Using up the Bits and Pieces aka “Wunderreis”

wunderreis

Growing up (in Germany) I loved to eat “Wunderreis” (wonder rice) at my godmother’s house. Her mother had made it and she made her own variations. As far as I recall it was rice with whatever bits of vegetables and sometimes meat, and various herbs and spices that seemed appropriate or happened to be within arm’s reach. She was raising four boys and the four of us (my siblings and I) plus all the parents made for a pretty hungry crowd and the pots of Wunderreis seemed to stretch to accommodate all of us. I remember Indonesian-like versions with curry and raisins and carrots and more middle-European version with peas, carrots, and broccoli and grated cheese added at the end.

Last night, after a long day of teaching and meetings I opened the fridge at 6pm to figure out what to make for dinner. The odd bits of vegetables and herbs and the quart of brown rice and two sausages in the freezer came together into a beautiful pan of Wunderreis.

Note: when I looked up Wunderreis I discovered that most all references to this word nowadays refer to the German word for the fraught Golden Rice, to which this post and this dish has no connection even though the turmeric in my version gave it a lovely golden hue!

wunderreis prep
I happened to have fresh turmeric, bottom center of photo, but by all means use powdered if you don’t have fresh. I did not end up adding the chunk of sharp cheddar, in the corner of the photo above, as it didn’t seem needed or complementary.

Wunderreis

I used brown Jasmine or basmati (I can’t quite tell) that I had frozen a few weeks earlier. I always make more rice than I need in the moment for just these occasions which is especially useful with brown rice since it takes twice as long to cook. I thaw it by putting it in a pan with 1/2-in or so of water and heating it on medium heat, covered, until I can break it apart. It thawed with this technique in the time it took me to chop and saute the vegetables. If you have a microwave I’m sure that would work too.

As per usual, use whatever vegetables, spices, herbs you want/have on hand and feel free to omit the meat and top with toasted nuts or seeds, etc.

Serves 4

Olive oil
3-4 cups rice (see headnote for how to thaw in a hurry if using frozen), brown, white, short grain, long grain, etc. (or frankly any cooked grain)
1/2 a medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or 2 stalks green garlic or garlic scapes
2 pork sausages (or whatever you want to use or omit–see headnote), sliced
4 cups or more, vegetables, chopped into small-ish bite-sized pieces. Carrots, turnips, radishes, peas, scallions and green garlic are what I used here.
1 teaspoon ground turmeric or 2 teaspoons grated, fresh turmeric
Salt and black pepper
Several pinches of red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup or more tender herbs (basil, parsley, chives, . .)

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the largest skillet you have. Add the onions, sausage, if using, garlic and all the vegetables. Season with few few pinches of salt and cook gently (I don’t brown them really in this dish), covered until tender.

Stir in the rice and mix well. Heat through and finally stir in the herbs. Stir in a tablespoon or two of the best olive oil you have. Serve hot! Top with Sriracha or other hot sauce if you like!

Cabbage and Potato Gratin

This is simple comfort food and uses a lot of cabbage. Leftovers are delicious.  In this version I added a handful of small, tubetti pasta, which is totally optional.

 

 

You could add lots of chopped parsley or oregano or basil or chives to the dish as you’re assembling it, before baking. You could use other vegetables. I imagine diced winter squash instead of the potatoes would be fabulous and very pretty. Sausage, bacon or any kind of leftover meat would be good. You can vary the cheeses, omit entirely, and so on and so forth!

 

Serves 6

 

For Bechamel

 

4 Tablespoons butter

4 Tablespoons flour

generous 2 cups of whole or 2% milk

Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt

Pepper

Bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cloves

3/4 grated cheese (sharp cheddar, Gruyère, Emmentaler, . . .)

