Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Two Grills, Two Days. Day Two, Or Why I Love my Life.

Memorial Day 2009. A mash-up of food on the grill. There was no theme, it was a free-for-all, a strange buffet that didn't really go together but somehow worked. First, Korean-style kalbi, beef short ribs, sliced thinly and coated in a soy, scallion, ginger, sticky, sweet and so addictive marinade. Then the Mexican cactus salad: diced and cooked squares of the delicious nopal, tossed with chopped onion, tomato, jalapeno, cilantro, and seasoned with lime juice and salt. Add some Southern-style pork ribs, basted with bbq sauce and left to caramelize on the grill. Plus baked beans, buffalo wings, grilled scallions, sticky rice, and Vietnamese vermicelli rice noodle salad to round it out. Then there were the salsas: a creamy avocado salsa verde, and a spicy smoky chile de arbol salsa with charred tomatillos. We washed it all down with plenty of agua de sandia (watermelon water) and lots o' beer. A typical family get together? Well, actually, for us it was. The two of us plus brothers, sisters, uncles, brothers-in-law and future brothers-in-law, friends, and of course kids, sitting on the patio behind the house, our old house, on 45th Avenue. We come from all over, we love different things, and we all came together to celebrate the start of summer. It sounds like a bad joke. What do you get when a Mexican grills Korean BBQ, a Puerto Rican brings baby back ribs and baked beans, and two Jews make rice noodle salad? Memorial Day in Corona. Welcome to Queens.

Our nephew Jonathan, a budding gourmand, loves his short ribs while showing his Mexican Futbol Pride. Go Cruz Azul.

Two Grills, Two Days. Day One

If there is one thing that I love almost as much as picnics, and I think we all know by now my passion for picnics, a close second is the home grilling fest known to us as a backyard barbeque. I am most likely a small minority in the grilling world, but I feel like it may be necessary to admit, in this forum, that I am partial to the salads, slaws, sauces, and sides that accompany a bbq. Not to say that I don't enjoy the smoky, charred, and always for some reason, extra flavorful hunk of animal protein on the grill, but there is something about, say, a vinegary potato salad, a spicy salsa, or a crunchy, fresh, well-seasoned cabbage slaw that excites me much more than the main event. Maybe it's because spice and sour offset the fat of the meat, maybe it's because I feel much more comfortable making a veg dish, or because I just love the taste of vinegar. Whatever the reason, luckily I just so happen to live with a professional griller, who is happy to take charge of the meat, while I can experiment in the kitchen with any variation and combination of typical and not so traditional accompaniments. In this first barbeque of the season, which took place on Sunday, my older brother, Nadav, ran the show, on his spacious deck in Boerum Hill, BK. The whole family came together. We brought the salsas, the guacamole, and the tortillas, and then sat back to cumin--rubbed skirt steak, grilled spiced shrimp, charred corn, poblanos, and onions, and some black bean salad. My Dad made the mojitos, we sipped, chatted, and snacked all afternoon, watching as my 6-month-old niece Sylvie ate her first solid food. She could not get enough of her rice cereal, and her excitement over her first taste of food was contagious. What else brings us all together, binds us and bonds us than sharing a meal seared over a flame, passing a food-laden plate from hand to hand at the table? If there is anything that I have learned thus far in my life and can confidently impart to the newest member of our family, it is this: just wait, Sylvie, it only gets better.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Chaat in the Park

I have been in love with chaat, or chat, or however you would care to spell it, since 1997. I was 19, it was my first restaurant job at Takashimaya, and a girl who worked front of the house took me to her favorite Indian snack place called Dimple. The menu was huge, and I was overwhelmed, but my new friend guided me through it, and we ordered almost half of it, which looked like this:

Chat special

All Day

Bhel Puri: puffed crisps served with potatoes, beans pulses, sauce & mint water
Khaman Bhel: puffed crisps served with khaman potatoes, beans pulses, sauce & mint water
Kachori Bhel: puffed crisps served in kachori potatoes, beans pulses, sauce & mint water
Special Bhel: puffed crisps served in kachori with khaman, potatoes, beans, pulses, sauce & mint water
Sev Puri: flour crisps heaped with potatoes, onion, spices & topped with sauces fried vermicelli
Dahi Puri: (gol gappe) puffed crisps served with potatoes, beans, pulses sauce & mint water
Dahi Chat: lentil dumpling in yogurt tossed with crick peas, sauces & topped with vermicelli
Samosa Chat: samosa topped with chick peas, onion, sauces, yogurt & vermicelli
Channa Chat: (cold) baked chick peas with tangy spices
Alu Chat: potatoes & chick peas with sauces topped with vermicelli
Kachori Chat: special kachoris stuffed with chick peas & topped with sauces, yogurt & vermicelli
Ragda Patties: special patties dipped in white beans & tossed with onions sauces & vermicelli

