Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Breaking News: Tuna Salad I Actually Like!

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, it's going to come as no surprise to you that I have a long-standing dislike of tuna. Particularly tuna salad--most tuna salad, in my experience, is all tuna all the time, and there's nothing to balance out that taste for me. My dislike only really applies to canned tuna, also, because I liked the fresh tuna that Noah and I ate in Italy. But that's to be expected...does it really surprise anyone that fresh tuna, prepared well in a beautiful Italian restaurant tastes better than the canned stuff? I didn't think so.

Today, though, I had a tuna salad that changed my mind. Back when I was totally broke, my best friend sent me the link to the blog Poor Girl Eats Well, and I've been reading it for months. I'm actually doing fabulously budget-wise right now (and by "fabulously" I mean that I have between $2000-3000 in the bank; I don't need much to get by) due in part to a brand-new job in my career field (I work as a part-time care provider for adults with disabilities. Working with people with disabilities is the career I'm studying for now. It doesn't get any better than this!), but it's still good to have ideas for food I can make without being able to feel my bank account wincing. The writer of the blog recently posted a recipe for Mediterranean-style Tuna Salad, and I made it tonight. I was expecting "this is something I could eat and be okay with", and the first couple bites were that way. As I kept eating, though, I found myself legitimately thinking "I love this!". The idea that I would ever love anything with tuna is a pretty astounding achievement in and of itself. I will definitely make this again! So thanks, Poor Girl Eats Well, for helping me like tuna!

Mediterranean-Style Tuna Salad
(The only change I made to this recipe was that I had a 1/2 pound of chickpeas that I had soaked and wasn't sure what to do with, so I cooked them until they were tender and added them to the salad for even more protein and taste variation. I'll probably do it every time I make it! Because I will definitely be making this more than once.)

2 cans tuna
2 tomatoes
1 small cucumber
1/2 red onion
5 oz low-fat feta cheese (she calls for 4 oz., but I used all 5 because I had the chickpeas)
1 c baby spinach
Salt & pepper to taste

Chop all veggies into 1” chunks and place into a bowl. Drain the tuna of its water and add it to the veggies, followed by the baby spinach. Crumble the feta onto the rest of the ingredients and toss lightly until everything is completely coated with the feta. Add salt & pepper if needed.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

But Where Did the Chometz Come From? (Rego Park's Tandoori Bakery)

After reading this post from Taxi Gourmet, Tandoori Bakery in Rego Park, Queens, immediately went on my "to go" list. Today Florence and I decided to try it out - remembering only on the way that Pesach starts tomorrow evening and that Tandoori very well might not be making anything involving chometz. (The restaurant is kosher and is closed on Shabbos.) This feeling was compounded on the twenty-minute walk there first by the multiple closed kosher shops we passed and then by at least five signs on Tandoori's window proclaiming that it is kosher, kosher for Pesach, and closed for the entire week of the holiday. Oh, and that all of the its chometz has been sold.

So, happily and confusingly, the first thing we saw when we walked in was bread everywhere! Lots of what we later learned was lepeshka - Bukharan bread - and a few samsas, or the Central Asian baked version of samosas. It took a few minutes to get anybody's attention as the counter was quite crowded, but we managed to secure ourselves a table. This in itself was unexpected, as given the name (Tandoori Bakery) we were expecting some sort of counter-only place. But no, there were plenty of tables, and in fact one group of men by the window looked as if they had been there since about 9am and planned to stay all through the afternoon and well into the night. (We got there around 12:30pm.) It really was like walking into a different world in a lot of ways: one where everything was written in Cyriliic, about half the men were wearing yarmulkes, and vodka was not only accepted but standard for lunchtime. I later mentioned to Florence that it seemed like the Uzbek version of Vin Cafe, the restaurant in Alba, Italy, where we whiled away far too many nights with dinner and wine. Not usually the mornings, though.

