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Aytekin Yar's Zucchini Pancakes

I have always been a little ambivalent about meat. Oh, don't get me wrong: I like it well and good. Broiling a nice juicy steak until it spatters and hisses and crusts up in all the right places is wonderful. Roasting a chicken and seeing the skin crisp up in the oven while the meat goes tender beneath is lovely, too. And most of the ills in the world can be cured with a few savory pork-stuffed dumplings, dripping broth and juice. But I don't need meat every day, or even every other day. And since moving to Berlin, my goodness, it seems all I do is eat it.

At first I blamed the winter. All that relentless ice and snow required spitting hot sausages and bacon-studded fried potatoes. Didn't it? Then we went skiing in Austria and were served meat every single night for dinner. And sometimes lunch, too. Every single day! I felt like it was 1962 all over again. And since it's nice to be back in a country where eating liverwurst isn't considered suspect or only for the aged and infirm, I made it a regular part of dinner (and sometimes breakfast), too.

Sometime a few weeks ago I'd had enough. I'd eaten more meat in the last three months than I probably had combined in the entire past year. Enough! I missed my meatless dinners, my all-green meals, my refrigerator full of leaves.

Since then, I've made a lot of spicy cabbage, several tomato-cucumber salads (eaten on the balcony!), and had more than a few cheese toasts instead of liverwurst ones. (The Sainsbury's cheddar, tragically, is all gone now. Good thing I've just booked another flight to London. For the conference! Of course. Not for the cheese. No, not at all.)

And I've been saying a little prayer every night to the gods that be at the New York Times dining section that they make Elaine Louie's Temporary Vegetarian column a little less Temporary and a little more Permanent. Seriously, that column? Is a gem. Remember the Chana Punjabi? Her cabbage strudel haunts my dreams. And these Turkish zucchini pancakes, dolloped with garlicky yogurt, were nothing short of stellar. Right now, her column is the best part about that dining section for me and I hope it becomes a permanent part of the Wednesday lineup.


But back to those pancakes. Hoo boy.

I once had zucchini pancakes, 10 years ago at a friend's one-room apartment in Paris. She was, to be polite, not a gifted cook and all I could remember was the pile of slightly blackened vegetable shreds lying on my plate, glistening with still-raw egg and oil. Oooh, not pleasant in the very least. "A for effort", though, as the 7-foot tall Massachusetts State Trooper folded into the passenger seat of my dad's sedan told me when I passed my driving test at 19.

So I had this recipe bookmarked for a year before I got around to trying it. What I didn't want were oily pancakes, or heavy ones. I wanted something light and fluffy and delicious and green, and, oh, did I get what I wanted. Readers, don't wait this long before trying these things. They are too good to be ignored.

I made a few changes to the recipe: First of all, dill remains the final frontier in my food world. It is the one and only thing I really, really don't like. I got over cilantro, so maybe I will one day get over dill, but I'm not holding my breath. It tastes like dirty fridge to me and that's all I can say about that. But mint and zucchini are such a lovely pair, such a springy pair of lovebirds that I substituted the one for the other with spectacular results. Also, I totally forgot to add the baking powder. It just slipped my mind. And the pancakes were fine! So I guess it's not entirely essential?

Other than that, the recipe was a charm. You quickly shred three zucchini (I used those very pale green ones, which are called marrows in England, held firmly against a big cheese grater) and squeeze the ever-loving life out of them once the shreds have been salted for a bit. You mix this limp green mess with eggs and crumbled feta and sliced scallions and the mint. Then you fry good-sized (3-4 tablespoons worth) mounds of the batter in vegetable oil until browned and crisping.

Piping hot, they were savory and sweet, full of yielding pockets of salty-soft feta and bright with mint and scallions, while the cool yogurt sauce balanced each mouthful. Very, very good.

But. Eaten cold from the fridge the next day? They were even better, if that's possible. The flavors were richer yet lighter, too; the pancake firmer and easier to eat. Totally transcendent, really. I had only two pancakes leftover and I actually caught myself wishing we'd eaten less at dinner the night before. I love discovering things that taste even better the next day: It makes my inner Martha Stewart emerge and I find myself planning elaborate buffet luncheons featuring entire tables covered with food cooked the previous day.

These pancakes? They'd be front and center. And no one would miss the meat.

