet, you'll find some of the warmest, friendliest people ever. 

209€=too much!

My shortlist of tips for the shoestring veggie-voyager coming to Finland: bring a tent, sleeping gear, leatherman, swimsuit, sunblock, wind breaker, and mosquito repellant. If you plan to visit saunas, bring body products like scrubbers, moisturizers (oils) and exfoliants to enhance your experience. Be willing to eat rye, dairy and eggs, as there is butter, cheese, rye or eggs in most of the vegetarian options. If you are vegan, get ready for lots of fresh, raw veggies and fruits. Many people we met were either vegetarian or pescatarian, and most people are very concerned with the origins of their food and with the current Monsanto/GMO crisis. Restaurants are very expensive; you'll spend 15-20 euros easily per person. Apple cider is more common than beer. Luomo means organic. Pretty much every one speaks English, so you'll have no trouble communicating if you don't speak Finnish. In the summer there are tiny wild strawberries that taste like candy growing in the countryside. I could go on and on... But that should cover the basics.

When I get back home, and have a real keyboard (using slide mode on a tablet here...) I'll start posting some recipes. But if you want a taste of a Finland summer, here's a suggested menu for you!

Boil a couple of pounds of baby potatoes in some water with a few generous pinches of sea salt. Drain. Serve while still hot, with fresh butter, dill, black pepper and sea salt. Allow your guests to dress their own! If you can get some fresh chanterelle mushrooms, simply saute them in butter with a pinch of salt. Serve this with fresh peas still in the pod, hot toasted rye bread, more butter, and bottles of cold hard apple cider. Enjoy a big salad with tender new lettuce and a squeeze of lemon juice. Dessert could be a bowl of ripe strawberries, fresh whipped cream, and some good dark chocolate. Simple, easy, elegant and YUM!

Until next time, hugs to you all.
Love, K

Monday, June 24, 2013

midsummer magic

Greetings from eastern Finland, where we have been blissfully spending the past few days experiencing what it is to be Finnish at its best: sweating in a traditional sauna, swimming in a pristine lake halfway over the Russian border, eating tender, new potatoes fresh from the earth and decadent black forest cake made with fresh cream and ruby red strawberries, drinking strong coffee and crisp apple cider, snuggling with sheep that are friendly as dogs, and most surprisingly, singing karaoke songs under a midnight sun. Not to mention, fabulous conversation, laughter, and lots of pesky mosquitoes. Yes... unfortunately every garden has at least one snake lurking in the leaves.

Suffice it to say, all the things our hostess had promised have been delivered in full. I met Hanna in Mumbai, where we developed a friendship over the months that has blossomed into this trip. We spent much of our time together there talking about Finland in the summertime while enjoying the perks of my posh condo in the communal steam room... that was used more by the two of us than all the Indian residents in the entire complex. Naturally, the dreamy steam reminded her of her homeland, especially the summers. Her stories of swimming, cider, sauna, and other peaceful, blissful activities transported me to a place very different than Mumbai. And here we are!

We arrived on midsummer eve, just in time for one of the biggest Finnish holiday weekends. Along with a group of friends and family, we drove out to the Finnish/Russian border to one of the 180,000(!) lakes in this lovely, underpopulated country, our rental car full of games, groceries, and good moods. It was a lovely weekend...
And we visited Hanna's parents, who live a life so photogenic and idyllic that I could barely believe my eyes. I just kept running around, photographing everything I saw, which made those sweet people laugh in puzzlement (although I imagine they know exactly how gorgeous their charmed life really is). Irma, Hanna's mother, had baked a stunning gluten free black forest cake, with layers of chocolate cake, fresh whipped cream, pears, meringue, and strawberries. She gave me the recipe... here's the link. She replaced the gluten flour with gf flour.
If you don't speak Finnish, you'll need to filter it through a translator ;-)

Next post: cycling the archipelago, squeaky cheese, and other northern delights...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

kale with roasted eggplant pepper sauce

I'm eating this energizing, yummy, easy lunch right now. It is out of this world!

