4.24.2016

Babu Ji and the Bean Burger

Last weekend Brett and I ate at Babu Ji in New York City.  If there is a way to be killed by curry—and die happily—their tasting menu is it.  If you would like your death to include beer, there is the possibility of that too. 

Be advised if you do select the beer pairing option, which features your server swiping a new bottle out of the beer fridge every two or three courses, your demise will come swiftly.

When you have thirteen items to try—some which could be considered entrée portions in a more buttoned up establishment—the scene becomes reminiscent of a highbrow fraternity team-building exercise.  Like a gaggle of soon-to-be twenty-somethings with small collegiate beer guts working together to take down as many cases as possible, cheering through suds and yeasty burps to victory.  At Babu Ji the staff egg you on.

The contestant will finish his fried cardamom yogurt croquette in a fuchsia beet sauce and the Pork Slap pale ale, only to be greeted by a version of Colonel Tso’s with the rubbery chicken brilliantly swapped out for cauliflower, plus a crisp IPA.  The reward for finishing this is a mutiny of curry and Victory Prima pilsner.

The tasting feels relentless by the time you reach the kulfi.

And this was only one of many outstanding and subversive meals we ate over the weekend. (The counter service at Russ & Daughters Cafe, with a punctuation of tahini ice cream, was another high point.)

Upon returning to Boston I needed restorative dinners that could hold up to the food we recently tasted.  One night this included a sheet pan of Aleppo carrots and a life changing carbonara from Tasting Rome, which I hope to write about soon.

Another evening featured the white bean burgers seen before you and some roasted zucchini (that did not make the camera snap).  The splendor of these burgers—I have made them many times—is that they work with a variety of pulses.  (I would be remiss not to mention my preference for dried beans here, but do not let this stop you.) I should have featured them sooner, but bean burgers are not exactly beauty queens in the looks department.

Unlike many other vegetable patties, they hold their shape during the pan flip and resist collapsing into the bun.  They will take more spice and seasoning, should you push them, and do not apologize for a lack of beef.  And they are made for toppings.

With darker colored beans, like black or even the pinto, blue cheese dressing, red onion, and ketchup is a preferred selection. For the white bean version, avocado slices and a take on this yogurt sauce are recommended. A little barbeque would not be a misstep, either.  But I sense this is really only the beginning for a burger like this.

At Babu Ji there is an image of a white-haired Indian man with crooked aviator sunglasses and an aggressive mustache that extends out in a bushy cloud a couple inches from his face spanning east to west.  He is featured on their wall and website and the vibe he offers is one of adventure and of not taking any shit. He does not promise things will go easily, either.

It is very New York.

These burgers are sort of like that. Born out of necessity but not limited by it. Beautiful in their own way.  And with a little inspired thinking, their possibilities seem endless.

Spiced White Bean Burgers

Ingredients:

5 (2 oz) hamburger buns (I use brioche buns)
2 cups white beans (previously cooked or canned), divided
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chili powder
1 tbsp minced shallot
1 serrano pepper, finely diced
1 tbsp minced cilantro (about 10 sprigs)
½ tsp kosher salt
1 large egg

Instructions:

Place one 2-ounce bun in a food processor and pulse until it turns into crumbs; transfer to a large bowl.  In the food processor, add 1½ cups of the beans, 1 tbsp olive oil, garlic, cumin, and chili powder and pulse until the mixture becomes a thick paste.

In the bowl with the breadcrumbs, mix in the shallot, pepper, cilantro, and salt.  Add in the remaining ½ cup beans, bean paste, and egg and stir until it becomes a cohesive mixture.

Divide into four equal portions, shaping each into a patty.

Heat a sauté pan on medium heat and add remaining oil.  Add patties to the pan, pressing them down slightly. (Depending on the size of your pan, this may need to be done in two batches.) 

Cook about four minutes or until the bottoms are brown.  Flip and cook three to four minutes more or until the patties are cooked throughout.

Place each patty on a bun and top with choice condiments (recommended: avocado, this sauce, and barbeque).

Serves four

Notes:

-The patties can be made a little in advance and kept in the fridge until ready to use.


