Every Chinatown is famous for its duck dishes. Yaowarat in Bangkok is no different. This sweet noodle dish is complete with duck blood, liver and, at an extra charge, duck tongue! The roasted crunchy garlic and the five spice powder elevate the natural sweetness of the meat to perfection. I was blown away.

Yaowarat, Bangkok, Thailand

The Grilled Cheese

It is not my goal to be prescriptive with anything but it’s hard for me not to have an opinion about certain things that are near and dear to my heart — such as grilled cheese. 

Grilled cheese is not about the cheese, on the contrary, it is about the bread. It’s about the crust, the flakiness, and the melted cheese oozing through the bread’s deliberate holes, forming a crust where it hits the pan. 

Use your choice of fat (I prefer EVOO or clarified butter) and brown on medium high heat — preferably on a skillet for best results.

I sliced the bread slightly thicker than a cm or about half an inch thick. The best bread I could find for this grilled cheese is bread that I baked! 

In this grilled cheese, I used one tbsp of the pesto below and one and a half slices of Muenster cheese. 

Pesto

Process three cloves of garlic, 14-18 large basil leaves, three tbsps of EVOO, 1 1/2 tbsp of toasted pine nuts, one tbsp of Carr Valley Monastery Cheese

Garlic Sage Bread 

Prep: 

Combine three c of all purpose flour; 1 5/8 c of water; 2 tsp of salt; 1/4 tsp of instant dry yeast. Cover in a container with plastic wrap. Let rise on the counter for 18 hours. Incorporate your aromatics (12 cloves of garlic, eight thin transverse sliced sage leaves).

Bake:

Knead with a generous amount of flour on a clean surface for five minutes. Cover with corn meal, let rest for no less than 90 minutes. In the last thirty minutes, set the oven to 450 and throw in your enameled pot with its lid into the oven. Carefully take the pot out and place the dough in it. Bake for thirty minutes with lid on, remove lid and bake another 15-30 minutes to achieve desired color.

Taste: 

The garlic roasts beautifully and is abundant in the bread. The sage comes through gently and complements the garlic. The process produces a airy, crusty and hearty bread. 

Heartman’s Hungarian Sausage

This is a smoked sausage with Hungarian paprika flavor, crispy skin, and juicy but hearty texture.

Source amateurgourmet.com

Pomfret curry 

With brown basmati, preserved limes, papad

My roommate and I cooked this dish together. His understanding of Maharashtrian cooking goes far beyond the basics. The credit for this dish goes entirely to him. 

Procurement: 

  • Curry leaves, fresh turmeric, pomfret, green chilis, coconut: Your local Indian Market. Yes, if you live in the United States, it’s very likely that there is a South Asian market near your community. There are six South Asian stores in Alaska! 
Understanding the ingredients: 
  • Fresh turmeric: Unlike the dried, powdered product, fresh turmeric does not taste woody. While still earthy, the rhizome has a bright carrot flavor with pungent idiosyncratic turmeric spiciness. Since the simmer is acidic, turmeric gives orange color to the dish. 
  • Curry leaves: This is the first time I’m working with curry leaves. They are used in a similar way to bay leaves. The leaf has piney, lemony, fresh and very distinct aroma. 
  • Pomfret: A fatty and fishy fish. Not very flaky. Virtually no scales. Easy to clean. Reminiscent in texture of the Mediterranean Sarda sarda (i.e. Bonito, Tr. Palamut). 
  • Tamarind: I used the kind that is pressed into a brick after the rind has been removed. 
  • Lime pickle: This condiment brings a very strong lime flavor to the table. It is pungent, spicy and acidic. Lime, salt, turmeric and red chilis are the predominant flavors. This is not a good pairing with a curry that uses a tamarind base as it is already very acidic. 

Preparation:

  • Dice: 1/2 tbsp of fresh turmeric, 3/4 tbsp of fresh ginger; 8 cloves of garlic; two green chilis. Process in coffee grinder: All diced ingredients with 1/2 tbsp of cumin. Reference photo for texture. This is a rough paste. Feel free to use your stone mortar and pestle — mine was not rough enough to turn the ingredients into a paste.
  • Soak and de-seed 1/3 c of tamarind brick in three cups of water for 45-60 mins
  • Coconut milk: Watch video to crack coconut:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2UyVEm4Osg . Process white firm flesh in processor with one to two cups of water. Squeeze the pulp by hand and discard. You don’t necessarily need to peel the brown thin rind. We’ll be discarding the pulp.
  • De-stem curry leaves
  • Clean pomfret: Cut off fins; empty cuts; remove head. Cut the fish transverse into half inch slices.
  • For the papad: Dice an onion, a tomato, three tbsp of cilantro. Season with paprika and salt. Microwave papad for 30-45 seconds. Top with one tbsp of the mixture. Papad can also be pan-fried or deep fried for a different texture. 

Building layers of flavors: 

Prepare your mis-en-place. Timing is key here. 