If you have roasted eggplant laying around it takes no time. Here is the breakdown:
Chop up a bunch of sturdy kale and saute it in a little onion, garlic & oil until its how you like it.

In a food processor, blend 1/2 roasted eggplant (skin & all), 1/2 red bell pepper, 1 tablespoon goat cheese, and 1/2 tomato, along with salt, cayenne pepper, a dash of basalmic vinegar & a dash of olive oil. And 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast. Taste, adjust seasonings.

Blend till creamy and then spoon over the Kale. Mix it up and eat. Yum!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

avocado-grapefruit smoothie

This is surprisingly good! And there are only four ingredients.

The creamy, fatty consistency of the avocado cuts through the grapefruit. Basically a deconstruction of the classic avocado, grapefruit, and greens salad, I was sure that it would be delicious before I even made it. And it was. I've made this twice in two days, with slight changes and I think the second incarnation is an improvement on the first. Yesterday, I used romaine lettuce and a riper banana. And one more grapefruit. Be sure you use ruby red grapefruit that is sweet as well as sour. The banana helps too, although the bigger, riper banana was too overpowering yesterday, and the bitterness of the romaine shone through too much. I like the spinach for its ability to cream up and its neutral flavor in a green smoothie.

I hope you enjoy this one. Here is how I made it:

Juice 3 ruby red grapefruit in a citrus juicer. Toss it into a blender with one perfect avocado, one small banana, and about 4 cups of spinach (or, romaine or chard). Blend until smooth.

Take my word for it, this is totally yum. And it will keep you energized and full for hours!

In other news, I have a few things to report. Firstly, we will be visiting Finland and Scotland this summer and I am hoping to be able to discover new veggie voyager delights in both countries. This will be my first "first world" (other than Turkey) vacation in many years. It will probably break our bank, but I am really looking forward to it in a major way. We will be hanging out in saunas by the lake, eating squeaky cheese and drinking cider, riding our folding bikes through the country and cities, attending an Indian/Scottish wedding, and enjoying nights that only have 1/2 hour of darkness in midsummer. I will be reporting on our goings on during our much anticipated vacation abroad.

Meet Hanna, our friend in Finland (shown here with me in Mumbai) that we'll be visiting...

Secondly, I have been suffering ongoing skin issues for quite some time. Think: acne & wrinkles on the same 36 year old face. I finally broke down and had a naturopath take my blood for an IgG food allergy test. The results: I have reactions to wheat (gluten), sesame, and peanuts. Also milder reactions to cashews, and blackberries. And although I didn't show any reaction to soy, I am still convinced that I am highly reactive to the stuff. Has anyone out there had experience with this type of test? I can't afford to continue going to the doctor, so I am self prescribing a gluten, peanut and sesame free diet to see if my spotted face clears up. It sucks to be my age and still dealing with this shit. There, I said it. That said, my gluten fest (which has been fun, for the past year or so) is coming to a close. I still might have to eat bread on vacation...I'm not one to say no to vegetarian food offerings around the world, but will be looking for awesome alternatives and reporting back to you right here on the veggie voyager.

Hugs and love, Kirstin

Thursday, December 6, 2012

poha deluxe

Hi are you? 

Me, I'm great. Have been forgoing the joy of blogging about food and am starting to realize the error in my ways. I eat amazing vegetarian food every single day here in India. One of my 'justifications' is that millions of others do too, and there are about a bajillion Indian vegetarian food blogs out there to satiate the masses. But this is mine, and if for no other reason, I realize that a personal record of my eatings and cookings is in order if for none other than myself.

And you, my dear reader.

What have I been doing with my days? I am here working on a large scale student/community driven mosaic mural at an international school in Northern Mumbai. I spend most of my time (well, I did, but now we are almost finished!) at the school working on the project. Visit my art blog (link is in the side bar) for lots of details and pics. Here is a pic of the almost complete piece:

The rest of my time is spent with friends, new and old. Cooking, eating & drinking. Shopping. Exploring. Visiting nature spots around the city and enjoying the sounds of silence. Which is the best antidote to a city like Mumbai, I have to say.

who's that creepy lurker?

