when the greens begin to bore you

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Even in our kale-besotted burg, there gets to be a point when our blood runs green and we start growing leafy fringes.  Maybe not this week, maybe not next week, but it will happen as it inevitably happens each year.  And then you’ll stop protesting and thank me for these, my go-to greens recipes.  Truth be told, you can them all year ’round, since mustard greens and collards overwinter, but after the first blush of green in April is when you’ll really appreciate a good Chinese, Indian, or Ethiopian treatment to spice things up a bit.

Looking for recipes for raab, or the tops of bolting greens?  Look no further.

For each of these recipes, they’re best using the greens specified, but feel free to substitute any green, keeping in mind collards and some kales need to cook longer than tender young Russian kale, mustard greens, or spinach.

IMG_3158Buttery Collard Greens with Anaheim Peppers (Ye’abesha Gomen)

Serves 4 as a side dish with another Ethiopian stew or two.  I use my fermented peppers all winter long as a substitute for local peppers, but you might try freezing Anaheims when they’re in season; the texture will change but they are fine in long-cooked dishes like this one.  Above: with split peas and lettuce salad.

  • 1 large bunch collard greens, cleaned
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onions
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 stick to 1 stick butter (let your conscience be your guide)
  • 2 Anaheim peppers, deseeded and chopped (or substitute fermented peppers)
  • handful of fenugreek leaves or a few shakes of powdered fenugreek (optional)

Remove the tough ribs from the collards and chop the greens well.  Bring a cup or two of salted water to the boil.  Boil collards until soft, about 15 minutes, with the lid on.  Meanwhile, in a frying pan, melt the butter and cook onions and garlic until soft and golden over medium low heat.  Add peppers and cook until soft, about 5 minutes, then add cooked greens and fenugreek leaves or powder.  Cook for another 10 minutes.  Serve with rice or injera.

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Sichuan Spicy Kale with Celery

This dish, wonderful with any pork preparation, is an adaptation of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Twice-Cooked Swiss Chard from her cookbook, Every Grain of Rice.  You might use chard, but do blanch it ahead of time (that’s the “twice-cooked”).  This makes a thoughtful dining experience, as munching on the juicy stems of chard and celery slows one down and turns even the most heathen glutton pensive.  You might think about this dish as poverty food: chard, Dunlop tells us, was until recently seen as pig fodder in China.  Or just use kale instead, as I do, since it adds a layer of sweetness and provides a more tender experience, and doesn’t need to be blanched. You can now find top-quality Sichuanese chili broad bean paste at Sunrise Market in little brown packages tied up with string.  It’s well worth having some on hand.

  • 2 bunches ruffled-type kale (I prefer ‘White Russian’)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuanese chili bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon green or spring onion bottoms (save tops for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black bean paste (or substitute 2 tablespoons rinsed and drained fermented black beans, chopped)
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup minced celery
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion tops

Prepare all the ingredients ahead of time.  Clean and strip kale from its ribs.  Tear into bite-sized pieces.  Heat the oil on medium high in a wok but not until smoking or you’ll burn the spices.  Add chili bean paste, garlic, and ginger, stirring to break down the bean paste, then add the black bean paste and chicken stock and cook until it turns saucy, another 2-3 minutes.  Fold in the kale pieces and stirfry until wilted and soft, about 5 minutes, then add celery and cook for another minute.  Remove from heat, stir in cilantro and green onions, and serve.

IMG_3172Indian Mustard Greens with Paneer Yogurt Cheese (Saag Paneer)

There are roughly a gazillion versions of saag paneer, the ubiquitous creamed, pureéd greens with white, tofu-like yogurt cheese cubes that one sees on Indian restaurant menus.  Some are thickened with yogurt, some are more of a thick sauce in texture.  Needless to say, anything one makes at home with late-spring greens will be better than the frozen spinach preparations available on the buffet line.  As you can see in the first photo, I use tomato paste instead of the more usual tomato and throw a couple paneer cubes in the food processor with the greens to combat the dish’s tendency to be watery.

Paneer can be purchased frozen or fresh, or you can make your own easily if you have some time.  I like the color added when you brown the cubes, but browning tends to toughen them up, so you might just add them as is.  I’ve seen some recipes recommend soaking the cubes in hot water before browning and even after browning to prevent this issue. If you try that, let me know.

