March thru Europe- first stops!

I’m so excited about this month’s theme. My goal is to make a meal from at least 8 countries (but I know there’s one country I’ll have to repeat). What I make might not be made the most authentic way, or with the most authentic ingredients, but will capture the idea of some classic food from Europe. There happens to be quite a few options from Half Baked Harvest that fulfill my theme this month. I’ve noticed these recipes try to keep the authentic seasonings or flavors you’d expect, but then with a familiar twist. To me, that’s the best part about creating food in your home. You can be inspired by regional cuisines and fresh ingredients, and then apply your own tastes to make a fabulous meal. Perhaps even a way to make “new” or “different” food more approachable, with elements of familiarity.

FIRST STOP – GREECE

Chicken gyro with feta fries

I chose Greece first, because it’s #1 on my travel bucket list. Last year, I did an entire Mediterranean themed month, so one day this month is hardly sufficient. When I think of Greece, I think of beaches, gyros, and feta. I replaced my dream of beaches with fries for this Greek feast.

Traditional gyro is meat made on a vertical skewer, served with pita, tomato, onion, and tzatziki. I don’t have a vertical skewer, but I did have chicken, paprika, garlic, lemon, and Greek yogurt for marinating. I baked the chicken in it’s marinade, shredded it, and served it wrapped in homemade pita bread. I used a recipe from Half Baked Harvest, which included oven baked fries with seasonings and crumbled feta. For the gyro, I made tzatziki, a yogurt and cucumber sauce I actually make often. HBH’s twist was roasted garlic, to add flavor complexity to the sauce. The resulting dinner was a little more Americanized than I imagine I’d get on the streets of Greece; the flavors were phenomenal, using ingredients I already use regularly.

Also side note, there was a Greek restaurant I used to go to in California that had the most amazing feta fries ever. I don’t remember the name of the place but I still dream of those fries.

STOP #2: SPAIN

My next stop was Spain! Spain is where I learned to like calamari! I’m not the biggest seafood fan, but turns out if you deep fry it, I’ll eat it. I also quite enjoyed the sangria in Spain. But what didn’t excite me was paella. I wanted to like it, because it’s Spain’s THING. Maybe I only tried seafood paella, but I just didn’t get excited. Recently though, I tried a bite of paella with chicken, and I was blown away. So now I have the paella pan and the paella rice and it sounds like we’ll be having paella regularly now. While my source recipe can’t be shared, I’ll do some tweaks to share eventually. I learned 2 new terms while making paella:

  1. Soffrito: made of peppers, tomatoes, onion, and aromatics cooked in olive oil. This becomes the “base”. The sauce is built first, before adding protein and rice. I chose to make mine a day in advance.
  2. My next step was to cook my protein- I used chicken and andouille sausage. I wanted Spanish chorizo but couldn’t find it and didn’t feel like looking at another store. Then I added the rice and broth and had to be patient to let the magic happen. The magic is called socarrat. This is the word for the caramelization of the rice toasted on the bottom pan. It’s also what forces you to soak and scrub you pan. But without the socarrat, the flavor is missing depth, and the dish is missing texture.

After letting the paella sit UNDISTURBED, the result is an incredible depth of flavor. I topped mine with peas (otherwise known as circle peas), let it sit 10 minutes, and then squeezed lemon on top. I was able to achieve a decent caramelization in my dish, creating little crusty bits of flavor crunch.

STOP #3: GERMANY

While I’ve never been to Germany, I grew up with heavy German influence. This influence pretty much translated into bratwurst and sauerkraut and occasionally hearing my grandparents mutter German words under their breaths. Anyway, I LOVE sauerkraut. My dad still makes his own and I try to hoard as many jars as possible. I decided to save my kraut for another upcoming meal and try something different. This recipe came from my Half Baked Harvest cookbook.

Schnitzel is a thin piece of breaded meat that has been fried. Pork is traditional for German schnitzel. Overall? Pretty simple. I coated pork chops in panko bread crumbs, paprika, garlic, and salt & pepper. The chops were fried in olive oil to make for a crunchy exterior and tender pork. In the same skillet, I added butter, lemon slices, and broccoli and charred the broccoli. Usually I steam or roast my broccoli; this different cooking method was a winner!

With my schnitzel it would have been wrong not to include at least one other German classic – pretzels. I made this call right before dinner so I went to a tried & true recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, because I knew it could be pulled off quickly. Usually I make pretzel bites and serve them with beer cheese or spicy cheese. This time, I wanted to test my new bread lame and make pretzel sticks with the distinguishable white slashes peaking through the thicker exterior of the pretzel. I found German mustard in the fridge, so naturally I used that with my pretzels!

Three countries visited in the kitchen, and two of those recipes from Half Baked Harvest. It’s been a busy week. Where are we traveling to next?

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