How To

New York City’s {Indian} Emporium: Patel Grocery

Posted by on Thursday Jul 24th, 2014

At Big Girls, Small Kitchen, we love to cook at home. To equip ourselves to cook any cuisine in the world in the confines of our small kitchens, we’re sending contributor Lauren Rothman off to visit the Russian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Greek , and Italian supermarkets of New York City. Her shopping expeditions will yield the specialty ingredients we need in order to delve deep into the kinds of cuisines we’re craving at home these days.

Up next, Patel Grocery, an Indian emporium of New York City, located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Here’s Lauren:

As a native New Yorker, I’ve always ranked my favorite neighborhoods according to how good their eats are. For that reason—never mind its handsome brownstones and lush eponymous park that affords a stunning view of Manhattan—Sunset Park, in south Brooklyn, has always topped my list. I love good food, but I love it even more when it’s cheap, and Sunset Park’s grub meets both criteria: un-fancy taco-and-cerveza joints line Fifth Avenue, their cumin-and-grilled-meat aromas wafting out of unpretentious storefronts; walk a little further east, down to Eighth Avenue, and the sights (and smells) change: Chinese lettering advertises the strip’s many noodle and dim sum joints. It’s hard to beat the area’s restaurant options, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: Sunset Park is a great destination for the home cook, too.

“Little Latin America” and “Brooklyn Chinatown” might be the area’s most well-known sub-neighborhoods, but Sunset Park is also home to a sizeable Gujarati Indian population, and when I feel like stirring up some delicate curries I head to Patel Grocery, which opened on Fourth Avenue just steps from the 53rd Street subway station in 1981. Inside a tiny, somewhat haphazard but well-stocked store, owner Ishwer Patel sells all the Indian ingredients a cook dreams of, from the dozens of “pulses” (legumes) that are the main ingredient in Indian dhals and porridges to well-curated ground and whole spices to fresh produce such as gingerroot, curry leaves and bitter melon.

On a recent visit, my shopping list included paneer, the squeaky fresh cheese indispensable for paneer bhurji or saag paneer, or stewed spinach and cheese; black mustard seeds, tamarind paste and curry leaves, which I use in a variety of Indian dishes; some kind of dried legume; and kulfi, or Indian-style ice cream, for dessert. I knew from previous shopping trips that I’d find everything with ease, so I lingered in my favorite aisle of the store, where Patel stocks its pulses and spices. Hoping to score something unusual, I zeroed in on two of the store’s more vibrant legume offerings, opting for a bag of bright-green dried chickpeas (“you cook them just the same,” Ishwer’s wife volunteered) and similarly grassy-colored mung beans, which resembled tiny beads. Browsing the spice selection, I remembered that I needed asafoetida, the funky-tasting dried, ground resin of a perennial herb that in small quantities lends a leek-like flavor to dishes such as the aforementioned saag paneer.

Patel’s prices are low, low, low—before I knew it, my basket was full of $3-per-bag legumes, a $4 chunk of paneer and a 59-cent nub of fresh ginger, and it was time to hop back on the R train and head home.

New York City’s {Greek} Emporium: Titan Foods

Posted by on Wednesday Jun 11th, 2014

At Big Girls, Small Kitchen, we love to cook at home. To equip ourselves to cook any cuisine in the world in the confines of our small kitchens, we’re sending contributor Lauren Rothman off to visit the Russian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Italian, and Greek supermarkets of New York City. Her shopping expeditions will yield the specialty ingredients we need in order to delve deep into the kinds of cuisines we’re craving at home these days.

Up first: Titan Foods, the Greek Emporium of New York City, located in Astoria Queens. Here’s Lauren:

Queens is a food mecca. Though to most people, New York City’s largest borough simply holds the distinction of being one of the most diverse geographic areas on earth–nearly 50 percent of its occupants were born abroad–to me, that means you’ll find Chinese grocery stores hawking pristine bok choy just a stone’s throw from Pakistani shops filled with fragrant spices and, a couple of blocks away, Puerto Rican bodegas serving up soupy rice and beans and crisp-fried tostones. As a Brooklynite, I don’t get to spend much time in Queens, but when I do make it there, I’m taken aback by the abundance.

Titan's Greek signage is the first indication of the traditional ingredients to be found inside.

When I’m looking for Greek ingredients, I head to Astoria. This neighborhood, known for its handsome Tudor-style row houses, was the destination for immigrants arriving from Greece and Cyprus in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the Mediterranean population left its mark in the form of countless restaurants, casual tavernas and bakeries, and a number of well-stocked grocery stores that are a dream for the home cook. (See all of BGSK’s Greek recipes here.)

My Greek supermarket of choice is Titan Foods, a large but not overwhelming full-service grocery that stocks an amazing selection of all the Greek ingredients you’d ever need, from aromatic dried oregano to milky fetas to countless varieties of olives—and much more. Need phyllo for homemade baklava? It’s here, in about nine varieties. Prefer to pick up a prepared spinach pie? In the freezer section. Titan has three grinds of bulgur, from fine to coarse; dried fava beans, both split and whole; and a wealth of dried fruits and jams in flavors like sour cherry, fig and bitter orange.

Falafel Are Not Hard to Make at Home!

Posted by on Monday Apr 14th, 2014

As it turns out, falafel sandwiches are not beyond the realm of the home cook, not at all. Yes, they involve deep frying–an activity I engage in twice a year and no more. But making a falafel ball is so, so easy. I’m talking a couple of ingredients and a couple of steps. That kind of easy. Ease aside, homemade falafel turn out to be tastier than 95% percent of the falafel out there.

