I have lived in southern Minnesota for almost 15 years now but I’m only just beginning to really get a sense of the suburban geography of the Twin Cities metro. For example, for many years when I’d hear names like West St. Paul or South St. Paul I assumed people were referring to the western or southern bits of St. Paul. Now I know they’re actually referring to what are officially separate towns—both of these towns, by the way, have populations close to that of the town I live in, about 50 minutes south of the Twin Cities. And the demographics of these suburbs can vary quite a bit. South St. Paul, for example, has a large Hispanic population. Indeed, people of Hispanic descent are the second largest group in the city at nearly 15% of the population. I bring this up because it might explain why a Mexican seafood restaurant opened here, just about two years ago, during the pandemic and has managed to weather it so far. I’m not sure if there’s been much coverage of it elsewhere but I saw a reference to Las Islas on the excellent East Metro Foodies Facebook group a couple of weeks ago and my interest was piqued by their seafood-centered menu, heavy on ceviches and the like. And so this past weekend we descended on them with a couple of friends. Here is what we found. Continue reading
One of our favourite meals on my last visit to Los Angeles before the pandemic was at Holbox, the seafood-centered counter at Mercado La Paloma from the people who first brought us the excellent Chichen Itza. We have been plotting a return ever since, never expecting that it would take another three years. Of course, dining out on this trip was complicated. While proof of vaccination is required for dining in at restaurants in Los Angeles proper—the mandate is not really being followed elsewhere in LA County—our preference was also for dining outdoors whenever possible. Thankfully, both sets of caution were in evidence at this meal: proof of vaccination was checked stringently on entry to Mercado la Paloma to order our meal and there was excellent outdoor seating out front on a lovely, sunny day. And so, our meal. Continue reading
If you are familiar with rasams the idea of a seafood rasam may seem outlandish to you. Indeed, it would probably seem so to most Indians in India as well. In North India, in particular, South Indian food has long been associated with vegetarianism, and the same is true to an even larger extent outside India. The truth, in fact, is that the South is far more massively non-vegetarian than the North. Of course, in recent years non-vegetarian South Indian food has made more inroads into the North: the food of Kerala in particular has become more available and popular. Certain dishes, however, continue to be associated with vegetarianism, among them rasam, familiar to most North Indians as the peppery broth one drinks before getting stuck into a meal of idli-dosa-vada with sambar and coconut chutney. But, of course, that’s merely the hegemony of upper-caste Hindu norms at play. Non-vegetarian rasams abound in the South. All this to say that there is nothing very unusual or creative about the fact that this is a recipe for rasam with seafood. Which is not to suggest that what I have for you is a traditional recipe for seafood rasam. I have merely taken my usual prep for simple tomato rasam and enhanced the broth with the shellfish. Continue reading
Moilee—often also transliterated as “molee” or even “molly”—is a Malayali (as in from Kerala) stew made with coconut milk. Where a lot of Malayali food is very robustly spiced, and often very hot, moilees tend to be mild. They usually feature seafood of one kind or the other—typically fish or prawns. I make it with fish and prawns as well but mussels are really my seafood of choice for it. I haven’t come across mussels moilee in Malayali restaurants in Delhi but for all I know it’s a very common variation down Kerala way (I’ve never been). At any rate, I find the briny-umami flavour of mussels goes really well with the other flavours in the stew. As a bonus it’s also a very easy dish to make: I pulled it together in less than half an hour last evening. Continue reading
Almost exactly four months to the day that we arrived in Goa for a week’s holiday, here is a brief account of our first meal there. We were staying at the beautiful home of old friends (they weren’t there) in Velim in South Goa. South Goa has far less tourist traffic than North Goa does and so is far less hectic. By the same token there are fewer quality restaurants in the larger area, and in a small, sleepy village like Velim there are none. For the rest of the stay all our dinners would be at the house; but as we’d arrived in the evening of the first day it hadn’t been possible to get set up with the cook we’d made arrangements with in the village. I’d looked around before arrival to see what the options were that wouldn’t require us to drive another 30 minutes back in the direction of the airport and we settled on the outpost of The Fisherman’s Wharf in Cavelossim, not too far from the beach on which we would spend the majority of every day following. The Fisherman’s Wharf is a chain with a few locations in Goa and they’ve expanded as well to Bangalore and Hyderabad. We didn’t have any particular expectations but it turned out to be a decent meal on the whole, if nothing very exciting. Indeed, this meal included a few items that we consumed pretty much every day for the rest of the trip. Continue reading
