Big Girls Global Kitchens

We fell in love with Indian food when I was in seventh grade. By we, I somehow mean my entire world at once. Friends and family converged at this one Upper West Side restaurant, all of us craving potato samosas, saag paneer, and chicken tikka masala at the same time, and often. It was 1997, and I guess we’d been busy eating the cuisine of the 90s, whatever that was, and when it came to light that there were delicious and deeply flavorful stews and rice pilafs, not to mention naan and poori, that we’d been missing all this time, we decided to eat our fill. We also all loved vegetarian main dishes, and Indian cuisine has got those aplenty.

Ever since those dinners, starting in middle school, I’ve loved Indian food–I’ve taken cooking classes, explored neighborhood restaurants, and tried my hand at curry pastes at home. Despite this, I haven’t branched out that much, menu-wise, in what I order at restaurants.

Then one cold night in January, I met my friend Anika for Indian food at a local place she’d found, and she–daughter of an excellent Indian home cook–told me that there was a new dish she’d never had til recently. She introduced me to paneer bhurji that night, and in a way it made me fall in love with Indian food all over again, the vast array of sub-cuisines and whole undiscovered dishes (which makes sense, since India is enormous and diverse!). Thanks to this paneer preparation, I jumped back into my at-home Indian cooking journey and decided I’d figure out how to make paneer bhurji at home. Like vegetable korma, paneer bhurji is a meatless dish that pairs beautifully with warm naan.

Paneer bhurji uses paneer, the blank slate that many Indian vegetarian meals center around. I’m sure you’ve eaten your fill of saag paneer, but maybe not tried paneer in other ways. I hadn’t either. But here, instead of being fried in whole cubes, the paneer gets crumbled and scrambled, and the result is totally different. The flavor given to the blank slate derives from cumin, toasted in oil at the beginning, pinches of a couple other spices in the vein of garam masala, then lemon to balance the flavors. Essentially, this is a simple dish, something you might eat for weekend lunch instead of scrambled eggs. In the summer, you could throw in seasonal vegetables and nix the peas.

Unlike paneer dishes, naan is hard to make at home, and that’s where Stonefire comes in. The company makes traditional naan in its high-tech ovens, which mimic the intense heat of an actual ancient tandoor oven, a heat that can’t be replicated in a home kitchen. I like to keep the naan in the freezer (it comes in four flavors), then warm in my oven and brush butter before serving. Stonefire’s recipe uses both buttermilk and ghee and gets its teardrop shape from being hand stretched. Also, naan can be a great last-minute crust for pizza!

This post was sponsored by Stonefire. Figure out where to get your own naan on Stonefire’s store finder. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that keep Big Girls, Small Kitchen delicious!

I’m back from an extraordinary trip to France. I wandered through Paris by foot, I biked the hills of Provence, sipping un café in every pretty small town, and I got into the sunny spirit of Montpellier, a college town with a Mediterranean spirit.

I ate croissants at every turn, sampled the goat cheese from each region of Provence, and plucked grapes right from the vine. I indulged in steak and frites, smeared my baguette with foie gras, and sipped glass after glass of wine, red and white. I admired how mealtime, in France, delivers as much joy from the co-diners as the (really good) food, and I loved watching how little anxiety sits between a Frenchwoman and her meal.

I thought I’d share some images of the trip. They’re mainly focused in three areas: pretty landscapes featuring the region’s abundant produce, adorably old small towns, and food. There are a few more details at the bottom, in case you’re planning a trip!

Let’s start at Les Baux, a town originally settled by the Romans…

Make-Your-Own Dukkah

Posted by on Monday Jul 29th, 2013

I’ve always been a very obedient student. When I took on this journey to learn all about Middle Eastern food, I knew I’d follow directions. Unlike everything else that I ever cook–ever–I’ve been going by recipes and formulas from Yotam Ottolenghi, Claudia Roden, Louisa Shafia so far. You can’t break the rules ’til you know them.

Yet I believe that cooking, like life, is about a billion times more fun when you get to break rules. Small rebellions. And dukkah, though a new-to-me Middle Eastern condiment, asks for you to break the mold and make the mixture your own from the moment you open any recipe, because customizing to your tastes is part of the recipe. Dukkah suits me.

The mix contains nuts and seeds, toasted until fragrant and then ground together in a food processor or mortar and pestle. I first ate, then made, Ana Sortun’s version from her cookbook, Spice. I love the crunchiness. It’s addictive.

A few weeks ago, I took a cooking class at Haven’s Kitchen with the folks from NY Shuk. The theme was a Middle Eastern Shabbat dinner. I enrolled because of a mounting interest in Middle Eastern cuisine (you can read all about my Sargento-sponsored flavor journey in these posts), as well as a desire to expand what I think of as Jewish cuisine. I grew up on a strictly brisket-and-kugel holiday diet–what my great-grandparents ate in Eastern Europe and what my grandparents continued to eat in New York City. Recently, I’ve encountered Jewish New Yorkers from Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Morocco–their matbucha and stuck-pot rice. I’ve been wanting to know more about their cuisine.

