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Mark Bittman's Bok Choy with Shiitakes and Oyster Sauce


The clock is ticking. In less than three weeks, I'll be on my way to the airport with a one-way ticket in my bag and my earthly possessions on the slow boat to China (well, or Hamburg, to be more accurate). I've gone from having a wobbly lip on every blessed New York sidewalk to becoming foot-tappingly impatient. I'm ready to say goodbye, I want to start writing, I need to do this thing, you know?

But patience is a virtue, toots. That's what I keep telling myself, when the butterflies in my stomach start whirling and I think of everything over there waiting for me, everyone over there waiting for me. And besides, there are still a few things I need to do while I'm here. I need to go to Kitchen Arts & Letters, though I am prohibited by cosmic law to buy anything, anything at all, while there (that international shipping bill isn't getting any smaller, is what I'm trying to say). I need to stroll in Central Park while drinking a hot chocolate with a big, puffy, homemade marshmallow melting oozily into it. I need to go to the Museum of Natural History one last time for that Silk Road exhibit. And I need to eat some Chinese food.

When I left Berlin, in 1995, there was one passable restaurant that we went to every once in a blue moon when the urge for Chinese food got rather overwhelming and there was no where else to turn. Apparently, things have gotten a little better there now - I've heard of a Sichuanese hole-in-the-wall and a dumpling place recommended by a friend's friend from Beijing - but good Chinese food, as ubiquitous as it is here, is still somewhat of a rarity.

Thrillingly, though, as long as I can find a grocery store selling bok choy, shiitakes and good-quality oyster sauce, I should be in pretty good shape. The Minimalist's recipe was a big hit in my kitchen on Sunday night: quick, delicious and fresh, and it practically tasted like take-out! I mean this as high praise, mind you. High, high praise indeed.


And with that, lovely people, I leave you to your brining, your salting, your traveling, and your feast-preparing. This year, I'm staying put for a real New York City Thanksgiving. My loved ones are coming to me and we are going out on the town, to a late lunch at Back Forty book-ended by long walks all around this beautiful town and pie with friends. I am thrilled. And full of excitement for my own Thanksgiving next year, a German-American feast that I cannot wait to plan. Until then, I'm giving thanks every day.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Bok Choy with Shiitakes and Oyster Sauce

Serves 4

1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
1 1/2 pounds bok choy, trimmed
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
1/2 to 3/4 cup commercial oyster sauce

1. Soak dried shiitakes in one cup of very hot water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid. Trim mushrooms and chop. Separate leaves and stems of bok choy; cut stems into 2-inch lengths and slice leaves into ribbons.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. When oil is hot, add bok choy stems, garlic if you are using it, reconstituted mushrooms, and about 1/4 cup reserved mushroom water. Cook, stirring frequently, until stems are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small skillet heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil; sauté fresh shiitake mushrooms over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until they begin to brown and crisp on edges.

4. Into the large skillet or wok, add bok choy leaves and oyster sauce and toss vegetables gently to combine; continue cooking until greens wilt, about 2 more minutes. Serve immediately, topped with crisp mushrooms.

Julia Moskin's Caramelized Corn with Fresh Mint


I have started and stopped this entry about six times. Trying to find some lyrical way to get going. But you know what? Though lyrical can be all fine and good, sometimes, when you are simply itching to get something out just as loud and fast as you can, lyrical can be a real impediment to communication, a real thorn in the side of straight talk.

What on earth am I trying to say, you wonder?

What I'm trying to say is this:

OMG put down what you're doing this very instant NOW and get yourself to the store to buy a packet of frozen corn and a few sprigs of fresh mint and then get yourself home FAST FAST FAST cancel plans if you must I don't care for Pete's sake and get to work on this recipe which will take you all of ten minutes "active time" to make and will be the most wonderful ten-minute, four-ingredient recipe you've made all YEAR for crying out loud, maybe EVER, and though I used to think corn was something to be enjoyed solely in the few fleeting summer months each year when corn is found in green markets and on cobs, I shall now be very happily revising my list of acceptable frozen foods to be two in length (peas being number one) and cannot WAIT WAIT WAIT to make this dish over and over and over again and add it to the hall of fame, the list for lamination, it is that good oh yes it is YES IT IS GO!


