Cooking Under Quarantine — Curry In A Hurry!

Ingredients:

  • Boneless chicken breast or thighs (Substitutes: tofu), 1-2 lb, cut into chunks
  • Curry paste (green or red), 2-3 heaping tbsps
  • Fish sauce, 1 tbsp
  • Coconut milk, 1 can or 1.5 cups
  • Scallions, 1 bunch
  • Garlic, 2-3 tbsp or to taste
  • Onions, 1-2 small onions or 1 large onion
  • Carrots, 3-4 carrots
  • Bell pepper, 2 bell peppers
  • Potato, 2-3 potatoes
  • Peanut oil (or vegetable or canola — something neutral)
  • Thai chilies, Sambal Olek (chili paste) or other hot pepper (optional)
  • Cilantro (optional)
  • Rice (optional)

Directions:

  1. Chop some potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces, toss with a little bit of oil, salt and pepper, and roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes on 450
  2. While that’s going, cut your chicken into medium-sized chunks — you can also use already sliced chicken or chicken tenders, but I think it’s fun and rustic to DIY
  3. In order to get a good sear on the chicken, you should heat your wok or sauté pan until it’s very hot, then throw the chicken in with a little bit of neutral-flavored oil like canola
  4. While the chicken is browning, mince your garlic, scallions and chop your other veggies (onion, peppers, carrots
  5. Once the chicken is cooked, but not cooked to death, take out and reserve for later,  and toss veggies into the hot wok starting with the garlic to perfume the pan
  6. Once you’ve sweated the veggies, add the scallions and deglaze the pan with some fish sauce (or soy sauce)
  7. Add a few heaping spoonfuls of curry paste and make sure that it gets evenly distributed so that it gets incorporated throughout the dish
  8. After cooking the curry paste into the veggies for a few minutes, add your coconut milk and mix thoroughly, and this would also be the time to add some sambal olek chili paste or dried chilies if you like a spicy curry. Can skip this if you want.
  9. Simmer for a few minutes, then add the chicken back into the pan along with the roasted potatoes which should be done at this point. This would also be a time to add other starchy ingredients you might be using: roasted squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, tofu, etc.
  10. Simmer uncovered for about 10-15 min so that curry thickens up
  11. Serve immediately over noodles or rice and garnish with cilantro and Thai chilies, or put it in the fridge and eat it the next day. So delicious as leftovers — Yum!

Enjoy and let me know how yours turned out!

Cooking With Curry

I love coming up with new ways to cook with some of my favorite ingredients, especially comfort foods. To me, a big wok full of curry is super comforting and was one of the dishes I made all the time when I moved into my first solo apartment. It’s warm, earthy, spicy and makes me feel good all over. Plus, it’s amazing for leftovers! So, when Mama Lam’s, a local food vendor making and selling their own Malaysian Curry Paste that I had the pleasure of meeting at the annual Queens Taste, event contacted me about partnering up, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to try cooking with their homemade, Malaysian curry paste and curating a couple of dishes to use their product in.

Photo May 26, 7 48 44 PM (1)

I decided to create a curry themed meal featuring Mama Lam’s Curry Paste two ways—a Pistachio Crusted Curry Salmon and a Curry Noodles with Crispy Tofu. Check out the recipes below and also watch my YouTube cooking demo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PCoQ8uLQYU.

Photo May 26, 7 48 59 PM (1)

Pistachio Crusted Curry Salmon

  • 4-6 salmon filets (skin on)Photo May 26, 4 41 17 PM
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped finelyPhoto May 26, 4 43 42 PM
  • 1/2 jar of Mama Lam’s curry paste
  • 1 tbsp Sambal Olek or another Southeast Asian chili sauce—Sriracha works fine.
    • I recommend not skipping this ingredient, even if you don’t like spicy food. The fish has a warming heat and it is very much tempered by the coconut milk and acidity of the lime juice
  • 1/2 can of coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tbsp of ginger, chopped
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, cut into pieces–you can also use 1/2 tbsp of chopped lemongrass from a tube. You’ll find this near the fresh herbs in the marketPhoto May 26, 4 42 29 PM
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 cups of roasted pistachios, shell removed
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp of black pepper
  1. Create a marinade with the chili sauce, ginger, garlic, lime juice, coconut milk, lemongrass, oil, salt and pepperPhoto May 26, 4 48 24 PMPhoto May 26, 4 49 46 PM
  2. Marinade the salmon for at least an hour and up to 4 hours
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
  4. Crush the pistachios with either your hands or a mallet. A rolling pin works well too—this is very cathartic and a great way to take out your aggression. Ha!
  5. After the fish has soaked, dip the salmon into the pistachios and coat on sides and top with the nuts
  6. Place the salmon skin side down on a greased baking pan and bake for 20 minutes until the crust is set—The fish should be cooked through, but still a bit pink in the center and very moist. It will continue cooking for a few minutes once it comes out of the oven
  7. Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice over the topPhoto May 26, 7 48 29 PM (1)
  8. This fish is delicious served all on its own with a fresh salad or some roasted asparagus, but is even better with some Curry Noodles!

