Monthly Archives: August 2007

Voulez vous L’as du Falafel? Ordering falafel in French

L'as du Fallafel

I love falafel. A good falafel is crispy and savory and not dripping with oil, and an overwhelmingly wonderful comfort food. Who knew to transform chickpeas into such heavenly food?

A falafel, however good on its own, can take on phenomenal heights in a pita sandwich. A good falafel sandwich is just as much about the ingredients and accompaniments as it is about the falafel itself. I love a dash of hot sauce in mine,whether it’s Sriracha sauce (aka “rooster sauce” in our household for the rooster on the plastic bottle–or as one of my friends boldly named it, “cock sauce”), or some other piquante (but not salsa) sauce. Oh, and there must be cucumbers and tomatoes (ala “Israeli salad”) and tahini and even good old roasted eggplants. At home, because I favor making hummus, our falafel sandwiches like our chicken schnitzel sandwiches come with hummus instead of tahini.

I have had a number of decent falafel sandwiches, and only a few excellent falafel sandwiches–the best ones in Israel a few months ago, and our “local” Falafel Drive In.

And, we were told, that the falafels at L’as du Falafels would soon join that pantheon.

Could a falafel (in Paris?!) beat the wonderful Falafel Drive In of San Jose? Falafel Drive In has the BEST falafel in the SF/Bay Area, and my husband and I will often make a 100 mile round trip drive just to grab some falafel. That’s how good the falafel sandwiches are. Plus they offer a great banana shake to eat that sandwich with.

Falafel Drive In

But there we were, in Paris, hunting down some falafel place. Falafel–in Paris? Land of baguettes and cream and cheese? Yup.

When I asked my friends for recommendations in Paris, nearly everyone cried, “L’as du Falafel in the Marais!” And David Lebovitz, not a personal friend but someone whose respect I hold high, even listed it as #2 on his aptly named list of “10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris. Number two. Behind the #1 item of macarons at Pierre Hermes (the same macarons that Connie told me that I must try because “they will change your life.”) Well drats. I didn’t have time to hunt down and try Pierre Hermes and change my life. My life was unchanged, my feet firmly planted on the cobblestones. I’ll try the falafel instead!

So hence, the pursuit of falafel in Paris. Not in Israel (where the falafels are delectable-I haven’t been anywhere else in the Middle East to try), but Paris.

The thought of a falafel place in Paris was incredibly intriguing to me. The Jews were all but eradicated from Paris during World War II–any close peek at memorial plaques in the Marais will play out a story–of great regret and grief, as Jews were handed over to the Nazis and subsequently murdered, after Paris’s rapid occupation. One plaque in particular touched my heart; carved on the stone was a story about how the principal, faculty, staff, and students of a Jewish school were sent to Auschwitz to die because they were Jews. There are very few Ashkenazi in Paris–but now, the Sephardim (Jews from outside Europe) have settled into the Jewish neighborhoods and made this a sort of falafel district.

So there we were–one Jew, grandson of a holocaust survivor and me, traipsing through the streets, my footsteps echoing deeply in my mind. This was not just a falafel trip, it was a trip of history and what the neighborhood had become once again.

The falafel corner (for there is a rival falafel eatery across the way from L’as du Falafel) is on the narrow street Rue des Rosiers that resembles Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter book series. At least, that’s what a friend told me when I pointed the picture of the alley and all the falafel eaters out to him. And it does look like Diagon Alley:

Crowd around L'as du Falafel

The street, quiet and gray, comes to life at this bustling corner. Falafel! Want some falafel? The proprietors cry, before guiding you over to the line and taking your order.

Here’s a fella that didn’t even bother to take off his motorcycle helmet before putting in his order:

L'as du Fallafel

The line can be long, but the line goes quickly–the workers at L’as du Falafel are well prepared in the wake of its popularity, facilitating orders in the long line and making sure things move efficiently.

And soon enough, you’re rewarded with a falafel, along with a dash of spicy hot sauce if you nod (vigorously, in our case).

L'as du Falafel

There are trash bags for you to dispose of the napkin in your hand (for you will eat the ENTIRE sandwich). I am thinking these are the ONLY public trash cans I ever saw in Paris or in France on the whole. Where DO the French throw away their garbage? Do they carry their trash all the home with them?