Julia Moskin included the recipe in her Thanksgiving side dish story, but frankly, this is the kind of thing I will be making as part of a simply, easy, weeknight meal for eternity, or as long as I am ambulant and master of my own kitchen. Julia says this only works with frozen petite white corn, but my Key Foods had nothing but plain old yellow corn, which was - once thawed, then sautéed in unsalted butter until popping and caramelized and toasty and aromatic - still as delicious as could be. The chopped mint and the good hit of salt are essential, by the way. Obviously.

I rubbed two chicken legs with salt and red pepper flakes and sweet paprika and za'atar and mashed, minced garlic and olive oil, let them sit for a bit in a dish, then roasted them at high heat, meaning 500 smacking degrees Fahrenheit, for about half an hour. Juicy, crispy-skinned, and delicious, they were a nice thing to serve with that corn.

But that corn. That corn! It was the star, the bright and shining thing on my plate that actually made me smile as I ate, because it has been far too long since something as wonderful, as cheap and quick and as special as this unassuming little side dish came along, and in one fell swoop that corn made me fall in love - in love! with frozen corn! - and that, my friends, is all I have been trying to say.

Caramelized Corn with Fresh Mint
Serves 2

1 10-ounce package frozen premium corn
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint

1. Defrost the corn in a colander, tossing occasionally, for about 30 minutes.

2. In a wide skillet, melt the butter over high heat. Add the corn and cook, stirring often, until golden and browned (kernels may begin to pop), about 10 minutes. Stir in the mint and sprinkle with salt. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve while hot.

My New York Restaurant List

I was thinking the other day that with my days in New York drawing to a close (my heart literally just constricted as I typed that, like, spasmed) it might be nice to draw up a list of my very favorite places to eat, from the simple to the sublime, in this gem of a city. For me to remember. For those planning a trip to New York to mull over and crib. For you who live here a chance to compare with your own favorites. And then we can duke it out in the comments, all friendly-like. Doesn't that sound like fun?

I don't do it often here, but I am a list maker, a list lover. They make me feel all quiet and calm. And right now, while I'm switching madly back and forth between elation and a bit of a quivering lower lip, it feels like a good idea to order my thoughts. It's tough to narrow it down, of course, but these are the things at the very top of my list:

Sushi Yasuda - for the very best sushi I've ever had, but more than that, one of the best dining experiences I've ever had, seated at the bar for omakase, where the sushi chef behind the bar serves you piece after piece of incredible sushi, painted delicately with soy sauce, plated just so. It's expensive and special - a once-a-year kind of place, a celebration-worthy splurge.

Café Sabarsky - for the most refined cafe experience you'll find in New York in my very favorite New York City museum, Neue Galerie. Of course, this place has a special place in my heart because it always reminded me of Berlin, with its bent-wood chairs and its serious waiters. But the food is quietly spectacular, too. Delicate salads drizzled with vibrantly green pumpkin seed oil and flaky strudel with real whipped cream.

Back Forty - for simple summer meals in the back yard. Notice that I didn't write back garden. Because the space behind this Alphabet City restaurant almost feels like a yard, it's that generous. And with twinkling lights and a sky still tinged with light from the day, it can feel magical back there. The restaurant is simple and unpretentious and the food is just plain good. Not to mention the drinks. I've taken lots of international friends here, from English teachers who live in Beijing to French-Yugoslav accessory designers for Gucci, and they've all been impressed with its low-key, delicious vibe.