We stayed on the Upper Westside while in New York last month in no small part because we were going to be spending a lot of time with the boys in the museums and in Central Park. For food-obsessed people like us, however, this presents some challenges as both the UWS and the UES are relative interesting food deserts, especially in close proximity to the big museums. On our first full day, however, we had a nice casual lunch at the UWS outpost of Luke’s Lobster, a chain with locations all over Manhattan and other places on the East Coast as well Las Vegas, San Francisco, Japan and Taiwan. Herewith a brief report. Continue reading
Well, I’m certainly not done with my reviews of meals in Delhi in December but thought I’d get started anyway with my reports from Los Angeles, where I met up with the missus and the brats after the end of my Delhi sojourn. As always, we ate out at least once a day. This was not our first meal out together on this trip but I want to start with it as I am writing this on a cloudy, damp Saturday in April and it feels good to recapture a bit of a much nicer Saturday morning in L.A in late December. And this meal at Holbox was one of our very favourite food outings.We spent the morning at the California Science Center—where you pay for all-day parking—popped out for lunch at Holbox, and then returned to spend the rest of the afternoon back at the Science Center and the African American Museum. A very good day. Continue reading
The food of the southwestern coast of India is something I had almost no sense of when I was growing up in India. I grew up all over India but, other than brief visits to Goa, never went further south than Hyderabad; and as an adult I didn’t spend much time in Bombay till after I’d left India for the US. It wasn’t until I ate at Swagath in Delhi in the early 2000s that I realized just how different the cuisine of coastal Karnataka, particularly Mangalore, and of the adjoining Konkan coast is from the South Indian cuisines I was more familiar with. And I just loved it. But as good as Swagath was in its heyday, its food cannot compare to what is available in Bombay—which makes sense as the cuisine is both seafood-heavy and because Bombay, due to proximity, is chock-full of people from those parts of the country. As a result, whenever I am in Bombay I try to eat at at least one restaurant that specializes in Mangalorean/Konkani/Malvani cuisines. On this trip Jai Hind Lunch Home was my first such stop. Continue reading
Malai curry is a quintessential Bengali dish of prawns cooked in coconut milk (in this version, with potatoes). It involves very few spices and is very easy to make. Doubtless, there are many variations among Bengali families. This recipe is from one of my aunts, one of the most redoubtable cooks in the extended family (my mother’s version is far less canonical). In Bengal it is common to make this with larger, head-on prawns. Head-on prawns/shrimp are always better because a) the more shell the more intense the prawn flavour, b) the texture of the meat is always better and c) the roe and other goo in the head both improve the flavour immeasurably and give the gravy a richer, red colour. I do make malai curry with head-on shrimp from East Asian stores from time to time but I try to avoid that as far as possible: given all the dubious stuff surrounding the harvesting of seafood in the region—from environmental concerns to the maltreatment of workers—without more knowledge of provenance it’s an ethical grey area. If only stores that did supply the provenance would stock head-on shrimp! Anyway, when I do succumb to temptation it’s usually for malai curry. Continue reading
I made this squash “bisque” with Indian spices for a dinner party recently and it turned out quite well. I put bisque in quotes because traditionally a bisque has shellfish or shellfish stock in it and this doesn’t. I was planning to deploy dried shrimp for that purpose but it turned out we were out. The Korean corner of the pantry, however, had some dried anchovies and so I used that instead. It came out very well. The picture here has mussels in it because when I heated up the leftovers a few days later, I brought it to a boil and threw in a pound of mussels. That made it even better. But it’s pretty good without the mussels (and would be very good with shrimp too) and, indeed, the recipe can be very easily adapted to make it vegetarian or even vegan (see below). Continue reading
