Archive for September, 2012
I came to find out that what I was given was amaranth leaves.
Callaloo is the name of a dish that originated in West Africa but has become a traditional dish in many Caribbean nations, particularly Jamaica. As a result, greens that are used in callaloo are often referred to as callaloo as well. These greens are usually amaranth leaves or taro leaves. In other Caribbean countries, callaloo refers to something entirely different: In Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago, it’s the name for okra.
Callaloo the dish has many variations (depending on the country), but the star of the show isalways the greens. Other ingredients may or may not include coconut milk, okra, chiles, or yams.
Rather than make the traditional callaloo with my treasure, I decided to make something much simpler because I wanted to taste the leaves without too much obscuring its flavor. So, I treated them as I would spinach or chard or any other leafy green and sauteed them in garlic and olive oil. It was great. The leaves were tender, almost silky, and mild and had a slight spinach-like flavor. That was one night one.
On night two, I took some of that sauteed callaloo and combined it with cherry tomatoes from my garden, fresh barlotti beans that my mother had made, and tossed it with whole wheat spaghetti. I topped that with a good shaving of fresh Argentinean parmigiano cheese. It was tasty, filling, comforting, and it smoothed out the graininess of the whole wheat pasta.
Amaranth leaves can be found in Asian and Indian markets. I’ve seen it in both, except that I didn’t know what it was. It’s hard to say what name will be on the sign because they go by different names throughout different regions in Asia, Southeast Asia, and India. They are either solid green or green and beautifully streaked with purple. Taro leaves can also be found in Asian and Indian markets if you’re interested in making callaloo (the dish).
Here is my Whole Wheat Pasta and Callaloo recipe. I hope you like it. Note that ½ pound of leaves will look like a lot but it will shrink down a great deal.
|Whole Wheat Pasta and Callaloo|
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 6 large garlic cloves, sliced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ pound callaloo (amaranth leaves)
- Sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 pound whole wheat spaghetti
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup cooked barlotti (roman) beans (or other beans)
- 2 tablespoons grated parmigiano or pecorino romano
- Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a wide pan. Add half the garlic and saute just until it starts to brown; add the red pepper flakes (if using) and saute another few seconds. Add the paprika and quickly add the amaranth leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat to medium-low and cover. (If the leaves don’t all fit, add half and wait until they cook down a little; then add the rest and stir it in.) Cook until leaves are tender, stirring occasionally.
- Take half the sauteed greens and set aside to have as is. Enjoy.
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil; add the pasta and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until pasta is al dente. Do not drain.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil; add the remaining garlic and saute a minute. Add the tomatoes (watch for splattering) and saute one more minute. Add the remaining sauteed greens and the beans. Stir to combine cook until beans are heated through. If the pan gets really dry, add a little water from the cooking pasta. Adjust salt and pepper to your taste. Keep the flame on very low until pasta is cooked.
- When pasta is cooked, use tongs or a large pasta fork to remove it from the water; add it to the pan. Add about ¼ cup of the pasta water to the pan. Turn up the heat and stir. Keep it on the heat for about a minute.
- Sprinkle the cheese over the top and stir it in. (You can add more on top when serving, if you like.)
Last night, I went to the James Beard Women in Culinary Leadership dinner at Vermillion in Manhattan, where there was a panel discussion about women in the industry. The panel was made up of women who have made significant strides in the culinary world, including Lidia Bastianich; Rohini Dey, owner of Vermilion; Martha Stewart; Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation; Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder and CEO of International Culinary Center; and Martha Teichner, CBS News correspondent as moderator.
While much of the discussion was focused on the obstacles women face, it also brought out how women have enhanced the the business, what qualities women bring to it, and what makes women capable. One interesting answer was were that women bring the mothering/nurturing quality that is natural to them into the kitchen because, as Martha Stewart said, it’s like having many babies. Employees need guidance and nurturing to grow as professionals. Rahini Dey pointed out that like mothers in the family sector, “mother” can be caring and compassionate when needed, and “mother” can be hard and strong and disciplinary when necessary.
Dorothy Hamilton was empathetic toward the men in her school, but having said that, she also said that she found women chefs/owners to have the most efficient, well-run kitchens she’s ever seen. Perhaps that’s also a residual effect of being taught to take care of house and home. One thing that everyone seemed to agree on is that whether you are a man or a woman, opening up a restaurant is a risky venture and no bank will invest in your business. Considering that in New York City, 59% of all restaurants fail within the first 3 years, I can’t say I blame them. Angel investors are the way to go with restaurants, and as Lidia Bastianich pointed out, the very worst thing you can do is start a restaurant under-financed. I think women, in particular, need to be careful because we have not traditionally had the financial support system that men have had.
Vermilion, on Lexington Avenue, is the second restaurant from Dey, the first being Vermilion in Chicago. Dey was a World Bank economist and a management consultant, before deciding to be a restaurateur. Ms. Dey said that for a woman to own a restaurant in India is frowned upon, which speaks to Ms. Dey’s resolve and ambition. The website decribes the cuisine as “a comtemporary global melding of Indian and Latin American cuisines.” It’s basically a fusion cuisine, elevated to gastronomic chic.
