You say “potato”

My recent burst of enthusiasm for salad has been continuing for the past few weeks and shows no sign of abating just yet.

As well as variations on the two salads I mentioned previously, I have been practising a bit of noodlesprucing on my basic potato salad, with very satisfactory results

Potato salad has long been one of my favourite salads; possibly this is at least partly because it never feels quite as worryingly healthy as many other kinds of salads but mostly I think it’s just because a well-made potato salad is a delight to the taste-buds (well, to mine, at any rate).

My basic potato salad recipe, which I’ve been making on and off for years, is essentially to boil up a handful of roughly diced potatoes (not too small chunks), drain them and let them  cool, then toss them in either salad cream or mayonnaise with a bit of seasoning, most often paprika (an idea I picked up at a party many years ago).  In the past, I think I’ve most often tended to use salad cream but this year I’ve worked exclusively with mayonnaise (shop-bought, although now I have a hand blender I might have another go at making some from scratch, if I can steel myself to the sheer amount of oil involved; last time I tried it I was using a hand whisk and it was very hard work, though produced quite tasty results) and have been enjoying that.

A week or two back, I prepared a potato salad in the usual way but also added a sprinkle of Vegeta (inspired no doubt by the Hungarian connotations of the paprika I was using) and a finely chopped spring onion or two. Aactually, as I recall, I used the white bits of two spring onions, saving the green bits to go in a green salad I was making at the same time.

That worked pretty well, so tonight when I was making up another potato salad I did the same thing (with one whole spring onion, finely chopped, this time) but also added a couple of fairly finely chopped radishes, as I happened to have a few to hand that needed eating.  The result was, I think, even better than before.

I’m not intending to prepare my potato salads like this every time from now on, but I’m hoping that having broken the mould  of my standard recipe I’ll be inspired to find different variations to keep things interesting.

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Rice is nice…

My latest experiment in noodlesprucing, a couple of days ago, resulted in a very tasty rice dish with a Hungarian twist.

I wanted to knock up a quick meal of rice and not have to worry about preparing external sauces or stuff like that, as I had limited time and several other things that needed to be done.  It occurred to me that, just as rice can be tweaked with the addition of a bit of turmeric (or saffron if your budget will stretch to it) – mostly for colour effect – other seasonings could probably be added at the start of cooking to infuse both colour and flavour.

Digging not too far into my spice collection I came across a packet of Vegeta that Eszter, my Hungarian former housemate, gave me when she left last year.  I first came across Vegeta on my trip to Hungary half a dozen years ago.  It is a condiment that, apparently, originated in Croatia but is very popular in Hungary and (as far as I know) other parts of eastern Europe.  It consists mostly of salt, with powdered dehydrated vegetables (including carrot, onion and celery), MSG and spices (the exact mix of those not being divulged in the Wikipedia article or, as far as I can tell, on the packet – though mine is all in Hungarian and I don’t know it well enough to be sure).

Incidentally, the Vegeta packet gave me a memorable lesson in the importance of correct pronunciation in Hungarian, especially with regard to paying attention to diacritics.  When Eszter was still around I was trying to read aloud the ingredients list from the back of the packet (which, at the time, was still hers) while she was cooking one evening.  I got to the word zöldség, which I correctly identified as meaning “vegetables” – mainly from remembering that zöld means “green”.  Unfortunately I failed to pronounce the final é sufficiently long (as indicated by the accent) – something like the ‘a’ in “cake”; instead I made it rhyme with the word “egg” (The IPA for the correct pronunciation is /ˈzølt͡ʃeːɡ/ but the end of my attempt came out more like /ˈʃɛɡː/).  That wouldn’t be a problem except that the word segg in Hungarian is a vulgar word for buttocks (roughly on a level with the English word “arse”, I gather), which made my mispronunciation quite amusing for a native Hungarian speaker.  As it happens, I already knew (but had forgotten) about the dangers of saying segg (NB the letter ‘s’ in Hungarian is pronounced as “sh” (or /ʃ/ in IPA), while the “s” (/s/) sound is written as ‘sz’) as, when I visited the town of Szeged, I was warned to avoid saying it with “sh” at the beginning (and why). 

To return from my linguistic digression, I decided to try lobbing a bit of Vegeta (about a medium-sized pinch if you want to be slightly more accurate) in with the rice.  For good measure I also chucked a bit (a large pinch this time!) of paprika in there.  The end result was very tasty, even without any accompaniment. I think it would work nicely, too, if the rice were being eaten with something else.

By the way, my usual rice cooking method is one which I picked up from a Chinese cookery book (one by Kenneth Lo on the art of cooking with a wok, as I recall; I can’t remember what it was called although I think I still have it somewhere – probably on my kitchen shelf if I could be bothered going to look).  Esssentially, you measure a quantity of rice into a saucepan, add boiling water in a proportion of 3:2 (water to rice; I usually use a 1/2 cup measuring cup of rice and one each of 1/2 and 1/4 cup measures for the water when I’m making rice for one meal for myself), put a lid on the pan, stick it on the cooker at lowest heat for 10 minutes (more-or-less carefully times), then turn off the heat and leave it sitting (with the lid still on) for a further 10 minutes (although I often only give it 5 or so for this latter stage and it seems to work fine).  As long as you’re reasonably careful with the measurements the rice comes out consistently well-cooked – moist but not too wet – and it avoids having to either watch your rice like a hawk or risk either very soggy rice or a burned pan.

I’m not sure how much rice features in Hungarian cuisine (though it is mentioned on the Wikipedia page so evidently it’s not unknown there) but I’m under no illusion that this is particular preparation likely to be an authentic Hungarian dish (although I could be wrong about that).  I think it’s one I’m likely to use again, though.

More than one way to spruce a pizza

Since I invented the term noodlesprucing, I’ve practised that fine, gentle culinary art pretty much every time I’ve had a pizza (not to mention noodles and other sprucible comestibles).  Of course, I’ve been doing the odd bit of noodlesprucing for years, but it seems that now I’ve got a word for it it’s become the exception rather than the rule.

My standard pattern for noodlesprucing pizzas seems to have settled down into adding olives (black or green, depending on what I have in stock), chopped up bits of anchovy and possibly a few capers to a standard frozen pizza from my local supermarket (which, sadly, seems to have reduced its range down to about 3 options – pepperoni, ham and pineapple or four cheese; I particularly miss the excellent garlic chicken one they used to do).

It occurred to me this evening that, while these additions do a lot to enhance the flavour of the pizza, going for the same embellishment every time runs rather contrary to the spirit of noodlesprucing (which can be summed up by the saying “variety is the spice of life”).  Therefore I decided to try something different on tonight’s pepperoni pizza.  I sprinkled some caraway seeds and paprika on the top of it before putting it in the oven.

The result was excellent and it’s definitely a combination I’ll use again from time to time — though not every time I have a pizza!