Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

Quite literally.

I don’t usually report news here, but this event is special and deserves all the digital ink it can get.

After a devastating fire in January 2020, Xi’an Famous Foods’ outpost at 26-19 Jackson Ave in Long Island City was forced to close, much to the dismay of its multitude of fans. And now, in case you missed it on their Facebook page, they are excited to announce that they’ve reopened and take-out is available for their eager customers.

I can remember standing on line, appetite at the ready, back in the days when Jason Wang and his dad occupied only a tiny stall in the depths of Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing. Now they’re a mini-chain and I’m happy to affirm that the quality is as top-notch and the food is as outrageously delicious as the original. Old photos of two of my absolute favorites:

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

The N1 – Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles


The F4 – Spicy & Sour Lamb Dumplings

Find a Xi’an Famous Foods near you and go!
 
 

Friends with Benefits

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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

I am genuinely fortunate that I have a couple of wonderful neighbors with whom I have become actual close friends. When they needed to go away for a week, they asked if I would water their plants, even though they are aware that I am far better at cooking with things that grow in soil than I am at caring for them (I have chronic black thumb syndrome). If that isn’t optimistic trust, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, just before they left, they generously made me the beneficiary of a sack of perishable upscale groceries that they thought might not survive until they got back. I love this. It’s like opening a basket of mystery ingredients on Chopped.

Among other surprises, I found a fennel bulb, a few strips of Applewood smoked bacon, and fresh quail eggs. Since I have too much time on my hands (help!), I decided to see what I could make out of the trio. I thought the delicate anise flavor of the fennel would contrast perfectly with the smokiness of the bacon, and I could use both the sturdy bulb and the feathery fronds in the dish. I decided to slice the bulb horizontally into planks and roast them because I could coax a bit of sweet caramelization out of them and roasted veggies always work. I butter-poached the quail eggs and set them on top of the fennel rounds, topped them with crumbled crispy bacon, added a few fennel fronds for garnish and a hint as to what lay beneath – and Bob’s your uncle, here’s the result: a seriously tasty treat made from components I likely would never have purchased for myself.

I truly like this couple a lot. But I wouldn’t hate it if they’d go away more often. 😉
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Sami’s Kabab House

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

Authentic Afghan cuisine – from a visit in September 2017 to their Astoria venue at 35-57 Crescent St.

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

We started out with two from the Appetizers section of the menu: Ashak (you might see this as aushak elsewhere), steamed dumplings stuffed with leeks and scallions, topped with garlic mint yogurt sauce and garnished with lamb gravy and yellow split peas.


And Manto (you might see this as mantu elsewhere). Steamed dumplings stuffed with ground beef, onions, cilantro and spices, topped with more garlic mint yogurt sauce and a splash of lamb gravy and yellow split peas.


Burani Badenjan (you might see Borani Banjan elsewhere). Fried eggplant seasoned with an Afghan style sofrito topped with garlic mint yogurt sauce. A vegetarian option.


Kobida Kabob. Ground chicken seasoned with fresh herbs and spices, skewer-grilled and served over rice with qabuli (raisins and carrots).


Lamb Chops. Our favorite that day – served over rice with qabuli.


Our dessert was Shir Birinj, Afghan Rice Pudding. Thick, sweet, and delicious, prepared with almonds and topped with ground pistachios.


The Helicopter Tabletop Shot, a vestige of Instagram days.
 
 
Sami’s Kabab House has two locations: 35-57 Crescent St, Astoria and 284 Glen St, Glen Cove.
 
 

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 😉)