The dinner was a 5-course tasting menu and since a vegetarian menu was offered, I accepted it. I also chose to pay a little extra for the wine pairing. So here’s what I had.
Pani puri, olive and naan salad, jicama roll, and chili mint water
Wine: Vivanco Rioja Blanco
The pani puri was a flour shell with potatoes, a common street food in India. I thought the flavor was a nice combination of savory and sweet, if a little too spicy for my taste. The salad was nicely composed with mixed baby greens, pieces of pear, and dressed with Indian spices. The green olives were an unusual addition but they worked, as did the little naan croutons. The Jicama roll was a palate-cleansing counterpart to the spiciness. The crepe was light and thin and the jicama-and-fruit filling was refreshing. I didn’t care for the mint shooter; I found it too spicy for a drink and didn’t really enhance the dish in any way. Visually, it wasn’t very appealing, either.
Aloo vindaloo, tomatillo gazpacho
Plate brushed with pomegranate molasses and topped with eggplant fritter
Wine: Vivanco Rioja Blanco
The wine for the first 2 courses was a crisp white with fruity and floral notes. It was somewhat apple-y with hints of citrus.
A tapas version of a Venezuelan arepa, this corn pancake was topped with spicy potatoes—a little too spicy for me but the texture was good—and cooled down with a gazpacho shooter that was very different seasoned with Indian spices. The element on this dish that I enjoyed the most was the eggplant fritter garnish. It was light and while not crispy, not mushy either.
Vegetable caldeirada (Brazilian stew), fried papadum
Wine: Sula Chenin Blanc
Of the 4 savory courses, this one was my favorite. The soup was lightly spicy (curry?). In my bowl were bits of cauliflower, yellow squash, green and red peppers, onions, and baby greens. The non-vegetarian version also contained shellfish. I enjoyed it with the very crisp papadum. I discovered, however, that papadums are not sturdy enough to float in your soup like croutons. They kind of dissolve in your mouth, which defeats the purpose of croutons.
The wine was made with grapes from Mumbai, and its flavor profile is described as stewed apples, lychee, and a hint of minerality. Admittedly, it did have a distinctive undertone and finish that I couldn’t quite place.
Tandoori Portabella (Indian marinade), red swiss chard, sautéed spinach, plantain
Wine: Nieto Malbec
Again, the main element here was too spicy for me, and the spicy sauce that came with it did nothing to cut the heat. Having said that, the portabella mushroom had a nice flavor to it. The Swiss chard and spinach were mounded together and didn’t have very much distinctive flavor beyond that of the greens themselves, but maybe that was the point. Personally, I would have liked to have this dish with some rice. The plantain was a chip that was both visually appealing and a nice textural contrast.
The Malbec was a little oaky but fruity and a tiny bit spicy.
Trio of tastings: Mango flan, avocado beignet, and “vermilion hedonism” (dark chocolate flourless cake)
Wine: Blueberry Cardomom Fizz
I can pretty much use one word for all three items on the plate: Delicious. The Flan had a wonderful fruity flavor and wasn’t too sweet, as flans can sometimes be. The little mini cake was fudgy but fluffy at the same time. The Beignet was interesting take on the classic cream puff, filled with a chocolaty avocado filling that, again, wasn’t too sweet. I’d say it’s perfect for the winter holidays because it’s seasoned with cloves, which is not only reminiscent of the holidays but it’s a warming spice (hence its use in winter recipes).
The cardamom cocktail was slightly bitter, but not unpleasantly so. It wasn’t the kind of thing I would order, though.
The most interesting aspect of Vermilion’s menu is their “herb and spice” cocktails. I’m not sure it always works, and I think you have to have a sophisticated palate to appreciate them, but I think they get an A for originality and creativity.
Obviously, I’m a wuss when it comes to spiciness, but I do believe that not every single course in a meal should be spicy. Overall, it was a nice change of pace from normal Indian or Latin meals. Certainly, don’t expect the usual fare when going out to eat either cuisines. It’s a step into the realm of unusual.
Fall is in the air, and with summer goes summer harvests. Food lovers will mourn the loss of fresh tomatoes, corn, zucchini, berries, and herbs. But they’re going to be around just a bit longer, so we should hurry up and make those recipes that make summers special.
If you’ve still got all that beautiful mint growing, a great way to use it up is with a refreshing Cucumber Mango Mint Shooter.
Cucumber Mango Mint Shooter
This shooter can be served as a cocktail or as an hors d’oeuvre at a cocktail party. It’s on the border between sweet and savory, so it can even be enjoyed as an after-dinner cocktail.
1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 mango, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon mint leaves
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon lime juice
¼ cup melon liqueur
4 mint sprigs (optional)
1. Place the cucumber, mango, mint, maple syrup, and lime juice in a food processor or blender. Process until fully pureed.
2. Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Pour the mixture into the strainer and let it drip through. Press down on the pulp with a rubber spatula to strain as much liquid out as possible. Whisk in the liqueur.
3. Pour into shot glasses, top with mint sprig, and serve.
There are certain places to which every chef and food-lover must make a pilgrimage. One of those places is the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York.
Ithaca in itself is worth the trip upstate even without Moosewood being there. Part of the Finger Lakes region, it is a gorgeous area dotted with waterfalls and brimming with wineries and distilleries. You can do a wine/spirits trail, a cheese trail, waterfall trail, or go kayaking in summer or skiing in winter. Sticking to the topic of food, you can go to several ice cream shops for homemade ice cream, such as the Cayuga Lake Creamery on Route 89, along Cayuga Lake, where I had maple walnut ice cream and several other flavors, such as cinnamon, which tasted like freshly ground cassia. There’s also the Purity Ice Cream shop on Cascadilla St., which claims to have invented the first ice cream sundae. (Although several other places around the country have made the same claim.) At Purity, I had “boomberry” ice cream—black raspberry ice cream studded with pieces of cherries, blueberries and strawberries. It was simply to die for. And I can tell you that “one scoop” in Ithaca is radically different than “one scoop” in NYC—way more than I’m used to getting. The Ithaca’s Farmer’s Market is also a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.
Now, onto Moosewood.
Moosewood has been a natural foods restaurant since 1973 and is collectively owned and the owners work in the restaurant. I’ve been looking at their cookbooks and even remember seeing Molly Katzen’s TV show now and then in the 1990s and I’ve wanted to go ever since.
It’s quite elegant looking on the outside, with white lights adorning the windows and ivy growing along the historic brick school building that the restaurant calls home in the Dewitt Mall on Cayuga Street. I was worried for a couple of minutes about whether my dinner companion and I were dressed appropriately (we had on shorts and hikers and sandals). But once inside, I saw how casual the atmosphere was. There were people there who were dressed for a special evening and others, some with children, who looked as if this is one of their local eateries. And I guess it is.
Truly, the décor is so unassuming as to be almost boring, but I don’t think anyone ever goes for the ambiance. The food is the star of the show here. However, I think sitting outside is probably quite lovely on a beautiful day (we chose to sit inside because it was a hot day and we desperately needed the air conditioning). There was an issue with the menus—we had to wait a bit because they had run out of menus, which seemed odd, unless their printer had broken down—but at no time did we feel rushed. We ordered and ate at our leisure. Two points for that.
I had a white sangria, made with organic white Cottonwood wine, fresh orange and lemon juices, and seltzer and it had pieces of apple and pear and grapes soaking in the bottom of the glass. It was light and fresh and just what I needed after a warm day of Farmer’s Market shopping and watching kayakers make their way down Cayuga Lake.
Both our dinners began with a green salad. The greens were very fresh and it was a nice blend that included baby greens. My companion chose the miso dressing and felt that there could have been a little more of it and that it would have been improved by the addition of sesame seeds. I thought my honey-Dijon was just right. However, more than one olive in our salads would have been nice (we both love olives).
We split a black bean dip with organic nachos. The dip was cumin-y and a bit smoky, but slightly sweet, smooth on the tongue and flecked with pieces of black bean. We discovered that it paired very well with the grape tomatoes that came on the plate.
I ordered the Caribbean Vegetable Stew with Jerk Tofu. This was a mélange of sweet potatoes, okra, kale, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, onions, ginger, and chilis served over brown rice. While it was slightly on the spicy side, it was otherwise very lightly seasoned. Some people would probably say that it was bland, but I thought it worked well because I was able to taste each individual vegetable on its own, and I think that’s what they were going for. The tofu was spicy but nicely balanced by the brown rice.
I think my partner made the best possible choice with the Polenta Lasagna. It was full of flavor, enhanced immensely by the ricotta and mozzarella. The polenta they used was the coarse kind, which gave it a chewy, toothsome texture, and the eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash were nicely grilled. The dish had the allure of comfort food but it was elevated comfort food.
The portions were good—big enough to feel that you actually ate but small enough that if you finished it all, you wouldn’t feel like a fatted goose. Although neither one of us finished everything on our plate, we came pretty close. This, however, prevented us from being able to order dessert. I decided I’d save dessert for the next day.
I had planned on having lunch there the following day (Sunday) but I was extremely disappointed to find that it was closed. It was my mistake for assuming they were open without checking, but who knew the restaurant would opt out of serving the Sunday brunch crowd. (I knew I should have ordered that dessert while I had the chance.) So, unfortunately, my experience with Moosewood’s food is limited to, and I can only base my opinion on, those few items. So far.
Was it the most fabulous meal I’ve ever had? No. But their goal is to provide good, high-quality, healthy meals that taste good, make you feel satisfied, and are kind to the earth. I think they’ve succeeded.