Free Range on Food: Indian Food, USDA's 'People's Garden', More

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, April 22, 2009; 1:00 PM

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way. This week, Food Section staffers are exploring the modernization of Indian food, visiting the USDA's new People's Garden, and more. They were online Wednesday, April 22 at 1 p.m. ET.

Archive of past discussions

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Joe Yonan: Welcome, Rangers, to another hour-long feeding frenzy. What can we get for you today? I don't know about you, but I've got Indian food on the brain. Hmm... Why is that? Oh, yes -- it's because we had two fab pieces on the subject today, including Monica Bhide's lively call for spicing up a cocktail party. Ms. M is in the house, ready to help answer any queries you have on the subject.

But that's not all we're up to today. Jane got a preview of the USDA garden being planted by Tom Vilsack's crew, too. How will his garden grow?

Throw any and all questions at us, and as always we'll do our best to bat them back. And prizes await: For our favorite posts, we'll have a signed copy of Monica's new "Modern Spice" as well as a DVD set of the complete first season of the original UK version of "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares."

Let's cook.

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Colesville, Md.: My husband loves Indian food. He could eat it every night. I once tried to make channa masala (spicy chickpeas). The guy at the Indian grocery said it was impossible for me to do so and insisted that I should buy a boxed mix for it. It did not come out well. Later I tried my own recipe, that had some of the right flavors but lacked the rich complex flavor of the one we order. When I told them at the restaurant that I tried to make my own, they laughed at me. They said this dish must be made in massive amounts for it to have the right flavor and couldn't be cooked for just two people. What's the deal? Is this some sort of magical dish?

Monica Bhide: I think the restaurant is trying to keep you as a customer! I don't think channa masala is hard to prepare at all. Everyone has a different recipe. My mother has a very simple method that works well. Soak the dry chickpeas over night. Drain and rinse well the next morning. Cook them in a dutch oven or a pressure cooker along with whole cinnamon, sliced onions, sliced ginger, peppercorns and cloves. When the beans are soft, remove from heat. Drain and set aside.

In a pot, heat some oil, add dried ground coriander, garam masala, red chili, a few tablespoons of store-bought chana masala and salt. Add the chick peas and mix well. Continue to cook for about ten minutes until the flavors meld.

(A lot of recipes for this dish use onions and tomatoes, this simple one does not but I think it has a great flavor).

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POM: Hi there, just curious, is the pomegranate drink in today's section a "mocktail"? (Sorry, it may be an obvious question to most, but I have no experience with grenadine except to know it goes in cocktails). Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Pomegranate Delight (The Washington Post, April 22, 2009)

Bonnie Benwick: The Food Lover's Companion says some brands of grenadine might contain alcohol (a popular one, Rose's Grenadine, does not have any listed on its label).

Monica Bhide: Also, I believe the recipe has white rum...

Joe Yonan: That would take the mock right out of the tail, wouldn't it?

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Baltimore, Md.: Concerning the modernization of Indian food, are food traditions in general eroding because people now are taking their personal likes and dislikes too seriously?

Monica Bhide: I really hope not! I have a very traditional background and I think this is what gives me the privilege to play with spices and to show off the depth and breadth of what Indian cuisine really is. Modernization to me means making this easier for the home cook (who may not have access to all the ingredients or kitchen help that is available back in India) but ensuring that the flavors pack a punch. I also hope that this in turn creates new traditions!

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Upper NW: Re: today's article on Indian hors d'oeuvres. Can you advise on Indian grocers within a 20 minute or so drive from D.C.? There must be an alternative to the $9 paneer I've been buying at Whole Foods. Thanks!

Monica Bhide: Thanks for your question! Here are a few stores. Many Indian products can be found at mainstream supermarkets, but local Indian grocers are most likely to stock the widest selection. Call to verify availability of any particular product.

-- Aditi Spice Depot,409 Maple Ave. E., Vienna; 703-938-3400.

-- Dana Bazar,12215 Nebel St., Rockville; 301-231-7546.

-- Patel Brothers,2074 University Blvd., Langley Park, 301-422-1555; 15110 Frederick Rd., Rockville, 301-340-8656; 11116 Lee Hwy., Fairfax, 703-273 7400.

-- Shivam Music and Spices,11127 Lee Hwy., Fairfax; 703-591-5116

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Silver Spring, Md.: Yum! I love Indian food. My local restaurant does tandoori salmon. It is delicious. Is there some way to do tandoori at home or is a special oven needed? Thanks.

Monica Bhide: Thanks for your question. I did a piece for the Washington Post on this very topic! Here you go.

Here is recipe for my favorite Tandoori Salmon that I hope you will enjoy.

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New York, N.Y.: Hi guys! I loved Monica Bhide's article today. Do you have her recipe for the dessert cookies (cardamom or anise)? And where can you buy chocolate cups to put the Indian ice creams in? That sounds heavenly.

Monica Bhide: Thanks!! The dessert cups are sold at places like whole foods and here is one on Amazon.

The new book has a recipe for a Saffron Cardamom Macaroon that you might like. You can also try adding a touch of ground cardamom to plain sugar cookie dough. It is super simple but gives a lovely flavor.

Joe Yonan: Cardamom is one of my favorite spices, btw. And as for those macaroons -- we had them at Monica's book party last night, and they rocked.