Fresh minced thyme, parsley, chives, etc. (optional)

 

Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan over med/low heat. When melted, whisk in flour. Continue cooking the roux for 2 -3 min, whisking frequently. Meanwhile heat milk until it’s scalding. Whisk hot milk into roux and add salt, black pepper, chili flakes (or omit if you’d like), add mustard and a bay leaf and a grating or two of nutmeg. Stir well and cook over med/low heat for about 10 minutes until thickened and bubbling. Add the cheese and fresh, chopped herbs, if, using.

 

For the Gratin

 

3-5 potatoes (depending on size) and cut into thumb-sized chunks

1/2 medium to large green cabbage (or a whole small one), cored and cut into 1-inch pieces

Handful or two of small pasta (optional)

Salt

Bread crumbs (optional)

1/2 cup grated cheese (sharp cheddar, Gruyère, Emmentaler, . . .) (optional)

 

Put potatoes in a large pot with lots of water and two teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. If you are using some kind of pasta you’ll want to add it to the potatoes so they’re both done at the same time. The pasta can be quite al dente when you drain everything though since it will keep cooking in the oven. When the potatoes (and pasta, if using) are almost tender add the cabbage to the pot. Cover and cook for another few minutes until the cabbage is tender. Drain.

 

Spread the vegetables in a large baking dish. Pour the béchamel over the top and mix in a bit. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and optional cheese and bake at 400 until bubbly and crisp on top. Run under the broiler for a few minutes for more browning.

 

Beautiful, Abundant, Forgiving. . .

. . . and delicious! The wedding cake! Yes it was but that’s for the next post! I’m really talking about Chard, Swiss Chard. Much less sexy but much more practical. Chard is a workhorse of a vegetable and solved my dinner conundrum tonight. I have four plants in the garden and pick a generous bunch at least once a week.

Unfortunately my red chard plants just started bolting so I have less of a rainbow situation now but the white and gold ones are still beautiful.

Chard keeps in a plastic bag in the fridge for at least a week. It’s easy to cook and equally delicious braised for a longer period of time to bring out all its sweetness or quickly sautéed.

In tonight’s iteration I turned it into “Daddy Patties”, so named by my niece for my brother. Not sure why, but the moniker has stuck. Call them what you will, they are a hearty, delicious meal usually devoured by non-greens-loving adults and children with glee, as well as by us greens-lovers!

I had a heel of stale bread to use up today and was a bit lazy and just cut the bread into rough pieces. I love the flavor and texture of the bigger bits of bread in the patties but it does make the patties harder to fry and  flip as they break up more easily. They taste just as good but aren’t quite as beautiful.

My mother used to serve these with rice and a tomato sauce. I don’t usually take the time to make a sauce but it’s a great combo. I serve them with a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream or just plain or with a salad on the side.

2 bunches greens (chard, beet greens, spinach, kale, collards or any combination of these)

2 eggs

½ – 1 cup grated cheese (cheddar, swiss, gouda, asiago, parmesan (use the smaller amount if you’re using a hard cheese like parmesan, etc.)

1 cup larger, roughly torn bread crumbs or 1/cup more finely ground ones (or if you don’t have bread/bread crumbs you can  use 3 Tablespoons of cornmeal in the batter instead)

a pinch or two of chili flakes (optional)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

salt

pepper

oil for pan frying

Wash and coarsely chop the greens. Cook them in ½ cup or so of water in a large sauté pan or pot for a few minutes until they are tender (for kale or collards the cooking time will be a bit longer, but not much). Drain well and squeeze out most of the moisture and chop the greens again. Beat the 2 eggs in a large bowl, add salt, pepper, chili flakes and nutmeg (if using), grated cheese and bread crumbs. Mix in greens. Taste for salt.

Heat a cast iron or other large skillet with a tablespoon or so of olive or safflower oil. When hot spoon  about large spoonfuls of the mixture into pan and pat down with a spatula to flatten. Flip after a few minutes when the underside is golden brown. Cook a few minutes more and serve. They keep warm and hold up nicely in a 250 degree oven.