Sunday, 4 February 2018

It All Started With Sour Cream

If you read my blog you will know that I love to pick a cuisine a immerse myself in cooking the flavours of that one country for a whole week. Without the structure of cooking to a theme I find myself flitting between a new set of flavours every day of the week and never getting to know much of any of them. In itself that isn't a bad thing. New experiences fuel the mind and keep your taste buds guessing but from time to time I like to hunker down a cook a range of different styles of dishes all from one nation to get a wider scope of the food of that particular country.

Recently I was browsing the cookbooks looking for a new theme and my husband decided he would like to pick the theme. Okay, why not I thought, I could try something new. I waited eagerly for the theme, what would it be Peru, Sweden maybe West Africa? "Sour Cream" he said. I looked at him blankly, that was not a cuisine. "Sour Cream" he insisted and I shut him down, you can't cook with sour cream for a whole week, it's barely an ingredient, more of a side sauce. "Sour Cream", he seemed pretty certain of this so we started to look into what recipes from what nations we could cook that incorporated or featured sour cream as an ingredient.

This is one of my favourite parts of the process, We log into our cookbook indexing system, Eat Your Books (if you have a large cookbook collection I can't recommend this highly enough) and we enter the ingredient sour cream from my indexed books I have 263 recipes that contain sour cream to choose from.

Seemed like we had to set some criteria here. We decided that the recipes all had to come from different countries. They also had to contain considerable amounts of sour cream, not just a teaspoon or a tablespoon and as usual they had to be recipes new to us, nothing we had cooked before and all from different cookbooks to gain the widest spread of experiences.

The first recipe selection was Schnitzel of Pork from "The Art of Living According to Joe Beef". If you have ever seen Frederic Morin and David McMillan on Anthony Bourdain's no reservations you will know these guys like to live life large, hence the title of the book. I loved the idea of this recipe as it goes to show, done the right way Schnitzel doesn't have to be confined to the realms of dodgy pub food. If the restaurant Joe Beef can serve schnitzel twice a year alongside ingredients such as morels and chanterelles then there must be a way to elevate this dish from pub grub to restaurant fare. You might be wondering where the sour cream is.  Surprisingly this recipe has a whole cup of sour cream. It is mixed with eggs and nutmeg to form the wet base that the panko crumb adheres to. It is certainly a subtle addition to the flavour but under that super crunchy friend panko crumb the sour cream is there adding a little funk and a little moist texture. We paired the schnitzel with another Joe Beef recipe, Baked Mushrooms where you roast mushrooms in a mixture of butter, thyme and smoky paprika (the good Spanish stuff works best) and we also added some roasted dutch carrots and whoa this meal was rockin. The schnitzel was so good a sauce would have ruined it so we ate it with a sprinkle of lemon juice and it is all it needed.

The next recipe selection pretty much changed my life, meatballs can have that effect. The recipe, Arline Ryan's Swedish Meatballs with Sour Cream from the cookbook Heirloom Cooking with the Brass Sisters by Marilyn and Sheila Brass. This book is an exploration of a century of North American cooking traditions by researching vintage recipes found in handwritten cookbooks and recipe boxes. What a great concept for a cookbook, so many recipes are lost to time, this way they can be immortalised and if the image of these two little ladies on the cover doesn't melt your heart you are made of stone my friend. According to the sisters this recipe came from a handwritten index card found in Indiana and is an heirloom. We can only guess that it has Swedish heritage. Veal and pork mince are processed with onion, cream, crackers, nutmeg and salt and pepper and formed into little balls and then cooked in a sauce of their own cooking juices, wine, chicken stock and my hero ingredient sour cream. Paired with a wide pasta to soak up all that lucious sauce this dish will make you lament your next serve of Ikea Swedish meatballs, they are that good. The sour cream gives the sauce a creamy tang and with the white wine which adds a zing it is so moreish.

We seemed to be on a European bender here so we thought, why not one more to round it out to a trio and who does sour cream more justice than the Eastern Europeans. We went with that old nugget, Hungarian Goulash. It's not a sexy dish, most Eastern European tradition cooking has that down home comfort vibe that is totally my thing. According to Eat Your Books I had eight Goulash recipes to choose from and we went with Bruce Aidells version in his complete book of pork. Bruce is a man of my heart, in his introduction we says he is a restless cook and an adventurous eater, always exploring new culinary horizons and talk about cooking to a theme, a whole book about pork! The pairing of the bacon and pork butt with the onions, sauerkraut and all that paprika just wouldn't be complete without large lashings of sour cream to temper the richness of all those strong flavours. The sour cream is a mighty thing here, is carries all those flavours and well as adding that subtle fermented funk of its own.

Moving a little further south we headed to Jerusalem with Yotam Ottolenghi. There is no excuse needed to cook a Yotam dish, they are always culinary perfection and this one was no different. This time we chose a dish where the sour cream is an accompaniment, appearing here as a soured cream with sumac sauce alongside turkey and courgette burgers. This was not a cop out though, it is an example of the fact that some dishes would be incomplete without the perfect sauce and in this case it is absolutely true. Whilst the burgers themselves were delicious with flavours of mint, coriander and cumin it really needed the moistness of the sour cream sauce which is used as a vessel to carry the tartness of the sumac which adds a much needed kick to the dish. We paired the burgers with Yotam's Basmati & wild rice with chickpeas, currants and herbs which I must say is my absolute favourite rice dish ever and I an a rice addict.

To round out the week we thought it best to head away from the continent and over to the US to shake things up with Buffalo chicken wings from The American Cookbook. Again this is a side dish of sour cream made into a blue cheese dressing and maybe it was a cop out to go for a second dish where the sour cream is a part of the accompaniment and not the main but after you have tried this dipping sauce paired with the crispy, spicy and sweet chicken wings you won't care. It will rock your world as it did mine. The deep weirdness of blue cheese and the fermented dairy flavours of sour cream together, it is a resounding YES from me!

It was a week of discovery, it was a week of fermented flavours and a week of excess kilos. Only question left is...what theme will be next?

Originally posted on Sunday, 4 February 2018 by