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Mehernosh Mody's Smoked Aubergine Crush

Now, with a name like Smoked Aubergine Crush, could this dish really go wrong? It's the most romantic thing I've ever heard a roasted eggplant puree called, and was at least half, if not three-quarters of the reason why I chose to make this for dinner last night (though it was less of a seduction attempt than a long-awaited catch-up dinner with Gemma). It also sent me on a foraging mission to Kalustyan's for a few more glass jars to add to my already over-stuffed cupboards.

Kalustyan's is, of course, a charming place where you're likely to spend most of your disposable income, if you're a food-minded person, on all manners of jars and bottles and packets of spices and sauces and pastes and what-not. However, when the turmeric you buy goes and stains not only your frying pan, but your Kitchenaid spatula and your countertop, too, you find yourself less amusingly charmed and more completely irritated. But never mind. High is the price you pay for good food.

The recipe originates from Pondicherry (a former French colony and trading post in India from 1670 to 1954) and was printed in the LA Times's review of La Porte des Indes (a London restaurant) cookbook.The cuisine that emerged from this hybrid culture featured French cooking techniques blended with traditional Indian foods and spices. The recipes Barbara Hansen mentioned in her review (Crab Malabar, Poulet Rouge, Shrimp Curry) sounded bewitching and reason enough to go out and buy the book (it's apparently well-tested and most of the recipes seem relatively simple to make).

And if there's anything that makes me feel more capable in the kitchen than concocting an Asian recipe, it's concocting a Southeast Asian recipe. No? With all those various powders and seeds and aromatics, cooking Indian food is like a glorious sort of chemistry class, in which the final outcome will make your tummy very happy indeed.

I roasted a one-pound eggplant until soft, let it cool and then processed it, sans skin, to a greenish puree. In a separate pan, I cooked mustard seeds (popping all the way), chopped onion, hot chiles and chopped ginger for a few minutes (but not long enough - in the final product some of these bits were a bit too crunchy for my taste). I added the accursed turmeric and then the eggplant, and let this mixture cook for 15 minutes over low heat before adding a few spoons of coconut milk and a spritz of lemon juice.

The result? A creamy, spicy, smoky puree (albeit with some textural surprises) that lends itself quite nicely to being scooped with flatbreads (more on those tomorrow) and gobbled up for dinner in an ethnically incorrect, yet pretty tasty fashion. If you wanted to turn this into a square meal, a pot of hot rice and a simple fish fillet could be a good way of rounding it out. I sort of preferred eating the puree as part of a grazing dinner, with a dollop of yogurt to cool the heat, and the heady scent of spices in my house.

Smoked Aubergine Crush
Serves 4

1 1-lb eggplant
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 onion, chopped
1 3/4-inch piece ginger root, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon chopped)
1 teaspoon finely chopped red chile (jalapeno or serrano, seeded), or more to taste
1 teaspoon finely chopped green chile (jalapeno or serrano, seeded), or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro for garnish (optional, in my opinion)
A few slivers red chile for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Pierce the eggplant on each side with the tines of a fork and bake for 50 minutes, or until very tender. Remove from the oven and cool. When cool enough to handle, halve it lengthwise, scoop out the flesh and blend or process it to a puree.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan. Add the mustard seeds and cover immediately to prevent the seeds from popping out of the pan. When the mustard seeds pop, add the onion and cook until translucent. Then add the ginger and chopped chiles and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Reduce the heat and add the turmeric, followed by the pureed eggplant. Cook, stirring, over low heat for 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk and stir 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve hot, garnished with chile (and cilantro, if using).

Frank Waldman's Malted Corn Pancakes


It's been a week since I left Los Angeles and I still wish I was there. Oh sure, it's been nice to be home with Ben and we did have a great weekend at a wedding in Maine (where I also discovered that there is such a thing as eating Too Much Lobster, but that's a story for another time). But something about L.A. sunk its claws into me and I can't wait to go back.

I had flown over for a whirlwind weekend with friends to swim for hours in a backyard pool, wander among downtown streets to see the faded glory of Gotham-style buildings layered with a thick veneer of commercial grit, and noodle along on the boulevards that led from Hollywood to Silverlake to Los Feliz, the hot and dry sun beating down on us.

It was meant to be a few days with friends, not a culinary pilgrimage, so I've got ample reason to return (Lucques! La Brea Bakery! In N Out Burger! Shall I go on?). And still, we ate well (have I mentioned that I may have finally found a reason to love Mexican food?). But one of the best meals I had was a plate of pancakes made after an unfortunate hypoglycemic episode and a subsequent migraine medicated by Excedrin, which left me pain-free, but completely wracked with caffeine jitters.

