murgh musallam

Inspired by a recipe I once cooked from in Tasting India by Christine Manfield, the method of cooking murgh musallam really stood out to me. She calls it a roast, but not once does it go in the oven. You are basically steaming a whole chicken in a spiced gravy, basting it quite a few times during it’s time in the pot, and the results are a tender, deeply flavorful “roast,” which, by the way, is stuffed with spiced whole eggs and nuts, sometimes minced meat.

Making this during a pandemic called for simplifying things. For instance, I don’t have saffron or nuts, and many of the other spices used. I added veggies instead and I loved it even more. Mom’s husband said it tasted like tikka masala but with whole pieces of chicken. I didn’t mind the comparison. You will need:

3 pound chicken seasoned with

-generous amount of salt
-a sprinkle of curry blend (optional)
-juice from half a small lemon

Egg Stuffing

-2 hardboiled eggs, shells off
-1/2 tsp cumin seeds
-tbs ghee
-40g (1/4 c) onion, diced
-40g (1/4 c) celery, diced
-40g (1/4 c) red bell pepper, diced
-1/4 tsp grated fresh turmeric or 1/2 tsp dry
-1/2 tsp red chili pepper or more

In a small pan, gently toast your cumin seeds then add everything else. Saute whole eggs til they turn a nice golden color and the veggies have softened slightly. Spoon the whole eggs into the cavity of the chicken with some of the vegetables. You will spoon the rest of the stuffing over the chicken once your gravy is ready.

Gravy time, made in a big enough pot or dutch oven

-3 tbs ghee
-about 3 tbs ginger garlic paste (about 3 cloves plus 1-inch piece of ginger pureed with a little bit of water)
-2 tbs onion paste (about half a small onion pureed with a little water)
-1 heaping tsp garam masala
-1/2 tsp cumin
-1/4 tsp turmeric
-couple of pinches of cinnamon and clove
-as much red chili pepper you’d like
-bay leaf
-1 heaping cup chopped tomatoes
-8 oz can tomato puree
-3/4 cup chicken stock
-few tbs butter (optional) or cream (also optional), for stirring in towards the end

Heat ghee and gently brown the pastes. Add everything else but the cream and butter and simmer about 10 minutes before adding your whole chicken. As soon as you place it in the middle of the pot, spoon the rest of the stuffing over it.

Then put a lid over it and allow it to steam under a low-medium flame. Every once in awhile you’ll baste the chicken with the gravy. It should be ready to serve within the hour.When cooked through, you can put it on a serving platter deep enough to hold the gravy as well, or cut the chicken into pieces and leave it in the same pot. Serve with basmati rice.

Aleppian Stew with Dried Figs and Apricots

Aleppian Stew with Dried Figs and Apricots

When I don’t want to make Syrian stuffed grape leaves but still want the sweet and tangy tamarind flavors that are smothered all over them, this is my go-to. Let me tell you: it is DEC-A-dent. You can serve it with rice and lentils, a generous amount of salad, or even some of my spring greens kibbeh (Autumn coming soon *wigglingeyebrows*).

Aleppian Stew with Dried Figs and Apricots

-2 lbs oxtails or short ribs
-1 heaping tsp tomato paste
-3 garlic cloves, chopped
-2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
-6 pearl onions (optional)
-10 dried mission figs, 8 dried California apricots
-1 bay leaf
-1 1/4 tsp allspice
-1 tsp ground cumin
-1 tsp aleppo pepper
-pinch or 2 of cinnamon
-3-4 tbs tamarind concentrate*
-water, enough to cover a quarter of the way
-medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
-salt and pepper, to taste

Using a dutch oven drizzled with a little oil, you’ll want to brown your meat in batches under med-high heat.

Stir the tomato paste into a pool of oil left in the pot, being sure to caramelize it for about a minute. Add all spices, carrots, garlic, onions if using, and 3 tbs of tamarind. Stir together, then cover with water.

Allow it to lazily simmer for at least 1 hour on the stove-top with lid on before adding the sweet potatoes and dried fruit. While it simmers, preheat oven to 350. Taste it when the hour is up. If it’s not tangy enough for you, add another tbs of tamarind.

