Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Drifting East

I've been in the mood for all things Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Persian, and Indian lately. Today my body decided it needed protein, so I made red lentil dal inspired by Mark Bittman, but I made changes. That's what I do.

I like my Indian food with toasty spices, even if it's not the preferred method for cooking a particular dish.

Onion and Spice Mixture
2 tsp butter
1 tbsp whole mustard seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 whole cloves
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large spring onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
8 ounces red lentils
fresh cilantro for garnish
chopped tomato for garnish

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and stir in spices. Heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add onions and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove half of mixture from pan and reserve.

Add lentils to the saucepan and cover with about 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes, adding more water if dal becomes too thick.

When ready to serve, stir in reserved onion and spice mixture, butter and salt to taste. Garnish with fresh cilantro and chopped tomato.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer Persian Cucumbers

Today's stressful and heartbreaking visit to Haymarket to not find cilantro--I had to be consoled.

Gorgeous, fresh, Persian cucumbers. $1.00 got me 15. 15 restaurant-or-higher-quality ones.

I've had Persian cucumbers before. I've had them in every season but summer. Big mistake. I've had summer cucumbers before. Straight from Mrs. B's garden. But not Persian ones.

These have changed my idea of what a cucumber can be. And I already liked every breed of cucumber I've ever had.

I ate four plain.

I have decided I need them in everything. So here's my first odd-esque usage of them. I know it's been done before. This came out of my head, but now that I've already published this post, I seem that my idea is not very original. Whatever.

East Meets West Persian Cucumber Guacamole

3 Persian cucumbers, diced
1 avocado, diced
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 serrano pepper, finely diced
sea salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and devour immediately. I guess you could wait for the flavors to meld, but we're talking guacamole.

Cilantro at the Bat

It seemed there was no cilantro in Boston all week. Not even slimy, rotting, maybe I can salvage 3 or 4 leaves?, undersized bunches. The theme continued last night as I rolled into Whole Foods at 8:30 or so, desperation making me willing to pay an assumed $3.99 for a small quantity. There wasn't any in the store. Not even in the proverbial back. I checked every day this week.

The cilantro I had been growing on my windowsill died. So did a subsequent seeding. And then a subsequent planting of whole plants with roots.

Usually when I can't find an ingredient I adapt. But my very specific and inflexible plans for the fresh tomatillos included in this week's CSA delivery required it.

It wasn't in any supermercados, mercados, or bodegas; it wasn't in Chinatown or in Super 88; It wasn't in Shalimar. Not in Shaw's, Stah Mahkit, or Stop and Shop. Not in Harvest, not in Whole Foods. I was starting to think that I should query the cooks/artists at India Quality. Or ask at Ana's Taqueria.

I knew it had to be somewhere. I even checked the USDA Herb Report this morning to verify that it existed somewhere in the greater Boston area. (Yes, I am that nuts.) So it was definitely being traded across the harbor. Since it's Friday, after physical therapy, I went to Haymarket, the liquidator of what's unsold at the market at week's end to see. Nobody had it. Not one vendor. The herb guy wasn't even there. The other vendors that usually offer herbs were selling sad-looking bunches of rosemary, thyme, and parsley, and okay-looking basil. I started to suspect that the heat had done herbs in for the week.

I was still without cilantro. I shuffled back to Whole Foods for my fifth visit this week. For some reason, the whole walk was punctuated by my thinking, "There is no joy in Mudville. There is no cilantro in Boston."

Today they had it--organic! in large bunches!--for $1.69, a pleasant surprise. I realize that Californians are probably laughing at the price that I think was a steal, but produce is much more expensive on the East Coast, and produce in Boston is more expensive than produce in New York City. Not generally, just is. Local produce too, conventional and organic, industrially farmed and not. (Interestingly enough, the wholesale markets in both cities are owned by the same company, but obviously Boston is a smaller market that is more difficult to access by air, land, sea, and rail than New York, not that it's an excuse for a TWENTY TO FOUR HUNDRED PERCENT difference in prices at the retail level, since wholesale prices aren't that different between the two, but I digress.)

So yeah, I got my cilantro.