Thursday, September 26, 2013

If you are a federal employee household, like we are, the potential government shutdown is probably also on your mind. Thanks to a number of children (and not the good kind, but those cavechildren you see in public, climbing furniture, eating paste, and pulling hair out of baby dolls' heads) that some people in this country saw fit to elect as their distinguished representatives, our debt ceiling and the world economy are being held hostage by House Republicans. I can't go on about it because I get all rage-y when I think about their callousness for 1.2 million federal employees' families who, wonder of all wonders, might need something as silly as a paycheck to help them subsist.

Well, stressful times call for relaxing recipes. I'm thinking easy marination, one-pot-dishes, and unattended oven time that also happens to heat your home as the fall chill approaches in the evening. Bonus points for ones that happen to use ingredients you already have in your fridge, since we're talking about saving money after all, and are easily amenable to your fridge's quirky constitution instead of mine. Enter my Asian interpretation of roasted chicken and root vegetables.

Spicy Miso Chicken Thighs

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 3 tablespoons miso paste
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame chili oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oelek
  • 1 pound carrots
  • sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Combine the garlic, ginger, miso, lemon zest, vegetable oil, sesame chili oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and sambal oelek and marinate the chicken thighs in the mixture for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.

Peel the carrots, slice them on the bias, and toss them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and some sea salt. Spread them out on the bottom of a baking dish and top with the chicken.

Bake for 30 minutes, flipping chicken once halfway through the cooking time. Broiling for 3-4 minutes is optional to brown the thighs. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes and then serve it up.

If you look really closely, you can see 1.2 million workers giving the bird to the House GOP.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A few years ago, while menu-tasting for our wedding in the DC metro area, I tasted what continues to be my favorite appetizer, hands down: crispy palak (spinach) chaat. I won't mention the name of the Indian restaurant in the Virginia suburbs, despite the wondrousness they caused in my mouth, because they were completely unethical and I want no part in driving business towards their establishment. But once every few months my mind wanders back to that tasting and I find myself involuntarily smacking my lips in memory of the light, crispy, almost airy quality of the starter. It doesn't hurt that the following conversation occurred at the table when the dish was introduced, causing my sister to almost lose her shit on a complete stranger, when it's hard enough to convince her to accompany us to Indian restaurants for exactly this reason:
Manager: And this is our palak chaat.
Me: Does this have any gram flour in it? My sister (sitting across from me) is deathly allergic to it, if so.
Manager: Absolutely no gram flour.
Me: Really? Because it looks like it's been slightly battered in it.
Manager: Nope. No gram flour whatsoever.
Me: (making the rest of the table uncomfortable at this point) Are you absolutely sure? Because my sister will have an awful allergic reaction to this dish if it even has as much as a dusting of besan (gram flour). 
Manager: Oh, there is a LOT of besan in it.
In any case, the dish was delicious but we decided we couldn't reliably serve it at the wedding because we needed practical starters that could withstand delays and crowds. One of the reasons this dish was truly spectacular was because its light crunch necessitated the intimacy of making it "to order"--something that would be difficult at our three hundred person affair.

Once again, my favorite restaurant in the district doesn't disappoint, as it is also famous for the same dish (albeit made differently by flash frying entire leaves of baby spinach instead of the thin ribbons of the leafy green I tasted at The Restaurant That Shall Not Be Named). I haven't actually tasted it at Rasika, however, since I've only been with my sister and I usually try to avoid choosing dishes that will send her into severe anaphylactic shock (see above). But the interwebs are rife with diners who have tasted the starter at Rasika and are haunted months, if not years, later, desperately trying to copycat the recipe in their own kitchens.

Fast forward a few years from the first time I tasted this dish to this past week when I brought a new member of the family into our home. I bought a two pound bag of kale at the store, thinking--hey, I love kale, I haven't really cooked with it much in the past few months, and I always feel like greens cook down into oblivion, so why not go big with the large bag? HAVE YOU EVER SEEN TWO POUNDS OF TIGHTLY PACKED KALE? I seriously think Desmond would take up less room in our fridge. This bag is endless and it does not cook down. I have already made five dishes with it and it looks like I haven't even made a dent. 

Not that I'm complaining--kale is a sought-after superfood and has really been pretty trendy in the U.S. (if not France, as a NYT piece sure to enrage fellow freelancers explained this weekend). I had it at Craft a few months ago, seemingly sauted with onions in nothing but a bit of rice wine and butter. It's hearty and healthy--what's not to love?