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NoVa reader: Thanks, foodies, for today's story by Ms. Bhide. I've been a big fan of her cookbooks -- nice to know there's a new one coming. I recently moved to the Fairfax area and am wondering if she could suggest a couple Indian markets where I could find the tamarind paste and other ingredients she mentions. Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Masala, Where You'd Least Expect It (The Washington Post, April 22, 2009)

Monica Bhide: Thanks so much! Aditi Spice Depot in Vienna has a good selection. Also, I believe they have a branch in Herndon now.

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Burke, Va.: Speaking of authentic East Asian food -- including Indian -- what are good sources for goat in the area? Do any of the farmer's markets have vendors who bring it or a specific ethnic food store? Anywhere in the D.C. area is fine.

Monica Bhide: Thanks for your question. I don't know too many places, but I believe that Gourmet Halal Meat in Chantilly had goat. Please call to confirm before you head there.

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Mandolin help?: Whenever I use my mandolin for things like onions or potatoes, it never fails that one side of the slice will be thicker than the other. I've tried using the hand guard, not using the hand guard, different pressures on the blade, but I never get evenly-sliced pieces. What am I doing wrong? The mandolin is single blade, not expensive and not used very much.

Joe Yonan: No wonder you're having problems -- you're trying to use a musical instrument to cut onions and potatoes? Oh, oh, you mean a MANDOLINE -- my mistake. What model do you have? Is it a little Japanese style? Does it by chance have little screws on each side? If so, there's your culprit -- when I tested the Benriner years ago (now it's sold as Joyce Chen Benriner), I also noticed that you could get uneven slices if you didn't adjust those screws to just the same spot on each side. If that's not it, I wonder if your blade has gotten warped somehow. Anyhow, some of the best ones are not very expensive, so you might think about replacing. If I were to buy another one, I'd go for the Kyocera ceramic one, which is only 25 bucks.

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Gardener, DC: I think it's great that the Obamas and now the Sec of Ag are creating their own local gardens and promoting gardening as a sustainable and economic alternative to the supermarket. However, not all of us, especially here in D.C., are so lucky to have outdoors space to plant some vegetables, much less acres on the mall.

After looking at the cost and difficulty of a CSA, and moving into a new apt with a balcony, I am going to try my hand at container gardening this year -- but I don't quite know what I am doing -- I understand it is pretty different than planting in the ground. Do you have any online resources or tips for those of us who are trying to do our part and eat fresh veggies and herbs, but have space restrictions?

Jane Black: I feel your pain. I don't even have a balcony!

There are a ton of container gardening books and lots of resources online -- a quick Google search reveals hundreds of link. And our wonderful gardening columnists Adrian Higgins and Barbara Damrosch write about this topic often.(I liked one about planting vegetables in a barrel. Finally, we also recently ran an article about people lending their backyard space to would-be gardeners so maybe that's an option.

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Urge, NT: I am making a walnut pie tonight. The recipe calls for margarine, but I do not want to use margarine (because I will not use the leftover portion). What is a good substitute? Is whatever you suggest a 1-to-1 substitute? If butter is a substitute, should I use salted or unsalted butter? Thanks so much!

Bonnie Benwick: Urge, is it an older recipe, or can you tell why it called for margarine in the first place (nondairy, kosher, "health" of the '70s-'80s)? Is the margarine used for the crust or filling or both? I've baked with Earth Balance, blend of oils, soy protein and lecithin, and it seems to work fine. If you'd rather not have that hanging around, a 1:1 substitute of unsalted butter should work.

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South Riding, Va.: Hi food gurus! This is off topic, but I'm looking for suggestions on what to do with an excess of low-sodium cottage cheese. I picked it up by accident, and the stuff is unbelievably nasty, even with a pinch of kosher salt mixed in.

I'm trying to choke it down with fruit, rather than throw it out, but do you have any creative recipe ideas that would let me use up the rest of it? If they're Indian recipes, so much the better!

Bonnie Benwick: This isn't Indian but it's pretty darn good: Pistachio Nut Pate -- and don't scold us about killer pistachios; just use good Turkish ones or the ones on the safe-use list at www.pistachiorecall.org.

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Washington, D.C.: I appreciate Ms Bihde's response about the chickpea recipe. I'd love to try it but could not from the response. What amounts for the spices and vegetables? Should the red chile be cut up? When draining, do you discard the other items and keep just the beans? Please remember that many in your audience are inexperienced cooks so detailed information is appreciated (please do not suggest just tasting it to determine spice amounts. I could not decide if a dish needed more of spice A, B, C, or D). Thanks

Monica Bhide: I do appreciate that. If you send me an email, I will send you a complete recipe as I don't have it on hand right now. Apologies!!

Joe Yonan: Send to food@washpost.com, and we'll get it to Monica.

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Cocktail question: I know this isn't the cocktail columnist's week to publish, but I'm hoping you could send him my question. How should a French 75 be made? I ordered one at PassionFish -- the waitress shook it up at our table and poured it into a martini glass. It was a combo of citrusy sweetness with a definite bitter edge from the orange bitters. But I thought it was supposed to be a champagne cocktail. Can you comment?

Bonnie Benwick: Spirits columnist Jason Wilson says you are correct -- "sounds like you got something different. The French 75 is simple and wonderful and consists of gin (2 ounces), fresh lemon juice (1/2 ounce), sugar or simple syrup (1 teaspoon) and topped with chilled champagne (4-5 ounces).

"There are a couple ways to make the drink. You can shake the gin, lemon juice and sugar/simple syrup, strain into a champagne glass and then top with chilled champagne; this is how I like it. Or if you like it on the rocks, you can strain into an ice-filled highball glass, making sure to add the champagne last."

