Sunday, December 16, 2007

Chinese Fish

"Environmental problems plaguing seafood would appear to be a bad omen for the industry. But with fish stocks in the oceans steadily declining and global demand for seafood soaring, farmed seafood, or aquaculture, is the future. And no country does more of it than China, which produced about 115 billion pounds of seafood last year."

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters, NYTimes, December 15th 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Red Lentils and Homemade Seitan

I've been gone for a bit - last week there was an Anthropology
conference in DC that I attended, and now it's finals - but seeing as my dad sent me a new camera as an early Xmas present, I have to post on last night's dinner. Red lentils, Indian style, over sticky rice with some homemade seitan, straight of Isa's Vegan With a Vengeance (and also on the Post Punk Kitchen website). The seitan was surprisingly easy, and considering that it was my first time, came out perfectly. The lentils were a breeze - cumin seeds cooked in hot earthbalance followed by half a red onion, minced hot pepper, clove of minced garlic, lentils, then add water, bring to a boil, add salt to taste plus any of the following: garam masala, more cumin, allspice, ginger, and a squeeze of lime. So good. So easy.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


After working a double with nary a good tip and suffering from a cat-allergy-induced cold for the past few days, including and perhaps at its apex during Thanksgiving dinner, I have been less than interested in doing anything other than lay in bed and wheeze. However, this has not been possible. Yesterday was spent getting out of town and touring historic Donaldsonville. Historic Donaldsonville! Home to America's first African-American mayor, Pierre Landry, and to America's first caesarean-section (performed on a slave, no mention of whether she survived or not...). Walking past an old grocers called "Shaheen's" I noticed a plaque written in both Arabic and English. My heart skipped a beat! Lebanese immigrants. Also, Donaldsonville had a considerable Jewish immigrant population, the synagogue now an Ace Hardware (does Hebrew still hum in the woodwork? Do the mice still squeak shalom?). Lunch at a so-called "African-Creole-Cajun" restaurant-gallery which turned out to be mostly 'Classy Cajun,' vegetarianism being something freakish, or so I was led to assume, and the gallery bit being a showcase for quaint glass crosses and paintings of dogs in gardens. We toured Laura Plantation afterwards, an old Creole place facing the Mississippi, lovely, gardens heavy with oranges, tangerines, satsumas and persimmons. They were selling all the citrus in the gift shop; I asked about the persimmons and the woman behind the counter had no idea what I was talking about. She said "help yourself" and so I did. I love the persimmons sweet permissiveness.

Thanksgiving was the day before, and quite fine. We had a few friends over, no big deal, but invented a new tradition in which we stuff random objects into a ceramic unicorn bust with the hopes of removing them in the year to come. I invented the 'screwhound' for breakfast (though unlikely to have been the first to do so), vodka with grapefruit and orange juice. We played Star Wars monopoly (Dan besting both me and Beau) before cooking, once again missing the opening day at the track for the fifth, or is it sixth, year. On the menu:
Star anise and satsuma-cooked cornish hens, or something like that.
Mushroom stuffing
Apple and onion stuffing brought by Steph
Red onion, cranberry, and tangerine salad, also by Steph
and the best thing she brought, lemon nut cookies (ridiculous)
(and my additions) Mashed potatoes a la Joy of Cooking
Roasted fennel with olives and garlic
Brussel sprout hash with caramelized shallots
Pumpkin and Marscapone Pie
and caramel cake with coconut milk instead of dairy.

As for the eats today: 1 sandwich and a persimmon for breakfast, Reginelli's breadsticks with artichoke hearts and green olives, and penne marinara and fake sausage, and a persimmon, for dinner.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mashrubaat Ruhheyya

That is how you saw 'alcoholic beverages' in Arabic. And that is what this house is evidently full of.

Today I ate:
1. Breakfast consisted of a "Ham" and "mayonnaise" sandwich with spinach and some old tomatoes.
2. I had the same for lunch, sans tomatoes, they were gross. Then I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dessert.
3. For dinner we went to Kyoto for sushi, and I must say, that rocked my world.

Post-dinner the other night, Dan and I were sitting on the couch watching the dogs lick peanut butter off the ends of their noses, he drinking a chocolate milk and me finishing some wine, and talking about how nice it is to be grown up. It's awesome, awesome, to be able to do whatever you want, and I think we lose sight of that. Maybe I will have another glass of wine! Maybe I WILL eat peanut butter and jelly on crackers! Maybe I will do all of these things, at the same time, laying in bed, watching He-Man on dvd! I won't list any of the other things that can happen (so to keep this family friendly), but man, I'm thankful for all of it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A New Project

While planning my Thankgiving menu yesterday, I found the menu from last year's Thanksgiving. It seemed like a sort of artifact in the study of my own life. I felt inspired. I think that I'm going to start a new and interesting, well, hopefully interesting little project. I want to make a list of everything that I eat every day. I see bargraphs and pie charts in my future.

So, today.
For breakfast I had a sandwich made of whole wheat bread, veganaise, Lightlife fake ham, and spinach. For what I guess I could call lunch I had a small cup of coffee (and I never, ever, drink coffee, I'm not sure what possessed me to buy it, aside from tremendous lethargy I suppose) and an oatmeal raisin cookie. I went home two hours later and ate delicioso Milagro corn tortilla chips (which were in actuality the tiny little crumbly remnants of much larger chips that had gone the way of the passenger pigeon days ago) with veganaise on them, then some rolled up fake ham, dipped in veganaise, sprinkled in chips.
In two hours I'm going over to my friend Casey's house for a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner, so I'll just have to update the rest of the list later.

UPDATE: excellent spread! Broccoli and cheddar melt, green bean casserole, tofu in an apricot and balsamic vinaigrette glaze with sliced vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuffing (into which I suspect a piece of meat had been secreted), eggnog, rolls. And I even met a kid who had biked down here from Wisconsin and was sleeping on rooftops in frightening neighborhoods.

Monday, November 19, 2007

New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival

Yesterday was the first annual New Orleans Po-Boy Fest on Oak St., currently the site of some very interesting regenerative spirit. Upon arriving to find throngs, literally throngs of people stuffing the streets, children getting lost and dogs being stepped on, we were somewhat terrified and had to temporarily abandon ship for a predictably-awesome lunch at Lebanon's.
Highlights - some guy's boxer yowled after getting a toe crunched. A woman walking by with her two little sons said "Oh dearie! Poor pup just got stepped on! Why dontcha' give him a little kiss!" Her son, about eye level with the dog, gave him a nice wet one on his rump. She says "There, now it's all better." That warmed the cockles of my heart, as did the 2nd line that erupted right before the Iguanas hit the stage. Standing there watching that red and white tassled umbrella fly up and down while cheeks ballooned behind brass instruments, and everyone dancing, young and old, black and white, face-tattooed and yuppie alike, I swear a goddamned tear came to my eye. A friend of mine is in town after moving away last January, and he's currently planning on moving back home. In some ways, I'm seeing the experience through his eyes, and in some ways it's me seeing the future, a reluctant but perhaps necessary return to Washington D.C., a real job, school and all of this behind me. I reassure myself by saying that inevitably I will come back, but I think the point is, how can I leave in the first place?

Wish I Could Go To San-Fran

Expanding the Frontiers of the Vegetarian Plate, NY Times, 11-18-07.