Pop it in the oven for another 45 minutes, uncovered. The meat should be very tender, and sticky with all that tangy goodness.

golden matzo ball soup

golden matzo ball soup

Last month, when I was diagnosed with a rare facial nerve condition and couldn’t really chew much, my mind’s eye saw nothing but matzo ball soup. It saw a rich, golden broth with fluffy filling floaters so very tender on the teeth. How you like that alliteration? Anyway, I couldn’t make it. Matzo ball soup needs your head on straight (okay, maybe a little straight) and all the heart you can muster. (Seriously, all).

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Speaking of hearts, Dan got me a quart of it from PJ Bernstein near my place, with a side of mash and mushroom gravy, and for a split moment, the love of it transformed pain into pure happiness. Which didn’t last as long as I liked. Pain hit me that same night, real bad. Meds that were given to me weren’t working, and even though Dan had just traveled to me from Brooklyn, he hopped back on a train to get me stronger pills that were once prescribed to him. And guess what? When he returned, with meds, he also carried a bag full of food. When I asked what it was, he told me he had no clue. His mom handed the goods to him hoping it’ll make me feel better. Aaaaand…

It was matzo ball soup.

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I don’t know how she knew what I needed, but I felt so touched by this and now this soup will forever be my one true medicine. I sipped and gently chewed for a week.

Now let’s get to the recipe. When I bought a pint of this from PJ Bernstein last week, I freaked the hell out when I saw that it was $10. Obviously I needed to make my own, especially since I was diagnosed last night at the hospital with ANOTHER nerve condition. Who needs a hug? This girl. But I’m willing to share some love with you, too.

Why golden? Turmeric. I’m putting it in everything right now because I need all the healing. But the matzo balls GLOW so beautifully, and the ginger, nutmeg, dill adds some serious flavor. No boring floaters here!

for the broth

-3 lb free-range, organic whole chicken
-enough cold water to cover chicken
-1 tbs kosher salt
-1 large onion, skin on, halved if necessary
-3 garlic cloves
-2 celery stalks
-2 carrots
-1 parsnip
-2 bay leaves
-a combination of herbs you might already have, about 6 sprigs total (parsley, dill, cilantro, thyme, oregano)
-1/2 tbs peppercorns
-1 cup flavorful chicken or veggie stock for later*

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Keep at a slow simmer from beginning to end, for about 2 1/2 hours. Skim off the top every chance you get so that the end result is a clearer and cleaner broth. I don’t welcome cloudiness when already feeling blue, ya know?

*The broth will reduce a little with time, so I like to keep a cup of chicken or vegetable stock nearby to add to it. Others just add more water, but I find that this gives it more flavor. Use a chicken or veggie bouillon if you’d like…I won’t tell on you. (I like the Better than Bouillon paste shhhhhhh).

Discard all veggies and herbs, and place the chicken in a separate bowl. Save it for another dish, or shred breasts and add it to your soup later on. You can also pour it through a fine mesh, but it’s okay if you don’t want to get too fancy.

for the matzo balls makes about 8 medium-sized (double recipe for more)

-2 eggs
-2 tbs chicken broth
-2 tbs schmaltz (chicken fat), melted
-1 1/2 tbs fresh ginger, peeled and grated
-a heaping 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
-1/4 tsp salt and some freshly cracked pepper
-pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
-1/2 cup matzo meal, unsalted
-1 1/2 tbs fresh dill, chopped (or cilantro, parsley)

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs along with the ginger. Add everything else and stir til well combined. Pop it in the fridge for at least 1 hour, uncovered.

When ready, gently form balls, being careful as to not packing them tightly. You’ll want to barely touch them so that they remain a bit light and airy.

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Place them into the broth that is gently boiling, along with some fresh carrots and one celery stick, both chopped into 1″ pieces. Cook for about 35-40 minutes.

Serve with more fresh dill. Noodles are also an option. I made less matzo balls because I knew my mom would love noodles as well. OH, and if you’re into beets…the salad I made to go with it was rrreal good.