Zucchini Pancakes
Makes 12 pancakes

For the pancakes
3 medium zucchini, shredded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh mint
1 teaspoon baking powder (I forgot to add this! And they were fine)
4 to 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, more as needed

For the yogurt sauce
2/3 cup plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place zucchini in a colander over a bowl, and mix with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Allow to drain for five minutes. Transfer to a cloth kitchen towel, and squeeze hard to extract as much moisture as possible. Squeeze a second time; volume will shrink to about half the original.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine zucchini and eggs. Using a fork, mix well. Add flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, olive oil, feta, scallions, mint and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Mix well, add baking powder, if using, and mix again.

3. Place a cast iron skillet or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Place heaping tablespoons of zucchini batter in pan several inches apart, allowing room to spread. Flatten them with a spatula if necessary; pancakes should be about 3/8 inch thick and about 3 inches in diameter. Fry until golden on one side, then turn and fry again until golden on other side. Repeat once or twice, frying about 5 to 6 minutes total, so pancakes get quite crisp. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, and keep warm in oven. Continue frying remaining batter, adding more oil to pan as needed. Serve hot.

4. For yogurt sauce: In a small bowl, combine yogurt, garlic and salt. Mix well, and serve on the side or on pancakes.

Darina Allen's Country Rhubarb Cake


I hear New York, this weekend, emerged from the cold grip of winter to sudden spring. Isn't it grand, all over again? Here in Berlin, we've been there for a little while now (well, for the most part) and I'm so happy about it I periodically raise a fist clutching seven or eight stalks of glowing pink rhubarb to the heavens in gratitude and howl with glee.

Hellooo, spring! You are a stone fox.


Well, no, of course I'm not actually howling at the heavens and doing victory dances with rhubarb. (I haven't entirely lost my mind with spring fever. Yet.) But I have been zipping around the city with a bag of rhubarb, trying to decide what to do with my first stalks of 2010. A flat sheet cake studded with pink chunks of rhubarb? A stewy pot fragrant with wine and citrus? I even contemplated juicing the rhubarb and making my own rhubarb spritzers with cold sparkling water.

Last summer, I spent an afternoon at an outdoor café (is your computer's sound on?) near Zoo Station drinking rhubarb spritzers: impossibly refreshing, palest pink, the prettiest drink I've ever had beading lustrously in the sun. I think it was about then that I decided to move back to Berlin. How could I not, with rhubarb spritzers winking seductively at me? I ask you.


Then up popped a recipe in the New York Times for something as bewitching-sounding as "Country Rhubarb Cake" and I ask you, yet again, how could I not make that first? I don't know if it's my spring-addled imagination or what, but I think I can practically see you all nodding back at me. A rhubarb cake! From the country! A country cake! An Irish rhubarb country cake! Irish rhubarb! Cake! Done.

Who needs rhubarb spritzers?


I practically fell over myself getting to the stove. Well, actually, it took me five days from the time of reading the recipe to the countertop, but in my defense I will say I had some very important things to do, including a bike ride, the first of 2010, a Sunday brunch, an Easter lunch, and the viewing of one of the weirdest vampire movies I've ever seen.

Plus, all the stores were closed.


Anyway, what this country cake is, basically, is a pie. A double-crusted fruit pie, except the pie dough is a little cakey. But the premise is the same: you make a crust, you try not to touch it too much, you divide it in half, roll each half out and line a pie plate with it (I used a 9-inch instead of a 10-inch, by the way, and it was fine). Then you put in a pile of thinly sliced rhubarb and cover that with what seems like an obscene amount of sugar.

I just had to physically restrain myself from using the caps key on the obscene. Because, people, whoa. The sugar.

But that's rhubarb! I told myself. It always takes way more sugar than you think. Remember?


The cake dough or pie crust or whatever you want to call it is kind of lovely: raw, it's nicely pliable and smells incredibly fresh and rich. It bakes up sort of like an enriched biscuit, almost; like a scone. Burnished and golden and wonderfully fragrant. All the doors and window frames in the apartment were painted a few weeks ago and the paint smell has been impossible to get out. The scent of country rhubarb cake baking in the oven was the best air freshener yet. It chased that paint stench right out the window and waved a Swiss-dot apron sweetly after it, too.

I love that buttery-sweet cake smell mingling with the sharp smell of sour rhubarb syrup bubbling up to the edges of the pan, sugar caramelizing darkly.


But there were a few things in the recipe that frustrated me.

