Ramson, Wild Garlic, Daslook, Bear Leek, Ail des Ours, Bärlauch
So many names for this great plant: Allium ursinum is one of the highlights of spring. Powerful, pure and tasty. Some say you should only eat the leaves before the plant starts to bloom. But then you can’t combine the leaves and the tasty white flowers in your dish, so we suggest ignoring that idea. The flowers are (if you’re lucky) just a touch sweet because of the nectar. It can be harvested from the wild, but some garden centers also sell ramson. The taste is a combination of onion and garlic, but much greener, longer lasting and with a touch of bitterness at the end. You can turn the leaves into a strong pesto, but better use it as herb with for instance potatoes or gnocchi. See our recipe for Farfalle with Ramson (or Wild Garlic) and Parmesan Cheese.
Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler included two recipes in their classic book Mushrooms (published by Kyle Books and still available via for instance Amazon and other channels). One is a combination of Cod, Trompette des Morts (Black Trumpet) and Ramson. The other one is an intriguing combination of white Asparagus, Morels and Ramson.
We suggest a full-bodied white wine with a fine acidity. For instance Herdade São Miguel, Colheita Seleccionada. The wine comes with distinctive minerals, along with excellent harmony and a long and well-balanced finish. It works well with the slight bitterness and sweetness of the asparagus; the gently onion and garlic taste of the ramson and the pancake-like taste of the morels.
If we say ‘Japanese food’, you will probably think ‘sushi’, ‘sashimi’, ‘yakitori’, perhaps ‘udon’. But Oden? Probably not. Such a shame because Oden is a really wonderful dish. Oden for lunch or as a course in a typical Japanese menu: tasty, light and full of surprises. Oden is a stew that requires a bit more work than you would expect and of course time. It also requires some shopping, given some of the ingredients are not easy to find. We are not from Japan so we humbly present our version of this (wintery) classic. We hope it inspires you to cook Oden and enjoy it as much as we did.
Wine and Sake pairing
We preferred a glass of Chardonnay with the Oden during our dinner; others preferred a glass of cold sake. The stew is rich in flavours, umami of course, but not spicy, so we would not suggest a Gewurztraminer of a Sauvignon Blanc. A Chardonnay (with a touch of oak perhaps) will be a good choice.
What You Need
For the Dashi
20 grams of Dashi Kombu (Rishiri Kombu)
25 grams of Katsuobushi (Bonito Flakes)
For the Stew
Chikuwa Fish Cakes
One Pack Konnyaku
One Pack of Gobo Maki Burdockroot Fish Cakes
1 sheet of Hayani Kombu
2 boiled eggs
Abura Age Fried Tofu
Mochi (Sticky Rice Cake)
Soy Sauce (preferably one with less salt)
What You Do
Start by making one litre of dashi. This seems simple but requires precision. Clean the kombu with a wet cloth and put into one litre of cold water. Gently raise the temperature to 80° Celsius or 176° Fahrenheit. Remove and discard the kombu. Bring the liquid to a boil, add the katsuobushi, bring to a boil and immediately set heat to zero. Wait 5 minutes or so. The katsuobushi will sink to the bottom of the pan. Now very gently pass the liquid through a wet towel. Do not squeeze, just give it time. The result will be a great, clean dashi. Cool and set aside. Next step is to peel the daikon and slice it (2 centimeters is best). Now use a sharp knife to plane of the edge of the daikon. This improves the presentation and it is supposed to stop the daikon from falling apart. Cook the daikon for one hour in water. Drain and set aside. Step three is to cut the konnyaku in triangles and cook these in water for 15 minutes. Konnyaku is made from the konjac plant and is specific for the Japanese cuisine. Step four is to cook the sheet of Hayani Kombu for 5 minutes. This is young kombu and edible, different for the one you used when preparing dashi. Let cool a bit, slice and knot ribbons. Not sure why, but is looks great when you serve it. Now it’s time to add the dashi to the pan (should be a clay pot, but we stick to our Le Creuset), add one tablespoon of mirin, one (or two, depending on your taste) of soy sauce, add the daikon, the konnyaku and the fish cakes. We served our oden as a course during dinner, so we limited the number of ingredients. If served for lunch add boiled eggs, fried tofu and mochi. The last two ingredients have to be combined by putting the mochi into the tofu. Allow to simmer for at least 2 hours. Best is, as always, to serve it the next day. Serve with some karashi (Japanese mustard, which is different from wasabi by the way).
A very special mushroom, to say the least. Well known throughout Japan, China and South Korea as a true delicacy. Matsu Take smells like a pine wood forest and its taste is intense, aromatic, lasting and unique. As if you could taste Autumn. It’s an expensive mushroom (around 125 euro per kilo) with very limited availability. But if you happen to find it, be sure to buy it. Between 75 and 100 grams is fine for two.
The Matsu Take makes this into an unforgettable dish. It will bring you back to earth in a split second. Smell it, taste it and feel how satisfying and relaxing it is.