After days of decadent and wonderful French food, it began to wear on us. My husband and I live in a place where we can have different kinds of cuisines everyday–and in our multicultural household alone, we have the legacy of at least three different cuisines that inform our homecooking. So the falafel was a welcoming and surprising break between beouf bourguignon and cheeses and creams and souffle and steak (yes, poor us!).

The falafel was terrifically good. We demolished our sandwiches, our falafel eating experience and hunger helping us leave nary a stain on our clothes, spilling very little onto the sidewalk. I still stand by Falafel Drive in located in San Jose on San Carlos Blvd (close to Santana Row and Valley Fair Mall), but L’as du Falafel is a must when visiting in Paris. I’ll agree with the thousands of others who recommend this place with a big thumbs up.

And now–I must find a way to make falafel from scratch, here at home. Chickpeas, here I come!

Beaune and Loiseau de Vignes: happy lunches in Burgundy

Loiseau de Vignes gougeres!

We were in Beaune, the capital of France’s Burgundy wine country, for a friend’s wedding…and from a foodie point of view, that meant we had dinner plans. But what to do for lunch? We were staying in the Hotel Le Cep, where I heard Bernard Morillon, a lauded Michelin rated restaurant, was housed. But when we arrived on a beautiful day in wine country, there was no such restaurant–instead, there was a sign that said “Bernard Loiseau” and beneath that “Loiseau de Vignes.” Apparently, there had been a change.

Not sure of this new development, and having arrived in town too late for lunch, we meandered through the ancient city center of Beaune, marveling at architecture hundreds of years older than anything in the United States, let alone California. We always tend to marvel at architecture in other countries for this very fact, before also admiring the particularities of French Belle Epoque, for instance, or English Edwardian. Or in Beaune’s case, architecture from the Middle Ages.

Late in seeking lunch, we settled down at a crowded, nondescript brasserie full of European tourists and took our chances. I ordered a non-risky simple croque monsieur and the husband ordered a classic Burgundy dish.

escargot

Escargots. Otherwise known as snails, slathered in butter and cooked. He happily ate them, and he allowed me a taste. We were definitely in Burgundy, and this set off a food theme for the next day’s lunch. I was going to eat food indigenous to the wine region.

So the next day, having woken up late again (jet lag, jet lag!), we hurried out of our room, eyes on a clock that moved closer and closer to 2pm, closing time for all the “good restaurants” in town. No time to search for a place to eat–we looked at each other and thought, “Let’s try Loiseau de Vignes.”

Loiseau de Vignes for lunch

We checked out the menu, salivating at its classic mien–the rehearsal dinner had been replete with ornate cuisine. Standing there, our bodies a bit parched from the previous evening’s wine and still groggy from jetlag, we wanted nothing but simple and straightforward. The menu, a stark white reflecting the midday summer sun, and printed in equally stark block print, appealed to us in both its aesthetic and content. Simple and straightforward it was.

So we stepped in.

And commenced on a delicious lunch that helped lift the food of Burgundy in our eyes. This was–fabulous!

I have to admit, at this point, that I do not speak much French at all. In fact, I would say I could not speak French at all, if not for the words, “au revoir” and “bon jour” (I learned “bon soir” and “bon nuit” on this trip) and “merci.” Yes, it’s that bad. I know more culinary French than conversational French–but you see that that’s not such a high bar. (Thank goodness my hubby speaks a good amount of French–my pronunciation of the 5 phrase French phrases I knew, as well as French words on signs, drove him nuts).

So ordering was a delightful guessing game at times. What EXACTLY was my boeuf bourguignon on a bed of? What EXACTLY was my pate accompanied with? And what were the dishes I did overlook? Was I passing by something amazing in favor of dishes I could identify? It was a delightful escapade, at least at Loiseau de Vignes, where everything came out delicious…and simple…and straightforward. (Even the interior decor of the restaurant is carried on in that vein–medieval and unadorned stone walls, unadorned cutlery, white plates).

Our meal started off with the most gorgeous, hot out of the oven, poofy, gougeres. If you know about my one and only previous attempt to make gougeres, using a bad recipe out of Ruth Reichl’s otherwise brilliant book Garlic and Sapphires, then you know my ongoing fascination with perfect gougeres. Mine were such a miserable failure, that I am in utter admiration of perfect gougeres. Popping gougeres into my mouth, while peering at the menu at a table next to a window looking out over the hotel courtyard (complete with our friend the nervous bride in jeans and sweater pacing back and forth the morning of her wedding) was a wonderful start.