First of all, there is no way that the small amount of buttermilk and one egg in all that flour would ever turn into a dough with a wooden spoon. I had to turn that shaggy mess out onto the counter and knead it - quickly - for it to come together.

Second of all, why on earth are you supposed to simply dump all the filling sugar on top of the rhubarb? Why don't you mix the sliced rhubarb and sugar together in a separate bowl, then pour the evenly sugared fruit into the lined tin? This bugged me.

Third of all, the recipe has you pinch together the top and bottom crust, so that the rhubarb juice won't spill out and ruin your oven, but then it tells you to bake the cake until the rhubarb is soft and juicy. Um, are you meant to ascertain this using x-ray vision?

Fourth of all, WHAT is the deal with sprinkling sugar on the browned and beautiful crust? Why? What is it good for? The cake is already edging towards this side of too sweet, then you have to go and mar the pretty burnished surface of the cake with a random sprinkling of granulated sugar? Dear readers, skip this step, I beg of you.


I don't have electric beaters yet, so we skipped the whipped cream, but I think it'd be lovely dolloped softly next to a wedge of the cake. The rhubarb was jammy and sweet (next time I'd use a little less sugar - try a 3/4 cup perhaps - and add a few scrapes of lemon peel or something, because I like my rhubarb with a little more sass) and the crust was rustic and pleasingly peasant-like. This really does taste like a cake you'd make in the country, easy and comforting, full of the things you'd get from your neighbor down the road. Just the thing to herald spring, in fact. Despite all those things that bugged me.

And a little more appropriate, shall we say, than howling at the moon, even in gratitude.

Country Rhubarb Cake
Serves 8

3 cups all-purpose flour, more for work surface
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 and 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, cut into pieces, at cool room temperature
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 pounds (about 8 stalks) rhubarb, thinly sliced
Softly whipped cream, for serving

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, sift flour, salt, 3 tablespoons sugar and the baking soda together. With fingers, rub in butter until mixture is sandy. Beat 1 egg and add to flour mixture. Add buttermilk and blend, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until the dough comes together. It will be quite stiff and sticky. Divide in two. Roll out each piece to fit a 9-inch round baking dish. Line bottom of pan with one round, pinching together any tears.


2. Cover dough with rhubarb and sprinkle rhubarb evenly with the remaining sugar. Place second pastry round on top and pinch edges together. Pinch together any holes. Beat remaining egg with 1 teaspoon water and brush it on dough.

3. Place a baking sheet in oven to catch drips, and place baking dish on it. Bake until crust is golden, about 1 hour. If the crust browns too soon, cover the cake with a piece of aluminum foil and continue baking. Serve warm, with whipped cream on each serving.

Food Blogger Connect - An Interview - Random Thoughts


So where are you going to be the first weekend in June? I'll be in London at the Food Blogger Connect conference, where I've been invited to speak on a panel about blogging and book writing. Won't you come and say hello? I'd love that.

I wanted to also draw your attention to an interview I did some time ago with Sarah Amandolare of Writers and Cooks. She asked some very good questions, ones that really made me think. If you'd like to read my answers (none of which involve my favorite foods or what I'd like to eat before I die), click here.


These last few months have been quite a whirlwind. They've been challenging and wonderful at once. As spring descends upon Berlin, I feel almost as though I've woken up from a strange sleep: fitful, not entirely rested, but with some perspective on the last few months.

Today, I delivered three chapters to my editor. The rest follows next February. Let me tell you something: writing a book is humbling. In terms of work, I do believe it's the hardest thing I've ever done. Some days are good, some days are awful. Some days, not much at all happens. And some days, it all comes tumbling out. Whenever the work threatens to overwhelm me, I tell myself: this is just one year, just one book, and you're just one person. Breathe.

Then I eat a cookie.


In a few weeks, I'm going back to New York for a week. Besides spending time with my friends, the thing I'm looking forward to most is just to walk down 7th Avenue or 5th, for that matter, or the West Side Highway or 18th Street or through Union Square. Just to walk those messy streets and smell New York City air and see all the lovely people around and hear the pushy cabs and the street vendors and some dude Noo Yawking away on his cell phone. I can't wait to take the subway and eat a drippy, spicy banh mi and buy a whole bunch of trashy magazines and hear all the clanging, dissonant, fabulous noise that is the greatest city on earth and simply be in all that wild New York City energy.

Cannot wait.