  • 2 bunches mustard greens
  • 6 – 8 oz. cubed paneer
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium white onion, minced
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • salt to taste

Clean the greens and remove large stems, and cube the paneer.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch greens in the boiling water for 2 minutes (in 3-4 batches) to make them easier to handle.  Plunge in a bowl of cold water, then allow them to drain well in a colander.  Add to a food processor with a couple of cubes of the paneer, puree until finely chopped.

Heat the oil in a large skillet using medium heat.  Brown paneer cubes on two sides, just until they have a nice golden-brown crust.  Remove paneer and set aside.

Using the same oil in the skillet, fry the cumin seeds until fragrant, then add onion, ginger, and garlic.  Cook until golden, then add tomato paste and garam masala, stirring constantly to break down the paste and ensure no burning.  If the burner seems too hot, add a little water.

Add greens mixture and cook for another 5 minutes or so, blending the flavors. Add paneer cubes and cream and lower heat to a simmer.  Salt generously to taste.  Cover skillet and cook for 5-15 minutes, stirring every few minutes, depending on how soft or fresh you want your greens.

ethiopian spiced greens

We finally dove into our T-bone steaks from the quarter-cow share, and they were wonderful.  Let no one tell you that grass-fed beef is tough or tastes bad; ours is flavorful and perfectly juicy.  It is leaner, but the lack of marbled fat doesn’t seem to be a problem.  I’m not thrilled by the butchery, I have to admit. One of the T-bones lacked most of the pretty little tenderloin nugget that defines this cut, a condition I’m pretty sure is related to a slip of a knife (or saw?).

But I won’t go on about the wonders of the steak, marinated in whole-grain mustard and topped with Walla-walla onions and tarragon butter.  Instead, instead!  The star of the T-bone show wasn’t the T-bone at all.

It was the side of Ethiopian greens.

Retrogrouch had purchased a giant bag full of hearty greens after reading that they were good for healing broken bones.  We hadn’t been cooking them, though, so I suggested we make the Ethiopian greens that I love.  We still had some quick-frozen injera in our deep freeze, so I pulled that out and nuked it, as per the instructions from the woman who sold it to me in Portland.  (But if you like, make your own from one of my most popular posts, thanks to guest blogger Ceri — good luck!)

Candid photo of the uninvited guest at our intimate supper, courtesy of Retrogrouch

This recipe was adapted from several Ethiopian greens recipes — one a simple, non-spiced treatment for boiled kale, and another recipe using niter kibbeh, the spiced ghee or clarified butter used frequently in Ethiopian cooking, to jazz up collard greens.  It’s delicious just plain or with injera as a scoop.

By the way, if you’re looking for a fantastic appetizer that uses a similar preparation, try my Ethiopian greens bruschetta, a lovely preamble to a barbecue.

Ethiopian Spiced Greens

  • 1 lb. mixed hearty greens (I used purple and lacinato kale with some beet greens; try any kale, mustard green, collards), cleaned well
  • 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter available in Indian markets) or regular butter
  • Spices: about 1/2 teaspoon each of garlic powder and onion powder, and 1/4 teaspoon each of cumin, fenugreek powder, cardamom powder
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup stock or water (I used beef bone stock)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or mix in 1/2 teaspoon dried to the spices above)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions

Chop and mince vegetables and herbs, as noted, and grate ginger.  Mix together spices.  Strip the leaves from the stems of the cleaned greens; discard stems.

Blanch the hearty greens by plunging them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then dropping them into a bowl of ice water.  Squeeze the water from the greens as best as possible (I grab pieces that are softball-sized and squeeze), then set aside in large bowl to be chopped.

Chop all the greens into pieces no larger than one inch square.

In a pot large enough to hold the greens, melt the butter and add spices, ginger, red onion, and garlic; cook on low heat for about 20 minutes to soften the aromatics.

Add the stock or water and bring to a boil, then add the greens, oregano, and green onions.  Mix well and taste.  Add salt as necessary, perhaps more than you think you might need.

Here is where your preference comes in.  Cook the greens until they are just right for you.  It will depend, also, on the greens you’ve chosen. The tradeoff for softer greens is a loss of nutrients.  I like mine dark green but not olive drab; others may like theirs emerald green.  Add more stock if the greens seem dry.  You don’t want them to be dripping wet, but moist is good.

Serve with injera and another dish.  Lentils is a good choice, as is (trust me) a lovely T-bone steak.

lookee what i found!

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I stopped by an Ethiopian market in Portland, and lo and behold, fresh, gorgeous injera.  There’s a woman in town who makes it — and I’ll tell ya what, I think every single Ethiopian in the whole city had ordered some that day, since they had a full standing display of them and each one was reserved.  The shopkeep sent me down the street to another market, and I scored.