I’ve posted a number of recipes that use my friend Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo beans. I think his beans are great and I haven’t had better. But I’ve secretly always thought that the best thing he carries might actually be a vinegar. Specifically, banana vinegar. It’s made from fermented bananas on a plantation in Mexico, and costs a lot, but it smells like heaven and tastes pretty good too. I can’t bring myself to cook with it; I can’t even bring myself to make a vinaigrette with it: instead, I just pour glugs of it over things so I can get that aroma. This summer I’ve been making a number of warm salads that use it to impart a tang with just the right amount of fruity sweetness. Here is a recent version that came out quite well. It features “baby” octopus along with another great Rancho Gordo product, their incredibly fresh garbanzo beans. If you don’t have octopus at hand or it’s not to your taste, you can just as easily substitute shrimp; you could even make it vegetarian and go with potatoes instead. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I posted a recipe for something I called “Hot and Sour Shrimp Curry“. Well, you could call this one “Hotter and Sourer Shrimp Curry”, or “Shrimp Curry in a Kerala Style, Generally Speaking”. I prefer to call it “Prawns of Doom”. It’s really quite hot, you see; but it’s also very balanced: you don’t feel the full force of the heat till you breathe out; the richness of the coconut milk lulls you and then the heat hits you. And despite the coconut milk it’s also quite sour—unlike the previous recipe, which used tomatoes, the sourness here comes from tamarind and quite a bit of it. It’s a slightly fussy recipe, ingredients and preparation-wise but if you like hot food, give it a go. As noted above, it’s in a very general Kerala/Malayali style. That is to say that the core of the dish is a mash up of some recipes in Vijayan Kannampilly’s Essential Kerala Cookbook and Mrs. Mathew’s Flavours of the Spice Coast, but there are a couple of twists of my own in there. It ends up tasting very much like a Malayali/Kerala dish but it’s not following a traditional recipe. Continue reading
Here is a shrimp version of a dish I’ve been riffing on ever since we got back from Delhi in early February. It is loosely inspired by a shrimp dish I ate at Coast Cafe in Hauz Khas Village, but it is based not on any recipe but on following taste memory. It’s reasonably close to that dish in some of my versions but it’s not the same. That was a canonical Kerala/Malayali dish, this one is not—though, for all I know, it may be close enough to someone’s traditional, family recipe. I’ve made it with fish as well—whole and fillets—and there’s probably no reason you couldn’t also try to adapt it for pumpkin or tofu if you wanted to make a vegetarian or vegan version.
It’s a slightly fussy recipe but yields a delicious hot and sour curry tempered and rendered rich by coconut milk. Continue reading
It’s been a while since I’ve posted an Indian recipe. And the one I have today may please those, like my friend the bean king, who complain that my recipes call for too many esoteric ingredients that most non-Indian cooks don’t have lying around the kitchen. This is a very simple recipe that produces quite delicious results. And it’s healthy to boot, packed as it is with veg. I guess it’s a Bengali’ish recipe. It’s in the style of a general way of making shrimp/fish dishes that my mother and a couple of my aunts follow: lots of potatoes and veg and only ginger, turmeric, red chilli powder, green chillies and whole garam masala to flavour the sauce/curry. Following my mother, I use a lot of tomatoes and some garlic too, and this is not very traditionally Bengali. But traditions, you know, are always on the move. At any rate, this is simple enough to make, and you might give it a go. Continue reading
I was in Costco the other day and purchased, as one does at Costco, a five and a half pound bag of mussels. This seemed like a good idea as the problem—how to dispose of five and a half pounds of mussels—is one that can only have delicious solutions. I cooked half of them the evening of purchase: I made a quick tomato-garlic sauce with sliced onions and tossed the mussels in for the last five minutes while the pasta was cooking. It turned out quite well and in an unexpected turn of events both boys asked to try the mussels and quite liked them. And so tonight I reversed course on my original plan for the second half of the bag, which had been to improvise a South Indian style spicy seafood stew with coconut milk, and went back to the pasta pot. I didn’t have any good canned tomatoes at hand, however, and so threw this together instead with stuff that was in the fridge and pantry. It came out quite well, if I do say so myself, and the boys gave it the thumbs up too. So there you have it: two small children with dubious taste have endorsed this dish. I’m throwing this recipe up here so I can remember what I did if they ask for it again.