Cheesecake from Alsace

Last weekend I visited a picturesque, well preserved medieval town in Alsace called Colmar. I think it is one of the most beautiful towns in Europe. It is located in the northern part of France, close to Swiss border.

Colmar and its surrounding villages are famous for the Christmas markets but in the summer they also have a different type of charm. The Alsace region is not only famous for its sweet white wine Gewürztraminer, but is also well known for its food.

During my visit I tried many regional specialties, and one of my favorites was a cheesecake, that is made of fromage blanc. This smooth, creamy cheese makes this cake much lighter than other types I have tasted before.

In Switzerland and Germany instead of using fromage blanc, cake is made with cheese called Quark, which has a similar consistency.

Base for this cake is made of pate sable, the French sweet and crisp pastry. If you have never made pate sable before it is a good idea to try it because the taste is amazing.

Pate sable

  • 250 g flour (sifted)
  • 150 g butter (room temperature, cut into squares)
  • 90 g icing sugar (sifted)
  • 3-4 drops of vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, beaten

Before making your dough make sure that all ingredients are at room temperature. Dough has a high amount of butter and melts easily so you have to work quickly in a warm kitchen. When you feel that the pastry is getting soft and difficult to handle put it into the refrigerator. A cool working environment is important for this type of pastry. Handle the pastry lightly and as little as possible, otherwise overworked dough will have a tough, not a crisp texture. By using a food processor you have the risk of overworking the pastry, it is better to do it by hand.

  1. Lightly oil 20 cm (8-in) round, and 4-6 cm (1.5-2.5 -in) high cake tin.
  2. Separately sift the flour and icing sugar.
  3. In a food processor with a paddle attachment mix the butter,  vanilla extract and icing sugar.
  4. Add the beaten egg and mix until incorporated.
  5. Add the sifted flour in stages and soon as dough detaches from the bowl (it will make clumps) stop.
  6. Press clumps together and form the ball. Split the pastry into two portions, one for the base of the cheesecake and other for the cookies.
  7. Put each portion in-between two sheets of clingfilm or parchment paper and roll in one direction until 4 mm thick ( if pastry is too soft first make a disk and chill, then roll). Put into the refrigerator for one hour, or in the freezer for 30 min.
  8. For me the method of inserting a pastry into the bottom of a deep tin works best: take the pastry out of the refrigerator and put it on the work surface. After removing cling film press the cake ring on top of the pastry. Cut along the edge of the ring and remove the excess. If the pastry feels too hard after you take it out of the refrigerator, leave it at room temperature for about five minutes.
  9. With a rolling pin transfer the pastry to the bottom of the tin. With a finger press the dough to evenly line the bottom.
  10. Prick dough with a fork and put in refrigerator for another  30 minutes to harden.
  11. After chilling, bake blind; which means baking without the filling. Cut out the circle of baking parchment, then crumple it and line the base and sides of the pastry. Fill it with ceramic baking beans, uncooked rice, or dry beans. This pastry is delicate so don’t put too much weight.
  12. Bake at 200C for 15-20 min. Take the beans out carefully with a big spoon, lift the paper and return to oven for another 5 minutes until pale golden. This pastry has the tendency to burn quickly.
  13. Cool slightly and transfer to a wire rack, until you are amaking the filling.

If using full quantity of dough to make only cookies you can exchange 40g of flour for 40g of ground almonds and you will get almond pastry calles pate frollee. Delicious.

Filling

  • 400 g quark
  • 90 g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 25 g/ 3T cornstarch ( cornflower)
  • 2 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Lower temperature to 150 C.
  2. Beat egg yolks into quark.
  3. Mix 2 tablespoon milk with cornstarch then add it to the quark mixture. Add few drops off vanilla extract.
  4. Beat egg whites until soft peak, and then start adding sugar in a couple of stages. Beat until egg whites are glossy and stiff.
  5. Gently fold egg whites into quark mixture. Spoon the feeling into the cake tin over the cooled pastry.
  6. Put the cake tin in the oven on the lowest shelf and bake for approximately 1 hour. and 10 minutes, or until only the center of the cake has slight wobble. Turn the oven off and leave the pastry inside to cool. Ajar the oven door with a wooden spoon.
  7. When cooled, put into refrigerator, but don’t take out of the tin. Leave in refrigerator overnight.
  8. Cover with sieved icing sugar. You can keep for up to three days in the refrigerator.

