Ekmek Kataifi

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You’ll see it as Εκμέκ Καταΐφι in Greek circles and Ekmek Kadayıfı in Turkish.

The Greek version (shown here) starts with a layer of crispy baked shredded dough that’s saturated in sweet syrup then topped with rich, dense custard and crowned with kaymak (clotted cream) or whipped cream and a scattering of chopped nuts.

In Turkey, the base is bread pudding (ekmek means bread in Turkish) soaked in syrup and finished off with kaimak.

This irresistible indulgence came from Greek Bakaliko, 7615 5th Ave, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and yes, it’s one of the stops on my Flavors of Little Levant and Little Yemen ethnojunket.

You know you wanna.
 
 

Chinese New Year 4721 (2023)

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)The two-week long Chinese celebration of the Lunar New Year begins on Sunday – it’s 4721, the Year of the Rabbit. The Rabbit is known for a myriad of characteristics depending upon where you do your research: it symbolizes elegance, beauty, gentleness, alertness, kindness, patience, longevity, positivity, cautiousness, cleverness, and speed to name but a few, but when I read that the rabbit is known to be the luckiest of the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac I decided to stop there because if we need anything right now, it’s got to be luck.

One of the traditions that make this holiday so extraordinary is the way in which wordplay and homophones factor into the selection of traditional foods specially prepared to mark the occasion. For example, at festive gatherings a whole fish will be served, because the word for fish (yu) is a homophone for surpluses.

Since I haven’t made this year’s celebratory feast yet, here’s photo of last year’s whole steamed fish stuffed with ginger and scallions and bedecked with even more julienned fresh ginger, scallions, chives, and cilantro for the centerpiece. Accompanying the star of the show were snow peas and black mushrooms in black bean sauce, and char siu fried rice (homemade char siu, to be sure) all featuring a host of traditional ingredients.

And speaking of being lucky, there was a time a few zodiac signs ago that it looked like my Lunar New Year luck had run out in terms of another one of its traditional foods. It was a mystery involving a particular nian gao (the traditional sweet rice cake and a homophone for high year) that resonates to this day.

Want to know what happened? Please read my tradition-packed short story, “The Case of the Uncrackable Case!”

🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧
新年快乐! Xīnnián kuàilè!
恭喜发财! Gong hei fat choy!
🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧
 
 

Christmas 2022

(Or, Better Late Than Never)

Served on time, posted after the fact. (That’s why it’s called “post”. Work with me here.)

Christmas usually rocks a classical Italian accent in my digs, so here are a duo of traditions, homemade of course, that graced this year’s table.

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Insalata di Frutti di Mare (aka Insalata di Mare): The quartet of shrimp, calamari (squid), polipetti (baby octopus), and scungilli (conch) – which tally four fishes for those of you who keep score – plus various veggies for crunch and zest is augmented by a harmonizing dressing of EVOO, lemon juice, and herbs.


An improvisation the first time I made it, it’s now an evergreen at our holiday table. I composed it as a means of gathering some of my favorite umami bombs in concert. The three-part invention features a trio of pasta filata (stretched curd) cheeses: smoked mozzarella, scamorza, and provolone, accompanied by sun dried tomatoes, agrodolce red peppers, fresh basil and mini tomatoes; it’s marinated in EVOO, balsamic vinegar, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and fennel pollen and has become one of the key players in our Yuletide repertoire.

And the name of this Christmas homage to fromage? Praise Cheeses! (Of course. 😉)
 
 

Kutia

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Christmas is right around the corner. Eastern Orthodox Christmas, that is.

I was introduced to kutya (кутя) over 10 years ago in a Russian food market in Brooklyn’s Little Odessa where I now offer food tours; it’s a sweet story and you can read it here.

These days, there are few fully Russian markets to be found in that neighborhood, having been superseded by Ukrainian, Uzbek, Uyghur, generally Eastern European and even Turkish establishments. The aforementioned market is long gone and the availability of grab-and-go kutya has vanished along with it.

Needless to say, a little thing like that doesn’t stop me; now I make my own at home. I researched a bunch of Ukrainian recipes for kutia (the more accepted Ukrainian transliteration) and came up with my own spin on the dish. Best described as a porridge, it’s sweet from honey and raisins, chewy from wheat berries, crunchy from nuts, and distinctive and delectable from the poppy seeds; the wheat berries symbolize immortality and hope, the honey and poppy seeds represent happiness, tranquility, and success. It’s an indispensable dish for the family’s feast on Eastern Orthodox Christmas Eve throughout Russia and Eastern Europe.

In addition to wheat berries, poppy seeds, raisins and honey, my rendition includes toasted almonds (although walnuts are customary) and dried apricots. Kutia can be eaten warm or at room temperature and is now one of my must-haves for the holiday season. All that’s lacking is a proper beautiful Ukrainian serving dish, but this one (Federal green Depression glass) was my grandmother’s and it will do.

And as always, heartfelt prayers for safety and peace go out to my friend Olya in Ukraine, my inspiration for creating this recipe.
 