Friday, November 16, 2007

PETA kinda sucks.

They did it again.

Some of the black and white shots of her make her look like a corpse. Once again, PETA seems to miss the point; instead of a hamburger we're visually eating her body. Ho hum.

Pumpkin Broth and Spaghetti Squash

Dan always tells me that I'm turning into his grandmother, Margaret. It's because I pick up cans and bottles on the street and bring them home from the restaurant to recycle, I'm obsessed with the notion of 'dumpster diving' (simply because I can't stand the idea that good food is just being thrown away, uh, and I'm a poor student), and I've been known to do really odd frugal things, like save dental floss (in my defense, we were traveling and damn if I didn't know if I would need some dental floss) and bring home chicken carcasses from friend's dinners to turn into broth for someone else's meal. My most recent thing is that I've been collecting the pumpkins that silly people throw away, assuming that now Halloween has passed, their usefulness is exhausted. Not true! A pumpkin is tasty! It has lots of seeds that can be baked! Sure, it's a pain in the ass to process it, but sometimes I feel like lobotomizing and cooking a pumpkin.
I had no idea what I was doing last night but decided to go at the smallest one I had. Knife in hand, I attacked, but discovered that the outer shell was like pressed wood. By the time I had gotten about a quarter of it peeled and cubed, I decided that would be enough. Then I tossed it into a pot with some onions that I had carmelizing, plus some cumin, and waited for it to cook. A little bit of vegetable broth later, I started wondering what else I could do with it. How about some dried galangal and kaffir lime leaves? Tossed that in. A little bit of allspice, some salt, some sugar...

It kind of looked gross. But it tasted okay. I let it cook a while longer, and in the meantime wanted to use up some leftover wonton wrappers on their last legs, so made stuffing out of a package of mixed mushrooms, a little soy sauce, minced garlic, and sausage (vegan, and quite spicy) squeezed out of the casing. Soup tasted better, but I didn't like the idea of eating all the solid stuff in there, so I decided to strain in, squeeze out the pumpkin mix, and use the pumpkin-broth as a base for egg-drop soup. Brilliant! I'm serious, this turned out to be one of those rare moments that I exhibit true and unwavering brilliance. It was so, so good. Plus, I added the pumpkin (sans galangal and lime leaves), to the wonton filling and hence pumpkin-mushroom wontons were born. What didn't get stuffed into the wee wrappers I mixed in with a spaghetti squash that I was baking, so then I had pumpkin-mushroom spaghetti.

So, in conclusion, I take this as a positive development in my culinary evolution, and wanted to share. Also, I realized the other day that I don't think about sex anymore, I think about food.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Okay, please go here, now.

Tasty Lil' Wontons

Okay, first thing's first. I got my birthday present from Dan yesterday (thankyou thankyou thankyou), Isa Chandra Moskovitz's book Vegan With a Vengeance and her's and Terry Hope Romero's Veganomicon. Yah yah, I'm not exactly a vegan, but that doesn't mean that I'm not amazed by the creative ways that foods are tackled. Plus, I don't see anything wrong with eating vegan (except missing out on honey...that's messed up).

Second thing: yum, I did real good last night. Reeeeal good. These wontons were easy, incredibly delicious, and smacked of a professionalism that I didn't realize I possessed.

Tasty Lil' Wontons

1 package of wonton wrappers (I used Nasoya)
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
5-6 small shiitake mushrooms
1/2 of a large carrot, grated
tamari sauce
soy sauce
olive oil
vegetable oil

for sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
sesame seeds
1 Tbsp finely chopped green onions
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1. Heat a tablespoon on olive oil in a medium size pan. Add the onion and garlic. Allow them to soften and become transparent, then add the carrots. Cook for another 5 minutes before adding the mushrooms. Mix in a teaspoon of tamari sauce, and let that puppy cook on low for about 20 minutes. Turn of flame and allow the mix to cool.

2. Make your dipping sauce: add all ingredients together.

3. Put a small amount, about 1 tsp, in the middle of the wonton wrapper. Spread it out a bit so that the wontons won't break while cooking. Run a wet finger around the edge and seal the wonton. Put it on a plate and cover, so that the dough doesn't dry out.

4. Immerse the wontons in boiling salted water for no more than 20 seconds, then fry 'em up in about a tsp of vegetable oil.

5. Eat.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Dia de los Muertos

Last Friday we threw a Dia de los Muertos party over at what we affectionately refer to as 'Evangeline,' Evan's home in Pigeon Town off of South Carollton. It was an excuse to dress up like skeletons, and I badly wanted to make skull maracas. Of course, it was also a good reason to cook, and cook we did. I tried to approximate a bean and rice dish that my friend Casey had effortlessly whipped together for lunch a few days before (garlic rice, black beans, caramelized onions, minced garlic, corn, salt, avocado slices, would have liked to add some mole but the new Breaux Mart, R.I.P. Sav-a-Center, didn't carry it), and while it was good it wasn't quite the same as hers. I also made devil's food cupcakes, decorated with little skull faces, and Julie produced some lovely cookies for the altar (see photo) plus anise bread. All of that turned out well and good, but nothing topped our costumes. Obviously, they were quite brilliant, augmented by E-Ray's amazing photography. Toss in a little cerveza and some sangria, and damn, you get quite a good party.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


It's been a while since I've posted, due to the incomprehensible school workload I've been dealt, but it's Sunday morning and I have all day to of the books is related to food, so I can mention that. For a course on Islam, we were assigned Rebecca Popenoe's Feeding Desire: Fatness, Beauty, and Sexuality Among a Saharan People. It's a fascinating account of a North African desert Arab culture whose ideal of beauty is a corpulent woman, where stretch marks are a thing to aspire to, and from the age a little girl loses her milk teeth, her life becomes an attempt to attain the standard that will bring her a good husband. Aside from that, everything else is theory and statistics, blergh.

My birthday was last Monday and I had family in town. We ate particularly well: oysters at Casamento's, po-boys at Parasol's, drinks at Bacchanal's followed by a paella dinner and sangria at Lola's, then my birthday dinner at Iris, where I had another of the chef's amazing impromptu vegetarian plates while everyone else chowed down on duck and braised beef shortribs. One of the best orders was my dad's appetizer of Ricotta Gnudi (meaning 'nude' in Italian). Very similar to gnocchi, but instead of potatoes they're made with ricotta, so that they end up extremely light. The drinks there also attain a brilliance that should be mentioned. I had a galangal and banana martini while Dan, currently fascinated by Hendrick's gin (which is infused with cucumber and rose petals), had a parsley gin martini.

Last night I came home from work to find that he had orchestrated a lovely surprise party for me, complete with a massive accompanying meal. He even went so far as to print out little menus! They listed 'cremini mushrooms marinated in olive oil and fresh herbs,' 'roasted red pepper and goat cheese crostini,' 'tomato, mozzarella, and eggplant salad with a homemade vinaigrette,' 'Italian pasta salad with yellow squash, zucchini, and Bella di Cerignola olives,' and my favorite, 'Italian style "meat" balls.' My friend Claire also brought over a fantastic chickpea and red onion salad which deserves mention.

Anyways, I must include here the recipe that he used to make the meatballs, because they were definitely on par with the vegan meatballs from Whole Foods, which, if you've had them, are divine.

