Thursday, June 30, 2016

Yamini Joshi

 As made famous on Colbert's show, Yamini Joshi is a force of nature.  She participates in the League of Kitchens, an immersive culinary program that connects curious foodies with immigrant cooks living in New York. (Above: potato fritters and green chilies).
I traveled to Yamini's home in Kew Gardens, Queens, where I met 5 other New Yorkers to learn more about the joys of South Indian vegetarian cooking. (above, the "snack" we were greeted with before the class even began).
 I had previously taken a wonderful cooking class in Kochi in the south Indian state of Kerala. That was also in the home of a gifted woman hosting a handful of hungry and curious students in her home kitchen. Although Yamini is originally from Mumbai, her southern style was evident from the start (Above: some of the key ingredients of south Indian cooking: coconut, ginger, tamarind and chili). 
 Yamini had fun pointing out that this long okra-like "drumstick" vegetable is used to give "man power" to any men in need of more power.
 The main dish on the menu was masala dosa, a thin rice-and-bean-flour pancake served a red-hot spice mixture and vegetable soup.
 There is no mise-en-place like Indian mise-en-place.
 Yamini pierced this gourd's skin with her fingernail to show how it "bleeds" red liquid. Therefore it is believed that it is good for the blood.
 Mango lassi was the perfect antidote to the many super-spicy dishes.
 This is the key to the dish: the masala spice mixture being fresh-roasted.
 Yamini with the coarsely ground masala spice powder.
 Potatoes cooked in ghee with mustard seeds and topped with fresh cilantro round out the meal.
 Yamini teaches us to make dosas on her special pan, brushed with oil. I found it interesting that we don't brush the pan with oil, but rather the top of the pancake.
 Two kinds of chutney make everything even spicier and more delightful.
 Even the pots and dishes and table cloths are beautiful.
 Yamini shows us how to use her special tool for shredding coconut meat right out of the coconut.
I was especially touched by Yamini's prayers and chanting. Before we could anything sweet, such as the seviya (vermicelli) kheer pudding, we must offer it first to "the deity." The gods never had it so good.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Clearly, this meal made such an impression on me that it is taking me literally years to describe (see earlier posts). And I'm not even halfway through.

For the fourth course, Chef Baehrel continued with the theme of using exclusively local ingredients, mostly what he harvests on his own property. We were served a playful "faux" sunny side up egg with a side of "bacon," in the manner of Wylie Dufresne's famous trompe l'oeil dishes. Baehrel called this "phony egg" dish "the essence of the native harvest."

The egg whites were made from cattail cones taken from the stem of typha plants that grow wild in wetland environments. This was emulsified with rutabaga and potato starch. This was flavored with the sour taste of clover juice (wild wood sorrel, and infused with grapeseed oil.

The yolk is half a sungold tomato poached for 2 hours in parsnip water. The "bacon" is actually made from jerusalem artichoke that is oven-dried and jelled, baked into a cake and cut into little slabs.

Finally, the dish is sprinkled with "pepper" made from shagbark hickory bark that is soaked, oven dried and scraped.

Friday, September 28, 2012


Now where was I? Oh yes, genius and mad scientist chef/harvester Damon Baehrel was preparing us a meal at his home/restaurant in the Catskills. The third course of this elaborate affair was a baked wild daylily. In the wild, a daylily looks something like this.

Chef Damon battered the daylily in a golden fava bean flour, mixed with seltzer he made from well water. Even though the final result was amazingly crispy and light, there was no frying involved. Instead, the flower was baked on a mere film of grapeseed oil at a very hot temperature of 600 degrees.

The sauce was a purée of wild turnip, enriched not with cream or butter, but with rutabaga stock. The plate was dusted with fresh spring fennel. Divine.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Kale Chips

Every time I make kale chips, people drool over them and ask for my recipe. These are the crispy, crinkly, curly kale chips you see for sale in health food stores. Often they are labeled as "raw," which means they were heated at temperatures below 118 Fahrenheit, or thereabouts. They usually cost about 8 bucks for a few meager, crumbly leaves. I have to admit, they can be a little labor intensive to make yourself, but they are so inexpensive and totally worth the time and effort.