The hubby ordered a Millefeuille d’Aubergine:

vegetable mille feuille

He was kind enough to let me have a bite of this dish that was quite a display of eggplant–fried pieces of crispy eggplant, with creamy eggplant puree in between. How decadent.

Because I heard that Bernard Loiseau (this restaurant is in homage to him, no?) is a stickler for French classicism, and because I was in Burgundy and was on a mission to eat all that was classic to Burgundy, I decided to go for a pate, Boeuf Bourguignon, and a Grand Marnier souffle.

My pate en croute:
pate

I prefer foie gras pate (if you know me, you know this goes without saying)…but I rather enjoyed this!

But things got even better with the boeuf bourguignon. The day before, my hubby had ordered the same dish at the tourist-ridden brasserie, and he looked with envy at my plate of beef, so tender it fell apart, doused with an aromatic red wine sauce. Say it together, please: Mrmmmmmmm…..!
boeuf bourguignon

On a bed of pasta, mushrooms, and croutons. And yes, I did let my husband have some boeuf bourguignon.

He wasn’t starving, he was having a filet mignon de porc:
porc filet mignon

But the best was yet to come. We each ordered a grand marnier souffle–normally, if we’re both ordering the same dessert, we decide to share. Maybe we were starving, maybe we each just wanted a souffle to ourselves (I mean, really–isn’t it fun to take the first bite of a souffle? And who wants to fight over that privilege?)…but this time, we each ordered the souffle, which arrived like chiral images on our table.

They looked magnificent–even as I took this picture, it only deflated the slightest amount, holding its loft for the camera splendidly.

It was infused with grand marnier and vanilla beans were everywhere…and the ice cream accompaniment was a classic pairing. Oh, are you just not so jealous? You should be, we were in heaven!
grand marnier souffle

Lunch was a great deal at about 30 euros per person. The restaurant has an exceptional burgundy wine list–with a good selection of wines by the glass (something I find sorely missing in the U.S.)

I hear that the restaurant, just recently opened, was limited to guests of Hotel Le Cep until July 24th, when it opened to the public. By the time I got to Paris, where we had an internet connection again, I found very little information on Loiseau de Vignes–only word that it had a lot of promise, in the hands of Patrick Bertron, who was the late Loiseau’s second in command for 20 years, and Dominique Loiseau, Bernard Loiseau’s wife. I also hear that this is a bistro version of the restaurant Loiseau itself. All this, I read after the fact–which I think made our experience all the more unblemished and without prejudice.

We were just looking for a good simple meal. And we found one.

Fried Green Tomato BLTs

Warning: This post may induce clogged arteries.
While I find it doubtful that some people have never heard of fried green tomatoes thanks to the novel and movie, I do find that lots of people have never had them. And that, dearhearts, is a crying shame.

Green tomato slices!

When I was about ten years old, my next door neighbor showed me how to make fried green tomatoes. (Yes, it was around the time when the movie first came out.) She was my grandmother’s best friend, and she was from Kentucky, and I thought she was the best cook in the world for quite some time. I don’t think I’d ever even considered that a tomato could be something other than red, or that you could fry it. When she and I went into the kitchen and dusted her fresh-from-the-garden unripe tomatoes with cornmeal, I thought that this might possibly be the coolest thing I’d ever done. They tasted like potato chips, but better, and I could have eaten them every day.

Green tomato slices in the skillet

We made them once or twice after that, but she moved and I grew older and since we didn’t grow our own tomatoes, we didn’t have green ones. And, up until I moved and started going to a farmer’s market regularly, I didn’t see them for almost a decade. One morning, I walked past a wooden box of green tomatoes, shiny and hard as rocks; I bought four praying I remembered the recipe. I searched online, and found recipes that baked them (they aren’t “baked” green tomatoes) and coated them with breadcrumbs (what??) or panko (hell no!). So I played around with what I could remember.

They’ve gotten to be more popular fare at both soul food hole-in-the-walls and at upscale places like Georgia Brown’s in Washington, D.C.. A few years back I realized that a bistro around the corner from me served fried green tomato BLTs, and I started going to that place more regularly. Continue reading

Summer Veggie Minestrone

minestrone soup

It’s the height of summer and all the fruits of the garden–zucchinis, tomatoes, and greens abound. What to do with all of them? Sometimes, I just look at the entire bounty in my garden and in the farmer’s markets, and lining the grocery store shelves and wonder, “How can I eat it all in one bite?”