He didn't use egg at all, used fresh garlic and onions instead of powder, and used freshly grated parmesan instead of the fake stuff.

Sandy's Italian Tofu Balls (from Vegetarian Recipes Around the World,

About the ingredients:
Tofu: Don't use tofu in a box, even if it says firm, and don't use anything but firm or extra firm (or a block of each), fresh tofu. It should be possible to hold one end of the block without it breaking in half immediately. Rinse it and squeeze as much of the water as you can out of it right before you start.

Bread crumbs: I make my own from toasted Berlin Bakeries spelt bread, but any crumbs should work. Some people like chunks of bread in the mix, and that works ok. Pre-season the crumbs with a little salt (vegetable salt is nice), basil, (considerably less) oregano, granulated garlic or garlic powder, and pepper. The amount of bread crumbs required will greatly depend on the texture and wetness of the tofu.

Granulated garlic: If you've never had it, you're missing a great seasoning. look for it in natural foods stores.

Dried onion flakes: You can substitute fresh minced onion, but you should probably partially cook it in the microwave or in a saucepan, if you do. Ditto minced garlic, if you use it.

Dry egg replacer: Ener-G makes one; you can probably substitute arrowroot flour or cornstarch. I've used cornstarch.

Tamari: Yes, you can use soy sauce. If you use soy sauce or regular tamari, use a bit less.

Nutritional Yeast: Adds vitamins, micronutrients and a mild "cheesy" flavor. Don't use brewer's yeast, which is bitter.

* Means optional
** Means optional but strongly suggested for best results.

(makes about 22 1 1/2" balls):

  • 2 x 16oz blocks of firm or extra firm tofu (or one of each)
  • Roughly 1 1/2 cups of preseasoned bread crumbs
  • * 1 heaping tablespoon powdered egg replacer
  • About 1 1/2 tablespoons (six to ten shakes) low sodium tamari
  • Vegetable or sea salt to taste. ( or potassium salt substitute)
  • Pepper to taste.
  • * About 2 tablespoons dry flaked onion.
  • * Soymage Parmesan Substitute to taste.
  • Roughly 1 teaspoon basil.
  • Roughly 1/4 teaspoon oregano.
  • Granulated garlic, minced garlic or garlic powder to taste.
  • * 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast.
  • ** 1 1/2 quarts pasta sauce.
1. Lightly oil a full-size baking sheet, and begin preheating oven to 350.

2. Rinse, drain, and squeeze dry the tofu, crumble it into a large mixing bowl, then mash it into an even - but not extremely fine - consistency, using a sturdy fork.
Sprinkle on the tamari, and mix it in with the fork.
Add the other seasonings and the yeast, while continuing to mix the tofu without mashing it further.
Taste it several times; you want it to taste mildly salty, and for the flavor of the seasonings to be present, but not overwhelming.

3. Stir in the flaked or minced onion, and the egg replacer.
Then add about 2/3 of the bread crumbs, first mixing them in with the fork, then with your (slightly moistened) hands.
First squeeze it through your fingers repeatedly, then press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the bowl with your knuckles.
While doing this, add enough bread crumbs to make the mixture form readily into firm balls, without being wet or doughlike.
If you add too much bread and it gets dry and crumbly, sprinkle in a little water.
If it's still a little wet and you are out of bread, add a little more egg replacer or some cornstarch or potato starch.

4. Form the mixture into balls. They can be small (about 1") or medium size (about 1 1/2"). Larger ones are possible, but are likelier to end up underdone in the middle.
Place them on the baking sheet. They can be close together, but not touching.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes (small) to 1 hour (medium).
The tofu balls should be well browned, especially if you are omitting the last two steps, but not burned looking.
You can turn them after 1/2 hour, but it isn't absolutely necessary.

**6. Let the balls cool for about 20 minutes, them place them in a large *covered* frying pan that has been coated with canola oil, olive oil, or a mix of the two, and preheated.
Gently saute them for about 15 minutes, turning them frequently.

**7 Add enough tomato sauce to completely cover the balls, then cover and simmer them for one hour, gently stirring them occasionally.
They are ready to eat at this point, but for the best flavor, let them sit in the sauce, in a glass bowl or steel pan, in the refrigerator overnight. They freeze fairly well.

Note: for lowfat tofu balls, try omitting step #6, but not step #7.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tasty Bits

Lolo over at Vegan Yum Yum might be brilliant. I've made her crispy sweet and sour seitan twice now, and both times it turned out perfect. It's just like when I was in middle school hanging out at the food court in the mall and getting the sweet and sour chicken from Panda Express, except there's no chicken in it. So, aside from being nostalgiac, it's one of those meals that comes together fast, which is always good. Point is, go check it out for yourself.

Monday, September 24, 2007


I want to say for the record that I think PETA's new ad featuring Alicia Silverstone (who, as an actress, is pretty obsolete anyways) naked in a swimming pool talking about how life-transforming it is to be vegetarian, is pretty retarded. Okay, so, she's putting herself out there as the 'meat' instead? I don't get how vegetarianism and nudity are linked, other than trying to create the image that a meat-free lifestyle is a sexy one. I guess these days they're giving up trying to appeal to reason and are going for penises.

Alicia Silverstone’s Sexy Veggie PSA
Order a FREE vegetarian starter kit at

Lentil Soup

I've been hungering for lentil soup ever since Cat posted about it on her blog and was fortunate enough to receive a cookbook in the mail which more than answered my prayers. The book in question is Iranian Najmieh Batmanglij's lovely Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey. Flipping through this glossy tome covering food from China all the way to Sicily (and many unknown places in between), I can sort of drown out the sound of my schizophrenic neighbor's shrieking and dream instead about places with names like Kermanshah and Tabriz. Recipes aside, I love the book for its billions of photos and reliance on history, culture, and geography to illuminate and inform. Plus, she throws in some Rumi every now and then.

I made the Balkh Brown Lentil Soup, but seeing as I lacked brown lentils, butternut squash, rice flour, and angelica powder, modified it for what I did have, namely a 4 year old can of pumpkin, red lentils, regular flour, and ground coriander. Oh, and I threw in some dried chickpeas. Whatever changes I made, it still turned out incredible and very, very different.

(Austerlitz) Red Lentil Soup

3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can pumpkin
1/2 cup dried chickpeas
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp coriander powder
1 1/2 cups red lentils
2 Tbsp flour (diluted into a 1/2 cup water)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp lime juice

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and stir fry for 20 seconds. Be sure to have the lid on hand as they will spatter. Add the onions, garlic, and pumpkin and stir fry for 10 minutes.

2. Add the water, salt, pepper, lentils, and boil. Cover and simmer over medium heat until the lentils are tender, stirring occasionally (about 50 minutes).

3. Add flour, chili powder, and orange juice and boil. Simmer for another 40 minutes. If too thick, add warm water and boil.