Indus Express - an Indian buffet on a glamourless Midtown West block. It looks like nothing special from the outside, but don't be deterred. In the hot chafing dishes you'll find quality Indian cooking that ranges widely from several different chicken and lamb dishes in gorgeously spiced sauces to a large assortment of delicious vegetable dishes, salads, chutneys and raitas. There's Indian beer, too, and best of all, once you've sat down with your filled metal plate (the first of many rounds, if you've got a cooperative belly), someone comes and brings you freshly baked naan, still hot from the oven, buttery and chewy and delicious.

Mary's Fish Camp - I like to come here on the weekends and sit at the bar alone for salad or maybe a sandwich. It's tiny and cramped, but from the bar you can watch the cooks in the kitchen and you can get in and out of the restaurant in a relatively humane amount of time. They used to have these roasted tomatoes in their salads which I loved, but the menu has changed, as it should, I suppose, and now I can't wait to try their Spicy Fried Sardine Sandwich with Pickled Vegetables.

Num Pang
- I know, the banh mi craze is a little out-of-control. But where there's smoke there's fire: those crispy, crusty, multi-layered sandwiches are good. If you've not yet tried the Cambodian version of banh mi, head over to 12th and University and get yourself the num pang with veal meatballs. You will never look at a meatball sub sideways again. Spicy, drippy, crunchy, tart, and deeply, deeply delectable, it's one of the best sandwiches in the city. (Afterwards, walk across the street to Stand and order the homemade ginger ale for dessert.)

Safran - Do any of you remember the late, great Monsoon on the Upper West Side? When it closed, I thought I'd never eat good Vietnamese food again. The chef, Laura Lam, opened up her next place on 7th Avenue and 16th Street. Safran really shines at lunchtime, when there's a special menu that's not available in the evening (a fussier, more fusion-y menu takes over then). The one thing here I order over and over again is the traditional beef pho. The broth is incredible - fragrant with so many spices, the noodles chewy and perfect, the meat just as thin as can be, cooked delicately in the hot broth, and the herbs and sauces on the side bright and fresh. Pho perfection.

City Bakery - For the only breakfast pastries worth buying, especially the baker's muffin and the whole-wheat croissant. For the groaning lunch salad buffet. For inspiration with roasted vegetables, winter, spring, summer, and fall. For the addictive soups and the inside-out chocolate cookies. For the homemade marshmallows melting slowly into hot chocolate so think I can't even handle it (can you?). For, most importantly, the pretzel croissant. The hype is real, folks.

Chikalicious - I thought this was a gimmick if I ever saw one. But then I actually ate at Chikalicious, a dessert restaurant, and had my mind blown, wholly and completely. This is the kind of inventive, creative, totally original place I think most dessert chefs dream of when they decide to open their own place. The fromage blanc "cheese cake" still resonates, years later, as one of the most special and delicious things I've ever eaten. Interesting flavors, gorgeous plating, Chikalicious is inspired.

Vanessa's Dumplings - For cheap, hot, filling pork-and-chive dumplings doused in nose-wrinkling vinegar, you can't do better than this slightly expanded hole-in-the-wall staffed by efficient ladies who take orders and fry dumplings like masters. The night I gave my notice at work, I came here for dinner and almost cried because while watching the ladies work and the customers eat and the passers-by, well, pass by, I was just overcome with how totally awesome New York is. Yes, it's that kind of place.

Prune - In those awful, awful weeks after 9/11, my father drove down from Boston one weekend to spend the day with me. We went on one of our marathon walks around the city and ended up at Prune at five in the afternoon. We sat down for a strange, delicious dinner of fried chicken livers and salads and fish. I've eaten there many times since, but I'll never forget that combination of eating good food while still being shocked and scared to my core. It's a bittersweet memory, but I love Prune nonetheless. Gabrielle Hamilton's uncompromising taste and her wit are something special, plus she's the person who taught me to eat sardines on Triscuits with mustard, alone the reason to hold this restaurant high among my favorites.