As I was staring in wonder at this bag this past weekend, I saw some "tips" (essentially on how to get rid of this ridiculous amount of greens, as though they knew) for helpful ways to use kale. One of them suggested replacing it for any recipe that calls for spinach. [note: this is not true when it comes to raw spinach salads, since raw kale really needs acidity to soften it up--rice wine vinegar or soy works nicely.] 

Spinach! Palak Chaat! As anyone who's made kale chips knows, that delicate, light crunch is pretty easy to obtain with this green. So I set about making my own "palak" chaat for some friends who were coming over for dinner. Owing to the deep fryer incident of 2009, I chose to avoid this horrendous appliance in favor of baking the crispy chaat--just as I would for kale chips.

Crispy "Palak" Chaat

  • five cups of kale, ripped off the stem and ribboned
  • quarter cup gram flour (besan)
  • three tablespoons rice flour
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • sea salt, to taste
  • olive oil 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Massage or spray the kale with olive oil. Spread it out in an even layer on a wire rack over baking sheets, trying to avoid as much overlap as possible. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a sifter and sift over the kale.

Place the sheets in the oven on the lowest rack possible for about 10-12 minutes, stirring a bit once in the middle to ensure that all of the kale crisps evenly. The kale is ready when it is crispy to touch and the light appearance of the flour has mostly disappeared. 

Plate immediately and top with a mixture (to taste) of yoghurt, tamarind paste and pureed roasted garlic. Additional chopped tomatoes, onions and cilantro are optional. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Don't hold your breath for ramen burgers to hit the district

Today I'm sharing a recipe that my sister mastered: the coveted ramen burger, the hipster dish still noticeably absent on the district's food scene, despite having already traveled from its hometown Brooklyn all the way out west to California, and even back again. My sister just moved from the district up to the center of foodie fads, New York City, and since she a) is a broke medical student, b) is a recently self-trained excellent cook, and c) has the eating habits of a six year old you would imagine living in a fraternity house, she immediately decided to make the ramen burger in her own kitchen.

DC gets a bad rap when it comes to food, and while I'll be the first to defend its growing culinary options, it does seem like fads hit us late and stay long enough to die a slow, painful death. Why, for example, are cupcakes still so damn popular? I like them just fine, but perhaps I overdosed because they were ALWAYS around my old office--the end of staff meetings, birthdays, anniversaries... by the end I swear it felt like Mondays and Wednesdays just for the hell of it. And, call me old fashioned, but I'd actually like my mini-cakes to cost less than, well, cakes. 

I digress. Point is, the ramen burger isn't even served up at the district's ramen Mecca, Toki Underground yet. And this is doing nothing to ameliorate the severe foodie insecurity Washingtonians feel towards their northern counterparts. If you don't believe me, just google "Where can I get NY-style pizza in DC?" and get back to me after you spend the next three days wading through the results. [Incidentally, as someone who has scoured through all of the hits more than once, and spent a good deal of time traveling around the city testing the advice out, a gift from me to you: Italian Pizza Kitchen (either their Van Ness or Woodley Park location). Get their thin crust, with extra sauce. It's smaller than a New York slice, but otherwise the basics are there. You're welcome.] 

The ramen burger was originally created by New York's noodle master, Keizo Shimamoto, at Brooklyn's Smorgasburg. This self-described "food flea market" hits two locations on the weekends, DUMBO and Williamsburg, to serve up some great hipster flare. And the burger is no exception. It is made exactly as it sounds--a burger pattie sandwiched between buns made out of ramen. The ramen crisps up to give a nice crunch to the bun on the outside, but allows noodles to stay soft, warm and crumbly on the inside. You can get creative with the seasoning of the buns, burger and sauce, but my sister tried to stay true to Shimamoto's "special sauce." Here's her take on the authentic RB:

The Ramen Burger

makes 6-8 servings

  • 2 packets ramen noodles
  • 1 packet of ramen noodle seasoning packet
  • 1 large egg
  • butter, for searing

Cook two packets worth of ramen noodles in boiling water and then drain all the water. Add only one packet of the chicken flavoring for two packages of noodles, or the buns will be too salty.  Let cool, then add one large egg to noodles and stir to make sure all noodles are coated evenly.  Divide the noodles into 6-8 piles. Add one pile to a ramekin or a bowl, and cover with saran wrap. Use another bowl to flatten into a flat disc, then pop out the ramen disc, cover it fully in saran wrap, and put it in freezer for 20 minutes. Repeat for all 6-8 buns. After 20 minutes, sear ramen buns on a greased pan until golden brown on each side.