3.29.2016

A Margarita Picante

There is a single road in Tulum that segments about 10 kilometers of beach from the jungle.  The road is shared by tourists, taxis, cavalier bikers, and mosquitos with questionable ties to Zika. Along most of the pavement there is no sidewalk, and thus no mercy for those on foot.  Not from anything with wheels or wings.  You can walk along with the current of the road or get out of the way.

This is the mantra of Tulum, Mexico, a stunning land curated for tourists, hacked out of the wild, where the juxtaposition of grandeur and dust is both jarring and beautiful. A paradise that defies taming, despite the decoration of antique-style Marconi light bulbs and leather purses made by Mexican designers that outline the palm trees and jungle leaves.

Most of our days were spent under tiki-style straw huts, soaking in white sand and turquoise waves, which would occasionally drag a novice kite surfer down the beach and threaten to take out any surrounding bystanders.

While we were there, Brett and I went to the famed Hartwood, only to be driven out after our chaya salad with mango, smoked fish, and hibiscus-stained eggs by a very bad case of Montezuma’s you-know-what, leaving behind plumes of insect repellent and drunk bodies dressed in fedoras yelling for tequila shots and waving cigarettes.  Despite the charm of a wood-fired restaurant carved out of the jungle with a star canopy for a ceiling, lit by lanterns and flames, I fell for another restaurant.

Posada Margherita is situated near a part of the beach segmented by a cluster of jagged rocks decorated with sunning birds.  The waves and sand are easily visible from your table and the ocean breeze wafts in through the restaurant’s windowless windows and open-air entrance.  The interior features sanded wood in muted beach blues and greens and is decorated, somewhat ironically, with old doors and window frames, used for style instead of structure.  It too has its share of bobbing hipster hats, but it also has one of the best margaritas I have had.

A few things about Posada Margherita.  They are an Italian restaurant.  They make rich homemade pasta to order and feature shrimp—with their heads still attached—that are the size of small lobsters.  The also serve a generous helping of olive oil focaccia alongside a few cubes of parmesan and a curious jar of pickled cauliflower that goes largely untouched by most patrons.

They also have a very strong cocktail garnish program.  (I am not even sure this is a thing.) I could have watched the drink parade all day.  One cocktail had a dusting of citrus zest shavings that looked like a girandola firework.  Another contained a bushy sprig of rosemary alongside a fuchsia-colored flower.

But the best garnish was so simple and beautiful that it is hard to believe I had not seen it before.  A single dried lemon slice sat surrounded by a perimeter of salt submerged with the rocks of a classic margarita.  The cocktail itself could be sucked down in a couple thirst quenching swigs, I think by design, to help hydrate thirsty beachgoers without turning them into drunkards.

It was a quirky place filled with a peculiar grouping of people and an unusual cluster of cuisine set on the beach in the Yucatán.  It was very inspiring.

So when Brett and I got back, we got to work drying lemons and squeezing citrus. We tested, and retested, and ended up with a small collection of tequila-soiled scratch notes decorated with arrows, stars, checkmarks, and dashes and somehow, miraculously, avoided hangovers.

The result is a mutant margarita born on its fifth iteration, with borrowed inspiration from the famed grapefruit habanero version at Hartwood—that I have heard plenty about but did not get to try—and the Golden Posada margarita that we sampled a half dozen of.

It is bright and refreshing without being a pushover, and spicy without being abrasive. I am always a big proponent of a salted rim, particularly in this case as it reminds me of the beach, so that comes highly recommended.  As does the garnish, because it looks cool and smells good.

So is seven ingredients, plus water, a lot for a margarita?  Maybe. But it also creates space for a little retreat at home.

Mille grazie,” said the Mexican waiter, as he dropped the check at Posada Margherita.  Many thanks to you, Mexico.

Habanero Grapefruit Margarita with a Dried Lemon Slice
Inspired by Posada Margherita and Hartwood

Ingredients:

1 lemon (organic if possible, since you will be using the rind)
8 ounces white tequila (blanco), divided
1 habanero, quartered with the seeds intact
10 ounces fresh grapefruit juice (you’ll likely need more than one grapefruit)
2 ounces fresh lime juice (roughly 2 limes) (see note)
2 ounces demerara simple syrup (recipe follows)
Fleur de sel or fine sea salt, for the rims

Instructions:

This is a cocktail that requires some advance planning.  You will probably want to make the lemon slices and demerara syrup ahead of time (the day before will help divide up the prep). Both can be made in advance and stored until needed—the slices in an airtight container at room temperate and the syrup in the fridge.