5 small roasted beets, 1/3 cup of barley, cooked in about 1 1/2 cup simmering water. Lots of fresh dill and parsley, about 1 cup. Lemon and olive oil dressing, salt and pepper, chopped pistachios.

Syrian Meatball Stew with Baby Zucchini

When a friend goes out into his garden to harvest seeds just for you, the gratitude is unreal. I happily carried a small jar of fresh coriander plucked right before my eyes from their cilantro-flowers, from Corona to the Upper East Side, thinking of all the dishes I’d love to add them to.

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This Syrian stew, for starters. Even though the seeds are not something you have to have to make this stew happen, it’s something I did have and it made beautiful, floral sense to use them alongside orange peels and fresh tomatoes and delicately spiced meatballs.

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Let’s not act surprised to see orange peels in this pot. The combination of spiced tomato broth with citrus and floral undertones will always be my thing. You can omit them if you’d like, but why not give it a try? I’ve seen you over there skipping that part in 90 percent of my recipes (I’m laughing). And as for the zucchini, I usually stuff them with this meat and rice mixture (hashu), but look at how tinyyyy these are.

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Baby zucchini is not only adorable, but they are adorable, less watery, less seedy, less all-the-things I don’t really like about zucchini, and sometimes they come with their blossoms attached. You don’t even have to core them! What? But please, using the full-grown guys is also okay for this recipe if you’re not stumbling upon the babies at your local farmers market. I actually found some packaged at Trader Joe’s the other day, and see them often at organic grocery stores. Now on to the recipe:

for the Hashu (spiced ground meat with rice)

-1 pound grass fed ground beef
-1/4 c dill, chopped
-1/4 c parsley, minced
-1/3 c basmati rice
-1 spring onion/scallion, sliced then chopped, or 1 sm onion finely chopped
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 tsp allspice or baharat
-1/2 tsp aleppo pepper
-1/4 tsp cinnamon

for the stew

-1 tsp cumin seeds
-1/2 tsp fresh coriander seeds, crushed (optional)
-olive oil, enough to lightly coat pot
-1 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped
-3 long strips of zest from an orange
-fresh sprigs of oregano (optional)
-1/2 tsp tomato paste
-8 oz can tomato sauce
-about 2 1/2 cups water or stock*
(this thickens into a stew-like consistency so if you’d like a loose broth, add more water)
-baby zucchini or core larger ones and slice
-1 large potato, peeled and diced

1. Make your spiced meat mixture, being careful not to overmix.

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2. Shape them into small balls, which will give you about 25-28. Set aside while you start up the sauce.

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3. Under low heat, gently toast the cumin seeds for about a minute, then add a long drizzle of olive oil. Turn up the heat to medium and add your chopped tomatoes, orange peels, tomato paste, fresh coriander seeds, oregano, Aleppo pepper, and saute for a couple of minutes before adding your tomato sauce and water/stock. Let simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Add your meatballs, gently stirring occasionally. After about 15 minutes, add your potatoes. 5 minutes later, before you turn off your pot, you’ll add your baby zucchini. The meatballs cook through within 30 minutes, any longer and they’ll be tough.

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The sauce thickens with time and I think a piece of bread to sop it all up would be magic. Add some fresh herbs and enjoy. Let me know if you end up cooking with orange zest so I can hug you from here. It doesn’t take much to make my day. ❤

Roasted Cheese-Stuffed Spiced Tomatoes

Roasted Cheese-Stuffed Spiced Tomatoes

There’s a roasted caprese I love to make for the family: campari tomatoes stuffed with ciliegine, basil, and topped with seasoned bread crumbs. While I was craving them last weekend, I was also craving sambousak, a buttery, sesame pastry filled with muenster cheese. Lori serves them whenever she cooks a Syrian feast. In fact, it’s how we begin one. While she works the stuffing, I am usually put on sesame seed duty. Dipping and pressing each pastry into a bowl of seeds, then lining them up on a baking sheet and popping them into the oven. The aroma of that moment is what I’m after.