Najmieh's website:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Alice Waters

Lunch With Alice Waters, Food Revolutionary, NY Times Sept. 19, an interview and cooking date with the chef of Chez Panisse, and her lovely, simple aioli recipe.
More on her here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Comfort Food

I know it's not Middle Eastern, but damn it, I'm sick, and I want PIE. Our fridge is sadly quite empty right now, and one of our car's tires is compleeeeetely flat, so there's no way that I'm going to make it to the grocery store anytime in the near future. So I was looking at the pantry and the freezer, trying to figure out what I could make with what I had (after laying in bed all day I decided enough was enough and that I should at least cook something). Turns out, I had exactly what I needed to make the blueberry hand pies from Vegan YumYum. I have to say (now that I've had two utterly successful baking experiences), baking with earthbalance is awesome. The crust of these pies tastes so light and buttery, but with low cholesterol and no carbohydrates or transfatty acids. The wee pies were easy enough to make, although I couldn't get my dough as thin as she did in the picture. The dough tastes so good that it doesn't really matter, and of course the fillings are what makes it great anyways.

I made some with blueberries, some with blueberries and ricotta, and then the one last straggler piece (made up of all those bits of leftover dough) with Bonne Maman jam. Hand pies rock my world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ramadan Kareem!

Thursday begins the ninth and most holy month for Muslims around the world, Ramadan; a month of abstention, spiritual reflection, and some intense celebration as well. It is believed that the Qur'an was revealed during Ramadan, the most important night being laylat al-qadr (around the 27th day) when the first verses were revealed to the Prophet. The etymological roots of the word Ramadan relate it to heat, so the ninth was probably the hottest month out of the year, and in pre-Islamic times was known as a month of truce. It is required of every Muslim able to withstand the rigors of fasting to participate in the ritual denial of food, liquids, cigarettes, and sex from dawn till dusk - fasting, or sawm in Arabic, is one of Islam's five pillars. Those who can fast but don't are expected to provide meals for thirty people throughout the month as penance.

I experienced Ramadan in Egypt, and fasted for a day to see what it was like. Of course, I didn't wake up before dawn for prayers and a little meal, so I was starving by mid-afternoon. I also didn't get to experience the spiritual aspects. Everywhere you looked people were reading their pocket-Qur'ans and focusing on what was happening inside as opposed to out (I received nary a sleazy comment nor dirty look that month, making it my favorite).

My university classes had been reshuffled so that they either fell early in the morning or late in the afternoon, which gave people the time to go home in midday and sleep. I'd get out of classes near dusk, and the streets would be quiet and empty. People are either in their homes, or at large outdoor gatherings located near a mosque, such as the Husayn Mosque in Khan al-Khalili. Every spot at the long tables set up outside is taken. Following the dusk prayer, known as maghrib (which refers to the sun setting in the west), the Iftar (breaking of the fast) feast begins. Food is distributed and people heartily devour it, spending a long time at the table and lingering afterwards late into the night over ahwa, coffee. People visit one another in their homes, bringing food and especially sweets like ba'lawa (you might know it as baklava - I became addicted to this stuff after moving to Egypt).

So, this next month I'll focus primarily on foods of the Muslim world, and hey, maybe I'll throw my own Iftar.

For some more info, here's the article on Ramadan from the Routledge Religion and Society Encyclopedia.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ideas in Food

Here's a really interesting blog by two chefs, Aki Kamozawa and H.A. Talbot, where they ruminate on their kitchen experimentations. The latest entry is on overcooked cock's combs, and I especially enjoyed the bits on tomato terrine and hot dog stock (with toppings). It was mentioned in a New York Times article on consommes, and how right now you can make one out of basically anything provided that you have some gelatin and a fridge. Hmmm...cake essence? Essence of grass? Could be fun.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Load up the Hummer, Ma, we're going to Washington.

Studies now show that dietary changes can drastically impact greenhouse gas buildup, and that the practice of raising meat (not to mention transporting it, and of course the massive amount of space and energy it takes to grow feed corn, the environmental damages caused by erosion, or by nitrogen pollution leading to giant anaerobic 'dead zones' in bodies of water, say, like the Gulf of Mexico...), is the biggest contributor to global warming in the United States. An article in the NYTimes recently discussed the more active roles being taken by various animal rights groups in highlighting the connection between diet and environment. Their goal is to point out that people can go on and on about cars, and changing their lifestyles, but that to truly make effective differences one really must change their lifestyle.

I'm a vegetarian not because I don't like to eat meat, or because I think it's intrinsically wrong to do so (and I probably would eat meat under particular conditions), but because as a person who considers themselves fairly 'aware' of what's going on in our world, I don't think it's ethical to do so. While I at times think the more orthodox vegans can be obnoxious in the way only 'fundamentalists' can be, the call for self-control implied in the major changes in lifestyle necessitated by a transformed and transforming world highlights most people's bottom-line unwillingness to do more than pay environmental lip-service. Our culture of self-indulgence (where a sense of entitlement seems to be the ugly step-sibling of the American dream), needs to be shaken like a baby will be seriously challenged in the years to come, and people absolutely will be forced to make changes in their lives beyond using long-lasting lightbulbs.

Here's the University of Chicago report by Eshel and Martin (2006), Diet, Energy, and Global Warming where much of the data comes from.

Meat Production 'Beefs Up Emissions' September 7th, The Guardian

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Syrian-Jewish Cooking

NYTimes (cook)book review of Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews by Poopa Dweck. Yo le quiero.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Beans and Rice

So lovely, so simple, such a perfect combination. Beans and rice, or rather, legumes and a grain, form a whole protein and contain all the essential amino acids one would need whatever it is we do with amino acids (forming muscles, hormones, hair, eyeball juice, you name it). Aside from soy (which does contain the necessary amount of aa's to form a complete protein), other vegetables must be combined with the incredible edible bean in order to access the building blocks of life, and for a very low, low price. The combination of beans (easily grown, stored, and prepared) or a similar legume with rice or another grain (also easily grown, stored, and prepared), is exploited around the world as the basic foundation for any meal. Perhaps it's the perfect meal. It's certainly a proletariat meal.

In New Orleans, red beans and rice are eaten on Mondays because of laundry. I've heard two versions of this story, first, that laundry was simply done on Mondays and so the excess water was used to cook the beans. In another, slaves were given the laundry water to use for themselves after washing the clothing of their masters, and as I recall, this fell on a Sunday, so that the beans were able to soak for the night. RB&R is still the traditional Monday lunch special, my favorite being at Dunbar's on Freret (sadly defunct/moved), paired with the most incredible friend chicken on the planet.
(Here's a Dookie Chase recipe for red beans.)

While you can get a whole protein by eating peanut butter on whole wheat toast, I prefer to go the beans and rice route. However, I like to vary the form which my beans take. Last night I made black bean patties with pineapple rice, yet another recipe from the only place where I seem to be getting my recipes from. This is an incredibly delicious mix of sweet and salty, with a little bit of crunch, and it turned out to be pretty simple. It would also be easy to pull together a large batch for entertainment purposes, and I doubt that anyone would shy away from them. I recommend adding a little cornmeal to the bean mash, for consistency. Cooking Light also tends to do little things to cut back on the amount of cholesterol and fat that go into their recipes, but fie on them, I would toss the egg yolk in there, too. Oh, and boil-in-bag? Please, take the time to make your rice right.

Cuban Black Bean Patties with Pineapple Rice (Cooking Light, March 2007)

1 (3 1/2-ounce) bag boil-in-bag long-grain rice
2 teaspoons butter
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups rinsed, drained canned black beans (1 [15-ounce] can), divided
1/2 teaspoon bottled minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeño peppers
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup cornmeal
Cooking spray
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

To prepare rice, cook rice according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain; place rice in a large bowl. Melt butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pineapple; sauté 4 minutes or just until pineapple begins to brown. Add pineapple mixture, cilantro, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to rice in bowl; cover and keep warm. Wipe pan clean with paper towels.