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First Birthday Cupcakes: Hi. My son turns one on Saturday. I'd like to make cupcakes from scratch, not using a mix, so I know what he's eating. But when I did this for my daughter's birthday, they turned out awfully dry. A mix would have been much better. Do you have a recipe for chocolate cake or cupcakes that will be nice and moist? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Lucky boy to have these made for him and his family: Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes. And I've made this Buttery and Soft Chocolate Cake for a Crowd from our pal Lisa Yockelson a few times to good reviews. (It has a link to Soft and Luxurious Frosting, too.)

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Food the bridge to different cultures: In the 40s my mother said her family from rural Southern Maryland was introduced to Italian food when an aunt who moved and lived in New York City would visit and cook for them. Seventy years later, we live near D.C. and eat food from all over the world, e.g., Indian, Thai, Filipino, different foods from regions in China vs. "Chinese" food, Ethiopian, Brazilian, Mexican, etc.

How does food build a bridge and open us to the world? We have a favorite Thai spot and when a tragic natural disaster occurred in Thailand, we asked the staff about their families. The lady responded that they were amazed at how many customers had stopped by and asked about them and their families' safety in Thailand.

Joe Yonan: Food connects, as you have demonstrated.

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Trying not to be annoying, I promise: Not to beat a dead soybean, but it is worth noting (again) that 99.99% of Parmesan cheese is NOT vegetarian, thus the "meatless" tofu pesto dish, which looks lovely, by the way, is NOT meatless. I shudder to think at the meals I have been served where well-meaning hosts use cheese made with rennet. To me, that DOES matter. Rennet is from cow stomachs and does not fit into a (or at least my) vegetarian lifestyle.

In the future, if you could please just put a note on your recipes for people to either 1.) use cheese clearly labeled vegetarian or with "vegetarian enzymes/rennet" on the ingredient list or 2.) to assume the meal is not, in fact, vegetarian.

Time after time, we see lasagnas and other pasta dishes with mozzarella or other cheeses, or frittatas with parm, risotto with parm (and sometimes with chicken broth) and on and on, all listed as alternatives for vegetarian guests. They simply are not. Many people do not realize this. Thanks, and keep up the (generally) good work.

Bonnie Benwick: Dear Trying,

When we label recipes as meatless, we simply mean without meat. (Even the Mayo Clinic follows this logic in its recipes.) Vegetarians seem to form a lovely spectrum of eaters that care in varying degrees about how much or little animal products are related to their food. It's good to know that if you wished to make this recipe "vegetarian" to suit your tastes, you'd know how to substitute for the right kind of cheese.

Every once in a while we slip and let in some anchovies or Worcestershire sauce in a "meatless" recipe, and our readers are quick to correct the mistake. We'll keep your thoughts in mind as well.

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New York: I love okra and the way it's used in Indian cooking (similar to low country cooking). Bhindi do pyaza (sp?) is a dish we never fail to order out or make at home. I currently own two Indian cook books that I really enjoy. Other than in a tomato-and-onion-based sauce, can you suggest any other ways to make use of this great vegetable?

Monica Bhide: I love okra. I slice it and saute it with onions and ginger and then spice with cumin, turmeric, red chilies and ground coriander. Yum!

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Boston: I'm really fastidious about hygiene and proper cooking times, etc., when I cook at home. And to be honest, I never think about it at all when I eat out, assuming that professionals will get it right. But I went to a new place where a huge chicken breast was flat out raw in the inner third of the meat. There were other dishes at this little charming place that were great (good enough normally to return, perhaps even to make it a regular haunt), but this freaked me out as a sign that the restaurant doesn't know what it's doing, and that perhaps even its non-meat dishes aren't to be trusted for being well prepared. Do you agree? Or do you think this is a one-off situation, and do you give places another chance even if you don't totally trust it?

Jane Black: It's tough to generalize about this kind of thing. But anyone who has read Kitchen Confidential knows that the idea that everyone in a kitchen is professional and following health codes is fiction. On the whole, I believe that restaurants do a good job and yes, the health department is checking up on them. But you do need to be careful and use your common sense. What happened to you could be a one-off mistake -- new cook, busy night, whatever. But what I might have done was talk to the server about what happened and asked for an explanation. Personally, I'd give a place another shot; but if a place gives you the willies, trust your instincts.

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Washington, D.C.: Thank you for the piece on Indian food! As a vegetarian, I find it is one of the few truly hearty, savory cuisines that I can eat with abandon. Do you have any suggestions for making malai kofta? I don't mind how labor intensive the recipes seem to be, but I can never get the veggie balls to stick together that well, and my sauce never seems as subtly creamy as what I can get in restaurants.

Oh, and does anyone know how to make the crispy spinach dish at Rasika? I could eat that all day.

Monica Bhide: For the koftas, I use either mashed potatoes or chickpea flour for a binder. what are you using? If you email me the recipe that you are using, perhaps I can see what can be added?

I don't have the crispy spinach recipe but I can tell you that I get requests for it all the time. (Rasika... hope you are reading this!)

Joe Yonan: They've casually told me that they fry the baby spinach leaves, which makes sense -- they do remind me of fried herb leaves I've had. Maybe I'll try it.

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Pumpkin Muffins?:

Pumpkin muffins

Pumpkin muffins

Pumpkin muffins

Pumpkin muffins

Pumpkin muffins

Bonnie Benwick: Ack. Send that mantra to us via food@washpost.com. Again, next Tuesday.

