Ramadan 2021

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the holy month in which the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad; this year, Ramadan begins at sundown on Monday, April 12. During that period, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk; the meal that marks the end of each day’s fast is called iftar and often commences with three sweet dates which help restore blood sugar levels, after which the menu will vary by country and regional specialties.

In Iran, a rich stew (a khoresh) is not uncommon at the dinner table. This is fesenjan, a Persian dish often made with chicken, sometimes with duck like this one; the other two essential ingredients are walnuts and pomegranates in some form – my version uses pomegranate molasses although I’ve seen pomegranate juice pressed into service as well. Saffron rice in the supporting role.

(And that’s my grandmother’s serving dish if you’re curious.)

Ramadan Mubarak!
 
 

Cosa de Boniato y Chorizo

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

That’s not its real name, of course, but I haven’t come up with a proper one for it yet and I didn’t want to call the post “Untitled” because this serendipitous culinary invention may well be one of the best dishes I have ever concocted. Why serendipitous? Here’s how it came about:

I was playing Socially Distanced Produce Aisle Roulette; that’s where you stand six feet away from the person who got to the vegetable counter first and cool your heels as they pick over each Brussels sprout to select the winning candidates for their dinner. Truthfully, I don’t mind playing this game because I know that it will be my turn soon enough and it gives me time to peruse the landscape for veggies that had not originally made it onto my shopping list.

To its credit, my white-bread supermarket actually does carry some Latin American vegetables if you know where to look. They’re stocked at eye level – if you’re a Chihuahua. Check out the floor-level bins beneath the bananas and you’ll see the platanos. Look under the sweet potatoes and lo and behold you’ll find the boniatos. Appearances notwithstanding, these marvelous tubers aren’t yams and are only remotely related to potatoes (same taxonomic order, Solanales) – and in some respects they’re better than either. They’re a little on the dry side, quite sweet, and taste more like chestnuts than any other starchy veg that purports to taste like chestnuts. Cook ’em the same way you’d cook potatoes.

Anyway, as I patiently waited for an opening, I began to mull over what I might whip up using a boniato. For some reason, my bespoke recipe for potato salad came to mind, but with Mexican overtones. But please note: this was not destined to be “Mexican Potato Salad”. First off, the whole idea of that sounds coy, gimmicky, and likely to disappoint; secondly, I was envisioning a dish served warm, unctuous, and as a main course, not a side.

Nonetheless, I decided that a swap-in for each ingredient in my recipe would be a worthwhile idea, so here’s what I did: boniato for potatoes, Mexican chorizo for bacon, poblano pepper for red bell pepper, chopped white onion (very Mexican) for sweet Vidalia onion, cilantro for parsley, cambray onion (scallions would work, too) for celery (the crunchy contingent), and a garlicky, lemony aioli for the balsamic-vinegary, honey-mustardy mayonnaise that holds it all together – literally matching up ingredient for ingredient, but in different proportions of course.

As I said, in my humble opinion, it was amazing: sweet from the boniato, spicy from the chorizo, tangy from the aioli, yielding yet crunchy, lavish yet homespun, and incredibly delicious beyond even my most unbridled fantasies. Of course, the real test will be to make it again and see if I’m still blown away by it. Hey, I might even write down ingredient quantities next time! 😉
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

The Trinity: Pastrami, Swiss Cheese & Sauerkraut

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

I understand that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. Shown here is my chastisement for loading too much cheese into a grilled pastrami and Swiss with sauerkraut sammich. Not to mention the fact that, in defiance of orthodoxy, the only rye bread I could lay my hands on wasn’t crowned with caraway seeds, a venial sin to some, but heresy to me. I do confess that I sneaked some toasted caraway seeds into the sandwich filling to redeem it.


The absolution, however, came from the coleslaw that I improvised from shredded cabbage, apples, carrots, and cambray onions (aka spring onions, alliums that look like bulbous scallions on steroids). Fortunately, this miraculously droolworthy side dish turned out to be that supper’s saving grace.

Salvation through salivation.
 