To prepare patties, place 1 1/2 cups beans, garlic, cumin, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a bowl; partially mash with a fork. Place 1/2 cup remaining beans and egg white in a food processor; process 30 seconds or until well combined. Add bean puree to mashed beans in bowl, and stir until combined. Add cheese and onion to bean mixture; stir until combined. Divide bean mixture into 4 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Place cornmeal in a shallow dish. Dredge both sides of each patty in cornmeal.

Heat pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add patties; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Spoon about 1/2 cup rice onto each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1 patty and 1 tablespoon sour cream.

Yields 4 servings.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Down With Crackhead Comfort Food!

After a harrowing morning of dealing with the police (having discovered that my back-of-the-house neighbor's apartment was broken into, after yesterday finding that our shed in the backyard was busted open, Dan's new replacement-for-a-previously-stolen-bicycle stolen), I need to get my mind off of the thought of crackheads running amok and one way to do that is to think about food.

Here's a really quick and easy recipe for some pasta that I threw together yesterday for a small lunch.

Orriechette with Artichoke Hearts and Peas
2 cups orrichette (so named for their resemblance to ears, ear being 'orecchio' in Italian)
1 can artichoke hearts
1 cup frozen peas
shaved parmesan
olive oil
pinch salt

1. Cook the pasta in slightly salted water. At the same time and on a low setting, heat the artichoke hearts in a small amount of oil.

2. Add the pasta to the pan. Add the peas and thaw.

3. Serve with parmesan and a little black pepper.

See! So easy. The sort of sophisticated little dish that you could whip out to impress people on short notice.

2. Add the cooked pasta to the pan

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Happy Birthday

This week has been full of new things. New classes, new birthdays, and baking, which for me, is new. At least, baking well. I made a batch of cookies once but they looked more like splatted cow patties and less like cookies. They tasted like cow patties, too.

I meant to post about this earlier, but like I said, new classes.

It took me a while to figure out what cake I was going to make. At first I was pondering a Persian Love Cake recipe that I found on epicurious, one of my favorite cooking websites. The candied rose petals sounded lovely, but cooking with rosewater reminds of a time when I was a little kid and my mom made rice pudding with rose water, and it wasn't good at all but she made my sister and I eat all of it, and Erica hated it so much that she ended up puking all over the floor (this scenario was repeated several times with a variety of foods and medicines, and usually ended with me cleaning it up...). So, I decided against that, although maybe one day in the future, bolstered by my recent successes, I'll give it a shot. I ended up making a Lemon-Lime Layer Cake that was featured in the September issue of, you guessed it, Cooking Light.

They wanted to cut back on some of the unhealthier things, and so substituted egg beaters for real eggs. I decided to use real eggs, sans yolks, but instead of butter and cream cheese used earthbalance and tofutti cream cheese. Normally, I'm bad at baking because until a few days ago, I assumed that baking was just like cooking. This is wrong! Very wrong! Baking is just like chemistry class, where precise measurements are absolutely necessary in order for the chemical responses to occur at the right time and for the correct duration. Once I understood that, I took great care to ensure that I had just the amount I needed and not more. I did cut back on some of the sugar in the frosting, as 2.25 cups is just a little too overzealous. 2 cups were just fine.

So, the cake turned out amazing. Dan told me after taking his first bite that he was prepared to lie about the whole thing and say that it was great, but it really was great. Incredibly moist and citrusy, the frosting sticky and drippy and perfect. I decorated it was crepe myrtle and jasmine blossoms from the front yard.

Unfortunately, my digital camera broke my last day in Singapore, but I took a photo with my new cell phone camera, and as soon as I figure out how to work the damn thing, I'll post it.

Make this cake!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Parlor Tricks and Bellyaches

Sometimes I think it's ridiculous that everyone goes on and on about a certain breed of New Orleans restaurant. We went out last night to a goodbye dinner for a friend at Clancy's, an old Creole place tucked into an uptown residential neighborhood, the faded sign hanging outside suggesting low-key friendliness, the lack of music and packed tables more about a happy cafeteria than fine-dining. But fine-dining it is, with entrees priced around $25.

Aperatifs were good, and the appetizers were very good, although harbingers of what was to come. Fried eggplant sticks with aioli (the eggplant had little flavor, but the aioli was dynamite), oysters in brie, fried green tomatoes in hollandais, and maybe the best thing, creole tomatoes and a perfect buffalo mozzarella.

Unless you're eating a steak, the quality of which is very high in a place like Clancy's, (and of course I'm not eating steak), then you end up eating something that falls into the category of culinary cheap parlor tricks. Tons of chefs down here are guilty. Take anything, an old rubber ball, cook it in butter and serve it with cream. It would taste great! All of the old creole places do this sort of thing. Antoine's, Galatoire's, you name it. The food tastes good and is masterfully prepared, but shows no culinary artistry.

But the experience of dining is more than eating something that tastes good. It's about anticipation, gratification, and a sort of post-coital food bliss where one should not feel as though one has been punched in the stomach, but simply content. On top of that, good conversation, stimulated by good wine, makes the meal. By the time I got through my eggplant, which reminded me too much of bar-food mozzarella sticks to take seriously, I could only manage a bite or two of a heavily salted/buttered/creamed lobster risotto. Everyone at the table conversed with the person or persons they arrived with. We might as well have had dinner on our own, someplace better and less ungodly expensive, and walked away with a fine food glow.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Colons and Groundnuts

I meant to post this yesterday, as it turned out to be a fantastic success. It's another one of them Cooking Light recipes: African Ground Nut Stew with Sour Cream-Chive Topping (by the way, ground nuts are peanuts). A simple, straightforward recipe for something that tastes really good cold and eaten out of the pot the next day because you made it the night before but ended up going out and eating barfood instead of dinner. Once again, I used Tofutti sour cream, used more peanuts than they called for, and I tossed in a half-can of coconut milk, which always makes things better.

Last night Dan and I decided we would check out World's Healthiest Pizza over on Claiborne Avenue, which has pegged itself as a healthy and still tasty alternative to other pizza places around town (one of which I work at, so it felt like I was cheating). I admire their mission to educate people on what's good for them and what's not, as well as to provide something for people who want to eat pizza but don't want to eat all the things that come in pizza. We picked up our medium Mediterranean and I spent the ride home reading out loud about the dangers of osteoporosis and calcium uptake (we were both horrified to find out that by the time you're in your mid-20's, you're basically done building bone density and all you can do in the future is prevent the loss of that density - why would your body do something as stupid as making you responsible for it during the least responsible segment of your life???), and colon health. Strike one - I'm not so sure I want to directly associate colon health with my food in that way. Maybe a brochure in the store, but on the box?

We got home, popped in the totally bizarre 1960's British horror film Peeping Tom, and proceeded to down our pizza with a bottle of chianti. Strike two - because they use no salt in the crust, it doesn't taste great. Nonetheless, the list of ingredients that goes into it is certainly impressive, including quinoa, amaranth, and spelt among others. So, I knew it was healthy for me and so that made it taste better, but in terms of overall pleasure, I'm not sure they top Reginelli's. I still think that I'll order from them again, because I think they have a good idea and I'd like to support it, because the pizza still tasted good, and because who doesn't want a happy colon? Right? Right? Er...