Seriously. How can I eat it all in one fell swoop? I’m suffocating under all the tomatoes and summer vegetables!

These days I’m eating my fill of vegetables, as fast as I can: as snacks in their raw form, in salads, and as fillers for frittata and quiche…and soup.

I love a good soup–and though I did not grow up on homemade minestrone, it is a soup I have grown to love, with its savory tomato base and its medley of vegetables and hearty beans and pasta ingredients. You really can eat it ALL in one bite.

Over the years I have come up with my own variation of minestrone, and I don’t think I’m alone in that regard. There is no one perfect recipe for this soup–a friend of mine, a wonderful cook, brought me some soup a few months ago when I was sick and without appetite. Her soup was wonderful, but different from what I would cook. I lapped it up happily, it was delicious.

But first–a pause to admire the beans:

beans!

These were beans I picked up at Phipps country Farm, where we went berry picking last month. There is a part of the farm set aside for growing beans, which they then sell in the store–I admired the beans so much I bought two varieties: cranberry (borlotti) and autumn bounty.

The cranberry beans are the tan ones with little dark brown flecks–they sort of look like pinto beans. And the autumn bounty look like palomino horses, with big splotches of burgundy all over the beans’ white bodies. They looked so pretty, they reminded me of candy. (It is a HUGE compliment from this sweet tooth to be described as “candy”–mrmmm).

beans, soaked

And here they are–soaking. Remember to soak the beans overnight before using them (if you plan on using the beans for this soup, this is the all-important soaking step).

Okay back to the main thread of soup…

This was a recipe I cobbled together, greatly inspired by tomato provencal soup–I love the orange zest and hot pepper flakes in that recipe, and duly added it to my minestrone.

Additionally, there is a large quantity of vegetables in this soup, so you would do well to prep the vegetables ahead of time, chopping them up as needed, so that when it comes time to cook the soup, things can progress at a calm pace, as opposed to a bunch of sweating and running around chopping things up as you go.

ingredients prepped

Aside from the prep, this soup is incredibly simple to make–there is a particular order in which to add the vegetables: thicker, more aromatic vegetables first…then the cabbage and kale leaves last.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Pull up for some pulla

Pulla, done!

I just wanted some bread–which more than anything these days, thanks to the Atkins et al diets, is the sinful pinnacle of eats. Carbs, carbs, CARBS! This desire came from out of nowhere, almost like a character’s unwarranted, sudden actions in a badly written screenplay. There was no reason for this craving, it was just THERE. I woke up with it. I brushed my teeth. I wished the toothpaste was bread. I watched some television. The desire was still there.

I just wanted some bread–and not just any bread. Because if I had to have a sinful pinnacle of eats, then it had to be very good. I wasn’t going to just eat any old bread.

Should I bake some Cheese Board brioches? Or scones?

On that overcast Sunday morning, my unfulfilled desire drumming through my head, I flipped through the current Gourmet issue to satiate myself; perhaps if I saw PICTURES of bread and READ about bread, I wouldn’t actually NEED (er, WANT) bread.

Nope. There it was, a recipe for pulla, a Finnish sweet cardamom raisin bread. I love cardamom–I collect recipes that contain this spice that has all the delight of cinnamon without its harsh edge. I like it so much, I substitute cinnamon with cardamom in a multitude of recipes, including those for pie fillings.

So you see–couple my bread craving with my overall love for cardamom, and you’ve got a perfect intersection with pulla. All of a sudden, I had to make pulla.

Making pulla

Making the pulla is like making most sweet breads–there are two separate risings and it becomes a whole day affair (or at least, a half day affair). There is the combining of ingredients, the kneading, and then the rising…and again, some brief kneading and raisins, and shaping, and then rising…before finally baking (oh, and cooling–but who waits for THAT before jumping in for a bite?! I certainly didn’t.) But there is something leisurely and decadent to a bread that takes six hours to make.

And of course, I was satisfying an overwhelming desire, which in itself is a wondrous thing.