Einat Admony, owner of the falafel joint Taïm–where you can get one of the good 5% of falafel–walked me through making falafel, explaining why simplicity is key, where creativity comes in, and that real falafel can never, ever be baked. Find all the know how over on First We Feast.

Make the Best Burger Ever

Posted by on Wednesday Mar 19th, 2014

There’s such a victory in making something at home that you always only eat out. For some reason, I’d long relegated the burger to a meal I enjoyed only at restaurants, with favorites around the city, from Shake Shack to Anchored Inn and Five Napkin to our neighborhood’s James. But the classic burger is really easy to make at home–and to make at home really, really well.

With help from burger experts, I put together The Complete Guide to Making Burgers at Home for First We Feast. Find the step-by-step photos and discover what burger principles must be upheld and what elements are yours to play around with over on First We Feast.

Make the Best Egg Sandwich Ever

Posted by on Wednesday Jan 8th, 2014

I like any important morning feast to take the shape of an egg sandwich, that crossover high-low specialty with the potential to be assembled well at good diners, neighborhood bagel shops, and home alike.

While it may originally be a makeshift meal—what college kid doesn’t have access to a couple eggs and a stale roll?—the egg sandwich has a second life as something a lot more exciting. The best egg sandwich makers demonstrate mastery of two big pillars of good cooking: the right texture and the right fat amount of fat. See how to make the best egg sandwiches in the world by clicking through this piece I wrote for First We Feast.

How to: Prep Your Party Ahead of Time

Posted by on Thursday Dec 5th, 2013

I love hosting around the holidays almost as much as I love being a guest at friends’ parties. Most of all, I adore when friends come to me for advice about how to plan a menu, prep, and cook for their holiday meals. I love this because it gives me a chance to dole out all the wisdom I have: make sure to have fun at your own party.

Too often, hosts—especially people like me who are improvising parties in tiny kitchens and itsy bitsy apartments—get so involved in the hosting aspect that they forget to be guests at their own events. The best defense against becoming high-strung or worried is tons of preparation. Here’s a rundown of how to get the party rolling long before it starts.

Make punch. A huge bowl of punch has all the allure of a sophisticated mixed cocktail without the necessity of paying individual attention to everyone’s drink. At its most basic, you can do a punch with freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices, Smirnoff Sorbet Light Lemon vodka, seltzer, and champagne; add drops of bitter for a more nuanced taste. Serve with plenty of ice.

Do all the little extras ahead of time. By this I mean scrub every countertop, clean every floor, wash every glass, caramelize every onion, assemble every crostini, arrange every cheese plate, and make and plate every dip and crudités platter. The more you can accomplish long before guests arrive, the more your hostess duties can have to do with introducing friends and setting up potential romances and less with basting some silly turkey.

On that note, your entire menu should be made up of foods that can be made ahead of time and taste just as great a few hours later, like these. That means yummy dips, trays of crostini, shrimp cocktail, chicken skewers, big grain salads, savory pies, roasted vegetables, and cheese plates. If you’re serving a sit-down meal, make a stew or a roast that merely needs pulling from the oven. If you need to check on dinner once or twice; fine. If it’s more than that, I guarantee you won’t have a good time.

Have extra booze on hand. My “quarter-life” crew is now approaching thirty, but it’s still self-evident to all of us the the beginning of the end of the party occurs when the booze supply runs dry and a guest has to bolt out for replacements. Have plenty of booze and mixers in your fridge and pantry when you start, and always ask friends to bring more.

Pre-game. Reward yourself with a cocktail about 30 minutes before the first guests arrive. Sip it (and any ones that follow) slowly so you can enjoy and relax!

I wrote this sponsored post in partnership with Smirnoff Sorbet Light and Style Coalition. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that help inspire BGSK’s content! 

How to: Bike to a Fall Picnic

Posted by on Wednesday Sep 25th, 2013

In my book, a good exercise session involves a worthy reward. I’ll walk for miles if my journey ends at the ice cream shop. I’ll jog—to meet a friend for a manicure. And if there’s a picnic finale for my bike ride, I’ll be pulling on my spandex shorts.

I love to bike—I really do. Since I spend a lot of time cooking and eating, and I’m known to mix up drinks to toast, with friends, to all our hard work, I end up craving the physical exertion of a cruise through the park, both the tough uphills and the exuberant downhills. (I waxed poetic about riding the Manhattan Bridge recently, in this post, and I’ll actually have more about biking for you tomorrow.)

By the time I’m done sweating, my mind and body are both in the mood to relax and hang out with friends. Even as summer gently morphs into fall, that hang out can still be a picnic. If you’re planning to meet up with friends, best to pack your blanket, snacks, and drinks in a sturdy backpack so you can concentrate on the ride. That means a couple laps around the park, or a decently long jaunt on the path by the waterfront.

I can’t carry all the picnic necessities as I ride, so any mobile picnic has to be a potluck. I’m happy to tote the bottle of Smirnoff Sorbet Light Lemon, so long as I’ve assigned the limes, seltzer, and lemon-lime soda to a buddy.

Other necessities? Cups, of course. Plates, napkins, and some kind of silverware is preferable, if you only use those plastic knives to cut limes and stir drinks. (I should say: check out the rules that apply to your public spaces to be sure you can drink there.) I also recommend a Frisbee, for when you get your second wind, post-ride.

Rest the bike, unpack the backpack, pop open the drink. Sitting at a post-bike picnic, matching cheese to crackers and sipping my cocktail, I’m pretty sure I’ll never dread working out again.

I wrote this sponsored post in partnership with Smirnoff Sorbet Light and Style Coalition. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that help inspire BGSK’s content! 

P.S. Great sandwiches for picnics.