Be sure to sign up for their coupon email list, we got $5 off a pick-up order, so the price is right.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Food Religion

"Mr. Lively adheres to a diet he believes Jesus followed. Like Mr. Wiesenfeld, he says the Bible prescribes that he use organic methods to respect the earth, treat his workers decently and treat the cattle that enter his slaughterhouse as humanely as possible."

From Of Church and Steak, NY Times August 22, 2007.

This is something I want to write more about in the future. Why food? Why now? Why are alternative food movements so appealing right now? More to follow...

Curried Cashew Cream Sauce and Stuffed Eggplant

NY Times Article on tomatoes...So Many Tomatoes to Stuff in a Week.

In yet another step towards the type of domesticity that I tend to abhor, Dan and I are actually now 'menu-planning' for the week, and discovering, with great shudders, that it makes things easier. We're doing four day chunks, during which he'll cook two meals, and I'll cook two. My first this week was tempeh with a curried cashew sauce, and the next will be an African peanut stew, both of which I got from the now defunct 'inspired vegetarian' section of Cooking Light magazine (which my dad got me a subscription to!). Regarding the vegetarian section, I am planning on writing a strongly worded letter, or maybe postcard, as I'm too cheap, to the magazine to complain.

I have had mixed results with tempeh. Tempeh is made of fermented soybeans with a rhizopus mold starter, giving it a sour, nutty, mushroomy flavor. It originated in Indonesia, and I must say, the tempeh that I ate in Indonesia this summer was far superior to any that I buy at Whole Foods. I ate tempeh burgers in Jogjakarta, tempeh with vegetables and noodles in Bali, tempeh whenever I could get it, and all of it was good. My biggest tempeh success was the 'Notso Bucco' recipe that I got from Vegan Yum Yum, and I strongly recommend trying it out for yourself. My cashew tempeh did not work out so well. The tempeh flavor contrasted poorly with the delicious sauce, and the texture If I ever tried it again, which I won't, I would slice the block of tempeh in half, so that I get two, thin, slabs of it.

Dan's eggplant was awesome, though. The recipe for Aubergines Stuffed with Sweet Potato came from a book that his mom gave us on Caribbean, Central and South American foods, and thus far it has not disappointed. 'Stuffed' is kind of misleading, as what you end up doing is taking slices of eggplant and rolling them around mashed potato. The potatoes are mashed with cheddar cheese - he used a chipotle cheddar that we got at W.F., and the spice added a great complexity to the otherwise sweet potatoes. He topped it with cilantro and Tofutti sour cream (according to doc, I'm not supposed to eat dairy, and besides, it tastes close enough to the real thing to not know the difference, and it's healthier). In the future, I want to make it with corn added to the mix.

Here is maybe the most awesome hint regarding cooking eggplant. Once you slice eggplant, salt the slices lightly and let them sit for 10-15 minutes. The salt helps to draw out the moisture, so that when you start frying, they hold their consistency and I think, retain more of the flavor you want. Wipe the salt off before frying.

Anyways, so here it is, submitted for the approval of the midnight society...

Aubergines Stuffed with Sweet Potato
from - The Food and Cooking of the Caribbean, Central and South America by Jenni Fleetwood and Marina Filippelli
(for four)

8oz sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
3oz cheddar
2 tbsp chopped red and green bell pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 large eggplants
2 tbsp plain all purpose flour
1 tbsp spice seasoning
olive oil, for frying
butter, for greasing
2 tomatoes, sliced
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cook the potatoes in a pan of boiling water for 15-20 minutes until tender, then drain and mash.
2. Add the thyme, cheese, spring onion, peppers and garlic. Mix well and season.
3. Cut each eggplant lengthways into four slices. Mix the flour and spice seasoning on a plate and dust over each slice.
4. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan and fry each aubergine slice until browned, but not fully cooked. Drain and cool. Spoon a little potato mixture into the middle of each eggplant slice and roll.
5. Butter two large pieces of foil and place four rolls on each. Top with slices of tomato. Wrap up the parcels and bake for 20 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with parsely.

And here's how to make Curried Cashew Sauce...

1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp coarsely chopped unsalted cashews
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 tsp curry powder
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup 2% milk
2 tbsp hot water
1/8 tsp salt

1. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cashews to pan; cook 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Add onion to pan; saute 3 minutes or until tender. Add curry powder and garlic to pan, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in milk.
2. Place cashew mixture, 2 tablespoons hot water, and salt in a blender. Remove center piece of blender to let steam escape. Replace it, and start blending, but allow steam of escape every five seconds or so.

Serve over tofu, rice, or even chicken.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Vegetarian Spaghetti Carbonara

Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that my favorite food in the entire world (and what I figured would be served continuously at heaven's cafeteria, or even better, heaven's room service), was and is spaghetti carbonara. The etymology of carbonara leads back to carbone, meaning coal, suggesting that it was originally popular among coal miners, or that it was a dish favored by the Carbonari, an anti-monarchist secret society (1).

A traditional carbonara combines pasta, cream, cheese (usually parmesan or the like), ham, and at the point of serving when the pasta is steaming hot, a raw egg which then cooks directly on the noodles. My dad made it best, using carmelized onions and crispy bacon instead of small chunks of ham. One ex-boyfriend added chili powder for a little kick. Since getting off of the ham-wagon, I've sorely missed this, my number one favorite, and I've wondered whether it could be pulled off a la vegetarian.

It turns out, Lightlife's Smoky Tempeh Strips, though not matching the texture of bacon, go a long way in matching the taste. The hickory flavor combined with the slightly sour, grainy flavor of tempeh, work very well with the onions and egg. Dan made some string beans from his dad's garden, and all of was delicious.

Spaghetti Carbonara
(for four)

3/4 package of spaghetti
1 package of Lightlife Smoke Tempeh Strips, crumbled
1/2 yellow or vidalia onion, chopped
4 eggs (one per person is the best) (you can separate the white and yolk and only use the yolk, or use both).
grated parmesan to taste
3 Tbs cream
Butter for cooking the onions, or you can use Earthbalance

1. Boil and salt water. Sautee the onion for as long as it takes to brown (usually longer than you think, about 10 minutes or more).
2. Set aside the onions. In the same pan, add the tempeh. Try to get it as crispy as possibly, so if you need to add olive oil, do so.
3. Cook your pasta, al dente. Drain.
4. While still steaming hot, add the egg and mix thoroughly. Add the cream, tempeh, and onions. Serve with freshly ground pepper.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Toast to the Big Sleazy

We got back into New Orleans yesterday morning at 5am and as soon as we dropped off our incredibly obnoxious (as in Ignatius J. Reilly obnoxious) rideshare freak, made for Igor's where two tall, double, perfect bloody mary's set us feeling straight after that 17 hour drive from Pennsylvania.