In a perfect world, I would’ve made both. But it’s finally truly warm out and I wanted to fully embrace “less is more” on a Sunday afternoon. The only solution was this: stuffing tomatoes with muenster cheese, leaning more towards Syrian cuisine by using familiar spices, swapping out the basil for parsley, and then topping each tomato with sesame and nigella seeds before they get popped into the oven and, 20 minutes later, right into my mouth.

Guys, I should triple this recipe. I mean, look at that pre-bake and imagine cheese melted, tomatoes fragrant with spices and tasting sweeter, even bolder, than ever. The aroma of toasted seeds fills your kitchen. Or don’t imagine and just peep that after shot.

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You will need:

– 2 lb campari tomatoes, or other similar-sized variety, about 18-22
– drizzle of olive oil
– 1/2 tsp allspice
– 1/4 tsp cumin
– 1/4 tsp Aleppo pepper
– 1/4 tsp salt
– couple of pinches of cardamom
– 7 oz muenster cheese, small diced
– 2 tbs parsley, finely chopped
– 1 tbs sesame seeds
– 1/2 tbs nigella seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Core each tomato and take a sliver off the bottom of each one so that they sit up nicely when ready to roast. While you’re working on everything else, have them lined up on paper towels, upside down, so that any excess liquid is drained.

Meanwhile, put all spices in a small bowl and whisk them together. In another small bowl, add both seeds and whisk together.

In another bowl, toss your diced muenster cheese with parsley and a 1/2 tsp of the spices, reserving the rest for later use.

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In a large bowl, drizzle a little olive oil onto the cored tomatoes and sprinkle the spices inside and outside of each one, gently tossing them to make sure they are each seasoned equally.

Stuff each tomato with the seasoned muenster cheese and place them in a cast iron skillet. You’ll want to see cheese peeking out of the tomatoes. When they melt, they get real snug into each one.

Top each tomato with a generous amount of seeds.

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Roast for about 20 minutes. Serve immediately. Enjoy your Sunday.

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Spring Greens Kibbeh

Spring Greens Kibbeh

Guess what? I have never had an all-veggie-and-herb kibbeh before. Nor a very flat one. It is the hefty oval-shaped classic stuffed with meat that I’m used to; with it’s outer, crispy shell made of bulgur wheat and even more (but very delicious) meat. In Lori’s kitchen, all that’s needed is a fresh squeeze of lemon over them and each bite is heaven. But it’s spring and I want to do the following: see green, eat green, maybe not spend too much time in the kitchen if there’s a shortcut I can live with. I also really want to eat less meat.

So bring on this quicker version of kibbeh packed with fresh herbs, chickpeas, spring peas, and beautiful spices. Kibbeh-meets-falafel, almost! Use whatever greens you fancy.

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While you can use fresh English peas that are already pre-packaged for you, I’ve come across spring’s sugar snap peas plump enough to shell and use for this recipe. No steaming necessary! They are currently in season. They are sweet all over and you can make a simple salad out of their tender shellings.

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Add some fresh herbs and toss them in lemon juice and good quality olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, cumin, and sumac. And yes, it goes perfectly with kibbeh!

Spring Greens Kibbeh – makes 12-14 thin patties

– 1/2 cup fine bulgur, rinsed and drained completely in a fine mesh strainer
– 3 spring onions, sliced thin
– 3 garlic cloves, minced or 3 ramps/garlic scapes, chopped, if you have
– 1 cup variety of herbs, tightly packed, chopped (parsley, cilantro, dill)
– 2/3 cup cooked chickpeas, gently smashed
– 1/3 cup + 1 tbs fresh spring peas (frozen is ok)
– 1/2 cup flour
– 1 heaping tsp allspice or baharat
– 1 heaping tsp Aleppo pepper
– 1 tsp fine sea salt
– 1 tsp cumin
– 1/4 tsp coriander
– vegetable oil, for frying

In a big bowl, add all ingredients together, tossing so that everything looks fully incorporated. Then knead til big, slightly sticky clumps form.

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Cover and leave in the fridge for about 15 minutes. When ready, knead a palmful of the mixture into a ball and press it down to create a flat disc. Do this til the mixture is gone. No worries if some of the peas run loose. You can always press them gently down onto a patty after you form them.