Best served with a dry sake. We prefer Junmai Taru Sake as produced by Kiku-Masamune. This fine sake is matured in barrels made of the finest Yoshino cedar. The aroma has indeed clear hints of cedar. The sake will clear your palate and allow for a more intense taste of the Matsu Take.
What you need
75 – 100 gram of Matsu Take
Some Spinach (preferably what is called the ‘wild’ version, cleaned and without the stem)
Warm the chicken stock, add soy sauce, a touch of sesame oil and flavour with slices of ginger. Allow to stand on a low heat for 10 minutes. Taste and then remove the ginger. Clean the Matsu Take and cut in small dices. The size you would like to eat them (Matsu Take doesn’t shrink like many other mushrooms; it remains firm). Fry them gently in a skillet in some olive oil, no longer than 3 minutes, together with the thinly sliced white of the spring onion. Add the garlic. In parallel blanch the spinach in the liquid. Quickly drain the spinach and set aside. Reduce the liquid and taste. In parallel chop the spinach. Put spinach on a plate, sprinkle the Matsu Take over it and gently add some sauce.
This is a true classic, so many will claim to have the one and only original recipe. This dish is all about beef, onions and brown Belgian beer. Herbs like parsley and bay leaf, spices like nutmeg plus mustard and cider vinegar. Definitely not bacon, stock, prunes and garlic. Maybe some brown sugar if you prefer a sweet touch to the dish. Given it’s a true classic many traditional restaurants in Belgium (or better said Flanders) will have this on the menu. Try it with some bread and a glass of brown Beer, preferably draught. We serve the stew with two vegetables: celeriac and green beans. You could also go for mashed potatoes or fries, but balancing the rich stew with vegetables and bread is (we think) a much healthier idea. And typical for a good stew: make it a day in advance. Don’t worry if you made too much, the stew will keep for months in the freezer.
If you go for a glass of red wine, make sure it is full-bodied and rich, because the stew is really hearty. Bordeaux is a good choice. We drank a glass of Chateau Beaulieu, Cotes de Bourg, 2012. It is a wine with lots of dark fruit and a touch of oak. The wine is a blend of the traditional Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc plus 10% Malbec.
What You Need (for 4 persons)
1 kilo of excellent, fat, marbled Beef
4-6 large White Onions
1 tablespoon of all purpose Flour
2 bottles (33 cl) of Belgian Brown Beer (we prefer Westmalle)
Bouquet garni, consisting of Thyme, Bay Leaf and Parsley
Slice of Bread
What To Do
Start by slicing the meat. Don’t make the cubes too small; they will shrink during the cooking process. Heat butter and olive oil in a large pan and start frying the meat. You probably will have to do this in 2 or 3 batches. Make sure the meat is nicely colored. Add some more olive oil and caramelize the sliced onions. Again, not too thin, they should be visible in the stew. Now add the flour and coat the onions and the beef. Add nutmeg, the beer, the cider vinegar and the bouquet. Close the pan and keep on a low heat for 2 to 3 hours. Check the meat and add one slice of bread (not the crust). Add a nice spoon of French mustard. Leave to simmer for another hour. By now the bread will be dissolved. Stir and check the meat. If okay, then remove the meat from the pan and reduce the sauce. Discard the bouquet. Transfer the meat back into the pan, reheat, then cool and transfer to the refrigerator until the next day. Reheat slowly and serve with Celeriac and Beans.
PS How to Prepare Celeriac?
Good question! Clean the celeriac and cut in cubes. Transfer to a pan with some water and one or two generous slices of lemon. One or two you ask? Well, the answer depends on the size of your celeriac and the acidity of the lemon. If in doubt, then go for one slice. Cook the celeriac until nearly done. Remove the water and the lemon. Now add (single) cream to the pan. Keep on a low heat for 10 minutes. The celeriac will absorb some of the cream. Transfer the mixture to the blender and create a smooth puree. Serve with nutmeg.
PS How to Cook Green Beans?
Short is the only answer. Serve with excellent olive oil. Normally we would add some nutmeg, but given it’s already on the celeriac and in the stew you may want to skip it. Olive oil is essential to coat the beans and make them nuttier. Butter will also coat them, but it is much more mouth filming and the butter will not emphasize the nuttiness of the beans.
A few years ago when attending a business lunch in Paris (the things we have to endure in life…) we were overwhelmed by the menu. We quickly decided to go for Lamb and told the waiter in our very best French we would like to taste Souris d’Agneau au Vin Rouge et aux Herbes, although not exactly knowing what a Souris might be. So during that lunch we discovered the joys of Lamb Shank. Most recipes recommend preparing lamb shank in a hot oven (200 °C or so) but that’s actually not the best way to do it. Too hot, too fast, too dry.
Lamb shank has a generous amount of fat which makes it ideal for slow cooking. Our preferred option is to use a pressure cooker. Within 45 minutes the lamb shanks will be perfectly cooked, tender and moist.
We would suggest drinking a glass of Bordeaux with the lamb shank. The Bordeaux is in general a classic blend with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The wine should be well structured with lots of fruit. It should support the sweetness of the dish (carrots, lamb, leek). Soft tannins, a smooth texture and sufficient length. We very much enjoyed a glass of Chateau Beaulieu (2012) with our lamb. Remember to use the same wine for cooking the lamb!
