Sunday, May 24, 2009

Istanbul-Deep Fried Love

I am a firm believer that eggplant should be deep fried. For those of you nodding your head that this makes perfect sense, you must realize what a Dr. Phil breakthrough that is for me. You see, I battle daily with the nutritionist on one shoulder and the foodie on the other. One telling me everything that is remotely tasty is laden with calories and I will become obese and die of a heart attack, or worse, from sex deprivation. The other tells me that enjoying my food is as vital to life as the air we breathe. Some days the nutritionist wins, other days the nutritionist loses. However, there are certain foods or processes I deem unworthy of a fat ass. French fries, potato chips, hot dogs, hamburgers, soda with sugar are not worthy, chocolate on the other hand is perfectly OK.

So imagine my surprise, while in Istanbul for work, I had this deep fried eggplant stuffed with a meat tomato sauce called karniyarik. It was melt-in-your-mouth good with smoky flavor and rich mouth feel. Finally, I knew what I had been doing wrong all along. I was trying to prepare eggplant in low-fat way and I often failed miserably. Eggplant is temperamental, and I have wasted a couple of very nice and plump purple behemoths in my attempts to make eggplant Parmesan. They always ended up tasting bitter and waterlogged.

Eggplant reminds me of celebrity in and out of rehab. Great when it's high (or, rather deep fried) but tasteless and bitter when its sober.

Besides being forever grateful to Turkish people for opening my eyes to the rewards of using a deep fryer, I was also introduced to a few new spices. Two different types of hot pepper called maras and urfus. Maras is the same deep red like paprika color but the flakes are larger, similar to the size of Kosher salt grains. Initially it's not spicy. But it slowly sneaks up on you, almost like when you take a taxi in Turkey, one minute your fare is 14 Turkish Liras the next it's past 31 YTL.

My trip to Istanbul would not be complete without a visit to the Spice Market. My favorite part about travelling, is heading to the nearest market. Moving from stall to stall, I bought apple tea, Turkish coffee, Turkish saffron, maras, urfu, rose petal jam, and some pomegranate Turkish delight. I get so excited when I see spices, like a kid in the candy shop, because they offer an opportunity for me to experiement-and of course show off my worldy foodie knowledge.
Bins of dried peppers in the Spice Market, Istanbul

The cuisine shares many similarities with other Mediterranean countries, namely Greece. However, there are obvious differences. To name a few; the use of pistachio in baklava, the donar, use of chili peppers, and their yogurt with cucumber is thin and almost watery.

Baklava with pistachio, the center one is also filled with a sweet semolina mix. Not as sweet as Greek Baklava.

Just to be certain that my eggplant epiphany wasn't a one time deal, I also tried a cold appetizer with fried eggplant and stuffed with rice. Again, it confirmed that this was a veg meant for the deep fryer and I have happily added two new eggplant dishes to my recipe Rolodex.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Take me to China Town, via the 7 train.

I have never ventured into Flushing before, call it snobbish or lazy, but Queens never held any real appeal to me. Why would I spend over 40 minutes on two trains to get food, when I could be in Mid-town chowing down in under 30 minutes.

It turns out there are two good reasons why I should. First, the ability to sample some pretty authentic Chinese cuisine, from all over China without fake Louis V's shoved in your face every two seconds. The second reason is the value for money.

Immediately after getting off the 7 train on Roosevelt street and Main street is this tiny shack serving up crispy Peking duck with hoisin sauce and shallots in a soft and fluffy rice pancake. The price? $1.00! I did a walking/eating tour of Flushing with a group of girls from NYU. We all pitched in $15 into a collective pot and went from shop to shop sharing our goodies. Our first stop included the duck wraps and also rice pancakes with either pork, shrimp or beef topping, and scrambled eggs. To best describe the later dish, it was like a lazy version of dumplings. You had the slick and gummy texture from the rice pancake and the beef or shrimp on top of the pancake had the same flavor you would expect in a dumpling.

We found a whole in the wall food court, and sampled some food from Western China. Due to Muslim influence, there was no pork, but delicious cumin spiced lamb in a flat bread. The vegetarian cold noodles called Liana-pi were spicy and the combination of mung beans and fat noodles was great. We washed it down with a plastic container filled with warm soy milk, fresh and slightly sweet.

Across from our stall we watched a man making hand pulled noodles. I admired how he could take a mass of dough and transform it into long thin strands of noodles.

Our last two stops on the eating tour were bakeries. I got my mandatory bun filled with red bean paste at Sun Mary Bakery (133-57 41 Road, Flushing). I love how it's savory with a hint of sweetness. We also bought some sugar seaweed cookies. Interesting flavor, but one is definitely enough.
Next we went to Paris Bakery (38-19B Union Street, Flushing), a Korean take on French pastries. The dough is perfectly flaky and golden, only the fillings are more Asian inspired. I tried a sweet potato and a sweet pea filling. I wouldn't say that it was my favorite filling, but I always like trying something once. I would definitely give the chocolate filling a try next time.

In the end, we had only spent a total of $5 dollars each. Unbelievable. We were so stuffed and had such a variety of food. I may be heading to Flushing more often than I thought.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Class by the Glass

When I first laid eyes on the temperature controlled glass cases that not only showcased wines from around the world, but also acted as a modern-day vending machine dispensing 4oz at a time, my first thought was this is going to be fun. My second thought was how do I get one of these for my lunch room at work?

This is modern technology meets enology.

My friend and I have been dying to check out Clo in the Time Warner Center in NYC for a while now. We finally went this past Monday and I was pretty impressed. Now I feel like the keeper of a really cool secret, only it's not a secret anymore because I am telling you all about it.

Clo is a small wine bar, but with big intentions. It completely changes the whole wine experience. You are seated at the bar, left to your own devices, to casually peruse the wide selection of wines using an interactive computer screen that projects on to the communal table. Even though I suffer from a mild case techno-apathy -I may be the only person in New York without an iphone, and I just recently learned of twitter- I was intuitively searching for white wines from France, between $7-$14 a glass. The tricky part comes when the computer narrows the search down and displays the results. You scroll through the selection of wines using your fingertips and read the sommelier notes, which is fantastic, only that I was never able to get control of my scrolling. I was constantly going past the bottle I wanted to read about and I hadn't even had my first glass of wine yet.

After I was able to read the sommelier notes about my wine selection I looked at the price per glass and the location of the wine, for instance D3. I insert my plastic card-similar to a hotel card- in the glass case housing the wine bottles in the D section and hold my wine glass under the dispensor for that bottle. Voila. I have my 4oz of wine.

My friends and I shared a small cheese plate - they offer cheese or charcuterie- while we sipped our wines. We browsed the wine lists looking for varietals and out of curiosity looked for the most expensive wine. The highest priced glass was $92 for a Californian wine, the bottle was $695, which took me by surprise. But, what do I know about wine? I was sticking in $12 a glass range and I was more than satisfied.

It was definitely a fun place to go for drinks, and practical too. I can't count the amount of times that I would have a nice glass of wine and completely forget the name. With this system you can inconspicously jot down the name, the grape, and even some of the sommelier notes in a notebook- in my case- or for the rest of the world in your iphones and Blackberries without drawing any attention to your inability to remember what you just drank.