Co. - Jim Lahey, of No-Knead Bread fame, opened his pizzeria in Chelsea and it's been packed ever since. I love the design of this place, and I love the Kelso beer, and I love some of the pizzas (the Boscaiola and the Cauliflower are two favorites). It's a wonderful place to eat at with friends, always warm and bustling and friendly.

Flushing's Chinatown - Take the 7 train out to Flushing's main street, then cobble together a walking meal from the various subterranean food malls and outdoor stands. My favorite menu would begin with slippery homemade rice crêpes with shrimp and a good squeeze of vinegar from Corner 28 at 42-08 Main Street, followed with a clutch of spicy, tender, cumin-dusted lamb skewers from the Xinjiang barbecue cart on 41st Avenue near Kissena Blvd, and finished with a plastic bowl of slippery, numbing dan dan noodles downstairs in the Golden Mall at the Chengdu Tianfu Small Dishes stall, 41-28 Main Street. (Use the map I linked to. You'll need it.)

Frankie's Spuntino - the one on the Lower East Side. The menu's a whole lot bigger than it was when I first fell in love with this place, but I don't let it distract me. I come here for a nice bowl of tender meatballs in sauce, very good bread, and those wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone. This sliver of a restaurant feels totally effortless and is adorably charming and pretty, plus you can walk around the Lower East Side afterwards to digest and feel all with-it. It's got a nice dose of romance, too.

Babbo, Blaue Gans, Peasant, Di Fara's, The Modern, Taam Tov, Sunset Park's Chinatown, the Red Hook ball fields, you're all going to have to wait until I come back. Please wait!

Okay, now it's your turn, readers, New York lovers, hungry ones. Go!

Akhtar Nawab's Pork Meatballs with Yogurt Dressing


Five weeks and counting. Five weeks and something like two days, I think. Oh, who am I kidding, like I don't know down to the minute. To be precise, 37 days. 37 days as of tomorrow. 37 days and one more evening, I guess, if I'm going to be totally exact. Is what I've got left in New York, of course.

I've been doing this thing which is totally maddening and kind of makes me want to smack myself gently in the face to snap out of it, but I can't seem to help it, this thing where I'll be somewhere, not even somewhere special, maybe just on the corner of 7th Avenue and 28th Street, which is sort of Nowheresville compared to other glimmering parts of this city, but who cares, I happen to love it. Anyway. The light will fall just so on that random little corner while the strangest accumulation of beautiful creatures will emerge from the subway moving like jungle cats and some cab driver will be screaming epithets from three lanes away while leaning on his horn and the cars will be moving along gracefully in this perfect symphony and a homeless dude will smile at me sweetly and I'll see the Rafiqi's cart guy pulling into his regular space and the wind will whip through my hair and suddenly I'll just lose my breath, it'll just get caught in my throat and my heart will stop and I'll find myself thinking This is it, this is the last time I'll ever be on the corner of 7th Avenue and 28th Street when the light falls just so with that crazy cabbie yelling over the din and the Rafiqi's guy setting up his cart, The Very Last Time, OMG, I must be crazy if I think I can leave, how on earth can I ever leave? Help.

And because I'm sentimental and in love with my city, the kind of love that I don't think will ever die, this happens to me on almost every street corner, at almost every moment. Don't get me started on when I see my friends. Let's just say I'm walking around with a perpetually clenched heart these days.

Which is all sort of ridiculous, of course. First of all, my reason for leaving is the kind of thing that still has me waking up with a disbelieving grin on my face most mornings. And second of all, New York is not exactly going anywhere. As most kind people tell me these days, I can always come back. I can always come back. I can always come back. Thirdly, while New York is without a doubt the Greatest City in the World, fully deserving of every tear I shed for its wondrous, sparkling, incredible self, I think I tend towards the slightly hysterical when it comes to saying goodbye, no matter where I am, let's be honest.