Curry Noodles with Crispy Tofu

  • 1 package of firm tofu, 14oz
  • 1 pound of broad rice noodles
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 eggplant—chopped into bite sized pieces. I love to use Japanese or graffiti eggplant for this dish not only because of the beautiful color, but also because it has less water in it than an Italian eggplant, so it’ll be sweeter and stay firmer when cooked downPhoto May 26, 5 04 02 PM
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 1/2 jar of Mama Lam’s curry paste
  • 1 tbsp of Sambal Olek chili sauce
  • 1 bunch of scallions, chopped (reserve some for garnish)—also called green onion or spring onion in some supermarkets
  • 1 can of coconut milk—do not use reduced fat as the texture and thickness of the sauce will be off. Plus, coconut milk is a healthy fat
  • Vegetable or peanut oil—any high heat oil will do such as canola, corn, grapeseed oil, etc.Photo May 26, 7 14 11 PMPhoto May 26, 5 02 58 PMPhoto May 26, 5 05 58 PM
  1. The first step of this dish is to make the crispy tofu—who doesn’t like their tofu crispy?
  1. Tofu has a lot of water, which is why it usually tastes bland. In fact, the biggest mistake that most cooks make when handling tofu is not getting rid of the excess water. This will never work! Even if you just want to marinade the tofu you’ll still  need to do this stepPhoto May 26, 4 40 18 PM
  2. Put the tofu between two paper towels and press. Repeat this process 2-3 times, and then let the tofu sit between the towels for at least 20 minutes to really draw out the moisture
  3. Heat up your wok until it starts to smoke a little, then add the oil. It’s important that you don’t add your oil before this as you don’t want it to bubble up and burn youPhoto May 26, 7 14 05 PM
  4. Add the tofu to the wok and spread it out in a single layer—you should hear it sizzle. If there’s no sizzle, then your wok isn’t hot enough and your tofu will steam instead of crisp up
  5. Let the tofu cook on one side for a couple min, then mix it up and repeat this process a few times until it’s crispy on all sides. This shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes or so
  6. Put your tofu on a plate and place aside for later on
  7. Heat your wok back up on the stove while you get the rest of your ingredients ready
  8. Add some more oil, then add the garlic, ginger and scallions—this is the holy trinity of Asian dishes!
  9. Let these sauté for a minute, then add the curry paste and heat through, followed by the onions, peppers and eggplant
  10. Let the veggies cook for a few minutes, then add the fish sauce, chili sauce and coconut milk and stir until it becomes a homogenized sauce
  11. Cook the curry for at least 10 minutes or longer depending on how thick you like your sauce—as it cooks the flavors of the salty fish sauce, spicy chilis, earthy curry and more will concentrate
  12. Meanwhile, drop the rice noodles into some salted boiling water—off the heat—and let soak for 5 minutes
  13. Add the par-cooked noodles to the curry and toss together in the wok
  14. Let the noodles and curry cook together as the noodles absorb the sauce and meld together into one cohesive dish
  15. Garnish with the crispy tofu, fresh cilantro, chopped scallions, and some chopped peanuts or pistachios if you’d like to tie the two dishes together even more
  16. Eat while still hot or add some sesame oil and have as a cold salad the next day for lunch. Yum!

Enjoy these dishes together with a Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad for a fabulous Southeast Asian inspired dinner at home.

Photo May 26, 7 48 50 PM (1).jpg

You can order Mama Lam’s delicious Curry Paste here: https://www.mamalams.com/shop-1/curry-sau

To watch the cooking demo for these recipes, click here or watch below.

Searching for Pho-land-ia on the UES

Vietnaam88
1700 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10128

So I have a confession to make. My name is Jon, and I’m a pho-aholic. Yes, I am plagued with this unquenchable desire to find delicious bowls of pho across the land. I yearn for overnight beef broth with just the right touch of fatty content, the perfect slurpable bowl of noodles, and, of course, lots of meat. Sometimes I’ll have a great bowl of pho in a fancy restaurant in Hong Kong, sometimes I’ll find it in a small neighborhood noodle shop in the city, and sometimes it will be in a strip mall in a sketchy looking neighborhood. No matter—if it’s delicious, then it’s where I want to be.