 

Albanian Suxhuk in the Bronx

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The holidays are upon us: time for my annual pilgrimage to Little Italy in the Belmont section of the Bronx. Needless to say, I gathered more than my share of calorie-laden Italian goodies, but I was focused on Albanian treats as well. Within that neighborhood there is a thriving community of Albanian markets and restaurants (check out my review of the not-to-be-missed Çka Ka Qëllu) and this year’s visit provided the unequivocally best Albanian suxhuk I’ve ever had the pleasure of overeating.

In the markets, it’s relatively easy to find this sausage dried and prepackaged (you might see sudzuka, sujuk, or sudzuk) but I was fortunate to find this soft, store-made version at Scalinada Euro Food Market, 667 East 187th Street, that ruined me forever for the prepackaged stuff. It’s a modest little store and the owner was extremely helpful in providing info and answering my questions.

I purchased one hot link and one sweet; they’re fully cooked and can be eaten as-is at room temperature or pan-fried. Since I don’t have a favorite, I made up a plate of some slices of sweet and hot, both fried and not, along with some kashkaval, sheep’s milk cheese that I thought would make a good accompaniment. Some fresh bread and a little salad completed the picture.

My Albanian friend, Mela, taught me “faleminderit,” the word for thank you, which put a smile on the owner’s face almost as big as the one on mine when I first tasted this remarkable suxhuk!

Now I need to head back to their butcher case for mish (meat) and qebapa, aka qofte, finger-sized skinless sausages made from ground meat, seasoned with onion, garlic, herbs and crushed red pepper, ready for grilling.

And no, I’m not going to wait until next year!
 
 

Global Gourmet Revisited

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Back on September 2, I wrote about the nascent market at 1103 Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn’s Little Odessa and I stopped by recently to check out their progress.

From what I observed, the focus is on Turkish cuisine:


Turkish brands and foods line the dairy and freezer cases and the shelves…


…along with two generous double decker cases of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.


The butcher area was still being prepared, but it did look welcoming.


The bakery was ready for prime time, however, and was displaying its wares including Ottoman style marble Turkish delight.


It seems to me that any region whose cuisine includes both dough and cheese has a signature dish that layers them in a delectable baked creation and Turkey is no exception; an enormous pan of su böreği alongside some other just-out-of-the-oven baked goods grabbed my olfactory attention as I entered.

I’ll go back to try it when the meat section is complete, but if it tastes as good as it looked, there’s one more treat to include on my Little Odessa food tour! Check it out here!
 
 

Thanksgiving 2022

Thanksgiving is a family affair and it takes over a week to shop for and prepare what has become an over-the-top family tradition. Not to mention Thanksagaingiving, another tradition in my clan, which you can read about here.

A few folks asked for photos of this year’s extravaganza. I guess they wanted proof 😉.

And even though I do pretty much the same menu each year, it always takes every bit as much time to put the whole thing together. You’d think I’d have developed some shortcuts by now.

But you know what? It’s totally worth it.
 
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Chestnut Soup – our appetizer, served with crème fraîche and snipped chives

 
Roast Turkey and Gravy (plus four extra thighs because everyone loves dark meat, of course!) with Cornbread Chestnut Stuffing featuring currants and dried cranberries.

 
Cranberry Sauce with Kumquats, Black Walnuts and Chambord

 
Dandy Brandied Candied Yams

 
Maple Sugar Acorn Squash with Spicy Pepita Topping

 
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Jerusalem Artichokes with Crispy Soppressata and Grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 
Savory Corn Pudding

As served…


…and fresh out of the oven. It’s a signature recipe of mine that uses frozen corn – evaluated and actually better than fresh for this – as well as Cope’s dried sweet corn. I marvel at the way the snipped chives always find their way to the top. Did I mention that half a pound of butter and more than a pint of heavy cream were ingredients as well?
 
Scalloped Potatoes with Leeks and Bacon

As served…


…and fresh out of the oven. Only a pint of heavy cream and a pound and a half of bacon went into this low-cal dish. 😜
 
Cornbread is happiest when it’s made in a cast iron skillet.
Cornbread is happiest when it's made in a cast iron skillet
 
Skillet Cornbread with fresh sweet corn, cheddar cheese, cilantro, jalapeño, and more: my special recipe

 
Homemade Pumpkin Pie

Yes, from a real pumpkin, not a can – a decadently rich recipe I’ve been tweaking for years that I’m finally happy with. Topped with buttery, crunchy toasted pecan brittle (yep, that’s homemade too) and the obligatory whipped cream.
 
 

Oatmeal Pecan Raisin Sandwich Cookies

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When developing a recipe, I often set out by studying a collection of existing recipes in order to generate an amalgam of sorts before I forge ahead in my own deviant direction.

Since it’s time to start thinking about Christmas cookies (I lie – it’s always time to think about Christmas cookies) and because I had too much oatmeal in the house (long story), a spin on oatmeal pecan raisin cookies seemed like a solid idea.

So I developed my own bespoke recipe – which happily turned out to be first-rate – but since I’m a lily-gilder by nature I decided to elevate it by sandwiching cannoli filling between cookie pairs.

If I do say so myself, I may very well have come up with another entry for the holiday repertoire!

(I would have taken a better photo, but all the cookies mysteriously disappeared before I had the chance. Elves maybe?)