I have bought a couple of cookbooks, and I go to peoples houses and help cook food. I take pictures and jot down recipes. I basically do everything a good food blogger is supposed to do except for the most important thing: blog. So there is a backlog of posts for me to catch up on. But then I think...there are a million recipes for this already on the web so why bother? And then I remember that no two things are the same. And that if I post something I just might turn one or two people onto something awesome that they otherwise might not ever learn.

Enough of my self-justifying rambling. Enter poha. This is another Indian convenience food, normally enjoyed for breakfast. Mumbaikers eat this all the time. For all you cats outside of India, you'll have to take a trip to an Indian market and buy poha, which is precooked, flattened and dry rice. It is a flaky cereal that can easily be reconstituted with a sprinkling of water. It is then seasoned and lightly cooked with a few simple ingredients to create this delicious and quick meal.

left: dry poha.                                                               right: puffed moist poha.

While you are at the Indian market, go ahead and pick up a couple of other awesome staples. For poha you want curry leaves, mustard seed, turmeric, cumin seeds, mustard oil, coconut oil, and green chillis.
And while you are there, just because they are delicious (but not necessary for this recipe) grab some jaggery, black salt, papad, dosa batter, and a block of paneer.

I have been experimenting with all sorts of different oils here, and have landed on a hands-down favorite. I love to cook in a blend of coconut oil and mustard oil. The coconut oil has a lovely flavor, very high smoking point and smooth finish. Mustard oil lends a sharp bite and color to the mix. The combination of these two oils, especially when tempered with mustard and cumin seeds results in a frothy, rich and downright yummy base in which to cook your food. It is ambrosia. 

best flavors in the kitchen: onion, garlic, ginger and hot peppers

Back to poha. I have eaten it multiple times here. Then, I asked people how they made it. Finally, I looked at some recipes on the web. Then I went ahead with my own version. This is what I am offering you now. I call it poha deluxe because I, in true veggie voyager style, always add lots of extra veggies to my recipes. Enjoy!

  • 2 cups thick (not thin) poha, dry
  • water
  • 1 TBS mustard oil
  • 1 TBS coconut oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 cardamom pod, crushed and skin removed
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 6 or so curry leaves (if you can't find these, no big deal)
  • 1 tsp red kashmiri chili powder
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 thumb fresh ginger, peeled and chopped or grated
  • chopped hot green chillis to taste
  • salt to taste (I like black salt these days)
  • Chopped veggies of your choice. I used 1 large carrot, 1 small sweet potato, 1 tomato, and some small green vegetables whose name evades me. You can use anything you like: zucchini, cauliflower, potato, mushroom, bell peppers, etc.
  • chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
  • dahi (plain yogurt)

Place the poha in a strainer. Pour distilled water over it to wash and moisten it. Allow to sit for 5 minutes until it is puffy. Sprinkle more water on if necessary. Do not overstir or overmoisten, as you want to keep the shape of the poha. Set aside.

In a skillet over medium-high, heat the mustard and coconut oil. When hot, add the mustard seeds and allow to crackle for a few seconds. Add the cumin seed and sputter for a few more seconds. When the ambrosia smell comes up, add the curry leaves, onion and then the garlic, and ginger. When this is translucent and golden, add the rest of the spices and the chopped veggies. Reduce heat and sauté until the veggies are tender. I like to add the tomatoes in last to retain their fresh, juicy nature.

Now add the moistened, puffed up poha. cook a couple minutes longer, gently stirring to mix while not destroying the poha. If it is too dry seeming, sprinkle a SMALL amount of water and gently mix. Salt to taste. The poha should be golden yellow, speckled with mustard seed and vegetables.

To serve: garnish with a small handful of chopped cilantro and a dollop of fresh yogurt.