Heat a cast iron skillet and drizzle vegetable oil onto it. Not too much! We’re just searing each patty on both sides til they’re golden, about 1 1/2-2 minutes a side. For each batch, drizzle more oil onto the pan. Place them on a plate lined with paper towels, sprinkle with salt while they’re still hot. When ready, plate them however you wish, though stacking them is fun.

Serve with lemon wedges and/or pomegranate molasses. And that shelling salad!

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If you’re serving more than 3 or 4 people, you can easily double the recipe. This is a great appetizer, lunch, or snack, or side dish.

Last night I served it with this beauty of a red snapper with even more beautiful cauliflower and everyone was so silent at the table, enjoying every moment of molasses dripping onto this and onto that.

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If interested in making this super easy one-pan meal, just season the fish with za’atar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Toss the cauliflower in olive oil, salt, pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes. Heat up the kibbeh for about 6 minutes in the oven if it cooled down. The crunch of these patties completed the meal! Between the 3 of us, there were only a few left. And I enjoyed those few cold the next day.

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Blood Orange Z’hug

Blood Orange Z’hug

“…What is Z’hug!?” was a popular question I received last week when I shared the recipe to a Citrus and Z’hug Marinated Manchego party-starter (and maybe ender. You decide). While it used a spice blend inspired by z’hug’s main ingredients, this is all fresh and seriously addictive.

It’s a gorgeous green sauce originating from Yemen that is delicately spiced with cardamom, cumin, coriander, and crushed red pepper. It also packs a punch from using fresh, hot chile peppers and garlic. What makes this z’hug (AKA zhoug) a bit less traditional is that I’ve added citrus flavors because, well, it’s still citrus season and I’m still celebrating. You’ll want to drizzle this onto everything, spoon it into anything, swirl it, plop it, drop it (like it’s hot). Okay, I’ll stop.

Need some ideas?

It goes with ANYTHING tomato. Fresh or roasted or even sauce!

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I made a pumpkin cannellini bean stew and swirled green right into it. You can add this to any stew, soup, spread. It’ll also make a nice addition to your next cheeseboard.

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Use it as a quick marinade by adding some more fresh juice to it. I’ve rubbed a fair amount of blood orange z’hug onto a whole chicken, veggies, and even a tenderloin, which roasted so nicely in the oven. It’d be perfect for grilling season.

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It shares a similarity to my other favorite green sauces: chimichurri, sofrito. But it’s my go-to now because it contains the spices I love most. Try to only use freshly ground spices or high quality bottled up ones. This sauce is as much about the spice as it is the green. You can use plain (but very good) olive oil, and any hot pepper you adore. Play with the greens, too. Some recipes use all parsley or all cilantro. Some add mint. Sky’s the limit on which citrus you’d like to use. I hear Sumos hit the markets very recently and everyone’s going crazy for them.

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Blood Orange Z’hug (Yeminite Green Sauce), small batch

– 1 cup fresh cilantro with small stems, tightly packed
– half cup parsley leaves, tightly packed
– 2 garlic cloves
– 1-2 jalapeños, sliced (or other pepper variety)
– 1 tsp freshly ground cumin, toasted
– 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
– 1/2 tsp ground coriander, toasted
– 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (I use Aleppo), or more to taste
– 1/4 cup plus 1 tbs Blood Orange Olive Oil
– juice from 1 small blood orange, or other orange variety
– small squeeze of fresh lemon
– zest from orange
– salt, to taste

Directions: Add everything to your food processor and blend til thoroughly combined. Feel free to add more olive oil and fresh juice if you’d like a looser consistency. Use z’hug for all the things.

Let me know how you end up using it!

This is what z’hug looks like when you use a blender instead of a food processor BTW:

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Still edible. And pretty.

Indian-Spiced Roast Chicken

Indian-Spiced Roast Chicken

When winter comes, I crave the warm, heart-reaching spices. Garam masala is made with my mortar and pestle. The bright reds of cayenne, chili, and paprikas are used more often to paint every dish. Pinches of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg in almost everything, from home-cooked meals to all baked goods. This isn’t to say I don’t welcome them during the warmer months; I do. This is to say I celebrate the hell out of them when trees loosen up and we find ourselves bundled up, head-to-toe.