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Washington, D.C.: So I am apt to try Indian food, but neither the flavor nor smell of curry sit well with me. Still, I know there are a lot of other Indian recipes that do not include curry. Any recipes you suggest I could try that would open me to Indian cuisine sans curry?

Monica Bhide: Thanks for your question. I think a lot of the recipes in the section today would appeal to you since they don't use a curry -- which is literally -- a spicy sauce. Does that help?

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Washington D.C.: I have tried to make Bhendi Masala several times following recipes from a book or the web, but the curry never tastes as rich as it does in a restaurant. Hopefully this is not for lack of MSG. I prepare the masala using the traditional ingredients, garlic, onion, ginger, peppers, tomatoes, garam masala, cumin, coriander, hing. But it still seems to be missing something, a little sweetness, smokiness, depth, something. What tricks do the restaurants use? Do you know a good recipe?

Thanks!

Monica Bhide: Sounds like you are doing all the right things and there should be no MSG in those recipes. If you send me the recipe, I can see if anything is missing. The richness could come from the fact that perhaps the restaurants are using oil a lot more liberally....

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For Birthday Cupcakes...: I made the red velvet cupcakes from the Post's recipe archive a couple weekends ago. They were delicious and super simple to make!

Joe Yonan: You mean these Red, White and Blueberry Cupcakes? Great!

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Washington, D.C.: Is Jason Wilson around today? Earlier Tom "Ask Tom" Sietsema told us that his favorite cocktail is the Hemingway daiquiri -- fresh grapefruit juice, lime juice, light rum and maraschino liqueur. Sounds awesome! However, I want to make sure I get the proportions right and wonder if it would be okay to add simple syrup so it won't be so tart. Any advice? Thanks.

Joe Yonan: We've got him on retainer. Here's what he says:

The Hemingway daiquiri is awesome indeed. Here are the traditional proportions:

1.5 oz rum

.25 oz maraschino liqueur

.75 oz lime juice

.25 oz grapefruit juice, fresh squeezed

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass

To answer your question: I would not add simple syrup. The maraschino liqueur should add enough sweetness to balance the tart citrus. I usually, however, add a little more grapefruit juice than the traditional recipe (maybe up to a half ounce). Also, I don't always use light rum.

Finally, I want to mention, for those that don't know, that maraschino liqueur is NOT the juice from maraschino cherries. It's a spirit. Luxardo brand is best and most widely available.

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Washington, D.C.: Love your chats! Just a silly question on shrimp -- what varieties of shrimp are available in the D.C. metro area? Domestic shrimp, brown shrimp, tiger shrimp, etc.

Are there special ways to cook each of these types? I believe tiger shrimp cooks very fast and, if not handled properly, will toughen up -- true or false? Can you throw some light on this subject?

Bonnie Benwick: Here are some you can find around D.C. (call your local fishmonger first): Gulf browns and whites; tigers that are farmed and/or imported; spot prawns from Alaska and British Columbia; Key West pinks and Royal Reds from Florida (they are in season but not seen in great numbers in these parts quite yet) and Hawaiian blue prawns.

Scott Weinstein, the fishmonger at BlackSalt in the Palisades, doesn't care for the tigers; he says they're watery and not up to the quality of wild domestic shrimp. Not sure that tigers cook up faster than other shrimp (especially not faster than the delicate Royal Reds, for example), but maybe Scott's assessment has to do with your concerns about toughening?

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Vegetarian: I am a vegetarian and I want to get into Indian cuisine. Which vegetarian (all veggies) recipes do you suggest I start with?

Thanks for this timely talk.

Monica Bhide: Thanks for the question. There are such lovely vegetarian dishes you can try. Have you seen the book "Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking"? It has some excellent recipes!

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Washington, D.C.: Morning, food folks: I loved the article on the "People's Garden," and hope it will serve as inspiration for others. For example, there is a condo building on Connecticut just north of Cleveland Park that has a community garden behind it (it looks like something where tenants have their own little plot for gardening). What a fantastic idea! As someone who lives in an apartment building, I really miss the ability to grow my own veggies.

washingtonpost.com: For Vilsack, the Proof Is in the Planting (The Washington Post, April 22, 2009)

Jane Black: Me too. I want a garden! Community gardens are really cool, especially one that is close enough to your house, or for that matter, behind your apartment building. Maybe that will be the new "must have" for condos. Instead of gyms and parking, it will be community garden plots.

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Gardener, DC: You can also get tamarind paste, and some of the more basic spices (even unground) at Whole Foods.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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McLean, Va.: Where can I buy the tamarind date chutney that is an ingredient in the shrimp marinade? Would Aditi have it? I do shop there sometimes.

Monica Bhide: Yes, they do!

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For those that don't have a back yard: Your community may have public gardening plots that you can rent for a minimal cost. I know Arlington has several public garden spaces and I often see people using them for edible gardening.

Joe Yonan: Do they have any spots still available? I'd be surprised, given how popular all these are, but if so, fantastic!

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Providence: Just a comment about why I love cooking Indian food at home: instant sensual gratification! The basic technique that starts most recipes, where you heat up some oil or butter, and then throw spices into it to warm and release their oils, just makes me sublimely happy: everything smells good in the kitchen immediately, and the colors and sizzling sounds just make me really feel like I'm cooking. I'll take that right away pleasure over thirty minutes of cold chopping prep any day.