Sitting on the sun-warmed living room floor with my friends as we ate our homemade pancakes covered in syrup and rolled into nibbleable cylinders while the hummingbirds buzzed outside and an old movie played along on the television and my circulation slowly returned to a manageable state, I would have been content to remain right there for quite a long time to come.

In homage to those life-sustaining pancakes, I made a batch of malted corn pancakes that Barbara Hansen wrote about in an article about the various incarnations of corn pancakes in Los Angeles. The recipe comes from Frank Waldman's Doughboys. The pancakes are crammed with cornmeal and corn kernels (I used frozen) and cook up quite quickly (in fact, a few of mine burned) on the griddle.

Instead of serving them with the prescribed blueberry-orange syrup, Ben and I ate them for sustenance on the bus up north this weekend. They're corny and tender and somewhat forgettable. A generous ladle of fruit-spiked syrup could have helped to perk them up. To me, the malt flavor was unrecognizable, so you could easily substitute golden syrup or even honey (so you, unlike me, are spared from having an enormous jar of malt syrup to figure out how to use up).

But it doesn't really matter. I've got my Bisquick memories and an ever-growing list of things to do and eat on my next trip to Southern California. I can't wait to go back.

Malted Cornmeal Pancakes
Makes 18 4 1/2 inch pancakes

1 1/3 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup pastry flour (or mix 1/3 cup all-purpose flour with 2/3 cup cake flour)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
4 tablespoons melted butter, divided
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons malt syrup
1 tablespoon oil

1. Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir to mix. Add the corn to dry ingredients, and mix.

2. Combine 3 tablespoons melted butter, the eggs, buttermilk and malt syrup. Stir into the corn mixture.

3. Heat the griddle. Combine the remaining tablespoon of butter with the oil and brush lightly over the griddle. Pour on about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Cook each pancake 1 to 2 minutes, until the bottom turns golden brown, then flip, cook the other side, about 3 minutes total. Serve hot with Orange-Blueberry Syrup.

Orange-Blueberry Syrup

Peel of 2 to 3 oranges
2 cups sugar
1 cup orange juice
2 cups blueberries

1. Peel the oranges with a vegetable peeler, eliminating any white pith. Combine the peel and sugar in a food processor and process 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Pour the juice into a non-aluminum saucepan. Add the peel-sugar mixture and bring just to a boil, skimming off any foam. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes to reduce slightly. Mix in blueberries and cook 1 minute. Serve warm.

Things to Eat Before You Die


Melissa at The Traveler's Lunchbox came up with the brilliant idea of listing her Top Five Favorite Things to Eat in the World after being prompted by a puzzling list at the BBC, and then figured others should join in the fun as well. Not only does this give you a whole new list of fresh food obsessions to cultivate, but isn't it fun finding out what people love to eat and why? It's like standing in the line at the grocery store and peeking surreptitiously into other people's baskets, except that in this case you're less likely to find Stouffer's frozen meals and more likely to find things that make you go "oooh, I'd like to try that!".

So, without further ado, my list:

1. Sun-warmed Tomatoes, Sliced, Sprinkled with Flaky Salt and Drizzled with Olive Oil
Best of all is if you can find those blood-red Italian tomatoes that are hunch-backed and homely and ridged all throughout, but when you slice them open, the scent of warm earth and sun and fresh juices waft upward like manna. You have to use Maldon salt, because I'm obsessed with the way it makes tomatoes taste and because it crunches so pleasingly under your teeth. I could list this for all five of my entires, but that'd be boring, at least for you.

2. 5 for $1 Pork-and-Chive Dumplings at Dumpling House on Eldridge Street
It was a bit of a struggle to decide between these pan-fried, golden-brown delicacies at a hole-in-the-wall space in Chinatown, and doughy, steamy char siu bao (roast-pork buns) that you can gently tear apart with your hands to reveal the saucy, salty, delectable pork nestled between the fluffy white bun. But walking through Chinatown (my favorite part of town) to Dumpling House and settling in on the uncomfortable metal bar to wait for your meal that comes served with a pungent, vinegary soy sauce and watching all the other dumpling pilgrims tuck in quietly and happily just makes eating these a totally great New York experience.