I wish that I'd been able to record some of the awesome meals that I've had since leaving Singapore, starting with our last dinner there at the excellent vegetarian Original Sin in Holland Village. The absolute best was the Bosco Misto, incredibly inspired tofu, spinach, and feta patties rolled in crushed almonds, topped with mushrooms and asparagus in plum sauce, firm but there any way I can dream of recreating this? I hope so. Feta is so underrated. We made a pasta up in Pennsylvania the other night using zucchini, squash, and tomatoes picked that day from the vegetable garden in Dan's backyard. Usually we do it up with garlic, olive oil, basil and parmesan, but adding crumbled feta makes a huge difference.

A few days before the pasta we were in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, hanging out with some of Dan's childhood friends who now run a record shop cafe called Eat Records, where, aside from having an amazingly bizarre assortment of all types of records, serve up some great things on their menu. For example, an open faced sandwich with a great, moist bakery-fresh bread, avocado spread, sesame oil mayonaise with halved cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives on top, or what I'd definitely get next time, ricotta, figs, and honey on cranberry toast. They have a good selection for vegetarians.

Unfortunately, The Delachaise on St. Charles and Delachaise here in New Orleans does not. However, what they do have to offer is amazing. First of all, it's a great little French bistro wine bar, housed in what feels like a classy old train car and oozing the feel of a dark Parisian brasserie. Second, their selection of wines is fantastic, and their specials make you feel less like a cheapskate and more like a curious and willing connosieur. Third, when it's not horribly overcrowded (which it tends to get with the afterwork yuppie crowd, and definitely on the weekends), it's a great place to eat. Their kitchen is now open until 3am, and chef Chris Debarr is undoubtedly a culinary puppeteer, pulling the strings so that smoked goose, bacon, and penne pasta tango together. Of course I didn't have that, but I did munch on the 'Father Pat's' grilled cheese, brilliantly composed of Cahill's Irish porter, a powerful cheddar flavored with beer (and considered to be a truly vegetarian cheese, as it's made using a vegetable rennet), pear butter, and a dark 'Dakota' wheat bread. Back in my meat-eating days I also used to love the pate plate, composed by my all-time favorite New Orleans chef, Pete Vazquez, formerly of Marisol's and now doing the backyard Sunday dinners at wine-shop Bacchanal's in the Bywater.

On that note...

In the news, a new disease in pigs is currently spreading in China. The main reason I'm a vegetarian is that I'm absolutely physically and morally repulsed by the abhorrent conditions in which most animals spend their short lives before the slaughterhouse; conditions that are highly conducive to the development and spread of these diseases. Hoof and mouth, mad cow, bird flu, and now 'blue-ear' are made possible by the cramped quarters that animals are forced to live in; often healthy animals are made to live, eat, and sleep adjacent to or even on top of diseased, dying, or dead animals. It's the perfect place for a rapidly evolving virus to rapidly evolve into something that can spread to humans. China is one of the worst, and it comes as no surprise to me that many of these diseases are coming out of there. These things have a huge impact on people - when I moved to Egypt two years ago it was just after poultry sellers were forced to turn in all of their birds to the government to be destroyed (to the best of my knowledge they were told they would be but were never reimbursed). Thousands of people lost their livelihood, and those who wanted to keep their birds often hid them inside their apartments, resulting in scores of bird flu cases.

Point is, there ain't nothing wrong with not eating meat, and in fact there are plenty of things right about it. I loved Michael Pollan's new book, The Omnivore's Dilemma (you can read the introduction and first chapter here), but agreed with his Times critic that he could have been more critical of what was going on around him (I felt the same way when he was eating Monsanto potatoes from chemical-soaked fields in Idaho in The Botany of Desire, though that's a great read too). What I appreciated about his take on not eating meat, or better yet, on eating meat, is that there's nothing wrong with wanting to or enjoying eating meat, and that looking at our evolutionary history we know how natural it is, and simply in terms of our place in the natural world (not as dominant or higher up on some sort of solipsistic evolutionary ladder, but simply our place), how natural it is. What he rightly points out is that most people are eating incredibly unnatural meat from animals who never experienced anything of what their genes are telling them to do, animals stuck in tiny spaces wallowing in their own feces, pumped full of antibiotics to combat the inevitable infections they get. And because they don't know about it, they don't care, and that if they knew what their food actually went through to get there, they would certainly change the way they eat. That's what I did, but I'm not sure if I could even eat something that lived happily and died humanely. Anyways, save that for Dan.

So that's what's been happening on my plate and in my head for the past week or so. I'm eager to eat more around town (World's Healthiest Pizza, for example) visit the farmer's market, and get back to drinking mojitos.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Last Night in the Sling

That's right, tomorrow takes us far far away, and a day in Brooklyn, a few in New Hampshire, a few in Lancaster, then the long haul southward with bags of spices, strange concoctions, rolled Iranian carpets decorated with roses, silk batik dragons, and all the trappings of an opium-inspired orientalist's daydream (not that anyone in this century would claim to be an orientalist, aside from Bernard Lewis, but there is a certain undeniable romance to it. But I digress). Tonight we're going out to Original Sin at Holland Village, a vegetarian-Mediterranean restaurant that I've been longing to try. It will be my last meal in Singapore, so there are certain expectations that if not met, and met with gusto, will disappoint sorely. Meals are really a combination of much more than good food and good drink, but of company and context as well. Virginia Woolf said a few things about dining that I have always appreciated, and have recognized in my best meals. In fact, the only thing I remember from reading A Room of One's Own in high school are the moments when she is seated at a table with friends. So she wrote, "We have proved, sitting eating, sitting talking, that we can add to the treasury of moments." While that seems cheesy in the way only 19th century English writers can acheive, I believe it. Perhaps even better is, "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, is one has not dined well." I'm hoping that tonight, the meal with my family lasts for two hours for all the right reasons.

On an entirely different note, this article in the New York Times is worth drawing from.

Friday, August 3, 2007


"Eaters must understand...that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used."

Due to internet troubles, I didn't get a chance the other day to write about Indian food in Singapore and Malaysia, and about the excellent curbside meal that Dan and I had in Little India a few days ago (mixed pakoras with tamarind jam, sauteed okra stuffed with garum masala, yellow daal, aloo gobi, salt lassis and steaming naan). Now my thoughts are elsewhere.

I'm already in the mindset of being back in New Orleans and what my plans are for the rest of the summer. Dan's father's backyard vegetable garden in Pennsylvania is already birthing more than he can possibly consume, so we'll be taking all sorts of fresh vegetables and even better, seeds, with us. From planting, his cucumbers are ready to eat within 60 days, so as long as it stays warm (which it will) we'll be well-fed.

Between work and school, I also want to volunteer with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, an organization believing that healthy locally-grown food should be easily accessible and affordable for everyone, and not just the perusers of Whole Foods' glistening aisles. They have all sorts of interesting projects, including one encouraging the development of urban food gardens and even farms. Considering the often toxic nature of New Orleans' soil, I'm sure there's a lot of work to do to make anything that comes out of it safe to eat... In any case, now that the local food movement is really picking up, growing one's own food seems like a logical next step. One of the things that I always lament is the disconnect between our generation and those that came before, in the sense that we know so much, and are aware of so much, but in terms of specific practical knowledge we are frustratingly deficient. Our breadth of knowledge suffers for a lack of the depth of theirs. A practical education on what it actually takes to support ourselves, from mending a button to growing tomatoes, should ideally empower people.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Deliciousness alert (I am such a dork):
I just ate some of the best potato salad of my life, but I warn you, it's pretty over the top. Sour cream, mayonaise, garlic, little potatoes, and the secret ingredient, basil. The fatty ridiculous ingredients insure deliciousness, while the basil and garlic give it a spicy kick that you would never expect.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tom Kha Memories

For lunch today I used the leftover ingredients to try my hand at Tom Kha Gai, a Thai coconut soup made with chicken (in this case, leftover tofu), adding to it sliced sweet potato and carrots. Here's a recipe if you want to give it a shot. I can't delve into the mysteris of Tom Kha, because it's too depressing. Why? Because the best Tom Kha I ever had was at Marisol's in New Orleans, now sadly just a memory thanks to that bitch, Katrina. Chef Pete created a perfect Tom Kha by ditching the chicken and using crabmeat instead, and as I recall, it was a touch spicy as well. I still remember the little gold squares that they put under the bowls. Alas and alack, life moves on.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cambodian Delights

To begin, I wanted to start a food blog even before all my friends did. So there.