The most BASIC recipe can be summed up like this: Take a big bunch of curly kale (preferably two bunches, since it does shrink down a lot). Wash it well and dry it, and remove all the spines. Add just enough olive oil to very lightly coat all the leaves, and massage the oil into every nook and fold of the leaves. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Be careful with the quantities of oil and seasonings, because they will all intensify as the kale heats up and shrinks down. Use just enough to relax the rigidness of the leaves. You don't want it to come out unpleasantly oily, salty or spicy.

It's rather important to use the curly kind, since the little curls crisp up so well, but you could any kind of kale, and in fact you could you use chard, spinach, or any other leafy green -- but in my experience, kale is by FAR the best, and curly kale is best of all.

Then, you cook it. This can be done in an oven at its lowest setting (about 200 degrees). It should take an hour or two at the very most, probably less. Just lay the leaves on trays in one layer. When they are wilted and starting to dry out, turn all the leaves over and put them back in the oven till they're totally dry and crispy. Keep an eye on them -- if you burn them, it's all over.

An oven is fine, but I MUCH prefer to use a dehydrator instead of an oven. This keeps the kale bright green, and also keeps it as a "raw" food with more vitamins and enzymes intact if you keep the heat under 118 degrees. It should be ready in about 3 or 4 hours, (including one turning). In my experiments, though, I found that the chips come out a bit tough if you don't heat it for at least an hour at a slightly higher temperature. So I usually go with 145 degrees for an hour then turn, then finish for another couple of hours at 115 degress. It's a compromise and yields the best results.

Now, for my REAL recipe: I soak about 3/4 cup of raw cashews in water for 2 to 4 hours. Then drain and put the cashews in a mini-blender. I add half a peeled red bell pepper, roughly cut, a clove or two of garlic, a tablespoon of nama shoyu or soy sauce, a tablespoon of olive oil, three heaping tablespoons of nutritional yeast, a touch of cayenne or smoked paprika (optional), and a bit of salt and pepper. I blend all that into a creamy and smooth marinade, then massage THAT into the two bunches of kale leaves, in batches. It's amazing.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

DAMON BAEHREL, 2nd course.

As I was saying! The next course from chef Damon Baehrel was really many mini-dishes in one, arrayed in a beautiful oval on a gorgeous plate (Baehrel joked that his accountant told him he could have either a sports car, or his exquisite set of dishes). 

Clockwise from top center, is a radish with a sauce of flax seed oil, red pepper and sorrel vinegar, poised atop a nasturtium leaf.  The ball of cheese is a three-week-old chèvre with a dollop of red sugarbush sauce, topped with a pea flower. To the right of that is a blue cheese aged four months, topped with a wild chive flower, accompanied by pickled mulberry purée and baked fig leaf ash. In the 3 o’clock position is a five and half month old camembert-style cheese made with 80% cow milk, 20% sheep milk, dusted with dried cantaloupe seeds and paired with pickled peach purée and a bee-balm leaf. Below that is a tiny wild micro-strawberry. The triangular cheese is a cow cheese aged 7 months curdled with fermented apple and grape juices and rennet, paired with a carrot top.

The pink rectangular meat is cured Tamworth hog with fennel leaf. Still going clockwise, the next round meat is a lamb spicy salami flavored with pine needle powder. The next is a duck salami aged one and a half months, with bell pepper powder, garnished with sawtooth lavender. Then we have goose pepperoni with sea salt and tomato powder decorated with celery root flower. The last round one is guinea hen sopressata with sea salt, spiced with arugula powder in place of black pepper, and garnished with Russian sage. The bright red rectangular meat is venison leg, aged 14 months. This dish was the perfect way to warm up the salivary glands for what lay ahead.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

DAMON BAEHREL, 1st course.

I recently had a meal that can only be described as epic. It was a 5-hour, 14-course experience that I will attempt to document in stages, one dish at a time, since nobody can truly process it all in one sitting. I know I couldn’t.