3. Batter-fried Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Anchovies and Mozzarella
This is going to be annoying, but I have to specify that they have to be made by my Sicilian uncle, who has somehow become the world's preeminent master on how to deep-fry in such a manner that the objects plunked into the boiling oil emerge lighter and more delicate than before (you should try his artichokes). Also, he uses this special mozzarella that's a bit dried out and meant for pizzas (not like the creamy, delicate mozzarella di bufala that you're really only supposed to eat raw) and salted anchovies instead of oil-packed ones that, for all I know, he salt-packs himself, and to make matters worse I have a feeling these things are only to be found in Sicily, but, really, if you manage to try these you can die happy.

4. Basler Leckerli
These are Christmas cookies baked in squares, flavored with cinnamon and spice, studded with candied citron and peeled almonds, leavened with Hirschhornsalz, and thinly covered with an ascetic lemon glaze. Kept out on Advent plates all throughout the month of December, they tend to harden as Christmas draws near, but if you keep them in a box with a wedge of apple, they stay pliant and chewy. Leckerli are best eaten with German Christmas songs on the radio, lights out and candles lit, and a mug of milky Lapsang Souchong to dunk them in. It doesn't hurt if the woman who taught you how to make these and a dozen (or a hundred) other cookies sits next to you and rubs your back while you chew contentedly.

5. Pizza al Taglio
In Italy, keep your eyes peeled for little doorways in piazzas that have a sign above them that reads "Pizza al Taglio". You'll probably smell one before you see one: an alluring scent of yeast and dough will waft across your path and you'll wander, as if bewitched, straight through the door anyway. Sheets of flat, square pizzas will be in front of you and you will point at the one you want and say how much you want (in grams) and the pizzaiolo will - perhaps using scissors - cut off a piece and fold it in half for you to eat right then and there, wrapped in brown paper. As far as I'm concerned, there can be no better pizza than the plain, red one that's covered with a thin smear of herbed tomato sauce that's blistered a bit in the oven. No cheese, no nothing. The yeasty, crispy, sweet, air-pocketed dough below the sauce will give gently beneath your teeth and as you stand outside in the piazza munching on your paper-wrapped treasure you will have an idea of just what pure pleasure is.

Bill Granger's Corn Fritters


I'm feeling triumphant today. Because for the first time in a while, I can present to you yet another recipe to be printed and laminated and stuck on your fridge! Yes, indeedy, we've got ourselves another keeper. Fast! Delicious! Unique! Nutritious! Versatile! I love love love this recipe and I'm not a little bit miffed at Ben for finishing every single last one of these suckers last night so that I have absolutely no leftovers, the greedy pig. (I kid! The poor man is about 100 pounds short of being a greedy pig. And I did kind of politely urge him to finish them off. So if I'm miffed at anyone it's at myself for not being greedier. Or for not making more. Or at Betty Baboujon for not providing a recipe that doubles the quantities! That's it! I'm angry at the LA Times. For not keeping me supplied with fresh corn fritters in perpetuity. Jerks.)

There's really nothing like success in the kitchen. Don't you think? Even when you find yourself boiling jalapeno bits in sugar and vinegar, puzzled as to why you would be attempting to blanch the flavor out of the spicy little things, and juicy corn kernels keep spurting about your kitchen as you attempt to denude a few cobs, while you cross your fingers that defiling the cobs in this way instead of just sticking to the tried-and-true boil-and-eat-preferably-coated-with-lime-juice-and-cayenne-pepper method will pay off at dinnertime. And then dinner turns out to be totally spectacularly delicious and you shake your head at your silly, doubting self.

In an article on the benefits of using rice flour in the LA Times, Betty explained that subsituting rice flour for some of the regular flour in this recipe from Bill Granger, a chef (the Australian version of Jamie Oliver?) in Sydney, would result in lighter, crisper fritters. I would have happily obliged Betty's instructions, if only I hadn't been too lazy to make my way through the rush-hour crowds at Whole Foods and therefore went to three (3!) other grocery stores in search of rice flour, all to no avail. So, yeah, if you're looking for rice flour in New York, don't even bother with Garden of Eden, Balducci's or D'Agostino's. I know, I would have been surprised to find it at D'Ags, but GoE? Balducci's? Come on, these places are supposed to carry marveled-at, yet untrafficked and barely-touched goods. Possibly marked up at a high price point, too.