  • 2 pounds of ground beef (80/20 fat composition works well to retain moisture in patties, but it's really up to you)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 packet of ramen noodle seasoning packet
  • 2 chilies, diced

While the buns are in the freezer, prepare your patties. Combine the ground beef, onion, ginger, garlic, cheese, ramen noodle seasoning packet and chilies. Shape into patties and sear on a stovetop or grill, reserving some drippings if possible. 

  • 1 teaspoon sri racha
  • 1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon teriyaki sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • some leftover drippings from searing the burgers

Combine sauce ingredients with some of the drippings from searing the burgers and mix well. Adjust sauce ingredients to taste. Layer fresh arugula on the bottom ramen bun, place the burger on top, lather with the sauce, and top with the second bun. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


A few notable things happened this past week. I got sick, I got better, and now I'm sick again. The chef at my favorite restaurant in the district asked to take home some of my burfi from our Ganapati celebrations this weekend (yeah, I'm not even going to pretend that's a humblebrag). And my son stopped calling me Purple. In the midst of all this excitement, I also happened to refine a recipe for kebabs that pleased both full sized and mini members of our family all at once. 


  • 1 pound ground meat of your choice (I used beef)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 3 cups spinach, packed
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 2 large shallots
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven at 375 degrees. Saute the spinach and shallots in the oil until the shallots are soft. Add the mixture to the rest of the ingredients and knead well. 

Place a mounded spoonful in a nifty mini-muffin pan, because square kebabs are just so darn cute. 

Pop them in the oven for 30 minutes and enjoy.

Kebabs are a great menu item to have on hand. They're versatile, they can mask all sorts of healthy additions (from vegetables to flax seed), they freeze well, and you can even pop them in some curry if you prefer sauce to the grill. Use them to experiment and experiment often-- you won't be sorry.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ganapati removing obstacles for women?

India has been on my mind lately. We're right in the middle of one of the biggest festivals of the year: the ten-day Ganapati festival. Millions of Indians across the world will be visiting one another in homes to pay homage to elaborate arrangements surrounding the idol of Ganesh, the god of auspiciousness, the remover of obstacles. Dictated by the lunar calendar, this festival usually hits during monsoons in India, and I remember getting soaked to the bone hopping from one home to the other as we made our way through taking darshan (literally, sight) of relatives and friends' Ganapati. The host would welcome us, give us some prasad (literally, a gracious gift), which was always in the form of a sweet, we'd stay for some pleasantries, and then we'd put our sopping sandals back on and be on our way to the next stop. Morning to evening, for ten days.

We're celebrating out at my folks' place this weekend, and I wanted to bring some sweets to share. I started out with plans to make a couple of different burfis, an Indian equivalent of fudge. I planned on coconut and pistachio, two popular and personal favorites. But the best laid plans... well, let's just say that burfi is a very forgiving dessert. And since India's flag is such a simple triad of colors, it can make for a very nationalistic one as well. 

Coconut and Pistachio Burfi

  • 4-5 cups of unsweetened shredded coconut 
  • 2 14 oz. cans of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios, plus a handful reserved to crush for garnish
  • pat of butter, for greasing the pan

Blanch the shelled pistachios by immersing in boiling water for two minutes; then just rub between your fingers to remove the remaining peels. 

Grind into a paste, using some water if necessary.

In one pot, dry roast the coconut until it is fragrant (do not allow it to become brown). Remove one cup and add to another pot, with the pistachio paste. Add one can of the condensed milk to the coconut-only pot, and stir continuously over medium heat until the mixture begins to incorporate the milk and the coconut becomes clumpy and less sticky. Add the ground cardamom. Remove from heat. Repeat with the coconut-pistachio mixture in the other pot with the second can of condensed milk, sans cardamom. 

Layer the pistachio burfi on the bottom of the greased pan and pack it in tight. 

Next, divide the coconut-only batch into two halves. Now, if you have saffron, you're a better person than I am and you should soak a bit in some warm water and add the essence to one half of the coconut-only mixture until you reach the desired flag-orange color. If you don't, use some food coloring--I won't tell. 

Layer the white mixture on top of the green. 

And top it off with the orange mixture, remembering to pack both layers tightly. Finally, crush some pistachios for garnish and press onto the orange layer. 

Chill this pan in the fridge for at least one hour, then use a greased butter knife to slice.