One of the loveliest things to happen in these last few weeks was finally seeing what my friends Francis and Ganda were like in real life. Which just makes me laugh, really, since I can still remember those Stone Age days when I thought that people who made friends online were just totally strange and definitely a little suspect. And now I'm the kind of person who has dinner with her friends from the Internet, and it's practically like we've known each other for years. Which we have! Sort of. You know what I mean.


Francis made his famous koshary, Ganda brought positively addictive French Mint Bars from Li-Lac, so good they inspired a surprise visit from my strange disappearing sweet tooth (let me tell you about that unnerving phenomenon another time), and I made Akhtar Nawab's pork meatballs, finally, after hoarding the recipe carefully for two years.

Don't wait that long, is all I can tell you. These meatballs are wonderful. Even better, they come with two little sauces that catapult the meatballs from Very Tasty into Totally Delicious. Two sauces may seem like overkill to you (well, they did to me in any case), but I say think of them as a reason to pull out those adorable sauce dishes you might have been given as a wedding present, or the little bowls you bought at a flea market in Paris years ago and never seem to use.

The meatballs are flavored with everything from ground coriander to minced oregano. Interestingly, instead of mixing soaked bread into the raw meat in clumps, Akhtar has you sweat an onion until it's soft and translucent, then purée that onion with milk-soaked bread into a fragrant paste and mix that into the raw meat. Clever! The meat is shaped into balls and then fried in butter and oil until browned on all sides (mine went from rounds to triangularish domes in the pan, but no matter, they still tasted good). They're savory and herbal and crunchy and deeply wonderful.

The sauces are meant to be drizzled and dripped on the meatballs - first the yogurt sauce, which is so thick it can only be dolloped, and then the mint sauce, which is so good I could have sat down on the floor with a spoon and made it my dinner. (I'm having this weirdly intense thing with vinegar lately. I can't get enough of it. Even pickles don't seem to cut it. Maybe it's related to my disappearing sweet tooth? I don't know, I don't even care. I just want more vinegar, please. Straight from the bottle is fine, too.) If you're serving these as an appetizer, I think it'd be cute to arrange the meatballs on a platter, each stuck with a little toothpick, then drizzled and dolloped in advance by you before your guests set themselves upon the toothpicked meatballs like hungry Visigoths. If you're serving these as part of a meal, then pass the sauces in their bowls and let your guests dress their meatballs as they wish.


(Look at these sweethearts, would you?)


Pork Meatballs with Yogurt Dressing
Yields 50 1-inch meatballs (serves about 12 as an hors d’oeuvre)

For yogurt dressing
1 cup high-fat Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For mint dressing
1/2 cup finely sliced mint leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For meatballs
1 cup crustless country bread, torn into pieces
2 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
Half a large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
2 1/2 pounds ground pork, chilled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
4 tablespoons butter

1. For yogurt dressing, combine yogurt, cumin, and sugar. Slowly whisk in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.

2. For mint dressing, combine mint, shallot and vinegar in small bowl. Slowly whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and refrigerate.

3. For meatballs, combine bread and milk in a bowl, and stir until bread has absorbed milk.

4. Combine 1 tablespoon of oil and onion in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sizzling, then cover, reduce heat to low and cook until onion is softened but not colored. Transfer to food processor, add bread mixture and purée.

5. Combine coriander, cumin, fennel and hot red-pepper flakes in small skillet over medium heat and stir until lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat and grind to a powder in a spice grinder.

6. Mix meat, the bread mixture, spices and salt in a large stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add parsley and oregano, and mix again. With wet hands, roll into 1-inch balls.

7. Place large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter has melted, reduce heat slightly and begin adding meatballs, allowing them to brown on the bottom, then turning gently to continue browning on all sides. Work in batches, transferring meatballs to a platter when they are cooked. To serve, drizzle with yogurt dressing and sprinkle with mint dressing.