  • In four tbsp of hot oil, fry half a tbsp of black mustard seeds for two minutes. Lower temperature from high to medium. 
  • Add fifteen curry leaves to the frying oil. After thirty seconds, add the paste. Keep frying on medium heat until the fragrance has filled your entire kitchen
  • Add tamarind broth, bring to simmer. Add coconut milk, bring to simmer. You can increase temperature after liquids have been added. Lower the temperature before you add the fish. Add a tsp of the garam and the chili each. Taste and add more if needed.
  • Add the fish cuts to the simmering broth. Cook on medium heat for 20 minutes. 

Taste:

Curry

The resulting broth is zesty, complex, curious and rich. The predominant flavor is the tamarind. It is on the front, very bold with the curry leaves, the ginger and the garlic. The fresh green chilis and the chili masala along with the acidic broth are calmed slightly by the coconut milk. The richness I referred to earlier is not a reflection on the fat content or the consistency of the curry — the resulting curry is rather thin and lean but rich in flavor and depth. 

The fish is firm fleshed but yet absorbs the flavor of the curry very well. The sweet, fishy taste of the animal is complemented by the overall acidity of the broth. 

This fish is a great choice for the curry but any white, firm fleshed, less flaky varieties that can withstand the simmering would be great with this broth. As I drew the comparison earlier, mackerel would be a great substitute. 

Papad

Due to the very low moisture content, this very dry lentil sheet becomes very crisp after 30-45 seconds in the microwave. We topped it with the fresh chopped ‘salsa’-like mix that just brought additional brightness to the meal. Papad makes a great alternative to naans, kolchas, parathas or rotis. I can imagine a world where Indian tapas are served on papads. 

The king of all mezes — Chilled roasted eggplant and tomato salad:
Most restaurants in Istanbul will fry the eggplant. I prefer roasting the tomatoes and the eggplants first before incorporating the flavors with garlic. We want some char on the tomatoes and the eggplant. This is another salad where we will retain some of the eggplant texture and not roast it until it’s silky. Season your eggplants and tomatoes prior to roasting and note that tomatoes will take about 1/4 the time to reach doneness relative to your cubed eggplants. Garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper are the only ingredients. 
Once the roasting is done, find a hot stainless steel pan and cover it with good olive oil. Add the eggplants and fry for a couple minutes in the hot oil. Add your garlic and tomatoes after the eggplant has absorbed some of the olive oil. Fry for another minute, season to taste, and set aside for cooling. Ideally you should refrigerate this at least for a couple hours if not overnight for the flavors to develop further. 
Before roasting, remove half the skin and chop the eggplants into 1-2 inch half moons. Wash in a salt water bath for 1-2 hours before roasting. Cover with olive oil. The skin will dry out easily without some protection. High-res

The king of all mezes — Chilled roasted eggplant and tomato salad:

Most restaurants in Istanbul will fry the eggplant. I prefer roasting the tomatoes and the eggplants first before incorporating the flavors with garlic. We want some char on the tomatoes and the eggplant. This is another salad where we will retain some of the eggplant texture and not roast it until it’s silky. Season your eggplants and tomatoes prior to roasting and note that tomatoes will take about 1/4 the time to reach doneness relative to your cubed eggplants. Garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper are the only ingredients. 

Once the roasting is done, find a hot stainless steel pan and cover it with good olive oil. Add the eggplants and fry for a couple minutes in the hot oil. Add your garlic and tomatoes after the eggplant has absorbed some of the olive oil. Fry for another minute, season to taste, and set aside for cooling. Ideally you should refrigerate this at least for a couple hours if not overnight for the flavors to develop further. 

Before roasting, remove half the skin and chop the eggplants into 1-2 inch half moons. Wash in a salt water bath for 1-2 hours before roasting. Cover with olive oil. The skin will dry out easily without some protection.

Guinea Pig (Cuy) at Tres Estrellas (Cuenca, Ecuador):

I am not a connoisseur of this Andean tradition but I am a big fan since visiting Tres Estrellas. Ordered a day in advance with an appointment, this animal is marinated with garlic, cumin and salt and slow roasted on a spit until crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. The meat is sweet with the garlic flavor penetrating every little bit. The texture and the fattiness is similar to that of a plump chicken’s dark meat. The layers of meat are less chunky even on the legs than that of chicken. But the skin — oh the skin. It is so amazing that you reach divinity through your eyelids. The thin layer of flesh between the ribs and the skin dries out a little bit but the juice left from the isolation the thin crispy skin provides against the slow fire is so spectacular that the full comprehension of the subtle taste of the garlic and the sweet meat, and the contrast of the textures of the skin and the thin layer of meat requires the utmost concentration. 

The innards are bonus. The liver is milder in flavor with a similar texture to rabbit liver. I thought the heart was lacking flavor but had a pleasant texture. The cheeks were dried were unfortunately dried out. The brain was mostly dried out. Keep in mind that the head is mostly exposed to the fire because the skin is much thinner there. 

The delicacy is served with usual condiments typical of a traditional Ecuadorean restaurant: A potato stew (with hard boiled eggs), choclo or mote (steamed corn), a salsa of tomate de arbol (tree tomato), a spicy pepper and tomato salsa, and corn nuts. 

We started the meal with canalazo, which is an herbal tea infused with the wonderful Zhumir, the local spirit that is brewed similarly to the Turkish Raki with anise seeds and sugarcane. A very pleasant aperitif!