Sometimes when you live in New England you get pretty tired of flaky white fish, so when Todd called from Hawaii yesterday, I impulsively failed to politely ignore him as usual, and, instead, ordered some pristine albacore tuna and striped marlin (tombo and nairagi in Hawaiian parlance). Of course, that meant I’d have to wring some ideas out of my brain, since neither fish is on my menu. Pictured above, rendered with Goolgle’s lovely and free Picasa, is tonight’s special: a duet of sashimi with roasted sesame butter, honey mustard emulsion and arugula flowers. The fish, itself, I brushed very lightly with soy sauce infused with spring Vidalias and ginger.
Here’s today’s “Daily Catch” inspired by a recent, most awesome dining experience. It is halibut pan roasted in lime butter with fresh pea falafel and a carrot-cardamom puree. But more on my recent meal…
It was Sunday a couple of weeks back. I’d been meaning to try S&S Market/Biryani Park for some time now, and this seemed like as good a time as any, so we ventured over to Route 1, exited onto 99 in Malden and searched for number 105 on the left. Down about eight tenths of a mile, there it was, an unassuming - and somewhat uninviting - mostly windowless, standalone structure looking something like an erstwhile gas station. Fortunately I was able to cajole my clearly hesitant companions inside where we had no option but to seat ourselves.
Apparently Federico Fellini directed our dining experience at this point. On one flat screen Sri Lankan music videos blared without interruption; on the other was an unmemorable sporting event. The walls were occasionally adorned with various south Asian artifacts and souvenirs; and on the floor to my left sat a well worn Lightning McQueen throw rug. We sat at a card table on banquet chairs, and after an uncomfortable wait in the empty room, a Brazilian little person arrived with menus, silverware, cloth napkins and water. As he exited we pored over the menu and found limiting ourselves to enough food for a small town nearly impossible. Naturally we over ordered.
The little person appeared again. At this point he was our only contact with the restaurant. He was our handler. For all we knew, he may have been its sole employee. He placed a small pad and pencil on the table and said what I correctly guessed was “number.” We were to write the menu numbers that corresponded to the dishes we intended to order. Simple. Efficient.
After another wait my goat soup arrived, then the first wave of bread and complimentary (and complementary) shots of mango juice, then finally… the owner. She was a magnificently warm and friendly woman from Sri Lanka who brought her mother to Malden. Together they opened a restaurant. Hers is a sad and beautiful story (in the words of Jim Jarmusch, not Fellini), and when you visit S&S Market, she will share it with you.
More dishes arrived, one after another, some by mistake, others not. We didn’t mind that our meal didn’t match our order. I imagine I would eat and enjoy each of the more than one hundred menu items offered. In fact, I intend to do just that. I do not exaggerate when I say S&S Market/Briyani Park is easily the area’s best kept secret - its most hidden gem.
But I digress. I felt the urge today to work cardamom into our daily special. It was the string hopper uppuma from our Sunday lunch - a pilaf of dry roasted semolina and caramelized onion redolent of curry leaves and cardamom that reminded me. I haven’t used it in a while, and it’s high time I did.
As I await the publication of my new memoir, Childhood Including a Portion of my Teen Years in Southeast Asia, I can’t help but recall the humiliation I suffered as a monastery novice - or, as I prefer to call it, servant. Child labor laws might protect our young ones here, but where I spent much of my youth I prepared three daily meals for a bevy of monks, novices and adepts alike. “Hot noodles!” they would mercilessly scream. “Now!.” And nothing but the most steaming, delectable noodles would suffice, or I would face a host of verbal assaults and not so gentle tomfoolery. Fortunately, years of therapy have softened the collective blow, but the only vow I ever took at the monastery was to never prepare hot noodles again. Indeed, I followed a much different path, and my self-prescribed catharsis has been to champion the cold noodle. Following is one recipe I devised toward this end.
Trinity Cold Noodle Dressing
1 cup vegetable oil
½ cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup coconut milk
juice of 3 limes
1 Tbsp local honey
2 cups chopped cilantro
1 cup chopped mint
1 bunch basil, rough chopped
¼ cup chopped scallions
5 ea Thai bird chiles
3 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp grated ginger
- combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.
As part of the Healthy Bodies Healthy Minds Initiative I instituted at the restaurant, I assigned two of my sous chefs, Mark and Lindsey, to compete this year in the Boston marathon. I felt that we at the top should set an example for our employees, and unfortunately I have an eye appointment Monday, so I can’t take part myself. As you can see above, Mark has been training, on days he’s not scheduled to open, in Kenya; while Lindsey, on the other hand, has kept it local, choosing to condition herself in trendy Somerville, home of many lovely and esoteric eateries in its own right. Come cheer them on - it’s for a great cause, as they try to raise money for music and arts at the Curley School in JP.
A few years back, my friend, Shakes, and I accidentally wound up on the North Korean side of the Yalu River. It’s a long story, but we thought we’d better make the most of our time there. Neither of us spoke the language, but Shakes was fairly adept at ISL, and what a stroke of luck it was that we should stumble into a home for the deaf! It was there that I discovered the versatility of millet. Being of Scottish and Canadian descent, naturally I assumed that millet, also known as birdseed, really only paired with peanut butter. But boy, was I wrong! Go ahead and give it a try - you won’t be disappointed.
1 cup millet, rinsed
8 cups water, if available
1 Tbsp chili-bean paste, if available
1 turnip, if available, chopped
1 small trapped animal, if available - for this I like rabbit, but squirrel and guinea pig work in a pinch - skinned and chopped, bones optional, but they do add flavor (if using trapped animal, do not share or tell anyone)
salt, if available.
Mark’s been begging me to showcase his work more often here, so this is his fish special today: pan-roasted striped bass with gingered carrot puree, wasabi glazed peas and scallion tempura. Just don’t try to hire him away from me. I know a guy.
For his homework assignment last night, I asked Mark to research quinoa and give a little presentation to our staff (along with the required essay). It’s part of a program I introduced at the restaurant called MultiCultural (or simply, MC) Hammertime. Through this initiative I hope to broaden my team’s awareness of how their actions affect the world around them. Apart from some spelling errors, Mark’s essay was rather impressive: thorough and fairly well structured, and it presented some cogent points; his presentation, free of the necessary pedantry of academia, had the room roaring with laughter, then sobbing in distress, such is his storytelling guile.
Did you know, for example, that quinoa is related to beets? Neither did I. And that it is the only single vegetarian source of a complete protein? I knew that one. Well, here’s one you might not know: Andean farmers in Bolivia, Peru and Chile who for generations survived on this “superfood” can no longer afford to eat it? It seems that the Whole Foods set has fallen so desperately in love with quinoa that the wholesale price has more than tripled. Of course it hasn’t been all bad for the growers, not at all. Quinoa has put their kids through college, or expanded the farmhouse. But cheap processed flour has replaced the health benefits of quinoa with the detriments of a processed food diet - diabetes, obesity and general malaise. Thank you Mark, you may sit down.
For his special today Mark prepare his quinoa in a simple manner, choosing to adorn it with a pan roasted striped bass, a tussle of wild arugula and a lovely bell pepper vinaigrette.