Cookies

  • Pate sable dough
  •  2 tablespoons fresh rasberries puree
  • 1 tablespoon dry rasberries, crushed (for  decoration)
  • 250 ml double cream/1 cup
  • 1 tablespoon icing sugar
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C
  • Take dough out the refrigerator.
  • Line the baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment.
  • Remove the top piece of clingfilm. Use the cutter, and cut the dough into rounds
  • Bake for 12 minutes or until pale golden.
  • Cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • Put dry raspberries between sheets of cling film and crush them.

  • In a bowl whip the cream and icing sugar.
  • Fold in a tablespoon or two of  fresh raspberries puree.
  • Serve cookies sprinkled with dry raspberries and cream.
  • Store extra cookies for up to two days in an airtight container.

Note: You can buy dry raspberries in health food stores.

Miniature ricotta cakes with bluberries’ compote

I always keep a box of fresh ricotta in my fridge. It is a very versatile ingredient used in both sweet and savory dishes.

This spring I made ricotta blueberries’ cake, which can be great for brunch, or as an afternoon bite, or as a light dessert. I like to serve it with blueberries’ compote. It is a light dish and it is easy to prepare.For the afternoon snack option I use a small cutter to make little portions. It makes this cake  even more appealing by presenting it in a creative way.

Ricotta cake

  • 190 g ricotta cheese |1/2 cup
  • 110 g low-fat yogurt |1/2 cup
  • 20 g caster sugar |1-1/2 tablespoon
  • 20 g sifted flour |2 tablespoon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 135 g blueberries
  1. Preheat oven to 180 C|350 F
  2. Lightly oil and line a base of a cake tin (preferably with a loose bottom) with a baking parchment. I used cake tin 20cm/8 inch and about 4cm|1-1/2 inch deep.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat ricotta cheese until smooth. Add yogurt, egg yolk, vanilla and sugar. Mix well.
  4. Carefully stir in sifted flour.
  5. In other bowl beat egg white until soft peek, and carefully fold into ricotta mixture. Add blueberries and put the mixture into cake tin.
  6. Put cake tin in lower third of the oven. Bake until set, approximately 35 min. Turn off the oven and leave the cake to cool inside. If you don’t have a loose bottom tin, place a serving platter on top of the tin and invert both platter and tin simultaneously.
  7. Peel off baking parchment. Use a pastry cutter to cut cake of the size you require. Decorate with blueberries compote.

Blueberry compote

  • 250 g blueberries
  • 60 g granulated sugar|1/4 cup
  •  50 ml water|1/4 cup
  1. Put the blueberries and the rest of the ingredients in a pan. Cook on a low heat, until the sugar dissolved.
  2. Bring to boil, than reduce the heat and continue to simmer until the fruit is tender, about  10 min.
  3. Leave the sauce to cool about  10 min. Serve hot or cold.

Globe artichokes and crusted pork chops

Pork is delicious and versatile type of meat. Contrary to many people’s beliefs certain parts of pork can be very low in fat.  This recipe is easy to prepare, and it is a healthy and safe way to eat pork. These thin-sliced chops come from loin and are very lean. They are about 1cm thick and boneless with barely any fat.

The chops are grilled or seared for a short time to retain their moisture. If you are using thicker cutlets you can always flatten them to an even thinness by placing them in-between 2 pieces of cling film and pounding them with a meat-pounder or a rolling pin.

When buying pork chops they should have a rosily white color and the fat should be very white. The meat should be firm and look dry.