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When we spent our first cold and snow-filled week at New Paltz, we ate plenty. But when we ordered take-out from their one-and-only Indian restaurant, Dan and I ate, like, well, animals, according to his father. It was a feast of chicken tikka masala, masoor dal, chana dal, chicken and vegetable biryani, meat and potato samosas, naan, sauces–one a very bright green which reminded me of pandan, something Tory and I discovered while eating Kaya Toast. This feast was everything we NEEDED, and some. It was the best we’ve ever tasted, too.

When we returned to the city, I have not stopped using the spices that filled us that night. I’ve made masoor dal (as usual), Orange Cardamom Crumb muffins, chana dal, and this Indian-spiced roasted chicken. Once in my dutch oven on a bed of scalloped potatoes, and again in an aluminum roasting pan.

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In truth, I was never a fan of the colder months til I fell in love with these spices, especially what they can do when they find themselves together as a rub, marinade, or in soups, stews, pilafs, and baked goods. For this roast chicken, I, unsurprisingly, made a marinade using the juice of an orange and it’s zest. My brother said to me yesterday, “whenever you use an orange in your cooking, it’s damn good.” I use an orange in almost all my cooking these days, so that’s a major compliment coming from someone who has given me a total of 3 within the last 20-something years. Thanks, Bruh.

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Marinade for 3.5-4 pound chicken:

1 sm orange, juice & zest
1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, paste or grated
1 inch ginger, paste or grated
2 tsp garam masala, preferably homemade
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp red chili powder, or cayenne/Hungarian paprika
cinnamon, couple of pinches
salt, to taste

Combine all in a small bowl, whisk marinade thoroughly. Clean chicken, pat dry. Generously salt your chicken inside and out. Rub marinade under skin, in cavity, as well as all over. Refrigerate in a sealed container overnight or up to 24 hours. Day of roasting, oil your dutch oven or roasting pan. Heat oven to 375. Depending on your seasoning/heat tolerance, I sprinkle some more chili powder and garam masala before putting it in. Cover tightly and leave covered for 1 hour. Uncover for next 20-30 minutes, til crisp.

Everyone’s got their favorite way to roast a chicken. Sometimes I like to begin with it roasting breast-side down, then flip it over after about 30 minutes. Sometimes I leave it uncovered at all times. But I am currently in love with my dutch oven. It kept mine very tender, and soaked the potatoes in its spicy goodness.

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Next roast, I’ll use similar spices but create the marinade out of yogurt, which is more traditional to Indian cooking, and usually how I go about making Butter Chicken. On the top of my list of recipes to test out is Chicken Biryani. I have a feeling it’s going to be a favorite of ours.

 

One of Many Ways to Eat Spring

One of Many Ways to Eat Spring

When Spring returned to us in all its young green finery,
I wanted to eat it. To squeeze a little lime on it
in broad daylight and find my way, past
the beefsteak tomatoes,
standing strong on the sides of heirlooms,

the tall, bruised green of the earth.

The day before Easter, I grabbed the first asparagus of the season at my mom’s local farmers market and decided I was going to create a spring feast, highlighting these thick spears along with other bright and deep greens, such as peas, spring onions, cilantro, thyme, arugula. I wanted fava beans but I couldn’t find any. I stopped by my favorite kielbasa vendor and he handed me the cutest, smokiest ham I’ve ever held, and tasted. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it then, but knew I had to leave with it.

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“You can use it as decoration for your Easter table,” he told me. I politely shook my head no. I can–and will–use it in everything throughout the week, beginning tomorrow. After tomorrow, then they’re going in omelets, slow-cooked beans, etc. But it was tomorrow I wasn’t exactly sure about.

Before bed, I cracked open my notebook and brainstormed dinner, which I’m doing more often these days before dinner parties. It relieves stress knowing that I’ve some idea as to what I want to accomplish the next day. I’m very used to just winging it. Once dinner is over, I return to the journal and jot down what I actually ended up doing, which helps me to better understand my kitchen-mind. Here’s how it stormed that night! I actually made everything on this, with some minor changes.