In any case, I made the fritters with regular flour, and since I seemed to have misplaced my cumin (no crying shame), I substituted that with a quarter-teaspoon of curry powder, and of course, used parsley instead of cilantro, and a green jalapeno in the dipping sauce instead of a red. Despite all of these changes, these fritters were fantastic. Now, that's a good recipe. Bursting with fresh corn crunch and sweetness, touched with delectable Southeast Asian heat, and the pungent, syrupy dipping sauce adding another layer of sweet-sour flavor, these fritters made up our entire dinner (along with a salad of soft lettuces and summer tomatoes). I will be making these again. And again. And again.

In other news? I'm completely and utterly bowled over by the comments left on the occasion of my blogiversary. They're to blame for the besottedly happy grin that's been plastered on my face for the past 48 hours. Thank you all so much!

Corn Fritters with Sweet Chile Sauce
Makes 12 fritters

1 red jalapeño, finely chopped
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 small clove garlic, minced

1. In a small saucepan, combine the jalapeño, vinegar, salt, sugar and garlic. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes.

2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to a slightly syrupy consistency. Remove from heat and set aside to cool while making the fritters. (The sauce continues to thicken as it cools; it can be made a day ahead.)

1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (I used 1/4 teaspoon curry powder)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup water
2 cups corn kernels, cut from 3 large cobs
4 spring onions, finely sliced
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (or chopped parsley)

1. In a bowl, sift together the rice flour, flour, baking powder, salt, coriander and cumin. Add the egg, lemon juice and water. Beat until smooth.

2. Add the corn, spring onions and cilantro, stirring until just combined.

3. In a large frying pan, pour in enough oil to generously cover the bottom. When the oil is hot but not smoking, spoon 2 tablespoons of batter for each fritter into the pan, about half an inch apart, immediately flattening each fritter slightly. Cook over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown underneath, then turn and cook the other side for about 2 minutes. Use a splatter screen to cover the pan. Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more oil if necessary.

4. Serve immediately with the sweet chile sauce.

Happy Blogday


A year ago today, I took my heart in my hands and wrote the first post of this little blog of mine. While the idea of you going back and reading my first posts kind of makes me wants to stick small pins in my eye, it's pretty thrilling to still be here one year and 177 posts later.

Not only have I stumbled upon a little universe for myself where I've found countless other kindred spirits, discovered more new blogs and writers and cooks than I thought possible, and become penpals with some of my newspaper food world idols, but I've made some true friends for life, too. Pretty amazing when a year ago, I was hoping that my father wouldn't be the ONLY one reading every day (but thanks, Pops!).

So, with a virtual glass raised, here's to taking risks and jumping out into the big ship of Doing What You Want To. How will I be celebrating today? Well, I'm hoping you might help me with that. I have a small circle of loyal commenters, but I know that there are so many more readers out there and I'm dying to know a little bit about you. So, while it may not be National Delurking Day, I urge you to leave a comment: tell me about yourselves, where you live, what you do, how long you've been reading, what you like to cook, or even just say hi.


I won't bite, I promise. Thanks for reading, everyone.

Lots of love, Luisa

Leslie Brenner's Arugula and Potato Soup


For some reason, lately, I've been toying with the idea of a fast. Toying is the operative word here, because I'm hypoglycemic and I know intuitively that depriving myself of solid food for 24 or 36 or even 48 hours is a disaster in the making, especially if I'm at all interested in keeping my boyfriend and my girlfriends as slight social acquaintances.

And how does one even go about surviving a day (or two) of fasting? I imagine myself lying prone on my bed, raising my head limply every 15 minutes to drink a slug of some bitter-tasting brewed tea that's steeped with roots and herbs to provide "Vitality!" and "Energy!" and "Rejuvenation!". The room spins and I mostly just want to rip the heads off of the human beings closest to me and eat them for lunch.

That's usually when my fantasy shrivels up and dies, and I go placidly back to chewing on my afternoon cookie, because I (and others) have learned the hard way that not giving myself an afternoon snack is Bad News For Everyone.

What does all this have to do with what I had for dinner last night? Well, I set out to make a simple pureed soup of potatoes boiled in chicken stock with 10 ounces of baby arugula wilted therein, and ended up with something that looked and tasted akin to what I imagine a day of fasting would taste like.

I was expecting something lusher and more deeply flavored, but I got a very thin, watery broth that, except for the droplets of peppery oil on top and the nice, vaguely bitter flavor of the arugula beneath it, didn't taste of much at all. I do have to note that in the midst of immersion blending, my magic wand gave up entirely and spit the blade into the pot, so I was forced to use the food processor, which I'm convinced isn't the right tool for smooth soups. It leaves those disagreeble specks of unprocessed cellulose in whatever you're attempting to blitz into nothingness.