What You Need
2 Lamb Shanks (with fat, please!)
2 Garlic Gloves
Bouquet Garni, for instance:
lots of Rosemary (and 2 extra sprigs)
Brussels Sprouts or Carrots
What You Do
Start by colouring the lamb shanks in olive oil. Transfer to a plate and then gently fry the shopped shallot, the leek, the carrot, the celeriac and the garlic. When ready add the red wine and some water, depending on your taste. Add the generous bouquet garni with extra rosemary and some cooked garlic. Transfer the lamb shanks back to the pan and close the pressure cooker. Cook for 30 – 45 minutes depending on the size of the shanks. Transfer the shanks to a warm plate, pass the cooking juice through a sieve (discarding the vegetables), check the sauce, reduce if necessary, and serve the shanks with a classic branch of rosemary, Brussels sprouts and some bread.
If you want to emphasize the natural sweetness of the dish, then serve with glazed carrots.
Such a simple, tasty, inexpensive and vegetarian soup! What more can you ask for? A bit of jus de truffe maybe? Make sure to buy organic pumpkins. This allows you to use the skin; so two benefits: there is no need to peel the pumpkin and the soup will be better tasting. Red lentils will become completely soft when cooked for 30 minutes; very different from green or black lentils. We add the lentils not only because of their taste, but also because they improve the texture of the soup. Give the soup a finishing touch by adding pumpkin seed oil, jus de truffe or truffle flavoured olive oil (for instance produced by Moulins de la Brague).
Pumpkin Seed Oil, Jus de Truffe or Truffle Flavoured Olive Oil
Chop de red onion in smaller but equal sized bits and put in a pan with olive oil. Put on moderate heat and give it some 5 to 10 minutes. Now add the chopped and seeded chilli pepper, the garlic and stir. Continue for 5 minutes on moderate heat. Add the chopped pumpkin and the lentils and stir for another 5 minutes. Peel the ginger, cut in cubes and put on a small wooden stick. This way you can easily remove the ginger later on. Now add boiling water and leave for 30 minutes to simmer or until the pumpkin is very, very soft. When done remove the ginger. Taste the ginger and decide how much ginger you want to add to the soup. We just love fresh ginger so we would add most of it. Blender the remainder into a smooth soup. You could pass it through a sieve to make sure it’s like a lovely velouté. Cool and transfer to the refrigerator for the next day. Warm the soup and add a splash of truffle flavoured olive oil or pumpkin seed oil and lots of cilantro before serving. You can also make a milder version by reducing the amount of chilli and ginger. Then add jus de truffe, a bit of olive oil and maybe some pepper before serving.
The Bay Bolete is a tasty, fairly common mushroom. Its cap is chestnut (bay) brown. They are easy to find under pines and other conifers in Europe and North America (but we’re not mushroom hunters) and unfortunately not so easy to find on the market. The main season for the Bay Bolete is late summer and autumn. Bay Boletes are rarely infested with maggots. They dry very well. When comparing the taste of Bay Boletes and Cepes we think that Cepes have a more powerful and complex taste whereas Bay Boletes are nuttier.
We remember Brussels sprouts from our youth: over- cooked, greyish, soggy and oh-that-smell (it’s sulphur actually)! Once in a blue moon we take a trip down memory lane and cook them this way, but we prefer a more modern approach, for instance steamed and served with a drizzle of olive oil. Nutmeg is a must by the way.
We very much enjoyed a glass of Portuguese Segredos de São Miguel, a full-bodied, warm red wine, made from grapes such as Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira. You will taste lots of fruit and a touch of toast. A juicy wine with nice acidity and smooth tannins. Fresh and vigorous finish.
You could also go for a Malbec. Taste wise the mushrooms and the sprouts are very powerful, so you’re looking for a wine that will clearly support the beef and will also combine with the nuttiness of the mushrooms and the touch of bitterness of the sprouts.
Here is what you need
150 grams of Bay Boletes
One glove of Fresh Garlic
200 grams of Brussels Sprouts
150 grams of excellent Beef (Tenderloin is best in this case)
Let’s Start Cooking
We begin with the Brussels sprouts: clean them (don’t cut in half as so many do nowadays) and cook or steam them until they are nearly okay. Set aside and let cool. Clean the mushrooms with a brush and/or kitchen paper. Slice (not too thin). Heat a skillet, add olive oil and butter. Add the sliced mushrooms and fry gently over medium heat. In parallel warm a pan with some butter and add the sprouts. The idea is to coat them with butter and warm them, giving them just the cuisson you prefer. Heat a second skillet with olive oil and butter, fry the beef and let rest for 5 minutes or so in aluminum foil. Season the sprouts with some nutmeg. Back to the mushrooms: add chopped garlic to the pan. Wait a few minutes and then add chopped parsley. You could make a jus in the skillet you used for the beef. Serve on a hot plate with extra nutmeg and black pepper.