Sunday, April 17, 2011

New Look, Quick Recipe, Delicious Restaurant

I've modified the blog's look a bit.  You might say that I dressed it in Spring clothes.   I had a feeling that it may  have been too dark.   So, out came the pastel hues - lighter colored banner, and a lighter background.  The type is darker too.  Is it easier to read?  Hmmm...

Springtime in the market means lots of things, not the least of which is the arrival of mountains of sole fillets.  So many that they were on sale at my local Whole Foods market for what appeared to be the very reasonable price of $6.99 a pound.   I love crispy-crusted fish whether deep-fried or sauteed 'til it crackles.  I don't love the mess that style of cooking creates on my stove top and the thin film of oil that generally settles around my kitchen.  To satisfy my craving, and need for neatness I developed a perfectly crispy, highly-flavored oven fried fillet of sole - or flounder.  You might think that sole and flounder are the same fish - easy assumption as their fillets are similar looking - but , no - they aren't even the the same species.  Both are flat fish - and sole is the more prestigious of the two ( I'm as pleased by one as the other) and is oval-shaped while flounder is a rounder, and thicker fish. 
The recipe includes some of my favorite ingredients.

Garlicky,Spicy Oven-Fried Fillets of Sole or Flounder

Serves 2 - 4, or one with plenty of leftovers for fish sandwiches with Romaine lettuce leaves and tartar on toasted any kind of bread.

1 pound sole or flounder fillets
1/2 lemon, juice only
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small hot pepper, minced or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
parchment paper

1.   Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.   Line a sheet pan with sides with parchment paper.  Place the fillets on the paper and sprinkle lemon juice over them.

2.   In a small skillet over medium heat melt the butter in the olive oil.  Add the garlic and hot pepper.  When the garlic just begins to turn gold, 60 - 90 seconds, lower the heat, add the breadcrumbs and salt.  Toss together to combine.   Turn off the heat and stir in the parsley.

3.   Cover the fish fillets with he breadcrumb mixture.   Bake for 5 - for the sole - 6 or 7 minutes for the flounder.   Serve immediately.

My favorite way to eat the fish is on top of a tossed - simply with extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar - salad.  A forkful of vinegary-sweet, pungent oily leaves with a piece of  crunchy, crumbly, garlicky fish is a huge pleasure.


  Serendipity defined the discovery of Kebab Cafe! at 25-12 Steinway Street (718-728-9858 - no website) in Queens, New York.  I mean, duh!!!   Are my friend Roy, and I the last food-centric people on the NYC planet to find our way to Ali El Sayed's charming hole in the wall?  First of all who goes to an Arabic neighborhood on a Friday afternoon and expects to find an exceptional meal.  We did, and we did.    I had read about Mombar, an Egyptian restaurant a few doors away on Steinway Street, owned by who I now know is Ali's brother, Moustapha - but is only open  for dinner.  Moustapha happened to be near the open door of his restaurant as we walked by so I asked him - boldly - if he might like to make lunch for us.  "Sorry", he said, "I don't open 'til 5".   "Where should we eat ?", I wondered, out loud.  "Everything seems to be closed".  "Go down the street, just in front of the bus stop", he directed.  "Is it good?"   "It's my brother's place."   So, we walked into the Kebab Cafe! (yes, exclamation point). After we sat, a young man asked us what we'd like to drink and gave us a verbal list of their offerings.  We chose hibiscus tea.  He took our order and told us to wait a minute for Ali who was somewhere nearby having a coffee.    Ali arrived, changed into his chef's whites and also gave us a verbal list of food choices.  We choose, at Ali's suggestion, the cafe's signature mezze (appetizers) plate.   Now, here's where patience is truly a virtue.   The hibiscus tea arrived about 30 minutes after we ordered it. Worth every sip. Ruby red, floral fragrant served in a glass with thin apple slices floating on top, it stung our mouths with its sweet and tangy taste.   The mezze came to our table about 30 minutes after the tea.  It too was worth the wait.   We were each given a small plate that was sprinkled with ground sumac (the berry of a flowering plant) and za'atar (ground mixture of Middle Eastern herbs and spices).  Then Ali brought a large plate with his mezze, "This is hummus, this is eggplant and zucchini vinaigrette, this is smoked eggplant also called baba ganoush, this is fouls (Egyptian fava beans), these are falafel made with fouls - and try this now with your fingers, it's fried bok choy leaves.  Here's a dish of seven peppers sauce".  We served ourselves from the large plate to our smaller spice-strewn plates and we ate, we dipped, we schmeared pita bread, apple and cucumber slices - we smiled, we oohed, we aahed.  I choked a bit - too much seven pepper sauce.  We were happy.  Good thing too.  We had to wait another 30 minutes for our main course, quail with pomegranate sauce. Oy!  Such splendor, you can't imagine.  The perfectly cooked, basically before our eyes as we ate mezze, and waited, dark and rich quail was roasted with layers of spices - some recognizable - some mysterious, then covered with an olive oil- pomegranate molasses sauce and showered with the ubiquitous ground sumac to serve. The quail sat on a bed of roasted eggplant, zucchini, onions and potatoes, with a few fresh basil leaves tucked in between - all drenched in that same sweet and sour sauce.  Ali cooked this food with a kind of casual, towel, flipped-over-your-shoulder elegance, that somewhat obscured the true mastery of  his craft.  You know, something like the way Fred Astaire danced.