In this recipe I have paired the pork chops with cooked new potatoes and fried sage. I used fresh breadcrumbs mixed with ground coriander, but you can substitute it for ground fennel or ground cumin seeds. For the starter I prepared globe artichokes with light vinaigrette. You can also use other types of dips such as: mayonnaise , melted butter or aioli, but those options will also add more calories to the meal.

 

 

Boiled new potatoes

  • 400 g new (young) potatoes
  • butter
  • salt
  1. Wash and scrub potatoes. Cut them into halves.
  2. You don’t need to peel delicate skin of these potatoes. Fill the pot with cold water and put the potatoes in.
  3. Bring to boil, then lower the heat to medium low and simmer until they are tender when pierced with a knife.
  4. Drain the potatoes.
  5. Put the knob of butter over the potatoes; cover until you fry the cutlets.

 

 

Crusted pork chops

  • 4 thin pork chops, lean and boneless
  •  130 g fresh breadcrumbs (white or whole wheat loaf), about 2 cups
  • 2 teaspoon ground coriander (or ground fennel , or ground cumin seeds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 pinch of ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoon flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoon of sunflower oil
  1.  Remove the crust, put the bread into a food processor, wiz until you form breadcrumbs. spread the breadcrumbs on a baking tray or baking paper and dry for two hours.
  2. In a bowl mix together breadcrumbs, ground coriander and salt.
  3. Pat dry pork chops with paper towels.
  4. Whisk the egg in a hollow dish and put half of the flour and breadcrumb mixture on two different shallow plates.
  5. Put half of the oil in a large skillet and heat it on medium-high.
  6. Dip one of the cutlets into the flour first, shake-off the excess.
  7. Coat in egg then breadcrumbs.
  8. Put them into the skillet. Lower the heat and cook two minutes per side, or until golden brown. Don’t overcook or they will be dry.
  9. Carefully wipe the skillet and put the other half of oil. Repeat the process. Never cram the skillet, always cook in batches.
  10. Take cutlets out of the skillet and put them in a plate. Keep them worm by putting a plate in an oven on a very low temperature.

 

 

Fry sage leafs

  • bunch of fresh sage leafs
  • sunflower oil or olive oil for frying (not extra virgin)
  • salt
  1. Put the sunflower oil into small pot to dept of 3cm, about 1 inch. Heat the oil on medium high until registers  180 C/ 350 F or  test the temperature by putting small piece of bread. Bred should bubble all over. Dry sage leafs well before adding to hot oil. Put no more than four sage leaves at a time for about four seconds. Don’t take to long or they will turn brown. Regulate the heat to prevent the oil from overheating or smoking.
  2. Transfer with a fork or a slotted spoon.
  3. Dry them on kitchen paper. They will crisp as they cool.
  4. With a fork break the potatoes and put salt to taste. You can add a little more butter and reheat for a minute.

 

 

Globe artichokes

  • 4 globe artichokes
  • juice of one lemon
  1. Choose a big enough pot that can hold the artichokes. Fill it with water to about half and bring to boil.
  2. Prepare artichokes. First cut the stalks and make sure that the bottom is well-trimmed so it will sit flat.
  3. Cut off the top third of the artichoke.
  4. Trim the points of the outer leaves with scissors. To prevent discoloration put them in water with some lemon juice while you prepare the other artichokes.
  5. Place the artichokes in the boiling water, stem with the base down. Add some of lemon juice.
  6. Simmer for about  45 min, when testing the leaf will pull out easily. If they turn you can weight them down with a plate.
  7. Take them out of the water and drain in a colander, putting them upside down.
  8. Let them cool, then open the center of the artichoke and pull out all the pale leaves shaped like a cone.
  9. Now you will expose hairy choke (fibrose section) that you should scrape off with a spoon. Put the cone back on the artichoke.

Taking off fibrose part.

 

 

Vinaigrette

  • 4 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil
  • 1.5 tablespoon red vine vinegar
  • salt
  1. In a small bowl whisk oil and vinegar. Add salt to taste.
  2. Divide into four small cups for dipping.