When I got into Italian food, I used to start water boiling as soon as I entered the kitchen, no matter what; when I got into French, I'd start cutting up mirepoix -- and then decide what to make... but now that I love cooking Indian food, I start my oil, throw in my spices, and only once it all smells great do I decide what to do next. It's a lovely way of living.

Monica Bhide: Love this!

Joe Yonan: Is this Padma, btw?

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Indianish food: Loved the articles on Indianish food! My dad's from India, so while I enjoy classic, authentic dishes, I also add Indian spices to regular ol' food. Adding tandoori masala to spaghetti sauce? Yes, please. Adding achaar to sandwiches? YUM. Kabob sandwiches are an easier thing to take to lunch than rice. Cardamum and saffron to sugar cookies are GOOD.

Joe Yonan: I'll be mum on "cardamum."

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Washington, D.C.: Cheese is not meat, rennet is not meat. I get WHY some vegetarians may want to avoid products that come from animals, but to get your string beans in a knot about cheese in a "meatless" recipe borders on the absurd.

Joe Yonan: Food fight! Duck!

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Annapolis, Md.: I really like fresh herbs, so I've started growing some. Now -- how do I cook with them? I presently have basil, oregano, and rosemary. Last night I just tossed some basil and oregano into my pasta sauce and loved it. I'm thinking rosemary works with potatoes? I'm not used to trying to come up with vegetarian recipes based on herbs, so any help you can provide would be great!

Jane Black: Good for you. I think fresh herbs are the key to really good, fast cooking. They make everything come alive. There are so many things you can do with your three plants. Here's a starter list in no particular order:

Thread a sprig of rosemary on top of a roast chicken or pork loin.

Bake fish in parchment or a salt crust and serve with fresh oregano, lemon and olive oil.

Make a fresh herb omelet.

Make strawberry-basil lemonade (lemon juice, sugar, water, strawberry puree and chiffonaded basil).

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Petworth: Monica, I love Indian snack foods. There's one that I have never known the name of that a friend of mine used to bring back from Nairobi with her. It was chick peas, boiled, mashed into little flat things, spiced, and fried. So so good.

Can you tell me what they are called and if they can be purchased around here, or if I'll have to learn to make them? Is the recipe in your book?

Monica Bhide: I think you are talking about Channa jor garam/Chana Chor Garam. I am not sure of the exact spelling! But yes, you can buy it here at the store. Is this what you are referring to?

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Arlington, Va.: In today's recipe for Hot Mix, you list chaat masala, an ingredient used to flavor traditional Indian street food and snacks. What spices are in chaat masala and is it possible to make it at home? Is it very different from garam masala, which I'm able to make after a spice run to Penzey's?

Monica Bhide: Yes, you can make it and several books provide recipes. I prefer to buy my Chaat Masala. MDH makes a fantastic one. Why mess with perfection. I have seen several chefs use the same one on their kitchens as well. You can buy it from Indian grocery stores or online.

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Goat sources: Two places in Takoma Park have goat pretty much any time I look. In both places it is cubes of goat stew meat and whenever I have tried it it has been just fine. Bestway on Greenwood near Piney Branch, and Red Apple on N.H. near University.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: Just to add to the Indian groceries. Two that I use are Priya on Lee Highway in Falls Church and another Aditi branch I believe, in a shopping complex on Broad Street (Route 7) in Falls Church. That shop is tucked in the back on the complex, so you have to drive around. There is also a halal butcher there. In fact, come to think of it, Falls Church is pretty much the place for little groceries for anything from Korean, Indian, halal to Mexican.

Joe Yonan: Excellent. Appreciate it.

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Rockville, Md.: I want to make gnocchi from scratch and after that I would like to pair it with a non-tomato, easy-to-make sauce. Any suggestion?

Bonnie Benwick: I just tested the gnocchi recipe in Michael Ruhlman's new "Ratio." It was wonderful. Wait 7 days and it will appear in our pages. In the meantime, chatters...?

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Fairfax, Va.: I think the restaurant folks really do believe that a non-Indian can't make the food taste right. I know that when friends would ask me how to make a particular dish and I'd tell them how to pop the whole seed spices in hot oil before adding to the dish, and other steps, methods etc., they'd inevitably report to me that their food just hadn't come out right. It just didn't have that zing or texture, and so on. Did you use this? No I didn't have any of those spices so I just used some "curry" powder I had in the cabinet. That sort of thing. I stopped giving out recipes and told them to go to a restaurant.

I do have some tasty chickpea recipes that don't require great expertise. Chickpeas, by the way are very good for the health.

Joe Yonan: I love me some garbanzos, too. Have a sandwich recipe featuring them next week...

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Alexandria, Va.: I see Indian eggplants available at some of the supermarkets in the area. Do you have any suggestions as to what to do with them?

For paneer cheese, there's a terrific Indian grocery on Lee Highway just west of Glebe in Arlington. The best I've found in the area.

Jane Black: The Indian grocery I think you mean is Daily Spices. The address 8424 Lee Hwy, Fairfax, 703-752-2314.

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Chicago, Ill.: I've got a question for the wine guru -- I recently tried a dry red wine that I actually liked. I usually don't care for them because they're so heavy. I prefer nice light drinks. This red, however, was light-bodied (I believe it was a Marechal Fouch). It was such a nice drink! Do you know of any other wines that fit that profile? Should I look for a certain kind or is it more the company that makes it?

Joe Yonan: Dave McIntyre sez:

"Marechal Foche is a French-American hybrid grape most commonly grown here on the East Coast. A more common one in the same vein is Chambourcin. Some Virginia and Maryland wineries produce these -- Rockbridge comes to mind immediately as a nice one.

