101-110/1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die
Still living in New York, and still eating up a storm over here! On the menu this month…
Bread and Butter — American (101)
Now, bread and butter should probably have been the first thing checked off, right? It’s so simple and ubiquitous, and my heart has always belonged to carbs. As Mimi says, “Bread and butter is a food so basic it stands as a metaphor for all of our needs and concerns.” I’m a big, BIG fan of the mini baguettes served at The Smith here in NYC, which are always crunchy (but not rock-hard) on the outside, and soft on the inside. These little bundles of joy are served with a delicious pat of salted butter that has exactly perfect spreadability. Everything about it is just right. Upon inquiry, I learned that The Smith gets their baguettes from Tom Cat Bakery, which is one of the bakeries recommend by Mimi in the “bread and butter” entry of the book.
Chanterelles — French (102)
Mushrooms are delicious. This is not up for debate, it is fact. Chanterelles, Mimi informs us, grow “in tiny clumps in the conifer forests of Europe, Japan, North Africa, Australia, and the United States” and “they have an intense orange-gold color that gives them the look of flat, unfurled apricots.” I recently enjoyed some at a pal’s birthday party at Covina, where they are prepared as a side dish with summer corn, tarragon, and huit la coche (which is actually corn smut, a fungus and Mexican delicacy). I was about to get grossed out by the fact that I ate corn smut, but then I remembered that chanterelles are fungi as well, so I’m calm now. Besides, it was inarguably delicious, so no sense in getting disgusted after the fact.
Hummus — Middle Eastern (103)
If you go to Covina for the corn-smut-mushrooms, you should definitely also order the hummus (and some Tito’s vodka, co-starring in this photo). I eat a lot of hummus. I mean, A LOT. I’m very partial to ROOTS hummus, made in Asheville, North Carolina, and available in NYC at such fine grocers as Gourmet Garage and Westside Market. Covina’s hummus is also very good, and served with many more colorful vegetables than I have at my home. Why, I’m even a fan of making hummus myself (pumpkin hummus being a seasonal fave — my recipe here). But where does hummus come from? Mimi is so glad you asked. “Hummus bi tahini is basically poor man’s food — a nurturing, velvety bean puree enhanced with garlic and salt and luxuriously folded into the thick, mellow-sweet sesame paste that is tahini.” Mimi says that its low cost is part of the reason you can now find hummus just about everywhere, but its appeal also lies in “its healthfulness, its appeal to vegetarians and those on low-fat diets, and its usefulness to hosts looking for a ready-made dip.”
Empanadas — Latin American (104)
and Chimichurri — Argentine (105)
First off, let me apologize for the quality of this photo. It was VERY dark inside Trinity Place (a bar in a vault!) when I took this photo, so I had to put the flash on, and the results are less appetizing than the food was (it was very delicious). These empanadas are of the mushroom variety. Mimi tells us that, “the word empanada means ‘that which is covered in bread’ or, more simply, ’embreaded.'” Embreaded is my new favorite word. And hand pies are an old (and current) favorite type of food. I have enjoyed many, many an empanada in my life (do yourself a favor and stop by Empanada Mama in NYC), and I enjoyed these a lot. Not least because they were served with chimichurri sauce, “a heady blend of green herbs such as parsley and cilantro, along with garlic, oregano, bay leaf, onion, and sometimes hot red pepper flakes,” per Mimi. She also helpfully includes a recipe in the book. Mimi’s chimichurri is a lot chunkier, like a salsa, and I can see the appeal of that. But this dipping-sauce version was delightfully garlicky and verdant, and I enjoyed it a lot.
Moros y Christianos (Black Beans and Rice) — Cuban (106)
Not just the home of the ABSOLUTELY BEST boozy milkshakes in NYC, AG Kitchen on the Upper West Side also prepares delicious solid foods. I recently ordered moros y christianos, the traditional Cuban side dish of black beans and rice (the totally un-PC name dates back to the 1500s, and refers to the conflict between the Spanish Christians and the North African Moors). Mimi informs us, “Humble though it is, the dish is also celebratory; no late-night Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) feast is complete without it. You can find moros y christianos throughout the Carribean and Latin America, and wherever the dish appears it is considered lucky, a symbol of plenty and fertility, and a harbinger of spiritual renewal.” That’s a lot of meaning to load onto such a simple dish, but far be it from me to quibble with something so ancient and tasty.
Pineapple — Latin American (107)
and Pomegranates — Middle Eastern (108)
Probably my fave thing on the whole AG Kitchen menu, however, is the pineapple pomegranate guacamole. It is a revelation. Pineapple is hands-down my favorite fruit, and this dish fulfills its destiny. In her entry, Mimi does not skimp on the history of the pineapple (so named in English because of it resembles a pinecone), and I was fascinated to learn that “the pineapple is in fact a collection of tightly compressed individual berries, which accounts for the husk’s three-dimensional mosaic of rosettes.” Pineapple is grown all over the world, most abundantly in Hawaii, but is a particular culinary favorite in Latin America. I was further educated that, if you have a whole fruit at home, it should be stored upside down, “so its sweet juices permeate the entire length of the fruit.” Pomegranates, Mimi illuminates, are native to Iran, and are mentioned as a symbol of fertility and good fortune in writings as old as the Old Testament. It is six pomegranate seeds that the doomed Persephone eats in Greek mythology, that eternally trap her in Hades for six months out of every year. Mimi acknowledges that trying to break into a pomegranate can be an almost mythological feat in and of itself, so better (in my opinion), to let someone else do the dirty work, and eat these ruby jewels all peeled and plump and resting atop mushed avocados.
Churros — Spanish (109)
and Dulce de Leche — Latin American (110)
Who doesn’t love churros? Only people who’ve never had them. The ones below were eaten with a couple of friends after a Broadway show, somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen. There are a lot of restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen, and churros are easy to find. I don’t remember where we were — but the food and drinks were great. Especially dessert. Churros, Mimi would like you to know, “are treats that satisfy that primal doughnut urge. Long, fluted, crunchy, and fragrant with cinnamon sugar… churros are formed by pressing yeast dough through tubes so it emerges as slim ridged ropes, which are then deep-fried.” On Sunday mornings up in my neighborhood, you can find churro vendors parked in front of every church, just in time to catch parishioners leaving services. The air smells like fried bread and cinnamon, and I’m positive the Good Lord approves. The churros we ate that night at that mysterious restaurant whose name is lost to time, were served with chocolate and dulce de leche dipping sauces. Dulce de leche is basically a super thick, liquid/solid caramel-type hybrid, composed of, Mimi tells us, “milk, sugar, care, and patience.” Originally created by Spanish and Portuguese colonists as a way of preserving milk, dulce de leche is “essentially a national addiction” in Argentina, but can be found as the base for popular desserts all over Latin America. It hit the mainstream in the US back in 1997, when Häagen-Dazs debuted a dulce de leche ice cream flavor, and Starbucks started putting it into their coffee drinks. Thank you to all the colonists and corporations who made this possible. Dulce de leche is the perfect way to end a night (and a blog entry).