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I’ve such a fondness for this time of year. Easter morning I ran some errands, grabbing the last of the ingredients that I needed to complete our dinner. It felt like the first, true warm day of the season and I was at peace. Outside the supermarket, an older woman asked me if I could walk her a few blocks to the bus. While I held her hand, we talked about family dinners. She’d cook for a family of 10. She’d make 3 different salads, 2 different cakes, she’d roast a fish and a chicken and sometimes, on special occasions, would make brisket. She had zero help because she never asked, and she thought it was beautiful I was going to spend the day in the kitchen with my mother making a meal for a family of 7. There was so much we agreed on in those three blocks: we love the farmers market, springtime awakens a hunger for healthier things, and food is love.

When I returned to mom’s kitchen, I moved around with such light feet. What I ended up doing with the greens I have since done often.

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I am calling this a Spring Pilaf and rice will never be boring to me again. You can add anything you want to it. It can be made fresh, or made with leftovers. This one is smoky due to the ham I purchased from the market, and the shredded carrots truly makes this a festive-looking dish. I used jasmine but now only use basmati.

After I made this one, I started toying with the recipe and included seasonings I love most.
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Here’s my Indian-Spiced Spring Pilaf.

1/2 cup Basmati, cooked with a pinch of turmeric and salt, butter.

I like more veggies than rice so eyeball amounts according to your preference. I used green beans and asparagus, corn, sliced mushrooms, a small red onion, 3 garlic cloves, grated carrot (towards the end), quickly stir fried in cumin seeds & powder, garam masala, 4 cardamom pods (cracked open a bit), fresh herbs such as cilantro and thyme, pepper and salt to taste. Use whatever herbs you love!

I made this again for Valerie’s Poetry & Coffee BBQ yesterday, just because I want to feed people as much of spring as they can get. And then they’ll have to deal with my summer pilaf shenanigans.
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A few days ago I went with my love to the Queens County Farm and saw rows of asparagus shooting from the earth. It was a beautiful sight, how they stood, perfectly, like soldiers we hold in our hearts today, every day.

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Dal Recipe & Poem

Dal Recipe & Poem

In July, I was asked to read poems inspired by my neighborhood: Jamaica, Queens. I was even part of a panel, guys. WHAT!? I saw this as an opportunity for me to write about my favorite vegetarian Indian eatery (Annam Brahma), as well as my new love for cooking Indian cuisine right in the heart of home–my kitchen. The first kitchen I’ve felt the most comfortable in.

I only started to mess around with these beautiful spices once I moved here, as they are sold in my nearest market and I can smell their warmth coming from the windows of various neighbors on my block.

Love is another reason. Once I found out that Butter Chicken was Danny’s favorite, I wanted him to come home to the rich broth set to simmer on my stove. In the oven would always be a head of cauliflower that was doused in 1/2 a cup of olive oil, seasoned with turmeric, garlic powder, paprika, a generous amount of salt, roasted with slivers of jalapeño and garlic. It’s my favorite, adapted from a recipe I saw in Saveur magazine.

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He made naan, of course. Not because I couldn’t. But because I’ve always loved watching him work dough. I started serving both cauliflower and naan along with my dal, with a tiny bowl of basmati rice. But sometimes I still need to head to Annam Brahma just for a bowl of their own dal, and to be surrounded by all the loving people there. Just sitting at one of their tables (I prefer the corner) feels like a much-needed hug.

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I have used the spices that were a gift to Annam Brahma customers on their anniversary for ALL these dishes, and it’s mostly the spices and all the bright blue houses in Jamaica that inspired this poem. I’m not sure what to call it yet. Turmeric-light?

The names of cafés alone open you wide with hunger.
The Smile of the Beyond,
Panorama of My Silence-Heart,
Annam Brahma meaning “Food is God” meaning
not commodity meaning—
what I understand food to mean—

heart.

And if the names alone do not turn your feet into curious movement,
let’s talk about color.
Each storefront is more like
homefront and they are all painted blue, not just blue
but bright baby but
2pm sky on Parsons with sun-Up-blue.

And on 164th,
right there, between bodega and Greek Orthodox Church

the blue beyond smile.