Ethiopian tonight!

The same shopkeep advised me that one can easily freeze prepared injera.  Just fold each piece in four, then stack 3-4 together and freeze in gallon-sized freezer bags.  40 seconds in the microwave will make them, she assured, the same as new.

Ethiopian in two weeks!

ethiopian injera in eugene: can. you. dig. it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Ethiopia boasts one of my favorite cuisines in the world.  A big plate of lentils, spicy beef stew, and greens, all scooped by slightly soured, spongy pieces of injera flatbread…heaven.

Eugene has no Ethiopian restaurant, and neither do many cities in which we’ve lived, so I’ve tried to make my own.  The stews aren’t too hard, once you have the ingredients.  If it all seems too much, visiting a Portland Ethiopian restaurant might be the ticket.   I’m particularly eager to try top-rated Bete-Lukas Ethiopian Restaurant, and not just because the kind owner, Peter, commented on my recipe for Ethiopian bruschetta the other day! :)  But a quick visit to the Bay Area or an online shopping jaunt at Brundo Market for some Ethiopian berebere and shiro powders can take you the distance.

perfectinjeraWhen I make Ethiopian food, I turn to the only authentic, comprehensive Ethiopian cookbook, Daniel Mesfin’s Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, which appears to be in print again.  This little cookbook has many alternates to the handful of stews that you’ll see in most Ethiopian restaurants, and it really gives a sense of how many ways one can cook Ethiopian food.  I’ll echo my some of the reviews, warning that the instructions can be a bit mystifying for the home cook.  But the recipes are clearly the product of a very experienced, very creative cook(s) who knows her Ethiopian food.  (It’s also worth noting that there are several recipes for injera using different grains that would be worth trying, but I found the teff injera recipe too vague, and hence this post.)

I’ve struggled for years with making injera, failing miserably.  Some (my husband) might even say spectacularly.  I was beginning to suspect that teff flour just wouldn’t ferment in Eugene, with its very unlike Ethiopian weather conditions and radically different airborne flora.  Retrogrouch called my results “poop pancakes” and even refused to enter the kitchen when I made them.  I tried adding beer, yogurt, yeast, soda water, fermenting more, fermenting less…it was ugly.  I had to save my marriage, so I put my injera-making dreams aside.

Now, several years later, and craving Ethiopian food in this Ethiopian food desert, I’m thankful to have two new injera recipes to try.  There is a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.  Another appears in this post.  It is from Ceri, a local cook who was kind enough earlier this winter to send me method and pictures, making what seems at first like a complicated procedure look simple.  We’ve worked together to write up a recipe that we think everyone will be able to follow.  I haven’t been able to test either Katz’s or Ceri’s recipes, so I’d especially love to hear your experiences if you them it a whirl!

What excites me most about Ceri’s recipe is that she’s a local cook, and therefore I know that it is possible to ferment injera batter in Eugene.  Secondly, she uses 100% teff flour, so the recipe will achieve that delicious, uniquely sour taste only teff can provide.  Many Ethiopian restaurants only use wheat flour, or a combination of wheat and teff. Using only teff creates a recipe good for those of us who want to cut down or eliminate gluten from our diets.

So, without further ado, please join me in a warm welcome to Ceri! (applause)  All the great, instructive images in this post are hers, and I’m so thankful she provided them so we can all learn from her successes and mistakes.  Please give her a shout out in the comments to acknowledge her hard work.

Guest Post by Ceri, Injera Superwoman

I was 3 months pregnant, so nauseated that I was eating cold scrambled eggs and rice cakes when I developed an unquenchable craving for injera.  I know, not at all a usual craving for a Southern California transplant to Oregon.  But there I was, too sick to cook or drive up to Portland, craving injera.  While I couldn’t cook, I looked for an authentic injera recipe on the internet.

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After much trial and error, a large dose of stubbornness, and some luck, I came up with the following method.   We ate a lot of injera and Ethiopian food while I was pregnant and injera was my baby’s first solid food after rice cereal.

My injera aren’t quite authentic, but they are closer to the restaurant version than many of the recipes on the internet, especially the ones using Bisquick and soda water  When I cook them, the bottom forms a light crust and gets a little brown.  I just stack them as I cook them and they soften right up.

The secret of the batter seems to be to make the yeast happy.  If I ever get an incubator from a biology lab that can hold the temperature at 30C at home, I might get closer to that ideal.