"Some more familiar red grapes that fit a lighter profile are gamay, the grape of Beaujolais; Barbera from northern Italy; Bonarda from Argentina; and many Pinot Noir -- although these can be heavier in hotter climes such as California or New Zealand. Try some Pinot Noir from Chile; one I almost put in today's column is called Agustino, from the Bio-Bio Valley of southern Chile. Delish!"

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Rosemary is great with white beans: The sweet/pineyness of rosemary is great with white beans. Tonight I'm doing a turnip, kale, and great northern bean dish and rosemary will play a prominent role in it.

Joe Yonan: Yep, and with lamb, and chicken, and in biscuits, and ...

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Alternative to $9 paneer: Paneer is super easy to make. The recipe I use is from Sundays at Moosewood.

First you make chenna by bringing 2 quarts of WHOLE milk to a rolling boil, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in 3T lemon juice. Return pan to low heat and stir gently until curds separate from the whey. If this doesn't happen in 15-20 secs, add another T of lemon juice. Pour curds into strainer lined with thin damp cloth or several layers of cheesecloth (I use a flour sack towel). Let drain until cool enough to handle, then gather up cloth and squeeze out any remaining liquid.

Paneer: compress the chenna putting a weight on it (leave it wrapped in the cloth). Wait 30-60 minutes -- longer wait means firmer cheese.

Jane Black: I should let Monica weigh in on this but I just want to say, yum. I love paneer. Worth making yourself.

Monica Bhide: Yum! Yes, you can make it at home!

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Cooking Classes?: Are their any Indian chefs teaching Indian cooking classes? If so any recommendations?

Monica Bhide: I believe both Vikram Sunderam of Rasika and Chef K.N. Vinod of Indique Heights teach classes.

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Bonnie Benwick: re chat/chaat masala, the blend is saltier than garam masala (often made with black salt) and has a stronger flavor.

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Kitchen Nightmares: Did you see the story recently that a good number of the restaurants on the show have closed? The owners of said restaurants mostly blame the bad publicity or changes for the closure, but I figure if your business is in such bad shape that the only way it's going to stay open is to call on a guy who is going to be fairly mean to you on TV, you weren't going to be successful anyway.

More than that, if I see a kitchen with moldy food or where the staff drops food on the floor and then puts it back on the plate I am going to stay away. The owners are just upset they got caught.

Joe Yonan: I did see that -- very interesting.

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Duck!: Turkey!

Joe Yonan: Goose!

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Reston, Va.: Re: chocolate cups -- I saw them just last night at the Wegmans in Fairfax.

Loved the Bhide article! My husband keeps saying he doesn't like Indian food, but I'm hoping I can change his mind. I've never cooked it, but I do love eating it, especially paneer makhani. (Shame there's no Indian place near my office, because I'm really craving it now!)

Monica Bhide: Right! I have found them at Wegman's before. I hope your husband will like some of these new dishes!

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Is this Padma, btw? : AND then she had to go do a TV ad for fast food and how much she savors it? REALLY?

Joe Yonan: Don't get me started.

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Florida Chick: No! The waiter is not the decision-maker re: raw chicken. The manager. Or owner. The waiter wants a tip and a happy customer and will not get to the bottom of things. And a polite firm call and email to the health dept. The next day. They need to verify that food temps are properly checked. No ifs, ands, or buts. Frail, older and also kid diners have died due to food poisoning! The rest of us just get sick and miss days of work and family commitments. Speak up! this could be life or death. A waiter is not an answer to that issue.

Joe Yonan: I'd start with the waiter, expressing displeasure, and ask to speak to a manager if you're dissatisfied.

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Another Cocktail: Okay, so the strawberry-basil lemonade sounds like a great summer cocktail -- maybe with sparkling white wine, or lemon-flavored vodka. Better suggestions?

Jane Black: I'd add a little prosecco. Keeps it light and summery. But either would be terrific.

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Petworth: You can get the crispy spinach uptown too -- it's on the menu at Fusion on Georgia Ave. (at Georgia and Delafield, in the same block as Moroni and Brothers).

I note -- Fusion needs to be added to the Going Out Guide database!

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Indian ideas for beginners: Hi Monica! I LOVE Indian, and am really trying to learn how to cook it more at home (guess who's cookbook will be on my next birthday request list?). I have found certain go-to spices and ingredients for Indian flavor to veggies and meats -- Greek yogurt plus cumin, curry, turmeric and/or cayenne (if I want some spice). I definitely would like to add to my spices, but this is usually a good start. Finally, I've found that I can make really great meals by combining fresh produce (carrots, onion, spinach and chickpeas) with some of the (very affordable) Indian boxed mixes found in Trader Joe's.

Monica Bhide: This is really wonderful to read. What great suggestions! You are certainly on the right track!

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Gardener, DC: Gorgonzola sauce works great with gnocchi though it can be rich, so does pesto and a simple butter sage is good too. When you make it be very careful about lumps, it needs to be pretty well mashed (a ricer works best). Mmm, mm, makes me hungry just thinking about it. Gnocchi is like my favorite food.

Bonnie Benwick: You're referring to potato gnocchi, mayhaps? The Ruhlman recipe is done with pate a choux dough.

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re: Rasika crispy spinach: Yes, Joe -- I think you should consider it your duty to attempt to make this at home and report back once you have a close approximation. Thanks so much for taking up this mission!

