74-81/1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die
Only a little traveling this week, but you can eat the world in NYC, so it’s not like that slows a body down.
Let’s get right to it.
I love love love love Indian food, and this week the city’s been a sweltering mess. You know who knows about hot weather? India. So I treated myself to some Indian food for lunch, including a…
Lassi — Indian (74).
Let’s breeze on past the fact that Mimi doesn’t include naan proper on the 1000 Things to Eat Before You Die list. Naan is clearly the closest earthly facsimile to manna from heaven, and its exclusion from the list in its own right is an affront to the holy. But we’ll move on.
The base of the lassi is yogurt, diluted with very cold water and flavored with various combinations of spices, herbs, floral essences, and/or fruit. The mixture is then blended with ice, and, as Mimi tells us, lassis “are distinctive both for their flavors and for their important purpose in India’s spicy food culture–that of refreshing a diner’s palate and adding protein to the meal.” I love a mango lassi (that seems to be the default flavor most places), but Mimi informs me that lassis can be sweet OR salty. “Namkeen lassi is the name for the salty version, a drink that generally contains roasted cumin seeds, freshly ground black pepper, and garlic.” I can’t say that sounds appealing to me at the moment, but I’m dying to try the rosewater variety she also promises exists.
Moving along, I did say I did a little traveling this week, and by that I mean I took the train up to The Berkshires for a couple of days to work. At the farmer’s market in Great Barrington, I found some happy…
Kielbasa — Polish, Ukrainian (75)
which we ate with
Sauerkraut — German, Austrian (76)
And I have to start by saying that my Polish husband claims that this kielbasa was “very New England-y” and not seasoned correctly. So he has vowed to find some more kielbasa that tastes accurate, and share that with me. In the meantime, I really liked this one. It tasted, to me, the way Mimi says it should: “usually made entirely of pork, but occasionally mixed with a little beef, the smoked brown-red sausage is traditionally distinguished by coarsely-ground meat, heavy seasonings garlic and black pepper, and its stiff, ringed shape.” Mimi refers to kielbasa as “one of the lustiest sausages of all.” Feel free to snicker.
I’m not going to dwell on the sauerkraut, because I hate it. It’s right there next to Moonpies on the “things I know I hate and only ate again for the sake of completion” list. Even the smell of the stuff makes me gag. The only place I’ve ever enjoyed sauerkraut is at Veselka, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise because that place is magic. But for the sake of being fair, I will share a little kraut tidbit with you from Mimi, who just loves the stuff: “The eye-opening pickled cabbage hits the palate with ea bitter-sour-salty essence that is nothing short of delectable. A showcase for seasonings of piney juniper, caraway, pepper, onion, apple, wine, and bacon, it is adaptable to many more lusty dishes than can be easily counted.” Whoa, Mimi. Calm down there, girl. It is cabbage.
Also, this week in NYC, I ate Mexican food in two very different environments.
So let’s jump to that chapter of the book.
First, at Cowgirl (one of my fave NYC haunts), I had some casual
Frijoles Negros (77) and Enchiladas (78)
Mimi tells us that frijoles negros “are the most popular bean variety in Latin America and a signature ingredient in dishes from Mexico to Chile; they also appear in Cajun and Creole cuisine.” I must say, if I may make so bold an assertion on my own blog, that black beans are my favorite beans. And it’s not difficult to see why. “Earthy, smoky, sweet, and meaty in texture, black beans are high in protein, fiber, and antioxidants and low in fat.” Having eaten meat very sporadically for the last ten years, I’ve put away more than my fair share of black beans, and I can tell you that the ones at Cowgirl never disappoint.
Nor do their enchiladas (seen here, the veggie and cheese varieties). Though, as you know (because I have written about it here), my favorite enchiladas in the world are the plantain-and-mole enchiladas found at El Neuvo Mexicano restaurant in Chicago. Mimi calls enchiladas “one of Mexico’s great comfort foods,” and I think that’s a delightful descriptor. I know I always feel very comfortable ordering them.
The second location at which I had Mexican food in the past week is at the opposite end of the environmental spectrum from Cowgirl. I went to Cosme with my book club, which I was quite excited to do, because Cosme is the NYC outpost of Chef Enrique Olvera, featured on this season of Chef’s Table (one of my favorite shows).
(Seriously, if you love food and you haven’t watched Chef’s Table show, what what what are you even doing?)
At his restaurant in Mexico City, Chef Olvera has perfected mole sauce. And I am ALL ABOUT SOME MOLE SAUCE. So I was super-pumped to eat at Cosme. The menu is family-style, and we tried almost everything, including…
Because how can you not, in a group? Guacamole is the best, and so easy to make at home, and so easy to eat without ceasing. Mimi tells us “We have the Aztecs to thank for the luscious, buttery, spicy dip that they called ahuaca-mulli (avocado sauce).” Apparently, different regions of Mexico have their own specific varieties and embellishments, as do different NYC chefs. As Mimi warns us, “Because of its simplicity, guacamole is only as tasty as the avocados it is made with,” and Cosme used nothing but the best.
“The hallmark of Mexican cuisine,” and a staple of Polaskcantel cuisine (we eat a lot of them in our apartment). Mimi, ever the traditionalist, opines, “Though often made with wheat flour… they are best when made of the traditional masa (cornmeal), which imparts a subtle, rustic corn flavor and a rough-and-chewy texture that contrasts nicely with soft fillings.” I concur. First documented in the late fifteenth century, this staple food is almost assuredly much older, and the method for making tortillas has changed little through the centuries.
And of course, OF COURSE, I had Chef Olvera’s molé sauce. It is world-renowned, and with good reason. Mimi tells us, in awed tones, that “mole poblano calls for at least twenty ingredients, including aromatics such as cinnamon, cloves, anise seed, and black pepper, along with poblano chiles and chocolate.” Being able to taste the unsweetened chocolate, without the sauce itself becoming sweet, is what sets a good mole apart for me. I have tried it many, many places, and very few times has the sauce achieved that perfect balance of earthy and spicy and subtly chocolately. But at Cosme, he nails it. So much so, that after the dish had been passed around the table and the enchiladas inside were all gone, I mopped the bowl with a tortilla, to make sure none of the beautiful sauce went to waste. I am never one to waste a masterpiece.