Spring tea time

My first spring in Switzerland!

My street is surrounded by nature; each week brings new surprises in terms of plants and flowers, flowers that come in rainbow of colors.

When you live in a big city, as I used to do, spring’s arrival is much more subtle and less impactful than when you live so close to the countryside as I do now.

With the new season and its warmer temperatures entertaining is moving outside; dishes are lighter and more colorful. It is a great time to call friends to come over and try some new seasonal dishes.

I miss teatime in London, where I used to live, because it is a place where you can see all the creativity that goes into preparing a great variety of teatime “menus”, not only at high-end hotels, but also in smaller coffee shops.

The challenge is that some of these treats are quite sweet. If you are like me and can’t resist tasting everything that is on the plate in front of you, the calorie count can be overwhelming!

For the outdoor teatime menu, I am going to share with you, I made classic mini-egg sandwiches with dill, choux profiteroles filled with rose cream, and fruit skewers with lemon-grass syrup.

Because we are now coming to the time-of-year when fresh fruits are becoming more abundant, I am adding them to my menu to bring freshness and vibrant colors.

This treats are also appropriate for an Apero, a Swiss form of socializing that includes finger-food and a glass of drink.

Egg Sandwiches (around 12 petite sandwiches)

  • 8 slices of wheat bread
  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh dill
  • salt and pepper
  1. Put the eggs into a saucepan and cover with cold water.
  2. Bring to boil, then immediately lower the heat and simmer for 10 min. Never boil the eggs.
  3. Put cooked eggs into cold water to stop cooking process and peel.
  4. In a small bowl mesh them well with a fork.
  5. Add two tablespoons of mayonnaise and one teaspoon of chopped dill to the eggs. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
  6. Divide the filling on one side of bread slices, and then top with other slices.
  7. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge if not serving within one hour.
  8. When ready to assemble, cut of the crust with serrated knife and then cut the sandwiches into small squares.
  9. I like to use small square cutters.
  10. Just before serving dissolve butter in a small pot and add one teaspoon of dill.
  11. Lightly apply butter mixture on top of each sandwich using a small kitchen brush.
To add a little colour.
Fruit skewers
  • 1 ripe mango
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 watermelon
  • 1 honeydew melon
  •  lychees (10-12), peeled and pitted
  • fresh mint (optional)
  • 12 bamboo skewers
  1. You can first remove the skin with a serrated knife before cutting the mango or first cut mango into two halves and then remove the skin. If the mango is not  too soft  you can use a peeler.
  2. Slice the flash of mango by placing the knife slightly away from the center and cut downwards. Repeat on the other side.
  3. Cut the flesh lengthways into strips, then crossways into squares.
  4. Squeeze a little lime juice over the mango to prevent discoloring.
  5. Peel and take the pits out of the lychee. If fresh lychee are not available use caned ones in syrup.
  6. Cut the cantaloupe and the watermelon. Remove the seeds and scoop-out the flash with a melon baller.
  7. Thread the pieces of fruit on the skewers; in between pieces of fruit you can decorate with fresh mint.
  8. Arrange them in small transparent glasses.
  9. Put little bit of lemon grass syrup over.

Lemon grass syrup

  • 1 lemon grass stem, bruised
  •  80 gr granular sugar
  • 135 g water
  • juice of one lime
  1. Place sugar, lime juice and water in a saucepan on low heat until sugar dissolves.
  2. Bring to boil, add  lemon grass stem and cook for three minutes or little longer if you want thicker syrup.
  3. Cool. Put into refrigerator overnight.