I buy Maskal Ivory teff flour from the Teff Co., and I order 25lb bags from Azure Standard.  I have also used Bob’s Red Mill teff flour with good results.  (Eugenia notes: You could also grind your own teff grain, available in bulk at places like Sundance.  Brown teff, more widely available, will result in much darker (some might say poop-colored) pancakes.  The white pancakes you see in Ethiopian restaurants either have no teff or a portion of ivory teff.)

Injera

Makes about fourteen 8-inch-diameter pancakes. (Enough for 3-4 hungry people)
Total time: 3 days.  Active time: 1 hour.

  • 3 cups warm water
  • 2 cups teff flour
  • 1 teaspoon baker’s yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

Making the Batter

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, cover with a lid or foil, and let sit in warm place to ferment for three days, stirring daily.  Stir twice a day, if you can manage.  My house is kept at a relatively cool temperature (65F), so I will sometimes turn on the oven on the lowest temperature setting, then turn it off when it starts heating up, and place the injera in the oven overnight to get the fermentation started.

batter

Day 1. The first day, the batter forms what I think of as a sponge, a floating bubble filled mass on top of the liquid. Use a whisk to stir the batter at least once, but preferably twice, during the first 24-hour period; you will see holes when you stir it by the end of this period.  The batter should start to smell very sour, like sourdough.

Day 2. As the batter ferments, it should separate.  You will see a light tan liquid rising to the top.   Mix the liquid in thoroughly.

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Day 3.  The batter becomes cohesive (i.e., there will be less liquid separating out of the mix and the consistency changes) as it ferments.  You will see bubbles after you have stirred.  The batter should be ready to use now.

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“Ready to use” is a bit flexible: several results may occur.  If the batter smells like sourdough and you have many bubbles in the morning, and you want to use it in the evening, put it in a relatively cool spot to slow down the fermentation.  At my house, I just put it in the cold oven and don’t warm it up again.

If there are no bubbles after you have stirred and yet it smells sour, add a little bit of flour and put in a warmer place for an hour or two.  I don’t always catch it at the perfect time. It is still usable; the injera won’t be as pretty but will taste good.

If the batter starts smelling like old gym socks, or like it is putrifying, it has gone bad and should be discarded.

If it has been too cold or you need to cook the injera early, you may add a 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum as a binder.  Save a bit of the batter to use as a starter for your next batch of injera.  Keep the starter in the refrigerator, then incorporate it into the next batch of batter, and it will ferment more quickly.  I have found that if it kept properly warm, the batter only needs to sit a day or two before cooking when using a starter.

Cooking the Injera Pancakes

-1You’ll be making 8-inch wide pancakes, much smaller than the ones in Ethiopian restaurants, but much more manageable.  The cooking method is a combination of no-oil frying and steaming. The whole process can take several minutes for each pancake, so allow plenty of time.

After the fermenting process has finished, preheat a 10-inch frying pan on medium low heat.  You can use a non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron pan, or try to manage with a regular stainless steel skillet (which will stick more than the first two options).  Without adding oil, pour in enough injera batter to create an 8-inch wide thin pancake.  Cover pan with a lid, so the injera cooks from the bottom and steams on top.

The whole bread changes color as it cooks.  Remove the lid when the color has finished changing, then let the pancake dry a little before removing it from the pan.

It is not always easy to get the injera off the pan, especially if you are using stainless steel.  I start on the outside and loosen around the edges and then work through to the middle.  The first injera I cook always turns out horrible.

What Can Go Wrong

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There are many ways injera can go wrong.

In the image to the left, you’ll see an example where the injera didn’t get the nice bubbles throughout and got soggy on the bottom since the steam didn’t escape through the bubbles.  I think the problem with this batch was that it didn’t ferment properly — either the temperature was too cold or I didn’t incubate it long enough.  Over-incubation seems to have a similar effect.

The batch to the right has no bubbles at all.

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You might be able to improve an off batch by adding either some more yeast or some sugar several hours before cooking.  I haven’t tried this, however.

But you’ll see during cooking if the fermentation process wasn’t successful.  You may decide to throw the batch away and serve rice that night.