Now Dimple, sadly, does not exist anymore, and I am no longer friends with that girl. However, I am eternally grateful to her, and the place, for the introduction to a new food experience.
Of course, I have never been to India, and am not an expert in Indian food, but there is something so satisfying about this complex snack that clicked with me immediately. That, and the fact that I was sure, as a young girl, that I had been an Indian housewife in a past life. I watched Namaste America every Saturday morning, and ate Deep Brand Original Hot Mix whenever I got the chance. So even though it was my first time tasting chat that fateful day at Dimple, there was already something very familiar and comforting about it. There are usually some crispy bits; puffed rice, chickpea flour chips, vermicelli, that sort of thing, as a base. Then it is seasoned with spices, a chat masala, and topped with various sauces, such as tamarind, mint or cilantro chutneys, perhaps some chopped onions, boiled potatoes, tomatoes, chiles, yogurt, chickpeas, it really depends on what type of chat you are trying to make. I luckily live very close to a few places that make their own delicious items off of the chat list in Jackson Heights, and are much better than anything I could possibly mix together myself but, for experimentation's sake I decided to bring some ingredients to the park, and have a little chat picnic. Behold the pictures I took of my very own version of sev puri. The combination of flavors explode with each bite. Sour tamarind, crunchy crispy bits of vermicelli and puffed rice, soft boiled potatoes, spicy chiles, spicy-sweet mint chutney, and an indescribable mouth-feel. Eaten under a tree, sitting on a striped blanket, out of a plastic container with a plastic spoon, shoes off, and happy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Israeli Breakfast and an Explanation

I am eating breakfast as I type, trying to put the finishing touches on the portfolio due for my writing class. This evening, at 6:20 PM, I am going to submit this whole blog, which began as an experiment in constraint-based writing. The class, Improvisation: Methods and Theory, has a final project in which each student has to pick a particular rule, or constraint, that would govern the whole work. One student chose to tell the story of a life through e-bay postings, another used the constraint of a children's story, some used poetry or a one-woman play. My idea was to write a series of essays that would all be written, somehow or other, in recipe form. But, as our Professor Ruth Danon told us from the beginning, whatever our original intention might be, it will invariably change during the writing process. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because the process is almost if not as important as the finished result. So what began as a recipe book morphed into the beginnings of Fork in the Road Blog. There are still longer essays with recipes sprinkled throughout, which are much longer than a regular blog post, as well as the pictures and adventures in my daily life. Although class is over, I am still going to continuing writing here. This is a work in progress with no definite end, and I would appreciate as much feedback as possible. Thank you to all who have read and will read this, for taking the time to listen.

And just a quick look at my favorite breakfast in the world: Israeli salad, olives, eggs, and yogurt with za'atar.

And of course, some Prigat Grapefruit Drink.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Huevos Rancheros, José style

Here we have a picture of the wonder that is one of our favorite breakfasts of all time. It begins with an egg, over easy. It is imperative that the yolk be runny. Beans are easy, throw a few slices of onion in a hot pan with oil, in a minute they will start to crisp on the edges, and that is when you empty in a can of beans, pinto or black, and about half of the can full of water. It should sizzle, smoke and splatter. When much of the liquid is reduced, lower the heat and begin to mash the beans, with anything on hand, a masher is good but a cup works just as well. When the beans are thick and creamy they are done. Next, salsa verde. Tostadas can be bought ready made in the grocery store around here, but if not available, corn tortillas should be fried until crispy. Crumble some queso fresco and it's time to build. Pico de gallo, guacamole, and crispy bacon are extras that while add to the experience are not absolutely necessary to the meal. Order: smear some beans on the tostada, place the egg on top, a generous dollop of salsa, and then sprinkle of the cheese. If you have decided to go all out and do the deluxe version, add the guac to the bottom layer with the beans, and then top with the pico and a slice of bacon. It is messy, it will break, it will leak, the yolk may run down your wrist as you are crunching away. But it's worth the mess. The different textures in each bite are enough to make you a believer. Yes, you get the crunch, and then the tongue-coating velvety yolk comes through, the salty softness of the cheese, the bite of the salsa, and then the creamy beans. It's all there. Add avocado and bacon to the mix and it's a whole other level of crunchy and creamy, salty and smooth. Eat two of those for breakfast and you just might be full until dinner.