Choux profiteroles with a rose cream

 

  •  55 g  butter
  • 170 ml water
  • 55 g plain flour
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • a pinch of salt
  • 200 ml double cream
  • 2 teaspoon rose-water
  • 1 tablespoon icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dry rose petals
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C.
  2. Sift the flour with a pinch of salt.
  3. Put butter and water in a saucepan and melt the butter over medium heat.
  4. Increase the heat and bring it to boil.
  5. As soon as the liquid boils add the sifted flour in one go. Remove from the heat and with a wooden spoon mix quickly until mixture is smooth and leaves the sides of the pan. Don’t  overbeat.
  6. Spread the mixture on the plate, until it cools slightly, about 10-15min.
  7. When cooled put the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer.
  8. Incorporate eggs a little bit at-a- time so that each addition is well incorporated. In the beginning mixture may look like it is splitting. Continue mixing until smooth and glossy.
  9. Put the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a  nozzle ( I used 8mm ) and pipe small chouxs buns 3-4 cm size on a nonstick baking paper. I like a thin silicone sheet that you can reuse and is easily available.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the choux buns are golden and firm.
  11. Place them on a wire rack to cool.
  12. Whisk double cream with rose water and icing sugar.
  13. Cut the tops of the pastry cases.
  14. Put the cream into a piping bag with a small nozzle and pipe into the pastry cases.
  15. Ground some of the rose leafs using paste and mortar.
  16. Dust choux  profiterloes with icing sugar and sprinkle with ground rose leafs.

Middle Eastern lunch

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In Switzerland, were I live, fresh humus or pita bread are not easy to find. Commercially made pita bread usually comes in plastic bags and probably contains a good amount of preservatives and additives, but most of all, it will never beat the great aroma and warmth of the bread you can bake at home in your own oven.

Pita bread may seem challenging to make, but after making it couple of times and after following some simple rules for bread making it is pretty easy. Bake your own bread and you will get of “points” from family and friends for being a great cook.

After visiting Jelmoli, a gourmet store in Zurich and spotting tahini I decided to make my own little Middle Eastern feast.

My menu consisted of homemade humus, pita bread, kaftas, cucumber soup and simple tomato salad. This refreshing cucumber soup goes great with grilled meat as well as tomatoes and adds more colour to the prevailing earthy tones of the other dishes.

Kafta

  • 500g minced lamb / 1.1lb
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1 egg
  1. Soak the wooden skewers for one hour.
  2. Mix meat, onion, herbs and seasoning. Don’t add all the onion if you think it is too much.
  3. Add little bit of egg. This will help binding as well as make shaping easier.
  4. Incorporate well by hand. Put for some time, around 30 min in the refrigerator to improve the taste  and make shaping easier.
  5. Preheat a griddle pan and lightly oil it. Take a piece of prepared meat and fry. Cool it and taste to see is your seasoning correct.
  6. Form small sausage shapes and tread onto skewers.
  7. Cook, turn until brown, but still slightly pink inside. Cook in batches. Serve warm.
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Humus

150g dried chick peas (garbanzos)

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

1/2 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

80ml tahini

juice of one lemon

olive oil

ground paprika (optional)

  1. Soak dried chick peas in water overnight with baking soda.
  2. Rinse well.
  3. Put chick peas in a saucepan and cover with double the volume of water.
  4. Bring to boil, then simmer gently for an hour, or until they are very soft.
  5. Drain the chick peas, but retain the cooking liquid.
  6. Put the beans in food processor and add the reserved liquid, tahini, garlic, some lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Process.
  7. You have to keep tasting it and adjusting lemon juice, reserved liquid and salt to taste. You should have soft pure.
  8. Spread over a platter. Pour some olive oil and sprinkle with paprika.
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Cucumber soup

  • 1 cucumber
  • 350g / 1 1/2cup plain yogurt
  • 100ml /1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • 1/2 minced garlic
  • pinch of ground cumin (optional)
  1. Wash the cucumber, peel and half lengthwise.
  2. Scoop out and discard seeds.
  3. Grate the cucumber, transfer into a bow, add yogurt, garlic and mint.
  4. Add cold water, but make sure soup is not too thin.
  5. Add pinch of salt, pinch of white pepper and pinch of cumin.
  6. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning.
  7. Refrigerate. Serve cold garnished with mint leaves.
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Tomato salad
  • 4 medium sized tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • salt, pepper
  1. Mix olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper.
  2. Slice tomatoes and arrange on a plate.
  3. Pour dressing over tomatoes.