 
(I think I’ve been writing too much about religion lately. 😟)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

La Colomba di Pasqua

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Two notable celebrations of the season, Easter and Passover, are concurrent this year. It’s no coincidence that the Italian word for Easter (pasqua) and the Hebrew word for Passover (pesach) are closely related, although culinarily the holidays couldn’t be more disparate. During this time of year, Jewish families are expunging their homes of even the most minuscule crumb of anything leavened, and Italians are baking Easter breads like they’re going out of style.

Italy’s traditional seasonal bread is La Colomba di Pasqua (“The Easter Dove”), and it is essentially Lombardy’s Eastertime answer to Milan’s Christmastime panettone. These deliciously sweet, cakey breads, in some ways Italy’s gift to coffeecake but so much better, are fundamentally the same except for two significant distinctions: the colomba is baked in the shape of the iconic dove that symbolizes both the resurrection and peace, and the recipes diverge with the colomba’s dense topping of almonds and crunchy pearl sugar glaze. Traditionally, a colomba lacks raisins, favoring only candied orange or citron peel, but as with panettone, fanciful flavors (including some with raisins) proliferate.

The first photo shows a colomba in all its avian splendor. Frankly, I think it’s a leap of faith to discern a dove in there, but if you can detect one, you may have just performed your own miracle.


Hard pressed to see the dove? Fret not, for this photo has the cake turned upside down so the columbine form is somewhat more evident.


And a version that features bits of chocolate and dried peaches within and crunchy crushed amaretto cookies atop.

Just wondering: There’s no debate that American kids bite the ears off their chocolate Easter bunnies first. Do you suppose that Italian children start with the head, tail, or wings of the colomba?
 
 

Sanguinaccio Dolce

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

An equal opportunity celebrant, I’m always keen to learn about traditional foods that are associated with religious holidays. Lent, the forty day period that begins with Ash Wednesday and ends just before Easter Sunday, is celebrated in southern Italy with an unusual delicacy called Sanguinaccio Dolce, a sweet (“dolce”) dessert pudding made with pig’s blood (“sangue”) although some bakeries around these parts opt for beef blood. (For the faint of heart <groan> bloodless versions can be found.)

Now don’t go running off: if you follow me you know that I wrote a piece for Edible Queens last year suggesting that durian pizza is the gateway drug for durian, the much maligned tropical fruit. I propose that sanguinaccio dolce fulfills the same role for food crafted with blood as an ingredient. Numerous cultures are at home with it – blood rice cakes in China, blood pancakes in Sweden, dinuguan in the Philippines, as well as sausages in Great Britain and Ireland, morcilla in Spanish speaking countries worldwide, boudin in France, and so many more in Northern and Eastern Europe. Pretty much everywhere actually. And you also know that I only recommend truly tasty food; I have never been one to embrace the sensationalism of “Look what gross thing I just ate!” No. This is genuinely delicious.

An expertly crafted version tastes like a rich, dense, dark chocolate pudding that carries notes of cinnamon and bits of candied orange peel, pine nuts and sliced almonds. There is no hint of minerally blood flavor. It’s often served with savoiardi, crisp ladyfingers, but a spoon will suffice. The pasticciotto sports a tender shortbread crust with a kiss of lemon and is filled with sanguinaccio. These two examples came from Morrone Pastry Shop at 2349 Arthur Ave in the Bronx last year but it can be found at other hardcore Italian bakeries as well.

If, like me, you appreciate the concept of snout-to-tail cooking and decry food waste, you should look into this. But if you just want to sample the richest, most delicious Italian dark chocolate pudding you’ve ever tasted, you need to give this a chance. Unless of course you just don’t like chocolate pudding at all, in which case move along, nothing to eat here.

#bloodydelicious (couldn’t resist 😉)
 
 

Many Had a Little Lamb

…or so it would seem due to the convergence of spring and the heightened popularity of lamb cookery and feasting this time of year.

Springtime and lamb are inextricably intertwingled throughout religious travails, pagan tales, and supermarket sales; it’s all about timing. The Jewish Passover (Pesach) Seder recounts the dictum of marking doors with lamb’s blood to signal the Angel of Death to pass over those houses; in Christianity, Easter commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus, symbolized by the Paschal Lamb. Wasn’t the Last Supper a Seder? It’s no coincidence that the Hebrew word Pesach (פֶּסַח) and the Greek word Pascha (Πάσχα) share a heritage.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Anyway, the vernal equinox has occurred, Passover is upon us, Easter is just around the corner, and lambs spring eternal (or maybe that’s goats – just kidding) so since this is a thinly veiled Cooking in the Time of COVID post, here’s a dish I made that has nothing to do with religiosity and everything to do with lamb.