Walk in and sit
anywhere / but always by flowers and packets of brown
sugar that say things like
“A moment’s peace
can
and shall
save the world.”
Pick up a totem to be kept in your wallet,
which Chinmoy may—or may not say— “I must love
the unloved ones—I must.”

You must order their Dal.

If food is God these lentils are well-seasoned turmeric-Light
where Oneness is
what’s what from the pulse?
Perhaps chopped onion, minced garlic, ginger, sautéed
with the seeds with the seeds with oh glorious round
mustard seeds and coriander rounding off the taste of
cumin and chili,
maybe a single wooden clove
in a simple vegetable broth

is that cilantro? Tomato? Jalapeno together simmered long til

wholeness takes the shape of bowl
and naan takes the shape of spoon
and mind takes the shape
of silence.

It is where I go in my shut-the-fuck-up moods.
Where I went when I learned
my landlady IS trying to kill my cilantro,
I mean, why else do they bolt?

And how am I different, bolting towards blue, craving
beets so hard I
SWOONED when the day’s special was
Cream of Beet soup.

Acknowledging my excitement,
she came over,
spooned leftover juiced beet into my bowl
like honey
and her smile smiled me right into

silence-heart.

And you and I,
we sat there for three hours,
interrupted only when she stopped to say
“It is beautiful
how you are helping each other.”

We watched Sri Chinmoy paint in the background as we sipped chai,
we spoke but we were also not speaking.
We breathed in spices that lingered in the air and
came out with hair smelling of raw Indian sugar,
curry and cumin
curry and turmeric
turmeric and coriander and wait a minute!
On an anniversary,
we were each handed a packet of such spices Thank you.

Suddenly, walking past homes marked with similar shades of blue,
you are home making Dal. Roasting
a head of cauliflower with sliced jalapeno and garlic tossed
in olive oil

their white heads draped with a glossy turmeric-light.
Your neighbor is making butter chicken.
Your landlady, a dish out of the bok choy that hung
upside down on laundry lines
air drying this morning,

And your cilantro
wilted, but waiting
to seed.

After Transmutations came to a close, my loves and I went to Annam Brahma (to order their dal.) Connie told me that my poem was very Ross Gay-esque (Catalog of Unabashed Gratitudes) and I broke out into smiles ❤

Next day, I made dal. I made it exactly the way I made dal for the very first time. Danny said it was even better than Annam Brahmas’s, but that could’ve been because of my rich chicken broth (or because he loved me). I did, after all, use the very spices they had given me as a gift during their 42nd Anniversary. To this day I want to know where I can order the turmeric they use, as well as cumin and coriander seeds.

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Do not be intimidated by all the ingredients and spices I list here. This is really a simple recipe, you just gotta have these spices around. Everything comes together in less than 10 minutes! I love love LOVE the simplicity of it. The warmth of it. It’s also very inexpensive to make.

I should add that I mostly use whole seeds and pound them to dust in my mortar and pestle. If you get them already grounded, do not purchase them from your regular supermarket. Nuh-uh. They are dull cooped up on those shelves. You can find them online if you’re having trouble locating the good stuff.

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Masoor Dal

1 1/2 cup red lentils
5 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
Olive Oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Ginger, 1 tspn or more, chopped
1 jalapeño, diced
1 tspn Cumin Seeds
1 tspn Mustard Seeds
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 clove (fish out) or ground
1 tspn ground coriander
1/2 tspn (or more) turmeric
Pinch of cinnamon
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a pot with a little olive oil and under high heat, add mustard and cumin seeds. When the mustard seeds pop (they always pop! be careful) add your ginger, garlic, and jalapeño. After about a minute, add your onion and lightly caramelize ’em.
Now you just have to add the tomato, stock, lentils, and ALL the spices. Let it simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes. It’ll thicken. You may add more water if it’s too thick. You can play with the spices, too. Top it with freshly chopped cilantro.

Sometimes I add chickpeas when chickpeas are around because why not.

With the temps going down soon, I’ll certainly be welcoming more spice in the kitchen, in food and in drinks. Ohhhh, Autumn! ❤