I recited a list of ingredients to Ali that I thought might have gone into the making of the quail.  He just smiled and said, "Oh, I think I'll try your recipe".  

After lunch we took a walk back up Steinway Street to number 25-78, Laziza Bakery.  It was difficult to choose from the bakery's offerings but we managed to treat ourselves to their celebrated kunefa - a special Egyptian (but made all over the Middle East and Turkey) dessert made in its own special flat pan, covered with rose-water flavored syrup and garnished with chopped pistachios) and an assortment of their baklava  The bite-sized (better to sample a variety) baklava are unique in the world of honey-soaked, walnut-filled, phyllo-wrapped pastries.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mango, Tango, Bango!!!

It's the time of the year -spring when those gorgeous little kidney bean-shaped  mangoes, the ataulfo, arrive from Central America to the produce bins of our nearby markets (they come out again in the fall). In markets with lots of space, the mangoes are displayed in their flattering, lavender colored boxes.  The ataulfo that I bought were called champagne mangoes and were imported exclusively by the Ciruli Brothers .  They're also called honey mangoes or Manila mangoes.  Regardless of their appellation they are the supreme mango, almost string less - none of that annoying fibre stuck between your teeth - with a firm, yet flexible texture.  Eating an ataulfo mango is something like eating pure mango flan.  Its firm flesh makes it the ideal ingredient for cutting into a perfect little dice and then adding to other ingredients to make a savory or sweet salad, chutney or salsa.

I made my favorite Seychelloise-style fresh fruit chutney to accompany the other components of a colorful meal.

3 Ataulfo mangoes, peeled, cut into approximate 1/2-inch pieces.  After it's peeled the mango is easily cut from top to bottom off both sides of the  pit, and then another slender slice on each side of it.  These sections are ready to make into perfect diced pieces.
2 scallions, white part (some tiny bit of pale green) chopped
1 Thai hot pepper, minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
zest and juice of 1 large juicy lime, or 2 small ones
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, toss all the ingredients together.  Cover the bowl and let sit in a cool spot for at least an hour until ready to serve.  Leftover chutney may be stored in a refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.

The thing that gets me to decide what to eat as much as the ingredients themselves is their color.  The more vibrant the color the more I'm attracted to the ingredient.  To certify what seems to be whimsical reasoning I might add that the more vibrant the color the higher the nutritional value contained within the produce.   Ah - what a bonus.
RED fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes contain a high amount of lycopene - an antioxidant.
ORANGE & YELLOW produce, including sweet potatoes, squash, pineapple, mangoes and carrots are high in beta carotene = vitamin A which helps dispel depression, headaches, heartburn and high blood pressure.
BLUE & PURPLE ingredients such as blueberries, blackberries, purple grapes, plums and eggplant contain anthocyanins = antioxidant.
GREEN the color that gives the whole category its name.  This produce is obvious, and gets its color from chlorophyll which = vitamins A,C,& K.  The fiber contained in the greens goes a long way to lower cholesterol.

Add, say, a bright, beautiful pile of pickled red cabbage on the plate with a mound of mango chutney and you've got another part of a trio flavors that will add up to a meal filled with more dips and swirls then most tangos danced in Buenos Aires.   For the pickled cabbage recipe I'm going to send you straight to my friend, Amy's blog, Coconut and Quinoa .

The protein portion of this group is my version of age tofu - fried  tofu.  In the Japanese kitchen cubes of tofu are covered in corn or potato starch and fried until golden then served in a hot broth made with mirin, dashi, sho-yu then topped with finely chopped green onions, and sometimes grated daikon radish.
Here's what I did:
2 large or  4 small shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
grapeseed or canola oil for frying
rice flour for coating
1 block firm, preferably organic tofu cut into 1 1/2-inch squares

1.  Fill a small skillet, over medium heat with about an inch of oil.  Add the sliced shallots and cook until golden - stir ocassionally or else the ones on the outer edge of the skillet will burn.  Remove the pale gold (they'll continue to cook as they cool) shallots from the oil with a strainer and drain on paper towels.  Reserve the oil.
2.   Add the rice  flour to a dinner plate.  Coat all sides of the tofu with the flour.  
3.   Reheat the shallot-flavored oil to medium.  Add the tofu, in batches, and fry until golden on all sides.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve hot - or at room temperature.

Compose your meal with a stack of tofu covered with fried shallots, a heap of pickled cabbage and
mango chutney.  All the better if you have a turquoise, navy blue or lime green plate for serving.  Bango! -here's a  meal of creamy tofu covered with a crackling crust topped with what seem to be mini fried onions rings, crunchy pickled cabbage, and fragrant, tangy fresh mango chutney.  Healthy? OMG, Yes!  For me, this meal tastes even better when eaten with chopsticks.


This vintage sofa, newly upholstered with Lisa Corti fabric, from John Derian nourishes me visually in the same way as the meal I've just described.  Remember, feed all your senses.