(Eugenia adds:  I’ve also had the experience of the pancakes refusing to cook, period.  It was almost like an alien creature that doesn’t respond to the laws of science.  It remained a gluey goop.  After trying to make several pancakes and then resorting to injera scrambled eggs, I gave up.)

it’s not easy being greens: ethiopian bruschetta

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Some people love greens, and I’ll pat them on the back.  I’m not averse to them, but my regular readers have already heard my groanings.  The push to eat superfoods — especially dark, bitter rabbit salad — has made greens a culinary star, and they appear in far more dishes than they should.  Our local health food store, for example, has a prepared salads bar, about 99.9999% filled with kale.  And it’s served raw.  RAW.  Patrons circle around it hungrily, twitching their noses and waggling their ears.

Worse yet, greens grow really, really well here in the Willamette Valley.  A friend once pointed out some overwintered chard in his slightly neglected garden.  “Those chard are twenty years old,” he said, “and they keep coming up.”  That’s what I’m talking about, my friends.  WEED strength greens.

And worst of all, greens grow in the salad days of the growing season, coming up thick and lush and the color of deep forest on days when you’re dying for something to cut this morning’s bacon fat and drippings from last night’s roast.  They’ve got their PR, their market niche, and their timing down.  Greens have a Ph.D. in advertising.

So, they are a force to consider.  And they’re even tasty, in moderation.  So every year I set out to do something new with greens.

Even I can’t resist the fat, juicy little bundles of raab-style baby greens in the farmers’ markets now.  Our local farmers make use of the thinnings from their rows, selling off the shoots to greens-hungry rabbits local foodies. To celebrate their arrival, I started thinking about the recipes one makes with older greens, and recipes one makes with spinach.  The best ones are long-cooked and softened with fat, usually smoky ham hock or butter.  I thought I could give a nod to the health rabbits and still maintain deliciousness by lightening up one of the long-cooked recipes.

DSCF4379One of my favorite ways to eat greens is Ethiopian gomen: a range of dishes made of collard greens that feature niter kibbeh, a clarified butter often made with garlic, fenugreek, ginger, cinnamon, clove, and cumin.  The greens are mixed sometimes with cottage cheese, providing a nice contrast of soft mild dairy.  Turns out you can make a quick version, too.  The dish doesn’t resemble the original product, but it is fresher, lighter, and a yummy dish in its own right.  Perfect, I thought, for a spring potluck.

I whipped up my experiment — Ethiopian Greens Bruschetta — as a two-bite appetizer for a recent barbecue with a group of local foodies hosted by Amy and Matt from Our Home Works.  The feedback was positive!

Upon reflection, I think you could probably make this recipe with a wide range of spices to reflect any spring menu. The amount of clarified butter and salt are also variable, based on your tastes.  (I probably use more than you would.) You’ll find the recipe for the niter kibbeh linked in the recipe below.  It makes more than you will use for the greens, but the clarified butter keeps well in the refrigerator because the milk solids are removed, and is delicious with potatoes and other recipes calling for plain butter.

For the experiment, I purchased the three bundles above: mini brussels sprouts greens, Japanese shungiku, and turnip greens.  They cooked down significantly, and I used more of the stems than I would have if they were older greens.  I also used a couple of tablespoons-full of whole milk ricotta, because I thought it would add a cottage-cheese-like nuance to reflect the original dish the Ethiopians call gomen kitfo, but I wonder if it just muddied the color and flavor in my quick-cooked version.  So the cheese is optional in the final recipe below.

This dish can also be served a side without the bread — try the greens with a poached egg on top for a brunch, or alongside some barbecued chicken thighs or ribs.

And be sure to eat tons of these greens; they’re good for you.

Ethiopian Greens Bruschetta

Serves 8 as an appetizer

  • 3 bunches baby greens (collards are traditional, but not necessary), or 1 bunch of mature greens
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, chopped finely
  • 1/4 cup niter kibbeh (spiced, clarified butter) (click link for recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk ricotta or small-curd cottage cheese (optional)
  • 1 /2 baguette, sliced thinly

Wash greens well in several changes of water.  Remove most of the stems, except for the top 2-3 inches.  Chop leaves and the top stems finely.

Blanch greens by bringing well-salted water to boil in a medium-sized pot, then submerged the greens in the boiling water for about one minute.  Immediately remove the limp greens, and place them in a bowl filled with cold water and ice.  This will stop the cooking and set the color.  Drain greens well and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Saute the chopped onion in the niter kibbeh until it is just beginning to turn brown. Add the greens and cook briefly, then remove from heat.  How long to cook is a matter of taste.  If you like your greens crunchy, heat only briefly, but if you like them as I do, more tender, cook for a few more minutes.

Remove greens from heat when they are cooked to your liking.  If you are using the ricotta/cottage cheese, mix it in now.  At this point, the greens can be refrigerated or served.  If you refrigerate them, warm them up for 30 seconds in the microwave before serving.

Just before serving, toast or grill slices of baguette, then mound 2-3 tablespoons greens atop each slice.

eugene needs a gelato shop…not!

I was excited to read this morning about a new retail space opening far, far away from me in North Eugene. Then I put on my curmudgeon hat. Eugene, declared the owner of one of the new establishments, needs a gelato shop!

Actually, Eugene needs a gelato shop like that old saying about a fish and a bicycle. Eugene most emphatically does not need a gelato shop. We have at least two places that sell wonderful gelato, Sweet Life Pâtisserie, one of Eugene’s greatest treasures, and the upscale Market of Choice on W. 29th. Sweet Life’s gelato bar sells another of Eugene’s treasures, Coconut Bliss, the vegan, coconut-based iced confection that is the only ice cream substitute I’ll eat. And let’s not forget that Eugene also boasts some of the best fresh ice cream in the country, Prince Pücklers, milord of the ünnecessary ümlaut.

So enough already.

We don’t need another Pan-Asian restaurant either, another promised establishment. Spare us the indignity of another Paul Fleming Chang’s. Please. In fact, we don’t need another Pan-Anything. Seriously, does any small town in American have *more* Pan-Asian and Pan-Latin restaurants than we do? (I, for one, am kind of excited that the owners of El Vaquero, Red Agave and Asado are thinking of selling — just to stop more expensive Pan-Latin restaurants from propagating.)

You want upscale? How about a great, Japanese-run, experienced Japanese-cheffed sushi bar that serves fresh sushi. Not Pan-Asian. No Pad Thai sashimi. No bulgogi miso soup with sweet-n-sour pork nuggets. I’d even suggest holding the rolled-up abominations of seven kinds of fish wrapped in fake crab, doused in sweet sauce and deep-fried that have become popular at American sushi bars, but then everyone would shush my crazy talk.

Or branch out, if you don’t think the Eugene crowd can handle sushi alone (and newsflash: they can). Mix sushi with izakeya food, if you must. Japanese bar cuisine. It’s big in places like San Francisco now and totally delicious, totally authentic (basically) and simple food: boiled dishes, grilled dishes, deep-fried dishes involving just a few ingredients.

Or how about a Szechuan restaurant? It would be the first time a chili pepper set foot in Eugene. Someone who knew how to make authentic, beautiful, simple, non-MSG-poisoned Chinese food. I mean, dudes, that Fuchsia Dunlop cookbook has been out for AGES.

Or Belgian. Honestly. We have great beer and seafood and local beef sources. Belgian bistro food. Get us out of that repetitive French mode — and this is from someone who truly loves French food, but enough already. Surely someone knows how to make simple french fries that aren’t frozen and/or soggy here. Yeah, yeah, I know you like tater tots. Deal.

I won’t even suggest Ethiopian, but damn, Eugene needs an Ethiopian restaurant. We have to drive to Portland to get it. But I think it’s just too exotic for Eugene, unfortunately. And the ingredients would be just about impossible to keep stocked. So never mind.

But Persian! REAL Persian. We have a Middle Eastern grocery store now, Pomegranates, neare the Southetowne Shoppes. I’ve never met a kebab I didn’t like. They’re simple and easy to make — even kids like them. Meat served with rice and a tomato and cucumber salad. And tons of yogurt. We have a local yogurt company, Nancy’s, for goodness sake! Please!

Or just as yogurty and even less exotic and politically charged — Greek! Roasted fish with lemon and olives, variety rotating daily. Beautiful little dips. Lamb. Soups. I’m thinking Baltimore’s The Black Olive (who catered our Baltimore wedding party, thanks again to my husband’s parents!), and their grilled fresh fish, served simply with lemon and olive oil. Oh, and the desserts. God. So. Good.

Or salad. Big, huge beautiful salads that you can buy without dodging children and hot wings. I’m thinking of Café Intermezzo in Berkeley here. It’s not that hard, really. Yes — a café that sells hand-tossed salads with simple ingredients, simple sandwiches on Metropol baguettes, and perfectly prepared coffee drinks. That’s what Eugene needs.

We’re not all suckers hungry for a theme restaurant or something that’s supposed to be classy. We want good food, a variety of options, ethnic food prepared with the intention of authenticity, at least, and simple deliciousness. We’ll pay for that.