Photo Nov 21, 8 16 48 PM

I actually found this place through another Vietnamese restaurant in another part of NYC. Up in the Morningside Heights neighborhood near Columbia University, there is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese eatery called Saiguette. At this joint, it’s taking tight quarters to a whole new meaning. There’s window counter seating for about four people—maybe 6 anorexic individuals, but the food is super legit. It is clearly meant to be a takeout and delivery hotspot, and it is. Their food is spicy, flavorful and feels very authentic. In fact, they were written up as a top pick for cheap eats and great Vietnamese food in NYC by Grub Street.

Photo Nov 21, 8 16 59 PM

While Saiguette is super small, with its own brand of fierceness, Vietnaam is their sister restaurant and basically Saiguette all grown up and rebranded for the Upper East Side. t resembles many Asian restaurants that can be found around New York City. There is a large dining room with many tables crowded together by a long booth, and other stand alone tables dotted around, with some sort of Asian inspired decoration to make it stand out. At Vietnaam, there is a beautiful bamboo divider wall between the kitchen and the dining room. It does make the restaurant feel unique, and also serves another purpose of separation of spaces. While the atmosphere might be different—and oh how I missed the squeeze necessity and precarious balance required for the small window stool of Saiguette, I got over that nostalgia quickly since I had a whole table to myself. What a luxury!

Photo Nov 21, 8 18 17 PM

Vietnaam offers a number of Vietnamese staples—from steaming bowls of pho to overflowing plates of vermicelli noodles to aromatic curry dishes or elevated banh mi sandwiches. Regrettably—actually totally not a hardship at all!—it requires multiple visits (or palates perhaps) to try everything that looks good on the menu. They help you out a bit with this by subtly (i.e. overtly) encouraging you to order extra food by making all food 10% off while dining in during lunch. Yesss! Don’t mind if I do, which I did.

Photo Nov 21, 7 11 09 PMThe Summer Rolls appetizer (Nem Chao on the menu), one of my favorites, were a solid choice. They were fresh and didn’t seem super cold, which was good. Often I’ll order some fresh or summer rolls and they are like ice—how long have you kept these in the refrigerator bro? Appetizer foul 😦 The summer rolls here, though, were fresh, with crunchy lettuce and a chewy and elastic rice paper wrapper. They were filled out nicely with a mix of veggies, vermicelli noodles, shrimp and lettuce—though I wish there was a bit more shrimp. The accompanying peanut hoisin sauce was delish; creamy, nutty, spicy and had a wonderful mouthfeel as it coated the roll. These also came with a second sauce—a more traditional nuoc cham sauce that was spicy and vinegary that highlighted the crisp lettuce and soaked deep into the roll’s filling. Wonderful way to start a meal.

Photo Nov 21, 7 18 02 PMIf going for the summer rolls and trying to be “healthy”-ish, then an order of Nem, or Vietnamese fried spring rolls, was absolutely necessary—if only to maintain proper food karma. The spring rolls were super crispy. As I broke through the crisp outer layer, the steaming hot filling of ground pork, shrimp, taro, glass noodles, mushroom and jicama that was both tender and firm filling filled my mouth. The skin was still chewy with a thick texture, and though they were fried the rolls didn’t feel too oily. They were served simply with some of the ubiquitous nuoc cham sauce to give them a fresh finish, though for a couple of extra dollars you could add some cucumber, lettuce and herbs to the dish. I love how it’s so no frills—more authentic that way I think. They also cut these up into bite sized pieces, so easy to eat, which was good since it was a generous portion.

Photo Nov 21, 8 14 22 PMAnother favorite starter from Vietnaam, is the Laksa. Laksa is a curry and coconut milk based soup that is not exactly Vietnamese in origin, but actually from Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines. In the last few years, it has become much more well-known and popular all over Asia, as well as the rest of the world. One reason that this soup rocks is that it is so comforting when done right—they do it right here! It feels like a warm Southeast Asian hug, and will warm you up from the inside out. The broth is creamy and a bit frothy with some tang from the lime, warming heat from the curry, an aromatic aroma and a sharper heat from the accompanying chili sauce. The chicken was cooked perfectly, though they do a shrimp version as well  (or even vegetarian or tofu if need be). They’re all delicious and this makes for perfect leftovers. Not your grandma’s chicken noodle soup!