You will also need to be around at least an hour in advance to steep the habanero for the tequila.

for the demerara simple syrup

In a small saucepan, stir together 2 cups of demerara sugar and 1 cup of water.  Cook on medium heat, swirling occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.  (This will happen before the liquid boils.) Let cool; store in fridge for cocktails (you will have extra). (Sugar in the raw would be a substitute if you cannot find demerara.)

for the dried lemon slices

Set the oven to 170 degrees. Thinly slice your lemon into rounds as close to an eighth of an inch as you can get. Set a metal cooking rack over a sheet pan and place the slices on the rack.  (This will aid in the drying process.) 

Dry in the oven for 60 minutes.  Rotate the pan and place back in the oven for another 60 minutes, or until the slices are completely dry to the touch.  (This may take anywhere from 90 to 150 minutes depending on slight variances in oven temperature and slice thickness, so you may want to start checking occasionally after the first hour and a half to prevent over caramelization.)

for the habanero tequila and remaining prep

In a small container, place 6 ounces of tequila and the quartered habanero.  Cover and let the mixture steep for 1 to 2 hours.  (If you like things on the milder side, steep for closer to 1 hour but keep in mind this is still a habanero margarita and it will be spicy.)

While the tequila is steeping, juice your citrus and place in separate containers.  Take out 2 small plates.  On one plate, place a small amount of citrus juice, lime, grapefruit, etc. (a few teaspoons).  On a second plate place a couple tablespoons of salt.  (Better to err on the side of too much than too little.)

Set the rim of your cocktail glass into the juice and twist so that the entire rim is moistened.  Place the wet rim into the salt and rotate the glass, tipping it slightly as you go around, until evenly covered.  Repeat. (Doing this a little ahead of time will help set the salt, so it doesn’t easily slough off.)

When the tequila is spiced to your liking, strain out the habanero and set aside (it can be added to dinner or discarded).  You should be left with a peppery clear liquid.

for the cocktail (per drink)

In a cocktail shaker, place 3 or 4 ice cubes.  Place another 2 or 3 ice cubes into a glass with a salted rim.  To the shaker add 1½ ounces of habanero tequila, ½ ounce white tequila, 2½ ounces grapefruit juice, ½ ounce lime juice, and ½ ounce demerara simple syrup.  Shake vigorously and then strain into your prepared glass.  Top with a dried lemon slice. Repeat with remaining cocktails.

Yields enough for 4 cocktails (plus extra garnishes)

Notes:
-Brett and I went through 5 different versions of this cocktail before settling on one—more or less.  In the end, I preferred the slightly more lime-forward version with ½ ounce of juice per drink.  Brett preferred the more grapefruit-forward (less “typical” margarita) version with ¼ ounce of lime juice per cocktail.  They both are good.

-We ended up cutting the habanero tequila with a little of standard variety because the original 2 ounce version of habanero tequila made tasting the more subtle grapefruit nearly impossible.  It was still good, mind you. It was just harder to tell there was grapefruit in there.

-We also tried pink and white grapefruit and both seemed to work fairly interchangeably.


-Why the lemon slice?  In the end, it was prettier, bigger, and had better flavor than the dried lime slices.  If storing longer than a few days you may want to keep them in the fridge—it doesn’t affect the quality and will prolong their lifespan. Halved grapefruit slices might be cool too, but I haven’t attempted to dry them.




2.14.2016

An Unconventional Valentine

There is a negative thirty-six degree wind chill in Boston today.  It is Valentine’s Day.  In hopes of a nice meal, Brett and I have sacrificed three chickens for the preparation of a ramen broth from the sadistic souls at Momofuku.

In a peculiar development that speaks to the mental illness of my family, my brother—who lives in Virginia where it is a balmy fourteen degrees—is making the very same ramen.  Consequently, there was no discussion of our respective soup plans, nor was there collusion to use broth to fight the cold four hundred miles apart. 