Joe Yonan: I have NOT taken up this mission. Yet.

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Rockville, Md: Is there a way to get the recipe of the rockfish cooked in the tandoor at the Bombay Bistro in Rockville? Absolutely delicious!

Jane Black: Do you have a tandoor oven? Otherwise, the recipe might not be that useful...

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Washington, D.C.: A question about wine: Any idea where I can get Vi d' Agulla Avinyo, a lovely summertime Spanish white, in the D.C. area? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Wine columnist Dave McIntyre says: The only place I've been able to learn about is The Wine House in Fairfax. It is apparently rather popular in Richmond and Baltimore, but not around here. But you should be able to ask your favorite retailer to order some for you. In Virginia, the distributor is Dionysus. In the District and Maryland, they can order it from Bacchus Importers.

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Alexandria, Va.: Dosas -- I could eat one of these crepe-pancakes everyday, especially the ones stuffed with potatoes. Any tips on the batter and the various fillings?

Monica Bhide: I love dosas! Did you know that several Indian stores now sell the batter?

For the fillings you can try scrambled paneer or spiced shredded chicken.

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Houston, Texas: Posting early due to lunch meeting. Like the Indian food article, very innovative, but I have some suggestions. Instead of serving chutney on naan, buy pappers. They're thin crispy flat breads (Indian version of tortilla chips). Get the frozen kind from the Indian store and fry them ahead of time, much better quality than ones off the shelf. Another product found is called "puris". These are small shells found in the Indian store used for snacks called chat. They're light and crisp. You punch a hole inside the round hollow kind (there are also some that are flat). You then fill or top it with spiced yogurt, and chutney; I also like to add chickpeas for texture. They're really good. Also, if you are going to buy naan, what is popular now is the frozen kind you heat up in the oven, or splurge and order it fresh from a restaurant. Trust me the quality of both is much better than what's on the shelf.

Monica Bhide: Great suggestions, thank you.

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Food sites/Blogs: What are some interesting food sites or blogs that you all as foodies visit or surf?

Jane Black: For recipes? For news? For policy? Where do you want us to start? Let us know and in the meantime I will mention that we will be launching our own food blog, All We Can Eat, in the next few weeks.

Come to think of it, that's all you're going to need to know. One-stop shopping with your favorite food writers.

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Joe: We think alike to much! If I was not married ... and 200 miles away ...

Joe Yonan: Aw, shucks. I'm not sure which of my snarks prompted this, but I'll take it!

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For Jason....: Um..is a cocktail shaker absolutely necessary or would it be weird to just use an old pickle jar or something of the sort?

Joe Yonan: If you want to really make cocktails, go crazy and splurge on the 12 bucks for a shaker. You can do it using other things, but the shaker's stainless steel gets very cold as you shake, which is what you want.

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Meat: I wasn't upset, but I did want to make people aware, as many are not, that rennet is not vegetarian. It is actually meat, since it is cow stomach, but the point was to disabuse the kind people who serve vegetarians "vegetarian" dishes of the notion that cheese = 100% okay all the time.

And FWIW, many sour creams and nonfat yogurts contain gelatin, which is made from animal cartilage.

I am not shouting, or getting upset. I am not trying to provoke debate or defensive reactions. Just trying to educate.

Bonnie Benwick: I don't think vegetarians are confused about rennet. To be clear, it is an ENZYME from the gastric juice of a cow stomach, right? And maybe we'll end it there, for this week.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I love cardamom pods so I ordered a bunch, and now am wondering what to use them in besides my usual chicken brine and cardamom-spiced fruit syrups. Do you have a chai ice cream recipe by any chance? Or other uses for whole green cardamom pods? I bet Monica's got ideas!

Monica Bhide: Tea! Add them to your tea. You can also add them to white rice for a lovely flavor. (I like to chew on them raw... great mouth fresheners!)

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Indian eggplants: Great article today! For some reason it prompted a memory I read in the WaPo food section a few years ago about an Indian woman who heard people raving about Tiramisu and decided to whip up a batch for her coworkers. I guess eggplants are called ladyfingers where she is from, so she used little eggplants instead of the ladyfinger cookies. She said the looks on her coworkers' faces when they tried the tiramisu was hilarious.

Monica Bhide: Too funny!!

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Homemade birthday cake

I made my daughter's birthday cake after looking at the list of ingredients on the back of a box of cake mix. I used Alice Water's 1-2-3-4 cake recipe from "The Art of Simple Food" and it was a hit. A few tips for a nice moist fluffy cake: Be sure all ingredients are room temperature, use whole milk (if possible), add egg yolks one at a time, gently fold in the whipped egg whites at the very end, use cake flour if you can find it. I also added a bit of orange zest and 2 tsp of orange juice to give it a bit of flavor. Take the time to make your own icing, too -- it will definitely be worth it!

Jane Black: There is nothing like homemade birthday cake. Okay, maybe Joe's plum tart tatin...

Joe Yonan: Oh, no. Now someone will ask ...

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RE: Gnocchi: In my Northern Italian family, we brown onion in lots of butter, pour it on our homemade gnocchi, then grate lots of fresh parm on top. So good. Butter and sage sauce works as well.

Joe Yonan: Mm-hmm. I can practically smell it.

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Gnocchi: I recommend Lidia Bastianich's version. It's the closest to my grandmother's I've been able to find.

Jane Black: Love Lidia.

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Food blogs: 101cookbooks (almost every week I add something to the must make list)

smittenkitchen (also wonderful)

Alinea at Home (by a DC local)

Joe Yonan: Yes

Yes

and

Yes.