After almost two years on a waiting list, our number finally came up. We booked a room in a bed-and-breakfast in upstate New York and made the three-hour pilgrimmage.
Damon Baehrel is a one-man show. On his 12-acre home in Earlton, New York, nestled in the Catskills, he has, for over 20 years, run a small restaurant out of his basement. Until recently, it was simply called The Basement Bistro, but now the restaurant bears only his own name.
Baehrel grows his own vegetables, forages for wild herbs, flowers and roots, taps his own trees, presses his own oil, grinds his own flour, makes his own cheese, and cures his own meat. On top of that, he creates his own radically inventive dishes, and – oh yes, he alone functions as the entire waitstaff. Call him eccentric or call him obsessed; either way, the man has a calling.
Everything we ate came from his property, except some meat and dairy products from a farm down the road, some seafood shipped live from Halifax, wine from Europe and sea salt from New England. That means that certain staples one has come to expect at every fine meal, like olive oil, black pepper, cane sugar, and other exotic tastes we have come to regard as our own, were inventively replaced by local substitutes.

Most ingredients are highly seasonal (some available merely several days a year), but some are preserved, pickled, dried or otherwise stored from seasons past.The restaurant had just finished a large lunch seating of almost 2 dozen people, and had a another dozen coming for a 10PM seating. Yet as chance would have it, we arrived at 5 PM to discover that the restaurant would be ours alone for the duration.  We felt like royalty, being pampered with such individual attention by the harvester/chef/waiter.
 The chef started us off not with a pitcher of water, but of iced sap from his birch and maple trees, flavored with crisp cucumbers. The sap was very watery and light, and had only a hint of a sweet, mineral taste. We began with a lovely Languedoc sparkling wine, Sainte-Hilaire 2010.
Two types of bread: focaccia brushed with grapeseed oil and specked with sea salt, ramp powder and garlic scapes, and also a round loaf made with homegrown wheat and white bean flour. Served with two kinds of local, sweet spring butter, including an incredible sheep butter with lavender. Oh, and by the way, the grapeseed oil is flavored with spruce shoots, cedar berries and wild tarragon.

Finally, it begins! The first of 14 courses to arrive was a beautifully presented wild violet ice, flavored intensely with grape powder and grape leaf powder, and sweetened with stevia leaf extract. The garnish was rhubarb powder.

Thirteen courses to go. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Faux Philip at ESCA

I live near Esca, a high-end restaurant specializing in southern Italian seafood. For years I've passed by, figuring I'd go in there one day when the occasion arose. Well, finally it did: my dad's birthday.

The food was pretty nice, but the service was surprisingly bad. The menus took forever to arrive, as did the drinks. And we were feeling a little rushed since we were on our way to the theater. My dad asked the bus boy for the waiter's name, but he didn't know; apparently this was the waiter's first day. Uh-oh.

At least this gave us plenty of time to catch up. Just as my mother was recounting the plot of the latest movie she'd seen, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, another waiter walked into my field of vision who looked A LOT like Mr. Hoffman himself.

Was the actor preparing for a role as a waiter? Could it really be him? Judge for yourself:

You can only tell the two apart because one of them is busy peeling back fish skin.  I was quite disappointed when faux Philip took FOREVER to fillet my mom's pink snapper, because when everyone else's dishes arrived, they were all cold. They had been sitting there on the fillet table the whole time. Shouldn't a place of this caliber have a better system? We had to send the other dishes back to be reheated. And after all that, there were still plenty of bones in the snapper. Had faux Philip ever even filleted a fish before? Odd, since Hoffman's new movie is called Jack Goes Boating.

I'm not sure I'd go back to Esca, despite the fact that the food, once it arrived, wasn't bad. Because, despite the celebrity sighting, we certainly did not get celebrity service.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mozaic Restaurant: Ubud, Bali

There's not much argument that Mozaic is the best restaurant in the Ubud area of Bali. It's got a world class chef in Chris Salans and is so much more than just a fancy-schmancy resort restaurant, which are so numerous in Bali.

There are four prix fixe menus available:
  1. The Discover Menu, featuring Asian and fusion influences
  2. Vegetarian Tasting Menu
  3. Chef's Tasting Menu, focusing on Western tastes
  4. Chef's Surprize Menu, including premium ingredients like truffles, caviar and fois gras.
We shared the Discovery Menu and the Vegetarian Tasting Menu and we were not disappointed. Here were some of the highlights.

This amuse-bouche had a sweet-savory tension, culminating in a unique tomato sorbet.

Sorbet appeared again, this time laksa leaf sorbet over yellow fin tartare. Laksa leaf is also
known as Vietnamese coriander and has a refreshing minty taste.