I suppose if you constructed the soup differently, perhaps starting with a leek sauteed in oil, adding the potatoes in chunks - more than 9 ounces, though - to take on some crusty, well-browned flavor, adding the arugula to cook for a while in the chicken broth, and then whizzing the whole thing in a proper blender, you might get a different result.

I paired my bowl of soup with two Wasa crispbreads and a small pile of pickled herring, which I suppose is as close to a fasting regime as I'm going to get these days. Fine with me.

Arugula and Potato Soup
Serves 4

1 carton (1 quart) chicken broth
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (about 9 ounces), peeled and sliced
2 (5-ounce) cartons or bags baby arugula
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil (or creme fraiche)

1. Pour the chicken broth into a large saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Add the potatoes and cook, covered, until they are very tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Wash and drain the arugula. Add it to the saucepan. Stir to combine and simmer until the arugula is completely wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor in one or two batches, transferring each batch to a clean saucepan or warm tureen. Stir in the pepper and swirl in the olive oil or creme fraiche.

Charles Phan's Rice Noodles with Chicken


I'm back from a week in the mountains - communing with nature, sleeping under the stars - and have concluded that the Rockies are indeed breathtaking (literally, in some cases). Some of the Wild West lived up to my expectations, some of it still surprised me (the lack of black people, for one). We had a great time visiting friends and discovering spectacular vistas. From lakes mirroring the Continental Divide to dusty, abandoned mining towns to fields of wildflowers framed by snowcapped mountains, I saw a whole new part of the United States. But one of the best sights I had was flying parallel to the island of Manhattan at midnight on our way home, lights a-glitter. There's no place like home...

Before we left, I scrambled together a quick meal to tide us over. As much as I adore all Asian food (I have Fuchsia Dunlop's book practically committed to memory), I rarely make it at home - figuring I'm not nearly well-versed enough in the art of combining all those sauces and powders and finely chopped vegetables and meats into something worth eating. In New York City, isn't it easier just going out for dinner? (No place like home!) But the New York Times profiled Charles Phan of San Francisco's Slanted Door a few years ago, and the two recipes excerpted seemed so easy, so perfect for the home cook that I could not resist.

I chose to make a dish of sauteed chicken with rice noodles, and Ben helped me in prepping the ingredients (I'm still working on being a better co-chef, rather than barking at him to chop faster - can't he see that the oil is practically smoking?). He diced the chicken into beautiful little dice, far prettier than what I would have done. I sauteed the chicken briefly, then added sliced vegetables and an amalgamation of sauces and wine. After that, I added an egg to the pan to scramble, a pile of soaked rice noodles and the reserved chicken and vegetables. Then I tossed this all together like a woman possessed.

The resulting tangle was highly flavored...almost too much so. The dish tasted very gamey. I couldn't eat more than a bowl of it, and Ben conceded that the fish sauce overpowered it for him (this is a man who thinks anchovies are the incarnation of the anti-Christ). I love love love fish sauce, but perhaps it was the combination with the chicken here that turned this dish into something I was looking forward to eating into something I'm not sure I'll make again.

But that's okay - after a week of mountain food (Denver scrambles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and more granola bars than you can shake a stick at), I'm perfectly content to let the experts at my favorite Asian places feed me. Thank goodness for them all. There's no place like home.

Rice Noodles with Chicken
Serves 2 (amply) or 4 (less so)

1/3 pound rice noodles
1/4 cup canola or corn oil
1/3 pound boneless chicken, shredded or diced small
1/2 to 1 cup bean sprouts
1/2 cup snow peas, slivered
1/2 cup shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or white wine
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 or 4 scallions, trimmed and slivered, for garnish

1. Cover noodles in hot water while preparing the other ingredients. Heat a pot of water until steam rises.

2. Put all but a tablespoon of the oil in a wok or large skillet, and turn heat to high. When it smokes, add the chicken, and stir until it loses its color; it doesn't cook through. Remove with slotted spoon.

3. Add bean sprouts, peas and shiitakes. Sitr until wilted and beginning to brown. Add sauces and wine. Remove from the pan.

4. Drain noodles and dip them in the boiling water with tongs or in a strainer for about 5 seconds. Drain. Add remaining oil and the egg to pan, still over high heat. Stir to scramble. Add drained noodles and cooked ingredients, and toss, lifting (scrape, if necessary) repeatedly, until all are mixed together and hot. Garnish with scallions and serve.