Photo Nov 21, 7 25 18 PMFor the main event, and what I judge every Vietnamese restaurant by, is the pho (pronounced “fuh”). Nowadays, you can find multiple varieties of pho—shrimp, veggie, chicken and even some fancy types such as one made with a Porcini mushroom or duck base. They’re almost always tasty, and if you’re looking for a unique spin on the classic bowl of pho, I highly recommend the Mushroom Pho at Stock in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia or the Pho Bo Satee at Nha Trang One in NYC’s Chinatown. The mushroom pho is as hearty and comforting as a beef based soup, but lighter at the same time. It’s also super earthy from the mushrooms and manages to make the tofu in it taste delicious—a great vegetarian or vegan option. The pho bo satee from Nha Trang One is spicy from an infusion of peanut sate sauce. The sate gives it a wonderful depth of flavor and thickness to the broth. It also has that wonderful peanutty note that many people love about Thai dishes—think a rice noodle soup version of a beef sate appetizer.  Back to Vietnaam….I ordered the Spicy Pho, which I usually don’t do since I like to spicy up the bowl myself. The pho was spicy but still mild—I added additional sriracha sauce to mine. The chili oil used to spice up the soup gave it a vibrant red color, and left a slow, lingering heat that made my lips tingle by the end of the bowl. The broth itself was clean tasting, which means they did their homework and skimmed the fat, but also had a lovely unctuousness to it that we all secretly crave. The bowl was filled with lots of noodles and meat—fatty brisket, firm, but not rubbery beef meatballs, and thinly sliced beef eye round that is placed into the piping hot bowl of soup raw and cooks on its way to the table. This was a big bowl of pho, so it was worth the hefty $12 Upper East Side price tag. I’ve returned for many more bowls of pho.

Vietnaam is a hip, fun place to eat at if you’re on the Upper East Side. They give generous portions, quick service, tasty dishes. Is it the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had? Hmmm…hard to say, but it was definitely some of the best in NYC. Only thing missing was perhaps that certain “je ne sais quoi” that its sister restaurant, Saiguette, has as a hole-in-the-wall joint. Come to Vietnam if you’re ready for a grown up bowl of pho and other Vietnamese favorites..

Mouthwatering Mexican in the West Village

La Loteria
Cocina Mexicana Moderna
29 7th Ave South
New York, NY 10014

New York City is expensive—there’s no arguing with that. However, it is still possible to dine out at delicious restaurants while sticking to a budget. One of the best times of the year to sample the city’s plethora of eateries is NYC Restaurant Week. Over the course, in actuality, three weeks, over 300 restaurants throughout the boroughs create special three-course menus ($25 for lunch, $38 for dinner) in addition to their regular offerings. It’s a great way to try a new place or enjoy a high-end meal, for a more affordable price tag.

We ventured down to Bedford Street for some modern Mexican fare at La Loteria. The name of the restaurant is a play on the popular Mexican game, la loteria, which is similar to bingo. While the game might be based on luck, the food and service here are always a sure bet. Under the creative helm of co-owners, Executive Chef Julieta and Managing Partner/Owner Jaime Herrera, La Loteria has become a hotspot in the chic dining scene of the West Village.

Our night started fittingly with some classic Mexican cocktails—margaritas and sangria. The Margarita Tradicional Loteria came in a glass tumbler garnished with a salt rim. It was tart, with a good balance between the heavy tequila and sweet agave nectar, and super refreshing–really hit the spot. The red Sangria del Cantarito wasn’t too sweet and we appreciated that it didn’t come with a whole fruit basket as a garnish. It was no frills, but made with a good wine and tasty.

The Guacamole Tradicional was served in an authentically Tex-Mex stone bowl, which I love and came with a generous portion. It was chunky, so you could still taste the individual pieces of avocado, and mixed with hot chili peppers, juicy tomato chunks, highly acidic lime juice, and rough chopped cilantro that was still visible throughout the dip.

We also got a trio of salsas for the table. These salsas seriously heightened La Loteria from solid Mexican food in NYC to modern and gourmet. The tomatillo avocado salsa was sour from the fleshy tomatillos with a wonderfully bold flavor. It was pulpy from the tomatillos, and strongly acidic, with a nice bite, that was tempered by the creamy and rich avocado. The vibrant green color was also great. The peanut salsa was definitely funky and tasted like a Mexican version of an Asian sate sauce. The sauce was earthy, slightly spicy, nutty with some smoky notes to it, and garnished with chopped peanuts. Yum! The third of the trip was the more traditional chili de arbol salsa. The bright reddish-orange color contrasted beautifully with the green of the tomatillo salsa. It was also super creamy and unctuous, and had a background taste of roasted red peppers. The building heat from the red salsa played nicely with the hidden spiciness of the guacamole, and the mild taste of the peanut salsa.

To scoop up the guacamole and salsas, there were homemade corn tortilla chips. The chips were crunchy and still warm from the fryer, but not greasy. We ended up getting a second bowl of chips since they were so dippable.