The next course was a selection of seafood with soft shelled crab as the centerpiece. It came with burnt cauliflower florets, curry leaf meuniere and curry emulsion. I'm not a huge fan of the foam craze in haute cuisine, but it really worked well here.

Then came a hearty Australian beef tenderloin with ripe Balinese jackfruit, in a reductino of vermouth, balsamic and cardamom, with eggplant caviar and Dukkah spices. Dukkah is an Egyptian spice mixture, often used with nuts.

The highlight of the entire meal was a simple sounding dish that really took us by surprise: parmesan-crusted potato gnocchi over a pumpkin sauce with an herb emulsion. These gnocchi were delicate and soft, but had a perfectly caramelized crispy exterior.

The real star of this show, however, was the spice you see in the lower left-hand corner of the photo: candied long pepper. Regular readers of this blog will know my enthusiasm for long pepper, the superior cousin to the more common and sharp-flavored peppercorn. Here is my previous post on the subject. Combining this warm and pungent flavor with a crust of sugar was sheer brilliance.

I've made no secret that my favorite fruit is the mangosteen, and it was a joy to try mangosteen sorbet as dessert. Subtle, fragrant and tart, it was the perfect closer. It was served with mint geleé and black rice tuile.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Savory Donuts

I've been busy traveling and haven't had much time to post, but after trips to India, China, Indonesia, and beyond, I have many new tastes to talk about.

I was just in Jakarta and was looking for fresh flavors in Blok M Plaza. They have lots of fast food borrowed from the West, but sometimes with a twist.

"Savory Donuts" is something I hadn't seen before, nor did it sound too appealing. I gave it a shot, and I wasn't disappointed. Salty, sugary, oily. It was just as gross as I had imagined.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Wrap something in bacon and there's a good chance it'll be pretty darn tasty. But this is also the reason I try not to eat tapas too often. The Spanish really know how to use rich ingredients to create bursts of flavor. That's great, as long as I don't start bursting at the seams as well.

Tonight I plan to visit my fave tapas place in New York, Alta, on West 10th Street. To prepare myself, I thought it would be nice to remember the last time I was there last July. I dined with Rob Sheffield, rock critic and local genius. What a feast we had! White sangria put us in a festive mood (it's nice and strong!) We sat upstairs at the edge of a balustrade looking down on the ground floor. The list of tasty morsels is long and colorful, so we just started choosing at random. Pretty much everything we ordered was excellent. We started with the grilled Japanese eggplant scallion gratinee, aleppo pepper & toasted sesame seeds.
Then we tried grilled chorizo-wrapped gulf shrimp with whipped avocado lime mousse. Don't let that word chorizo fool you. Basically, it's bacon!
Next up were the lamb meatballs with spiced butternut squash foam and lebne. Delish. Lebne, by the way, is kind of like Greek yogurt.
Following closely behind in this parade of calories and saturated fats, we had crabmeat canneloni with crème fraîche-verju foam, almonds and halved grapes. Oy.
Think that's rich? How about crispy duck confit. Unh.
Believe it or not, we were still hungry! We tried the Danish pork ribs with kecap manis and coriander. I couldn't resist something that included kecap manis, the sweet Indonesian soy sauce I grew to love while living in Bali.
"Oh sure, that's pretty fattening," I can hear you say, "but isn't there some dish made with about a stick of butter per serving?" Not to worry: the specialty of the house is the crispy, carmelized Brussel sprouts with Fuji apples, crème fraîche and pistachio nuts. In-sane. Scrumptious to the point of being unfair.
After such a repast, what dessert could possibly add enough calories to fill the corners of our appetites? No problem. First we tried the warm chocolate fondue with almond-scented grappa, with a side of Marcona-almond-and-orange biscuits. Actually, this was the one item I found hard to take. The alcohol of the grappa was so intense and stinging that it seriously detracted from the total pleasure of the dish.
Such concerns were short-lived, however. To put us over the edge, we ate Crema Catalana, which the Spanish claim is the predecessor to the French crème brûlée.

As I get myself ready for this meal, which is now just a few hours away, I know it will be a delight for my tongue and an assault on my arteries. So I keep telling myself, Hey, I haven't been to Alta since last July. That's a long time ago!