Pulla, now braided and ready for its 2nd rising

So make it and enjoy–it is just slightly sweet enough to make it perfect with tea. I’d add more raisins next time (I ahem, had already doubled the amount of cardamom), but would otherwise make no adjustments. Still, it was just sweet enough to not scream “dessert” or “pastry” and declare itself bread. I greedily pulled it apart, the steam still escaping from its braids.

Others liked it too.

When I took one of the loaves (the bigger one) to work the next day, the entire loaf disappeared within minutes.

“I baked it yesterday!” was all I had to say, before a multitude of hands ripped into the bread, tearing off chunks (it is the kind of bread that you just pull at and eat). They didn’t even wait to hear me describe what they were eating–nay, devouring.

“It’s pulla!” I yelled at the commotion, “A Finnish sweet bread!”
One person even mumbled, “Is it challah?!”
No–PULLA!
HUH?

And before you knew it, the bread was devoured.

I personally love Cheese Board’s brioche the most (it too, has raisins in it) but this is right up there in my list of loved sweet breads.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Korean braised chicken: dak jjim

Korean braised chicken for lunch

I love braised meats, even though it can tax one’s patience, especially when it comes to briaising short ribs, which takes a few hours over low heat as it perfumes the house with the savory delicious and unmistakably magnificent odor of beef stew. Braising is an inherently slow cooking process (as that’s pretty much the definition of “braising”): the meat cooks over a low heat with a small amount of liquid under a heavy (or tight fitting) lid. But the result is so fantastic: tender meat, infused with flavor, falling off the bone…and if you include them, a cadre of tender vegetables to boot.

But if you’re looking for something a little faster than Korean braised short ribs, thank goodness there’s a poultry category for braising. Still slow, but a bit faster, and oh so delicious too. Yes, there is a Korean braised chicken (“dak jjim”) dish.

Braised chicken was a staple dish of my childhood–my mom made several variations, one of which was a hybrid dish of Korean and Filipino (“chicken adobo”) chicken dishes. The one she made least was this spicy version, which I have come to love as an adult. It was, I guess, too spicy for us as children and so she crossed it off her food rotation, long after we had grown up and embraced hot and spicy flavors. (I don’t know why she didn’t just reduce the amount of hot pepper in the recipe–you can too, if you don’t like things too spicy).

Still, I wanted to bring this dish into my own home and into my rotation of family foods today. I have too many happy memories of plowing into chicken atop sticky rice for dinner on school nights and the voice of my mother ringing, “Yummy chicken!” as she would inevitably bring out a cookpot of steaming braised chicken.

Korean braised chicken done!

When I spotted a picture of it on a friend’s flickstream, I immediately asked her “How did you make that?” Her answer was a casual, “Ack, like for all Korean food, there is no recipe,” and proceeded to give me the rundown of the ingredients she combined. And so I proceeded forth, armed with that list of ingredients, and the memory of flavors intact in my tastebuds. You too, can vary the dish (especially the vegetables) if you please, because as you now know, there is no exact recipe for Korean food.

The result was marvelous–a bit different from that of my friend’s dish (I added to her ingredient list, as well as substituted several items), but one that sent my tastebuds ringing with good childhood memories.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Quick meal for 1: Pasta with leeks, peas and chives

rotelle with leeks, peas and chives

Today I awakened to a garden void of pea plants–the gopher had struck again! Overnight, he had taken the last of my five pea plants underground, adding to his delicious gourmet assortment of garden “finds”: dill, carrots, french tarragon, and now English shelling pea plants (yes, when this sucker takes a plant he takes the WHOLE plant).

This has left me thinking what he might be creating with the above ingredients–he has quite a lovely Spring stash.

Still, I’m glad I had the foresight to pluck the 4 pea pods from my pea plants last week; at least, I got to taste them (unlike my tarragon which he pulled underground before I could even pluck a leaf from it). He is getting me to realize that I really should not wait to savor the fruits of my garden–I should savor them NOW.

And so–what did I do with the peas from those very four pea pods? I made a quick lunch for myself! The meal now has more weight in my mind, for those are the only 12 peas from my garden (literally) I’ll have tasted. But they were oh so sweet.

shelling peas and chives

In the vein of my previous lunch for one, pasta with tomatoes, pine nuts and basil, I thought I would create the same for myself last week. Again, I was alone in the house but wanting a little something special for myself–and boy those pea pods were tempting me (and I wanted to get to them before the gopher did).

Recipe follows after the jump…

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