The Ceviche de Pescado appetizer featured the catch of the day, which was sea bass, a meaty fish that has steadily been gaining popularity as an alternative to tuna or salmon. Sea bass was a great choice for the ceviche, since it can stand up to the strong flavors in the marinating liquid. The fish was mixed with tomatillo, avocado, and pickled cucumber. The base sauce was made with lime juice, but wasn’t too overpowering. The plate was garnished with mini corn tostadas, pea shoot tendrils and an edible flower—the flower seemed to be a theme, which is popular among many Mexican restaurants. It had a very rustic chic feel to it, and the freshness of the sea bass, almost sushi-grade in its texture, really heightened the flavors.

Ensalada de Betabel, translated to “beet salad,” was not super Mexican, but seemed very appropriate for a downtown Manhattan restaurant and tasty. The salad was a good mix of textures—the meaty grilled beets, soft goat cheese spread, creamy avocado, crunchy caramelized nuts, crunchy spinach leaves, and chewy radicchio. The beets were also the right temperature; often, kitchens serve beets that are ice-cold, which I think dilutes the sweet flavor of the beets, but here they were served room temperature.

The Quesos Flameados, or melted Chihuahua cheese baked casseroles, was also a great dish. This dish is hot in comparison to the others, and made for a nice change from the previously cold appetizers. The cheese was cooked in a cute little cast iron skillet along with some onions for both flavor and texture. The cheese ended up all melted and crusty along the outer edges. It was served with hand-pressed tortillas to scoop up the cheesy goodness, almost like a deconstructed cheese quesadilla.

The second course Enchiladas Callejeras—“street style” enchiladas—were stuffed with panela cheese that has a meaty texture and much higher melting temperature. Therefore, the cheese maintained its shape and very much stood up to the rest of the dish. The enchiladas were smothered in a mouth-watering mole sauce, and rested atop adobo fried potatoes. The mole was very earthy, with sweetness and a slight fruitiness that made it a nice contrast to the spicy, smoky potatoes. The potatoes on their own reminded me of a dish I had when I was in Spain called papas bravas, typically served as a tapas dish in Spanish restaurants that consists of fried potatoes garnished with a spicy tomato sauce or creamy aioli. We requested mushrooms instead of one of the meats available on the menu and they were cooked perfectly and formed a semi-permeable layer between the mole sauce and the enchiladas.

The fish tacos, Tacos de Pescada Baja Style, were also made with sea bass, and the dish was super crispy from the beer batter. There were three big tacos tightly wrapped with flour tortilla filled to the brim with hot fish and a crunchy, sweet and tangy jicama slaw. There was also a creamy and spicy aioli garnish that was tasty, but the taco was already so moist that it wasn’t even needed.

The meal’s final entree was Barbacoa de Arrachera. The barbacoa consisted of skirt steak braised with banana leaves, tequila, Mexican beer, oregano and salsa verde. Using skirt steak was an unusual, but smart choice–it’s a cheaper cut of meat, but the other ingredients elevate it to the fine dining level. The meat was smoky and slightly sweet from the banana leaves, moist from the beer, woodsy and deep flavors from the oregano and tequila, a nice pop of tanginess from the salsa, and fall apart tender. It was garnished with lime and a duo of sauces. The presentation was clean with the meat served in a big bowl along with some hand-pressed tortillas.


At this point, we were all pretty full, but who can say no to dessert? The Flan Napolitano was unbelievably creamy and the custard was set, with the spoon cutting through it like a panna cotta. It was sweet and tangy from the cream cheese, with a layer dulce de leche caramel and topped with some toasted walnuts flavored with cinnamon. The plate also had a raspberry garnish.

The Churros, which are always a personal favorite of mine, were fried perfectly–crispy on the outside and still eggy in the middle–and lightly dusted with cinnamon. The lack of sugar on the Churros was actually a welcome surprise, since the other desserts were uber sweet. They were served with dark chocolate and dulce de leche dipping sauces. Only thing I would change was I wish there was a little more sauce–I’d drink it from the container lol.

Last, but certainly not least, was the Pastel de Tres Leches (aka Tres Leches Cake). The cake was, as expected, super moist from the three kinds of milk–cream, evaporated milk, and condensed milk–and the sponge was slightly grainy. It’s a classic Mexican dessert and this one was a great take on it, especially with the great presentation. The plate was garnished with a small cup of milk. Not only was the white milk in sharp contrast to the dark plate, but I also love when food is garnished with what’s in it! A quality I share with Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.

So if you’re in the mood for some delicious Mexican food in NYC, head downtown to La Loteria, but make sure you’re hungry! Everything is fresh and tasty, and it’s always service with a smile. Dustin, the manager, took such great care of us and really made the whole night special. Can’t wait to come back for Happy Hour and dinner again.