Why else is India on my mind? The four defendants in the brutal New Delhi gang rape case have been on trial, which ended with a guilty verdict, followed by today's sentencing condemning them to death by hanging. It's difficult to read about the gleeful reactions to the verdict--not because even any small part of me thinks these monsters deserve life, but because these episodes offer relief in the form of temporary moments of vindictive vengeance. They distract from the larger problem of violence against women and the institutional and societal failures that allow women to continue to be vulnerable to such heinous behavior. And, after all, they're unlikely to even die this way. There are 477 people on death row in India, yet only three have been executed in the last nine years, due to an appeals process that can travel up several levels of bureaucracy and a severely backlogged justice system. 

I would like to think that the public outcry in response to this case will not end here, with this symbolic sentence. I would like to think that the bodies that poured into the streets after the brutal rape will continue to band together, to say such violence against women has always been and continues to be one of the fundamental flaws of human societies. I would like to see millions of Indians take to the streets again, saying that this doesn't end with this verdict and sentence.

Millions of Indians in the streets? That's actually not hard. Particularly during Ganapati because the ten days culminate in public processions through the streets that march to the water and immerse their family idols in the sea. Not the most environmentally sound tradition, I know, and I have family members who are starting to refrain from this practice (our NoVa version included), but it does bring millions of Indians out into those streets. 

One of India's greatest freedom fighters, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, actually gave the festival a distinctly political face in the late 1800s. He brought families into the streets for this procession, who until then had celebrated Ganesh in privacy of their homes, and made Ganapati a public vehicle for protest against British colonial reign. 

Wouldn't it be something if millions of Indians took the tenth day this year, next Wednesday the 18th, to march on our behalf and demand that obstacles be removed for the women of India, and, let's face it, the world. That's assuming that you, like me, don't agree that patriarchy is dead.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Got crabs?

A few months ago I stumbled upon one of the best dining establishments in the district: Hot N Juicy. That's right-- that place nestled in the strip of not-so-great restaurants along Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park, that place where people who want to gorge on crawfish go, that place with plastic tablecloths and tin buckets on the tables.

Forget for a moment that I *am* that person who will go somewhere specifically for the crawfish (have you been to Ghost Street in Beijing, where you can have hot pots and buckets of crawfish at four in the morning?). More importantly to me, Hot N Juicy has CRABS--blue, dungeness, snow, yum.

Even with crabs on the menu it takes some cajoling to get me to sit down at one of these places, given that the crabs are so much more expensive than the crabs you can get fresh and by the bushel down at the southwest waterfront wharf. And the regional Old Bay seasoning is nice, don't get me wrong, but sometimes you want your crabs simmering in a pot of juicy sauce. My community in India calls our variation khadkhale (the best example of onomatopoeia I've ever heard, named for the spitter spatter the frying garlic makes as it hits the hot oil and spices in a pan). My family will pick apart dozens of khadkhale chimboree (crabs) for hours upon hours, until the table is completely covered in delicate opaque membranes and broken shells. Bombay-folk know how to work over their seafood.

But when we moved to this area, the ease and convenience of Old Bay smothered freshly steamed bushels started to replace the hard work involved in a making a chimboree curry from scratch (no judging, Mom!). So you can imagine my heart's delight when I met up with some friends to try Hot N Juicy for the first time and discovered that they have their own khadkhale! They use a cajun spice, but it's the same, unmistakable blend of garlic, oil, and spices. They have five flavors--Lousiana Style, Juicy Cajun, Garlic Butter, Lemon Pepper, and, my favorite, the Hot N Juicy Special. I've tried them all, and you should too.

The aesthetic that matters here is taste, so if you're looking for white linen tablecloths you should move on. In fact, the crabs/crawfish/shrimp are delightfully served in plastic bags so you get plenty of the sauce and don't forget to order a side of rice or rolls to sop it all up! The best part is that utensils are on special order, so eating the rice, sauce and crabs by hand reminds me even more of our family dinners. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

DC carousels

I've always been somewhat obsessed with carousels. The shellacked animals, the strung lightbulbs, the mesmerizing carnival music. And now that I have a little person in my life who still can't quite climb all over a jungle gym but has, quite frankly, mastered the art of sitting, these are perfect weekend destinations. Lucky for me, the DC metro area is chock-full of some beautiful, historic, refurbished carousels that cost next to nothing to ride.

The National Zoo has the Speedwell Conservation Carousel, with 58 different species to ride. The Smithsonian Carousel sits on the Mall, with some of the best people/tourist-watching views around. And Clemyjontri Park has one as the epicenter of its playground (though I can't vouch for anything but how adorable it is, since the operator is not one of those souls who would wait twenty seconds to start the last ride of the day for a mother running full speed for the carousel-entrance with her twenty-one pound boss on her hip in the 95 degree heat). 

