Last March, when I was in Los Angeles for a wedding, I had a weekend full of waffles, all of them sweet. My favorite came from Charlie’s Coffee Shop in the old Farmer’s Market. Their booth is right near Gate 4 off of Fairfax Avenue and their waffles come with a big ol’ hunk of real butter and—upon request—a pitcher of real maple syrup. The waffle I got from Swingers Diner (below the Beverly Laurel Motor Hotel at the corner of Beverly and Laurel) wasn’t quite as good as Charlie’s. The diner itself is a nice place, though, with real pizzazz, and a great choice if you’re in the mood for a brownie a la mode and a cup of joe.
While we (Aurora, our friend Rebekah, and I) were eating dinner in Swingers one night and I didn’t order a waffle, they started giving me a hard time about it. “I’m surprised you didn’t order that sandwich to be made between two waffles,” Rebekah laughed, which led to a discussion about the unexplored possibilities of waffledom: savory waffles!
Because, really, what’s to dictate that waffles have to be a sweet treat served with syrup? Yeah, they’re tasty like that, but why not serve them with vegetables and savory sauces? I thought I was on to something completely new and different. Turns out, I was just resurrecting a concept that’s been dormant for years (perhaps since the Depression). According to The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion, “In the 1930’s, waffle suppers consisting of waffles with a savory topping—most often creamed chicken—were standard entertainment. They enjoyed a particularly favored place in the Franklin Roosevelt White House, whose thrifty head housekeeper saw them as an economical way to entertain heads of state” (12). Of course, I didn’t know that when I set about to create my own savory waffle dinners, which made my work all the more fun and exciting.
My first foray into Savory Waffledom was a dinner for two comprised of four different types of waffles: three savory (dill waffle with cream cheese sauce, black pepper waffle with buffalo demi-glaze, and pork sausage waffle with roasted carrots and leeks), with a ginger waffle topped with peach caramel sauce for dessert.
Of the first three savory waffles, the black pepper waffle was the clear winner, though it seemed somewhat like a souped-up version of biscuits and gravy. The dill waffle was passable, though my taster thought the sauce was somewhat too rich (exact quote,”what, are you trying to do, kill me?!”). The pork sausage waffle had decent flavor, but fell flat because there was no sauce accompanying it. It was just too dry.
My next savory waffle dinner was for a wider audience: Tomato Waffles with Cauliflower Curry Sauce as dinner for five. I added the tomato flavor to the waffles by caramelizing tomato paste in a skillet with fine-brunoise-cut onions and carrots (a preparation known as a pincage) and added it to the milk in the waffle recipe. To make a pincage, you must stir the tomato paste constantly, occasionally deglazing the pan with a bit of water to keep any of the tomato paste from scorching on the bottom of the pan. It’s a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it because it develops the tomato paste’s flavor and makes it taste less like the processed tomato product that it is. In the end, though, it wasn’t quite enough tomato; my tasters recommended adding sun-dried tomatoes to the batter next time I make them. The curried-cauliflower sauce relied on reduced beer and water for its liquid component and wasn’t quite clingy enough, though it had good flavor. Tasters recommended that I add some yogurt to it next time for richness and texture. I’m looking forward to implementing these suggestions sometime soon.
For my most recent batch of savory waffles, I capitalized on lessons learned during my first two attempts. I went back to the idea of topping the waffle with pan-roasted vegetables (julienne-cut carrots and onions), but added a thick and clingy mustard sauce to the mix. The resulting dish was taste perfection.
To make a savory waffle, all you really have to do is to cut the sugar out of a regular waffle recipe and add some spices that make sense with your topping. It’s okay to add a little more salt to the recipe than you would otherwise, but not too much, because the presence of salt inhibits the beaten egg whites’ ability to hold air (and they’re the source of a properly-made waffle’s light-and-fluffy texture). My general recipe follows below.
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2-2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup oil
Combine all dry ingredients and mix to evenly distribute through mix (by shaking in tightly closed container or by sifting together).
Beat together egg yolks, milk, and oil. Stir into dry ingredients with a fork until the dry ingredients are moistened but the batter is still lumpy.
Beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks, but stop beating them before they turn dry and brittle. As they approach stiffness, stop beating every so often and pull the beater out of the whites. If the peaks hold, you’re there: stop. If they still flop over, keep beating a bit longer.
Fold the batter into the beaten egg whites with a rubber spatula, using a twisting motion with your wrist to bring the contents from the bottom of the bowl up and over to the top. Be careful not to stir the mixture because that will lead to your egg whites deflating, causing a more runny texture to your batter than is ideal. Continue until the batter has uniform consistency.
Cook the batter on your waffle iron for about 5-7 minutes, or according to manufacturer’s directions.
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup prepared spicy mustard
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish sauce
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup cream
1/2 stick butter, cut into small cubes
Put white wine in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and let boil until reduced almost all the way. Meanwhile, stir together mustard, horseradish, and chicken or vegetable stock. Whisk into reduced wine. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stirring occasionally, let simmer 15-20 minutes or until thick and bubbly all over.
Whisk in cream. Let return to a simmer. Turn heat off and whisk in cubes of butter until combined.
2 tablespoons butter
2-3 onions, cut julienne
2-3 carrots, cut julienne or shaved
2 ribs celery, cut julienne
4-5 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
salt and pepper to taste
powdered ginger to taste
Melt butter in large saute pan. Add pepper and ginger. Add onions and a bit of salt, toss to combine with butter and spices, turn heat to very low and cover. Let onions sweat for 10-15 minutes or until they have released their liquid. Remove cover and turn heat to medium-high. Stir onions often as they caramelize; they’ll leave a bit of fond on the bottomn of the pan. Add a couple tablespoons of water to deglaze as necessary, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to remove the fond as you deglaze.
Once the onions have caramelized, add carrots, celery, and garlic, along with a touch more salt and pepper if desired. Turn heat to high and stir vegetables constantly until they’re cooked.
Serve over savory waffles and accompany with mustard sauce.