But food is the sort of thing that everyone can talk about without feeling ridiculous, because there are so many ways to approach it, and the more people talk about it the more they learn, which is never a bad thing. For example, you can talk about how to make food, how to eat food, what to drink with your food, where to eat good food, all that stuff. You can also go deeper and talk about how food gets from one place to another, both regionally and continentally, how people make food in different countries, why they eat what they eat, when they eat certain foods and why; the basic anthropology of cuisine. Food represents far more than nutrition - it is a key component of culture.

A few things are important to know in terms of the technical side of this blog. First, I'm a vegetarian and have been for almost six months, with nary a glance back (although I'm eager to figure out how to make a vegetarian spaghetti carbonara). My posts will therefore lean towards vegetarian and vegan food, with seafood occasionally thrown in there. Second, I'm big on travel and open to eating just about everything (sans meat, at this point), from cow brains in Alexandria, Egypt (tastes okay but with a texture like mashed soft tofu, plus you can catch encephalitis from it) to blindly pointing out things on a menu completely in Tamil. Third, I'm a graduate student in Anthropology. Fourth, I live in New Orleans, which is perhaps if not food's Mecca, then certainly its Medina.

Lately I've been eating a ton of Asian food, specifically, Southern Indian, Indonesian and Bali-an, Malaysian, Southern Thai, and Cambodian food, which positively correlates with my current travels in Asia. I've been travelling with my companion (also a dedicated and guaranteed-to-post and very much carnivorous foodie boyfriend), throughout this steamy continent since the beginning of June. We began in Singapore, spent some time in Indonesia including several heavenly days in Bali, then meandered through Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia, returning just yesterday to Sing after several days sweating it out in Phnom Penh, and will remain here for another week or so before heading back to the Big Sleazy.

So, I'd like to start with what's been on my mind lately, which is Cambodia and Cambodian food.

Like other places in Asia, Cambodian food is heavily rice based and almost always a dish is accompanied by a steaming mound of white (the Khmer verb for 'to eat' is nyam bai, meaning 'eat rice'). Khmer food is similar in certain ways to Thai food, for example, in the use of coconut milk combined with other flavors. Yet Khmer food is as distinct as Khmer culture - something that wasn't lost on the Khmer Rouge in the 1970's (accelerated rice-growing was also a big thing under Pol Pot, but I'll save that for a later post). Among the slaughtered were those who carried on Khmer traditions including dancers, monks, and even cooks who preserved and passed down recipes of the ancient Khmer empire seated at Angkor. Only in the past ten years have certain traditional dishes made a serious comeback.

One peculiarity of Cambodian cooking is the use of a rather unusual ingredient - mashed fermented fish. River fish are descaled and gutted, then smushed around, either by machine or foot, and left in the sun for a day (oh the merciless Cambodian sun), then kept in a jar with salt. The paste can then be added (as a pungent reminder of what country you're in) to cooking. I unfortunately didn't get to try this, however, I've enshrined another local dish in my gut's memory: the ambrosial amok.

Amok is a curry similar to other curries in the region and yet completely different, and I would argue, better. The main difference is that instead of being boiled, it is steamed, resulting in a curry that is solid but incredibly moist, topped with a layer of herbed condensed coconut milk. There are several types, depending on preparation and the meat used, including Amok trei, made with whitefish and steamed in banana leaves, Amok moan, made with chicken, and Amok Chouk made of snails and cooked inside their shells. A foundational component of this and many other dishes is kroeung, a paste of herbs usually containing many or all of the following: lemon grass, cardamon, turmeric, garlic, fish sauce, shallots, cilantro, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, kaffir lime (an Indonesian lime similar in shape and size to the key lime), and galangal, (a rhizome similar in appearance to ginger used widely in Asian cuisine and medicine, believed to be a stimulant and an aphrodisiac, with rather spicy, "soapy, earthy aroma and a pine-like flavor" and "a faint hint of citrus" 1)

The best Amok that I supped upon was hands down the vegetarian tofu Amok at Le Papier du Tigre, a classy little joint in Siem Reap, located next to a restaurant claiming the best amok in town but decidedly having the second best (although a killer grapefruit and shrimp salad). I will attempt to recreate it here:

Amok Tofu
1 pack of medium or hard tofu, cut into medium-size cubes
4-8 banana leaves, or dark green cabbage leaves, cut into 8-inch squares
1 can coconut milk, unsweetened
1 beaten egg
kaffir lime leaves
oyster mushrooms (a small handful per serving), in bite size pieces

For the Kroeung
1 garlic clove
1/2 chopped red onion
1 Tbs finely chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp grated ginger
1 chopped small piece of galangal or 1/2 tsp ground galangal (if you've got it)
2 Tbs chopped lemon grass or 2 tsp ground lemon grass
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
2 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs shrimp paste
2-3 cayenne peppers, chopped and crushed
zest of 1/4 of a small lime
1 Tbs lime juice

1 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1. Using a blender, blend the garlic, cilantro, ginger, lemon grass, turmeric, lime zest, paprika, fish sauce or shrimp paste and sugar. Add the coconut milk and blend again.
2. Pour the coconut mix into a medium saucepan, add the beaten egg, galangal, and onion and simmer, stirring, for 10 minutes until thickened.
3. While that's cookin', bring a small pan of water to boil and place either the cabbage or banana leaves in there so that they become pliant. To make the cups; imagine a smaller square inside the square-cut leaves, which will be the bottom of the cup, then fold the sides up, pinning or even stapling the folds as you go. Make another cup to place over its pair, thereby creating a little box.
4. Season the tofu with salt and cover it with half of the coconut sauce.
5. At the center of each leaf, place a dollop of the tofu mixture, then fold the edges over and pin securely, with toothpicks or even staples. Steam these little babies for 25 minutes.
6. A few minutes before serving, heat the remained of the sauce. Either pull off one of the leaf-cups or slice an opening into packets and spoon the remainder of the coconut sauce over the insides (the sauce should be nice and thick, like cream), garnishing with finely sliced cayenne. Serve with rice.

I found that mine turned out alright - not exactly what I remembered (I couldn't find any banana leaves or big enough cabbage, so I, um, ended up using coffee filters), but that the curry flavor was really, really good. In the future I will totally experiment with eggplant, okra, sweet potatoes and other various veggies. I would pair it with beer or if you want to get all fancy, with a light, citrusy, dry chardonnay.