Pita bread

  • 500g white flour / 3.5 cups
  • 5g dry instant yeast / 1teaspoon
  • lukewarm water 350ml / 1cup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt.
  1. Sift flour and salt into a bowl.
  2. In a cup put the yeast and 100 ml lukewarm water and leave for 10-15min.
  3. Make a well in a flour, pour the yeast mixture and the rest of water. Pour everything at once and mix until you have formed soft dough. Add one tablespoon of oil.
  4. If your dough is too dry add a little bit more water.
  5. Put little bit of flour on a table and kneed for about 10min. At first dough will stick. With time will become less sticky. Kneed until elastic.
  6. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with a lightly oiled cling film.
  7. Leave dough to rice in a worm place until double in size, around one hour. It is important to mention that too high temperature is not good for rise.
  8. Transfer it out on lightly floured surface.
  9. Press the dough with your fingers, term used for it is”knock it back”.
  10. Turn your oven to 220C.
  11. Divide your dough as even as you can. Use a scale for it.
  12. Shape into balls and let them rest, covered with cling film for 10 min.
  13. With a rolling pin make a little disk about 10cm / 4 in. Keep the rest covered with a dishtowel, don’t let them dry.
  14. Let dough rest again for about 30min covered with lightly oiled cling film. This stage is called”proving”.
  15. Put two disks on a baking sheet and place them on the low shelf in the oven.
  16. Bake for 5-6 min. They will puff and form little pockets.

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Chicken baked in a clay pot with Kohlrabi salad

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A couple of weeks after moving to Switzerland my attention was drawn to a beautiful, rustic looking , Romertopf clay pot.

Cooking in clay is one of the oldest methods of preparing food and I am a big fan of slow cooking, so i decided to buy it and try-it-out, because it wasn’t that expensive.

The one I bought is partially glazed. It is recommended to soak the pot in water 10 -15 min before each use.

My first experiment was with chicken, later I will try with other meals. I like it served with a crunchy kohlrabi salad.

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I tried a lot of different temperature variations and I achieved the best results with following recipe:

 

 

Chicken 

  • 1×1.35kg / 3lb
  • 12 baby carrots
  • 12 baby potatoes
  • 2 springs of fresh thyme
  • batter softende
  • salt and pepper
  • vegetable oil
  1. Soak the clay pot in water for 10-15min.
  2. Season inside of the chicken with salt and pepper and put two springs of thyme.
  3. Smear a little butter all over the chicken and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Put the potatoes and the carrots in a bowl and cover lightly with oil and season.
  5. Place chicken in the clay pot and surround with the carrots and potatoes. You don’t need to add any liquid.
  6. Close the lid and put in a cold oven.
  7. Turn the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Cook for one hour and fifty minutes.
  8. Check is it done by making a small cut to see if the juices run clear. If not cook for an additional couple minutes.

Do not place the hot clay pot on a cold surface, I place it on a wooden board. Don’t tie the legs, the chicken will cook more evenly, you can tie them later for presentation.

You can cook the baby carrots separately. It will add better color to the dish.

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Baby carrots

  1. Trim the ends.
  2. Put the carrots into cold water and cover. Slowly bring to boil and reduce to simmer.
  3. Cook until tender 7-8 min and pierce with a knife to check if ready.
  4. Drain and serve with chicken and potatoes.

 

 

Kohlrabi salad

  • 2 kohlrabi
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • ground pepper
  1. Make the dressing. Whisk olive oil with little bit of salt and pepper.
  2. Peel the kohlrabi. Use a mandolin to get thin slices, and then cut them into matchsticks.
  3. Lightly spoon dressing over kohlrabi, and toss to coat well.

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