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
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.
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.