Here’s what was on the menu:

NY Shuk is run by a couple who recently moved to Brooklyn from Israel. They sell hand-rolled couscous with different toppings every Saturday at Smorgasburg, and I have a feeling that they’re going to be expanding their business in one way or another soon.

As you can see, this homemade couscous was on the menu. Indeed, it was the highlight of the evening.

See, when it comes to couscous, we’ve been doing it wrong. At NY Shuk, they hand roll couscous. The process goes something like this.

First, you spritz semolina with water. The idea is to gently rehydrate the coarsely milled flour. Semolina is made from wheat, but it sometimes has the look of polenta. As you spray in the water, you also run your hand through the grain, hydrating it evenly.

We all took a turn, but none of us had quite the skill of Ron Arazi, half of NY Shuk, who makes couscous in serious quantity.

You pour the moistened semolina into a steamer set over boiling water and stir it for a few minutes, until it no longer clumps. Then you put the lid on the steamer and let the couscous cook for about half an hour or so.

Sabich Sandwich

Posted by on Tuesday Apr 30th, 2013

Do you ever go to a falafel joint and not order a falafel? Me neither. It’s too hard, like going to Shake Shack and skipping the ShackBurger. As a happy medium, at the falafel place I’ll occasionally add an extra ingredient to my sandwich: fried eggplant.

I love eggplant, always. When fried, the slices adds a lusciousness to the sandwich, as if the smooth tahini sauce and rich falafel weren’t enough.

Were you to scroll your eyes down the menu at a falafel joint and squint at the listings below the main event, you might notice an option called “Sabich Sandwich.” An Israeli alternative to the falafel, the sandwich is made of egg, eggplant, and tahini sauce.

It has has a murky origin but a bright future in my life: it’s easy to make at home if you bake rather than fry the eggplant, healthful without being austere, and satisfying because it’s still plenty rich. Here’s my version, which fits into my brown bag lunch routine beautifully.

(I make the eggplant and hard-boiled eggs in advance, then whip together the herby tahini sauce and assemble the sandwich when I want to eat or pack lunch.)

Smoky Red Lentil Burgers

Posted by on Monday Apr 8th, 2013

Have you ever kept a dinner journal? Even though this blog is technically an account of what we’ve eaten, I don’t capture all of our humble everyday meals here–that’d be a repetitious and poorly lit project. But I love the idea of writing down what we’ve had for dinner. Not because I’m some insanely sentimental type. Nor do I want to obsess over every last morsel I’ve ingested. It’s that I develop amnesia about recent dinner triumphs at exactly the moment when I’m trying to figure out what we should eat on a given night.

There’s always pasta. There are bowl dinners. Recently, we’ve been making soups and eating them with salads (my choice) or sandwiches (his). Neither of us is all that picky, and one of us is a food blogger. But still, the dinner idea well runs dry. When it does, we rack our brains.

“We had something last week that we liked, right?” he’ll say.

“What did we used to eat?” I’ll ask.

When we rack our brains especially hard, we’ll often happen upon one answer: bean burgers. We do like bean burgers, I’ll remember. They use cheap pantry ingredients and no meat and are particularly amenable to incorporating whatever ingredients are on hand–canned beans, already cooked dry beans, or quick-cooking red lentils.

And that single limp scallion in the vegetable drawer.

Have you developed a system for remembering favorite meals on nights when you don’t know what to cook?

I’ve been cooking a lot of lentils recently, as I explore the food of the Middle East, and that’s where I turned last week when we decided to make bean burgers for dinner.

This post begins and ends with muhammara. Muhammara is a Middle Eastern dip that’s rich, sweet, spicy, and tangy. I’m always looking for unusual dips, preferably one whose ingredients come from the pantry, and muhammara fits the bill.

Looking to other cultures is one of my tried-and-true ways of branching out in the kitchen. For dips, one of the most fertile culinary traditions has got to come from the Middle East.

Like: picture a mezze table, loaded with hummus, baba ganoush, oils, cheeses, herbs and try not to salivate.

Most of the ingredients in muhammara are everyday items: nuts, chile flakes, tomato paste, olive oil. But one – pomegranate molasses – is a little harder to find. I’ve seen it at some Whole Foods, but I traversed Atlantic Avenue and made a stop at Sahadi’s, a quintessential Brooklyn shopping experience. The pomegranate molasses lends the dip its signature sweetness as well as its tang. I can imagine using the rest of my bottle of pomegranate molasses in dressings and marinades.