We are simply cut from the same cloth of people who will spend, at minimum, ten ungodly hours hacking chickens and reducing steeped kombu.  Our lineage has the patience for such a task and the stupidity not to know better.

Momofuku ramen is a bitch, in the words of my brother. (Happy Valentine’s Day!)

Luckily, the people we attract—the depraved souls—find this activity somewhere along the spectrum of romance and gratuitous torment.

I do not have this recipe for you today.  You will never get the hours calculating the weight of deboned animal carcasses and rendered bacon fat back. One can only hope, for the good of humanity, there are but few humans capable of such idiocy outside the confines of a professional kitchen.

I do, however, have a very good cookie recipe for you, sane person.  One that should surprise and delight without bone cracking or blood or cursing, if done properly.

It uses only five ingredients and shamelessly declines flour, making the cookies needlessly—but deliciously—hip.  That they are gluten-free is not the point.  The point is that they are quite good and easy and suitable for your friends with celiac disease. 

The concept is fairly simple.  Take peanut butter (a winning beginning) and add brown sugar and eggs and three hundred and fifty degrees.  I thought about making them again and adding in cayenne and scraped vanilla bean seeds.  But I did not have the energy today.  You can imagine what babysitting a painfully slow simmering pot of chicken parts and pulverized mushrooms does to a person.

In essence, this recipe is about as far away as one can get from Momofuku ramen.  None of the ingredients require research, nor do you have to involve a calculator at any point in the process. (Odds are you probably have the necessary items in your pantry right now.)

There are, however, a few unifying factors worth mentioning.  Both recipes have New York origins—hailing from very popular city spaces—and are very good.

They are also both capable of heating up the joint.  Which is really the whole point on a day like today. 

Sea Salted Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:

1¾ cups (335 grams) packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1¾ cups (450 grams or one 16-ounce jar) of smooth peanut butter (see note)
Sea salt, for garnish

Instructions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the light brown sugar and eggs until smooth.  Whisk in the vanilla extract and the peanut butter until everything becomes fully combined and turns lighter in color.  It will not be as thick as regular cookie dough.

Chill the dough in the freezer for about 30 minutes. This will help the dough set and scoop well. 

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

When ready, take out the cookie dough.  If the edges of the dough look like they have frozen a bit, stir the dough again briefly.  Scoop out about 2 heaping tablespoons of dough per cookie, setting the mounds a couple inches apart.  (Having a scooper is helpful.)  You should be able to fit about 10 to 12 cookies per sheet. Sprinkle each mound lightly with sea salt.

Place one sheet of cookies in the freezer for 15 minutes.  This is the first one you will bake.  Place the other sheet of cookies in the fridge.  Set the oven to 350 degrees.

After 15 minutes, place the freezer sheet into the oven and place the fridge sheet into the freezer.  Keeping the cookies very cold will help them keep their shape better.

Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they turn golden at the edges.  The middles will still be slightly soft.  Let the cookies set for a minute or two on the hot sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Repeat with remaining cookies. 

Let cool completely before eating.  This will help the cookies properly set so that their edges are crisp and their centers are chewy.

Makes about 20 cookies

Notes:
-I only tried this with regular (not natural) peanut butter. Processed peanut butter is alleged to yield a better shape.
-The longer you keep the scooped cookies chilled the longer their cooking time will be, so be flexible with their time in the oven, if necessary.

1.17.2016

Of Tarts and Men

It is hard to change eating habits. 

The diet industry is littered with shackle devices like partitioned containers and plate dividers, blenders with supernatural powers, and boxed frozen dinners with poultry the size of a small child’s sock, and about as delicious.  Not to mention weight loss pills that make people behave like Richard Simmons on a nicotine gum bender.

It usually does not have to be that complicated.

I think—for those of us who are not plagued with a complicated illness—we really just need to sit down with someone who is not halfway insane and brainstorm on how to eat a decent breakfast, or lunch.  It has to be somewhat more enjoyable than wanting to hurl yourself down a flight of stairs.  And less complicated.

In many cases, this excludes tofu steaks and quinoa pilaf.