I’m often struck by the affinity lamb has for cumin and chilies in certain Chinese and Central Asian dishes so it’s always a treat to make this Xi’an Style Spicy Cumin Lamb dish. It features cumin seeds, coriander seeds, Sichuan peppercorns and dried red peppers; onions, bok choy, fresh long green chili peppers and scallions; plus the usual suspects (fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, Zhenjiang vinegar, etc.). Oh, and lamb and noodles.

But no matter how you celebrate the season, Happy Spring!
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Holi Mubarak!

(Originally published on Holi in 2019.)

The Equal Opportunity Celebrant strikes again, eating my way through Holi today, the Hindu festival of spring and colors celebrated predominantly in India and Nepal. Prowling around the Indian neighborhood in Jackson Heights yesterday in search of traditional Holi treats, I enjoyed watching children choosing packets of powder in every color of the rainbow to sparge at anything in their path, thus producing a glorious festive mess. The holiday recounts the heartwarming legend of Krishna coloring his face for Radha, his love, and heralds the arrival of spring.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Jalebi are one of the most widely available Indian mithai (you can read about my addiction to them here); they’re made from chickpea or wheat flour batter, usually orange but occasionally yellow (no difference in flavor, just a color preference) which is drizzled into hot oil in coil shapes. The resulting deep fried confections look like pretzels; they’re crispy when they come out of the oil, then they’re soaked in super sweet syrup so you get the best of both worlds. For Holi, however, jalebi get the royal treatment; this one is about 7 inches in diameter and generously adorned with edible silver foil, sliced almonds and pistachios. Because this sticky jumbo jalebi (jalumbi? jalembo?) is larger and thicker than the standard issue version, it provides more crunch and holds more syrup in each bite so it’s even more over the top, if such a thing is possible.


This is gujiya (you might see gujia), a classic Holi sweet, half-moon shaped and similar to a deep-fried samosa. Crunchy outside and soft within, it’s filled with sweetened khoa (milk solids), ground nuts, grated coconut, whole fruits and nuts (raisins and cashews in this one), cumin seeds, and a bit of suji (semolina) for texture.

These Holi day treats came from Maharaja Sweets, 73-10 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, Queens.

Holi Mubarak! Have a blessed Holi!
 
 

A Passover Dare

(Originally posted on April 20, 2019, in better times.)

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Previously on ethnojunkie.com, I did a springtime post that included a story about someone who dared me to come up with an ethnic fusion Passover menu. I wrote:

Well, far be it from me to dodge a culinary challenge! So although obviously inauthentic, but certainly fun and yummy, here’s to a Sazón Pesach!

Picante Gefilte Pescado
Masa Ball Posole
Brisket Mole
Poblano Potato Kugel
Maple Chipotle Carrot Tzimmes
Guacamole spiked with Horseradish
Charoset with Pepitas and Tamarindo

And, of course, the ever popular Manischewitz Sangria!

It was all in good fun, of course, but it got me thinking about actually creating a Jewish-Mexican fusion recipe. It isn’t strictly Kosher for Passover, but I thought the concept was worth a try. So here is my latest crack at cross cultural cooking: Masa Brei!

Now you might know that Matzo Brei (literally “fried matzo”) is a truly tasty dish consisting of matzos broken into pieces that are soaked briefly in warm milk (some folks use water), drained, soaked in beaten eggs until soft, then fried in copious quantities of butter. Typically served with sour cream and applesauce, it’s heimische cooking, Jewish soul food, at its finest and it’s easy to do.

So I thought it might be worth a try to swap out the matzos for tostadas, the milk for horchata, the sour cream for crema, and the applesauce for homemade pineapple-jalapeño salsa. A sprinkle of tajín, a scatter of chopped cilantro – and it actually worked!

Happy Passover!
!חג פסח שמח