Lunchtime Gorging at Saffron Indian

Saffron Indian Cuisine
1214 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Growing up in New York City I was exposed to ethnic foods and international cuisines from a young age. While my mom might have cooked chili or burgers for us a lot, it was just as common for us to eat a bowl of pad Thai noodles, a shawarma sandwich, or even a plate of yummy chicken tikka masala. Indian food was very popular in our house, and I’ve loved it ever since. So when I’m hungry for a filling lunch and see an Indian lunch buffet for only $7.99, there’s no question that I’m going to check it out.

I walked into Saffron (formerly known as San Samosa) and was told I could sit anywhere I’d like. It was a weekday afternoon, so not that unusual for a good number of tables to be open, though there were unfortunately a few that were still dirty and hadn’t been turned over yet. The service seemed fine, with one person on the floor, and the interior was kind of dark. None of these things mattered though–I was there for the food! I did like the Indian Bollywood music playing in the background though.

To begin, the waitress brought over a fresh basket of naan bread to the table, which I appreciated since it hadn’t been sitting at the buffet for a while. The bread was nice and hot from the tandoori oven with a crisp exterior, a chewy and slightly doughy middle, and had an overall puffiness to it that characterizes naan. It was the perfect vehicle for mopping up extra sauce on the plate.

I first tried the Samosas, which are always my first pick. There’s something about fried foods that make me want to eat them first. The samosa was deep-fried with a crunchy, crispy exterior and the buffet offered an array of condiments such as mint chutney, onion chutney, tamarind sauce, hot sauce, raita, and even ranch dressing for some reason. I like to dress my samosas up with some tamarind sauce and mint chutney. The tamarind has a wonderful sweet and sour flavor that plays well against the somewhat smoky potato-based filling, and the chutney wakes up the flavors in the Indian fritter. The filling itself was tasty, though a little loose. I loved the whole peas throughout that still maintained a big of crunch.

The Aloo Cabbage isn’t something that I see on many Indian menus, but looked interesting. In fact, it was delicious. The cabbage was cooked down with tender potatoes, but still had a bit of a bite, so it wasn’t super mushy. The cabbage became almost braised in its texture, and it reminded me of an Indian play on Irish potatoes and cabbage. What really made this dish Indian were the traditional warming spices: smoky cumin, spicy curry, earthy garam masala—yum! The turmeric also lent some exotic flavor as well as a yellow-orange color.

The Chicken Biryani was cooked using authentic basmati rice—you can taste the difference—with big chunks of (not dry) chicken. The dish wasn’t too sweet or spicy, but had a slight tang to it. It wasn’t the best biryani I’ve ever had, but solid for a buffet and was a great alternative to plain rice. Some hot sauce and yogurt raita made it pop more.

Chicken Tikka Masala is a classic dish in almost every Indian restaurant in America, and is usually a staple of Indian lunch buffets—this version was special though. The sauce was super smooth, but not as heavy as many cream based sauces. You could tell that it had been cooking for a while and that the flavors had time to develop. The sauce was freakin’ delicious and I could’ve eaten it by the spoon…or naan-ful. There was a building heat from the toasted spices that make the base of many Indian dishes, and it had a wonderful velvety mouthfeel. There was a deep aromatic flavor that likely came from cooked down shallots or onion. The dish still had the identifying the flavor profile of tikka masala, but was almost reminiscent of a Malaysian chicken Rendang dish.

On a side note, most of the condiments were good, but pretty standard. The Onion Chutney, though, was excellent. It had a nice abrasive heat and bite to it, as well as some acidity. It helped cut through the richness and carb-fest of the meal. It also had a satisfying crunch, and the temperature contrast was nice with the (mostly) hot dishes.

The Tandoori Chicken was perfectly cooked—I had a drumsticks—with slightly crispy skin, and the meat was moist, and got juicier the closer I got to the bone. Often I feel the need to squeeze some lime over the chicken, but not this time. There was also a slight saltiness to the meat that probably came from a brine—smart cooking since it will prevent the chicken from drying out. The tandoori oven also gave the meat a bit of a smoky and charred flavor.

The final savory dish I sampled was the Veggie Kofta, which were torpedo-shaped kebabs of a vegetable and grain mixture. They were definitely sweeter than the other dishes, and had hints of cinnamon and cardamom. The kofta pieces were pretty meaty and held up well in the very large amount of sauce. Great dish for vegetarians as the patty mixture has a lot of protein rich ingredients.