We'll tell you of many more once our own blog starts. Maybe as soon as next week!

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Fairfax, Va.: Indian restaurants for some reason do not have a lot of seafood dishes. At the most have a fish curry or shrimp curry or a fish tikka. Is this because most of the restaurants are owned by north Indians?

Monica Bhide: I used to wonder the same thing -- why there wasn't more seafood. I can see this is changing -- mussels are now showing up on menus, different regional curries and more.

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Arlington, Va.: I am late for work almost every Wednesday as I get sucked into reading the entire Food section instead of saving some for later.

Anyway -- this is a question about cooking odors -- how best to minimize/contain them? Any secrets?

Joe Yonan: Other than a vent hood -- or an open window and a fan -- I'm not sure there's much to do.

But for the most part, I celebrate the aromas rather than fight them!

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Indian ingredients: The MOMs in Alexandria has a really good selection of ingredients throughout the store (including frozen naan) an they are tons cheaper than Whole Paycheck or Trader Joe's.

Monica Bhide: Thanks!

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Balcony Container Gardening -- remember that how much sunlight you get is critical for all vegetables. I have a west-facing, covered balcony and I simply don't get enough light to grow vegetables. Herbs are more forgiving. I've done well with basil, parsley, rosemary, and mints.

Jane Black: Yes, I grow herbs in my west-facing window without problem. Tomatoes need good sun. So south-facing or a roof deck is best. On the other hand, they also need tons of water. So if you get a lot of sun, be prepared to water every day.

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Farro?: Does anyone know where one could purchase farro (that's less expensive than the $10 package at Whole Foods?)? Trader Joe's used to carry it, and no longer does. If not, is there a good substitute? Thanks Rangers!

Bonnie Benwick: The Italian Store in Arlington (703-528-6266) sells a 1-pound bag for $5.99.

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Indian and more: I am so lucky to live in an area of NYC called "Little India". I love walking through the supermarkets and looking at all of the foods I am not used to. Indians from all over New York and Long Island come to the area to go shopping and eat at the many awesome buffets. It's a great way to try something you would not normally order off a menu. Indian-Chinese restaurants are becoming popular here -- it's a very interesting mix of Indian/Chinese flavors. I've even seen a place selling Indian/Latino food (there's a heavy Colombian population around here). My only disappointment is with Indian desserts. They are way too sweet for my western palate.

Bonnie Benwick: And you live in the same city as Kalustyan's. More luck.

Monica Bhide: I adore walking around Little India in NYC. Have you been to Oak Tree Road in Edison, N.J.? They also have a great selection of Indian stores and some fantastic restaurants!

Joe Yonan: Curry Hill!

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Excess cottage cheese: You can try to turn it into a fake ricotta -- pulverize in food processor and strain. Then mix with an egg, salt, loads of basil and oregano. Use it to make stuffed shells or as part of a lasagna -- somewhere that the flavor of the cottage cheese is masked with other brighter flavors.

Bonnie Benwick: Interesting.

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RE: Gardener, DC: In a craft blog I read, there was an article about making a hydroponic veggie garden.

Might work on a balcony. You could keep it small.

Joe Yonan: Awesome. Thanks much.

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re: basil lemonade: I've tried a few times now to make a lemonade that includes a basil-infused simple syrup. But I can never taste the basil in the lemonade! The recipe I'm using is 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 1 loose cup basil. Dissolve sugar into water over low heat, add basil, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to simmer for 2-3 minutes, remove from heat, and let stand for 30 minutes (or until cool -- whichever comes last). Once cool, strain basil leaves out of syrup.

Am I doing something wrong?

Bonnie Benwick: Maybe add the basil after the boil, during the simmer.

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Annapolis, Md.: Can I substitute vanilla bean paste for vanilla beans in an ice cream recipe? It's going to hit 80 this weekend and I want to make my first ice cream of the season (well, my first ice cream ever, actually).

Bonnie Benwick: You could; 1 teaspoon of extract roughly translates to the innards scraped from a 3-inch vanilla bean. Measure that against your paste and go from there.

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Montgomery Village, MD: No questions -- regarding goat meat -- it's available at "Medina Halal Meat" at Gaithersburg, Md., "Indus" at New Hampshire Ave, Md., "Pakeezah" at Frederick Ave, Md.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Melbourne, Fla.: I loved your article today about blending food traditions. Our family had a similar situation -- my mother's family are good "southerners" who lived all over the world. For them it was trying to get a taste of America or the south by using what was available in what ever country they were living in. So, now our chicken and dumplings always has saffron in it (Spain was one country she lived in) and mashed potatoes have yogurt (India was another). I guess everybody does what they can to find a taste of home.

Bonnie Benwick: Love that.

Joe Yonan: Absolutely.

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Topeka, Kan.: Can salted, canned cashews be used instead of raw in recipes?

Bonnie Benwick: Generally, no.

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Joe Yonan: Well, you've cooked us undisturbed for about 2 minutes or until we have become fragrant, but you were careful not to let us burn, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks, all, for the great questions, and thanks to Monica Bhide for helping us handle them this week. Now for the prizes: The chatter who wrote about Indian eggplant/ladyfingers will get a signed copy of "Modern Spice" (no tiramisu recipe, I believe). And the chatter who wrote about "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" will, shock of all shocks, get the DVD set of ... wait for it ... "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares"! This was so hard to figure out!

Until next week, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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