But I think one of the more hidden gems in this area is Glen Echo Park's carousel.

After its inception in 1891 as a National Chautauqua Assembly, which taught the sciences, art, languages and literature, GEP became a full-fledged amusement park in the early 1900s. After a successful sit-in by student civil rights activists in 1963, the park ended its policy of segregation in 1964 until it ultimately shut down in 1968. In 1971 the federal government obtained the land, and the National Park Service tried to collaborate with local arts organizations to return to its original Chautauqua spirit. Today it's managed by the Glen Echo Partnership for Arts and Culture and hosts various classes, from pottery to calligraphy to glass blowing. 

It's hard to wander around the grounds and not feel as though you've stepped out of a time machine into the past. For starters, the park's buildings are all charmingly Art Deco, from the cafe signs to the first aid clinic.

But then there are the children squealing in delight on the playground, against the backdrop of carousel music that literally comes out of a restored organ.  Seriously, look at this organ. It's a Wurlitzer Style 165 Military Band Organ, which sounds full of gravitas, but all I could think of the entire time watching it play was that eery boardwalk where Zoltar the fortune telling machine made David Moscow turn into Tom Hanks overnight.

Anyway, one of the old centerpieces of the park that they haven't restored is the bumper cars arcade under an open-air pavilion. Bumper cars! You may be able to take the girl out of Jersey, but you can't take the Jersey out of the girl. Who do we need to talk to to get this feature reinstalled at Glen Echo? Chris Christie himself?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Have a friend who just had a baby?

second baby

Yeah, me too. And others too! Four people told me this past week that they're expecting first or second children and the first of my friends to have their second child delivered last week. Welcome to the world, IMH!

While you're counting back nine months to see what was in the air, let me share a recipe that will make your friends look forward to your visit, even if you weren't going to gladly take on baby-holding duty while they do, well, anything else. When I found out my friend was being induced, I started to think about what we could bring over there once the family is settled back at home and we go over to meet the new addition. A good friend of mine from my bizarre time in a castle in Manchester was coming over for dinner last week, so I set about experimenting with the meal to see what might work as an easily transportable, tasty and nutritious meal for four. And maybe my brain was addled from the intense DC heat outside and trying to get me to think of cold-weather meals to cool off, but I couldn't stop thinking about meatloaf.

The key to meatloaf, in my opinion, is figuring out the fine balance between it being moist enough to not live up to its horrid name, but having enough structure so that it doesn't crumble when you try to slice and serve. I found my happy place with yesterday's loaf. And the best part is that the oats are great for lactation! I remember becoming so damn tired of oatmeal for breakfast when I was breastfeeding that I gladly welcomed it in new forms--cookies, baked "fried" chicken, you name it.


Mushroom and Spinach Meatloaf

  • 1 pound ground beef/pork/veal combo
  • 1 large shallot
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms
  • splash of dry white wine
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • splash of whole milk
  • 1 cup steamed spinach
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning 
  • 1/2 cup of quick cooking oats
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Chop the mushrooms and shallots. Mince the garlic. 


Heat the butter, add the mushroom, shallots and garlic. Saute until the mixture soften. Add the wine and reduce. Combine the mushroom mixture and steamed spinach with the ground meat, egg, cheese, seasoning, milk, and oats. 

Pack it into a lightly greased loaf pan.

meatloaf 1 
Bake for roughly 60 minutes until it's golden brown on top. Broiling it an additional 5 minutes for a darker crust is optional.

meatloaf 2

Meatloaf is the quintessential kitchen-sink meal. Have leftover veggies that are cusping? Throw 'em in. Have a couple tablespoons of sauce leftover from a curry that you just couldn't bear to throw away? Mix it in for flavor. 

The Atlantic did a great piece on the history and social relevance of meatloaf a couple years back that traced the dish back to the innovation of the meat grinder at the end of the 1800s. A few decades later this invention and the meatloaf it enabled families to consume was a boon to Americans experiencing the Great Depression. Meatloaf gussied up tough cuts of meat, required little of it, and camouflaged fillers like crackers, cereal or tapioca. 

While meatloaf never really went out of style in American homes, it's become a conduit for fusion inspiration-- chili paste, tahini, soy sauce--anything that adds to the flavor profile of the basic meat and filler combo. I'm partial to mushrooms and shallots reduced in wine. Feel free to suggest your favorite ingredients!