Dessert offerings were average in the amount of offerings and tasted pretty good. The Mango Pudding definitely had a strong mango flavor and was very sweet. The pudding was very tangy, but tempered by the high amount of sugar. It was also very thick and set—no soupiness. This was a serious dessert, and the flavors helped curb my craving for a mango lassi with my lunch. The Kheer, or Indian rice pudding, is a much more common buffet dessert and every place has their own spin on the sweet treat. The rice was cooked and not mushy. It also wasn’t too sweet, which was nice in comparison to the cloyingly sweet mango pudding, though it got sweeter as you ate it. It was a no frills dessert, but tasty and classic. This dish too had background notes of cinnamon, cardamom and allspice. It was a nice way to end a heavy meal.

While the service isn’t the best around, the great Center City location and the tasty offerings at the lunch buffet—for only $7.99!—make this a great stop for lunch on any day of the week. Enjoy your Indian feast! अपने भोजन का आनंद लें!

Recipe: Mediterranean Inspired Lamb Flatbread

The other day I was in the mood to make some fish tacos at home, but the local market I went to only had these small onion flatbreads. So, I decided to scrap the idea for the night. The  flatbreads actually turned out deliciously for my “new” tacos—or really chalupas maybe—and I ended up having a few of them leftover. So I thought of what I could do with a flatbread and was feeling in a very Mediterranean mood. I felt this was a very appropriate recipe since I’ve dedicated the last couple of weeks of blog posts to my recent vacation in the Middle East, and decided to do a fusion of Greek and Israeli cuisines.

These (not so mini!) lamb flatbreads were an experiment, but I knew the flavor combinations would mesh well together. The spicy lamb mixture, the creamy and tangy feta sauce, the briny pickled red onions and the soft, chewy onion flatbreads make a killer combination for dinner, appetizers or even to entertain!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. of ground lamb
  • 8 oz block of Feta cheese–I’m going to echo the Barefoot Contessa by saying that you should make sure to use a quality feta in your dish—preferably Greek or Bulgarian
  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt, plain
  • 1 teaspoon of mint, dried
  • 6 large garlic cloves (or 8-9 small cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • (optional) Balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • 7-8 dried red chilies
  • 1/2 can of pitted Black olives
  • 1 teaspoon Olive oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Feta sauce:

  1. In the food processor, add the 3/4 of the feta cheese, lemon juice, yogurt, mint, 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  2. Whir it up until the feta is completely broken up, but the sauce still has some consistency to it—I like my sauce to still have some body to it, but blend to your own preference
  3. Taste for seasoning!—I don’t add any salt since the feta is already so salty, but everyone has a different palette.

Pickled red onions:

  1. Peel and slice the red onion thinly and place into a sieve or pasta strainer with small holes
  2. In a jar or bowl—whatever canister you’d like to use to make your onions, I use a mason jar for my leftover—pour the sugar, tablespoon of salt and crushed red pepper
  3. Cover with water and fill the jar, but leave enough room for the onions as well. Stir to dissolve
  4. Add the vinegar—plain white vinegar is alright as well. Even rice wine vinegar could make these delicious for a banh mi sandwich
  5. Boil a few cups of water in a kettle or on the stove, and when the water comes to a boil, pour over the onions
  6. Place the par-blanched onions into the sugar-salt bowl. There should be enough water/vinegar mixture to cover all of the onionsPhoto May 18, 11 48 35 PM
  7. Leave for at least one hour, but I left mine most of the dayPhoto May 18, 11 50 55 PM.jpg

Lamb mixture:

  1. In your food processor—no worries if it has residual sauce, it’s all going on the same dish—finely chop the olives, chilis, and remaining garlic
  2. Mix together the lamb, salt, cumin, oregano, chile-olive-garlic mixture, olive oil, and the rest of the pepper in a bowl—use your hands to really get the meat to absorb the marinadePhoto May 18, 8 42 24 PM.jpg
  3. Don’t mix the mixture too much or you might make the meat tough when it eventually cooks
  4. Let the meat sit and absorb the spices and marinade ingredients for at least 30-45 minutes and up to overnight