We pored over the menu for awhile - I tried to figure out what the Cyrillic side said but am not very good at that alphabet yet - and settled on a few items. A pot of tea (mandatory, I think), lepeshka, two samsas, and marinated cabbage salad. I took the waitress' industriously scribbling silence as a good thing, but what arrived - tea, bread, one samsa, and carrot salad - proved me otherwise. No matter - it was all fantastic. We requested another samsa, but when I picked mine up it soon became apparent that we had a small mountain of food on our hands. As we saw the other tables lingering over their meals, we relaxed - this was not a place to tear through and leave in a half hour. Spending a few hours here listening to the chatter and people-watching would be just fine, thank you. Especially when we could watch the corner table repeatedly get up and stumble out the door (did I mention they had Absolut AND Grey Goose?) to say goodbye to one of their number.

A bit of research tells me that lepeshka (think nine-inch-diameter bialy) is baked in a tandoor, as are the samsas. Both have the combination of crispy bottom and chewy top that clay ovens do so well. The samsa filling was beef, onions, and cumin - kind of an Uzbek empanada, as I've seen some other places call it. The carrot salad is called morkovcha and is, according to this Times article, "a legacy of Stalin's mass deportations of ethnic Koreans from the far eastern Soviet Union to its western frontiers." It consists of shredded raw carrots in a dressing that is mostly vinegar, green onions, and raw garlic. In that it is surprisingly similar to liangban huanggua, the Chinese salad of sliced cucumbers dressed with sesame oil and raw garlic that we'd had the night before at Lao Bei Fang. The morkovcha was delicious, although there was a ton of it. But we did pretty well with our small mountain of edibles, and when we left, the last guy at the corner table had just gotten another pot of tea to work though. I have a feeling there was more vodka coming as well.

Tandoori Bakery
99-04 63rd Road
Rego Park, Queens
closed on Shabbos - sundown Friday to at least one hour after sundown Saturday

Saturday, April 9, 2011

An Ode to Dumpling Soup

I did promise to talk about som tam, but I haven't been able to find myself at many of the neighborhood's Thai places in the past week or two. Instead I've been eating a lot of dumplings and soup. I think that's what happens when "spring" turns out to be day after day of 45 degrees and grey drizzle. I thought I wasn't in Michigan any more, but maybe the greyness follows you after you leave.

So: dumplings. Yesterday I got off work and I really wasn't in the mood for cooking anything. I was, in fact, in the mood for curling up at a bookstore for a couple hours (which I did!) and then for going to my favorite Elmhurst dumpling house, Lao Bei Fang. I walked in fully intending to order boiled dumplings and eat them with plenty of chilies in oil - and then I smelled the soup. As far as I could tell, every single person in that place was either having soup or hot pot. Given that it was just over 40 degrees with that sort of chill damp outside, I couldn't blame them. But I wasn't hungry enough for noodle soup, so I went with dumpling soup.

For $3.50 there, you can get eight dumplings in a bowl of pork broth, with scallions, cilantro, and bok choy - Shanghai choy, I think - to add some green to your meal. The leeks and chives in the dumplings also help, but the dumplings have a slightly higher pork-to-green ratio than I would like. Nevertheless they are excellent - the wrappers are thick as I like them (I think they're wheat, but I'm not sure), and there is enough deliciously porky juice inside to make you think that Lao Bei Fang could turn out some fantastic soup dumplings if they had the inclination to do so (and any Shanghainese on staff, which I'm sure they don't). The meat is good quality and is just barely cooked, not rubbery or compressed.

The soup itself is a clean and clear pork broth, slightly salty but not too much so. Last night I had half the soup unadorned and then added a spoonful of chilies for the extra smoky and spicy notes in the second half - I like it both ways and didn't want to choose. The cilantro is an unusual flavor for me to associate with Chinese food and helps to cut the richness of the dumplings, and the few stems of bok choy make it feel like you're eating some semblance of a balanced meal. This is definitely winter food, but appropriate as it may as well still be winter here in New York.