Which is fine.  Treating your body a little more kindly in the preventative department does not have to include a trip to the co-op.  Unless, of course, you find soy and bulk bins of nutritional yeast irresistible.  I think it is safe to assume many people do not.

This tart, however, is a different story.  The first thing you may notice is that its bottom is composed wholly from whole wheat flour.  The addition of olive oil adds a pleasant suppleness to the dough and offers up some merit without vacuuming all evidence of joy out of the room.

You may also notice the inclusion of cured meat.  I assure this does not fly in the face of recent warnings from the World Health Organization, nor will it poison your colon if you approach with a modicum of reason.

It really should not be terribly controversial to suggest digesting two ounces of bacon—or roughly four slices—a day might increase your risk of cancer.  Nor should it be surprising that many people simultaneously find pig parts irresistible.  There is a way we all can meet in the middle on this.  It is likely somewhere between asceticism and Gargantua.  The amount of prosciutto in this tart fits that description.

If you are someone who is averse to pie crust making, you should find the process here comforting. It bears greater resemblance to those crumbled cookie bottoms, which—at least for me—result in much less swearing and sweating in the kitchen.  In fact, it is a project you could probably do with a small child.

The tart can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and can keep for a couple of days, if chilled. Pair it with a salad or a sliced apple and you have found a respectable meal. A meal that will not use up precious brain power to interpret and execute. 

And, perhaps more importantly, a meal that you will look forward to eating.

Vegetable and Prosciutto Tart with Olive Oil Whole Wheat Crust

Ingredients:

for the crust

¾ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil (plus more for greasing)
1/3 cup chilled whole or lowfat milk

for the filling

1½ to 2 cups bite-sized pieces of leftover cooked vegetables (e.g. broccoli, caramelized onions, or these tomatoes)
1 tsp olive oil
2 ounces prosciutto, chopped
2 large eggs
½ cup plain whole Greek yogurt
¼ cup whole or lowfat milk
1 ounce cheddar or Swiss cheese, grated (about ½ cup)
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Instructions:

For the crust:

Lightly grease a 9 to 10-inch (or similar-sized—I used a 13½ x 4-inch) tart pan with a removable bottom with olive oil; set aside. (A springform pan may also work.)

If you have a food processor: combine the flours, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of the mixer; process 5 to 10 seconds.  In a liquid measuring cup, combine the oil and milk. Pour the liquid into the flour and pulse 3 to 5 times, or until a soft ball of dough forms.

If you do not have a food processor: in a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt; make a well in the center.  In a liquid measuring cup, combine the oil and milk. Pour the liquid into the well and stir from the center with a fork, gradually incorporating the flour until a soft dough forms.

Dump the dough into your prepared pan and press it firmly, evenly distributing the mixture on the bottom and up the sides of the pan to form a 1-inch rim.  Prick the crust with a fork; cover and refrigerate 1 hour (or overnight).

To cook the crust, set the oven to 375 degrees.  Place a piece of parchment paper on the crust and fill it with pie weights or dried beans (you can save and reuse the beans for additional tarts). This will help the crust bake properly.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until the crust just starts to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Place on a wire rack to cool and remove the weighted parchment paper. (If you will be preparing the tart right away, keep the oven set to 375 degrees.)

For the tart:

Set the oven to 375 degrees. Heat a small sauté pan on medium heat, add the oil and the prosciutto and cook until the prosciutto becomes crispy, about 5 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, add the eggs, yogurt, milk, cheese, and black pepper and beat lightly with a fork.

Brush the crust with mustard and sprinkle with the cooked prosciutto.  Spread the vegetables over top and then pour in the custard.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes (you may want to place a sheet pan underneath if your pan is very filled).  The tart is done when the filling is set and slightly puffed and the top is lightly golden brown.

Let cool 10 to 15 minutes on a wire rack before serving.

Makes 4 servings

Note:
-The tart pictured above features caramelized onions plus ½ tsp lavender (mix the herb in the liquid custard before cooking). The lavender is lovely and adds a slight perfume that—when dosed in small amounts—compliments the meat and the onions. You could easily substitute rosemary (Herbes de Provence would be nice too) or simply leave off the herbs all together.


- I have no problem eating any leftovers cold.  You could also reheat them by warming at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes.