Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Welsh rabbit is a funny thing. To me it represents (along with rice pudding and any number of potato-based things covered in gravy) the quintessence of childhood comfort food. Yet many Americans have never heard of it, and the basic definition - "melted cheese on toast"- is sadly inadequate to describe its ineffable homespun charm. The inexhaustible fount of wisdom that is Wikipedia tells us: "The first recorded use of the term Welsh rabbit was in 1725, but the origin of the term is unknown. It may be an ironic name coined in the days when the Welsh were notoriously poor: only better-off people could afford butcher's meat, and while in England rabbit was the poor man's meat, in Wales the poor man's meat was cheese."
That seems fair enough. My mother (who introduced me to this dish, probably in the womb) grew up during WWII, and there were times she'd have been lucky to get anything on toast, so we've got the poverty thing covered. The interesting part about my own early experience with Welsh rabbit is that, for some unknown reason, it was always associated with Sunday evenings in our house; I'm honestly not sure if we ever ate it on any other day of the week. Sometimes my mom made it, and sometimes my dad did, but in my memory it is inextricably linked with an early bathtime followed by The Wonderful World of Disney (each week, as Tinkerbell flew up to Cinderella's Castle and tapped it with her wand, you'd hope for something like Lady and the Tramp or Sleeping Beauty, but more often than not it would be one of those tedious offerings like The Love Bug, The Nutty Professor, or The Apple Dumpling Gang. *YAWN*). On such occasions, a few slabs of toasted crusty bread covered with gooey, mustardy, vaguely beer-scented cheese were the high point of the evening.
Now, the weirdest thing about this is that my partner recalls having exactly the same experience, right down to the Sunday-night-specifics! Since he grew up about 600 miles north of me, we are left to speculate that it must have something to do with my mother being British and his parents being Anglo-Canadian: perhaps, in their tender, formative years, Churchill had extolled the virtues of eating Welsh rabbit on Sunday as a means of defeating the Hun? My inner folklorist wonders if a tradition of having a comparatively "light" meal in the evening might have arisen as a result of the big "Sunday lunch" so beloved by the English at midday, but research into the matter has thus far yielded nothing to link this poor Welshman's treat to the Lord's day of rest. So if anyone out there knows anything about this, let me know, okay?
At this point in my ramble down Memory Lane, the gentle reader would be forgiven for thinking, "Oi! You don't eat cheese or rabbits, innit? So wot's yer bleedin' point?" (Assuming the gentle reader is an '80s skinhead.) Well, last week it occurred to me that some melty cheesy stuff on bread might be just the thing to temporarily chase away those overscheduled mid-semester blues. There was about a cup remaining in our dwindling hoard of cheddar-flavor Daiya, but with the addition of some Coleman's mustard and help from the one lonely beer in the house (among other things), I was able to come pretty close to the taste of those long-ago Sunday nights. I've now made it twice, with excellent results; first on a Tuesday evening, and then on a Saturday morning. The fact that this radical departure from tradition caused no discernible tear in the space:time continuum leads me to believe it would be perfectly safe to whip up a batch any day of the week, so go mental! That said, I think I'll wait for a Sunday to make it next time, then get into my pajamas and fire up 101 Dalmations for old times' sake.
Who says you can't go home again?
~2 tbsp. Earth Balance
~1/4 cup finely minced onion
~2 tbsp. flour
~1/2 tsp. each: salt, paprika, turmeric
~1 heaping tsp. dry mustard (I used Colman's)
~A few grinds of black pepper
~3/4 cup beer or brown ale (not stout)
~1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 generous tsp. Marmite
~1 cup cheddar flavor Daiya (or other vegan cheese; I love Cheezly when I can get it)
~1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~1 tbsp. lemon juice
~A shot of hot sauce (optional)
~8 slices ripe tomato, patted dry, salted & peppered, and/or 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced and browned in a very hot pan (also optional, but nice)
~1 large baguette, sliced lengthwise, cut into 8 slab-like slices and toasted lightly
~Preheat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit (my oven tends to be slow; you know yours best, so adjust accordingly).
~In a saucepan, melt the Earth Balance and saute the minced onion over medium-low heat about 5 minutes, until softened but not browned.
~Stir in the flour, salt, paprika, turmeric and mustard. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, another 3 minutes or so.
~Whisk in the beer, Worcestershire sauce, and Marmite; keep stirring!
~When the mixture is smooth, turn heat to low and add the Daiya cheese and nutritional yeast, stirring until you get a smooth, uniform texture.
~Add the lemon juice and hot sauce and cook another minute or two. Remove from heat and allow to sit about 5 minutes. (It will get a bit gloppy as it cools; no worries!)
~Spoon the mixture onto the toasted baguette slices, top with a tomato slice and/or sautéed mushrooms, if using, and place on a baking sheet.
~Cook at 450 degrees for about 10-12 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly. If you like, turn the broiler on for the last minute or two, but keep a careful eye so they don't burn!
~Allow to cool for a few minutes and devour. Blimey!