To assemble the flatbreads:Photo May 18, 11 33 11 PM.jpg

  1. Lay flatbreads flat on a baking sheet—a pita or even naan bread would be a good substitute. Just make sure you use a bread that has a large flat surface and has some heft to itPhoto May 18, 11 35 25 PM.jpg
  2. Spoon some feta sauce on the bread and spread around the surface with a spoon to almost the edge—I put a good amount of sauce, but don’t use it all!Photo May 18, 11 38 00 PM.jpg
  3. Using your hands, spread the equal amounts of the lamb mixture onto each flatbread and form into semi thick layer—at first I was going to cook the lamb first, but actually ended up forgetting to. By the time I remembered, it has already started cooking and the fat from the lamb ends up absorbed by the bread and flavored the whole dish amazinglyPhoto May 18, 11 38 40 PM
  4. Sprinkle some feta over the top of the lamb, and slide these babies into the ovenPhoto May 18, 11 47 18 PM
  5. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes—some ovens vary so if your oven tends to get super high, maybe stay on 350 insteadPhoto May 19, 12 05 53 AM
  6. Remove from oven and let rest for a couple of minutes Photo May 19, 12 05 55 AM
  7. Scatter some picked red onions all over the flatbreads after it comes out of the ovenPhoto May 19, 12 07 49 AM.jpg
  8. Crumble some fresh feta over the top, as well as a few dollops of feta sauce
  9. This last step is purely optional, but I thought it gives it a wonderful fruity afternoon and a bit of panache. Pour a little bit of thick balsamic vinegar over the top to garnish. I used a deliciously thick grapefruit, white balsamic that I had in the pantryPhoto May 19, 12 09 44 AM.jpg
  10. Slice with a pizza cutter and enjoy! Απολαύστε το γεύμα σας!

Thai House of Deliciousness (or What I Ate On My Israeli Vacation, part II)

Thai House
8 Bograshov Street
Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is, in my opinion, an amazing cit. In some respects, it reminds me of mini-Barcelona with the beach and then a large downtown, and in some respects it reminds me of San Francisco with a slightly bohemian attitude. Either way, it has a killer food scene.

image1Continuing on my Israeli food journey, this stop was actually towards the end of my trip. After eating lots of local Israeli delights like hummus, pita, falafel, salads, roasted eggplant etc., I was craving something a bit different, so I decided on Thai food. When I asked around, and then looked online, Thai House off of Ben Yehuda Street near the beach was recommended over and over. After having eaten here, I wholeheartedly agree—this was definitely some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had. This place gets super busy around dinner time, and all day on the weekends since it’s a block from the beach. There were a lot of locals eating here, as well as some American tourists in the mood for an authentic Thai meal. I was at one of two tables filled when I came in and the whole room was filled when I got the check.

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image3I sat in the dining room that had bamboo walls and roof, and it very much lived up to its name of “Thai house.” The menu was big with lots of choices, and all of the dishes can be made to your spice level. I wish I had 10 stomachs to eat with, especially with the incredible smells emanating from the table next to me—lime citrus, spicy chili, umami fish sauce, sweet Thai basil, garlic, and more—each one more tantalizing than the next. The table decorations were very simple—no frills—and it was clear that the food and authentic decor are the main events here. I do have to say that I regret not trying one of the cocktail specials that sounded refreshing.

image5The best part of my meal here was really the food though. It was hard to choose from all the selections, but I think I chose wisely. I started with the Yam Neua Beef (46 shekels, ~$12), or grilled rump beef served with a hot chili fish sauce. When the plate came to the table it was presented beautifully. The sticky rice came in its own sack, and I was encouraged to tear pieces of the rice off with my hands and eat it with the spicy beef. The beef was sliced thin and garnished with sliced onion on top, and sliced cucumber below that almost became pickled from the heavily acidic sauce coating the beef. The meat itself was so tender and had been marinated in lime juice, chilis and fish sauce, and some sugar to tenderize the beef. The choice to cook the beef at medium rare also kept it from being chewy. It made it not only super pungent and spicy, but also light and meaty, and the sticky rice was able to absorb excess sauce. The plate was also garnished with small pieces of chili—leftover from the marinade—as well as some mint leaves. The dish was just fun to eat, and the temperature contrast between the warm rice and the cool meat was a nice touch.

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For my entrée, I wanted some sort of noodle dish and went with the recommendation of the waiter—Yum! The Pahd Sen Lian with goose (72 shekels, ~$19) had egg noodles that tasted homemade, and not mushy at all, as well as three kinds of mushroom—button, shiitake and oyster—morning glory—sometimes known as Chinese broccoli—and scallions. I requested the dish spicy, which it was, but I also added some pickled chilis to the noodles from the tray of spice condiments that was brought to the table. The result was a building heat that complemented the slightly sweet sauce on the noodles.Although the ingredients were very refined, the presentation and composition was almost rustic, but in the best way possible. I could imagine myself eating this dish in some small village in Thailand. The goose was also amazing. Not only is it rare that I get to eat goose meat, but it was cooked very well and included a good amount of chunk, breast meat. The fat was cooked off, which just left the tender, moist meat. It was slightly gamier than duck, and very meaty—satisfied the carnivore in me.

image8My experience at Thai House was in one word: delectable. The food was delicious and thoughtfully composed, the decor was authentic and at the same time the perfect level of campiness, and the location was wonderful. It was a great break from the hustle and bustle of my time in Tel Aviv and a satisfied my need for a spicy Thai meal. #Nomnom!