Tag Archives: lamb

London Fare: Globetrotting Edition

For all you London lovers out there, I apologize. This week I’m going to write about some country hopping I’ve been doing and all the cuisine I’ve gotten to try. Never fear, there’s plenty to eat and write about in London for the rest of the semester.

A little background on the schedule here. I had only ten weeks of classes, which ended at the end of March. Then I have finals in May. So basically what is known as Easter break here consists of the entire month of April, or if you’re like me and your finals aren’t until the end of May, your break is pretty much two months long. Talk about a foreign concept.

So this extremely long break has given me the opportunity to do some traveling. I visited Marrakech, Berlin, Vienna, Athens, and Santorini over the span of 18 days. In a comic twist, almost every place had unseasonably cold weather for the days I was there. There were hailstorms in Berlin, snow in Vienna, and wind strong enough to knock you over in Santorini. Even with the unfortunate weather I had the time of my life. The history, architecture, and of course food in each city was unique and unbelievably amazing to immerse myself in.

I definitely enjoyed the food in Greece the most. I ate fish the most fresh and local fish of my life on a pier in the town of Oia, had a traditional lamb dinner at a restaurant on Santorini’s highest point, and gobbled down what my waiter referred to as “the best of the best” lemon soaked potatoes. The salads were light and refreshing, the cheese plentiful, and the baklava soaked in the most fragrant and delicious honey. It also helped that most meals were paired with a breathtaking view of the ocean, a nearby volcano, and more islands in the distance. My only complaint was the coffee. For some reason the Greeks seem to be very partial to NesCafe instant coffee and watery filter coffee. Not really my thing.

 

This little guy was swimming that morning!
This little guy was swimming that morning!
Traditional Greek dessert made from a boiled apple soaked in syrup
Traditional Greek dessert made from a boiled apple soaked in syrup
See what I mean about those views?
See what I mean about those views?

The rest of the trip featured much heavier fair. The food in Marrakech was a bit too much for me. I am a sugar fiend and would eat dessert with every meal if I could but even this cuisine had me dreading sweetness. Most dishes featured lamb, couscous, and maybe some vegetables, usually smothered in caramelized onions, raisins, and dates. Fabulous the first time but enough to give you indigestion the next. The famous mint tea might have been syrup and a lot of the traditional Moroccan salads even had candied vegetables on them. Way too much sugar if you ask me.

A selection of traditional Morroccan salads
A selection of traditional Morroccan salads
Lamb couscous
Lamb couscous

Vienna was stocked full of homey and heavy food. Bratwurst, bread dumplings, and schnitzel were just a few. The portions were big, the meat sliced thick, and the vegetables less than plentiful. Given the cold outside though, often meals like this were warranted. I had some absolutely delicious sauerkraut served piping hot in a big bowl and some perfectly salted beef dumpling soup. Boiled beef was very popular there, which admittedly is not my favorite way to cook beef because I think it strips it of its flavor, but sometimes it was served alongside the broth it was cooked in, which was positively packed with meaty flavor.

Traditional Viennese breakfast
Traditional Viennese breakfast
Roasted pork, bread dumpling, and sauerkraut
Roasted pork, bread dumpling, and sauerkraut

Berlin was the curveball of the trip. I had gone expecting the traditional German food I found in Vienna. Instead I got French, barbeque, Vietnamese, and Italian. I found Berlin to be a city brimming with growing and youthful culture. It was by far the trendiest and most cosmopolitan city on the trip. The Jewish quarter brimmed with art galleries and museums, Mitte was Williamsburg’s twin, even the oldest section of the city was covered in adorable little cafes set along the bank of the river.

French food in Germany!
French food in Germany!

For the architecture lovers I recommend Vienna, the World War II buffs Berlin, the outdoorsy Greece, and the adventurous Marrakech. For the foodie, all of them and more.

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Chocolàt Restaurant Lounge

Okay, so not everyone is a hopeless romantic like me. Some of you prefer a more lively dinner with bass-heavy hip-hop music and dark, blue lighting. Some of you would rather have a couple of cocktails instead of a nice glass of wine. And there are some of you who appreciate the chance to look over your date’s shoulder and watch the Giants play on either of two flatscreen TVs. Well, for you, I’d like to introduce Chocolàt Restaurant Lounge at 2223 Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Harlem.

While the word “lounge” implies relaxation, I felt a more energetic vibe. The restaurant was full and bouncing to the beat of the DJ. The bar cranked out drinks of every kind. Even the moody, blue lights seemed like preparation for a night dancing in clubs.

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To start, I had the fried calamari. Freshened up by a tangy lemon aioli, the calamari was light and crispy. It rested happily on the line between fine dining and simple finger food. Sadly, I was forced to share the sweet, tender squid.

Fortunately, the main course was all mine. I had grilled lamb chops with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. Sharp on the tongue with herbs and spices, the meat soaked in a pool of sauce, thin, but rich. The mashed potatoes were plump, cheesy, warm and delightful. The spinach was spinach. It took the flavor of the rest of the meal. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because at the end of the day, you can ignore all the fattening foods you’ve eaten and say that you had at least one healthy item.

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To end the meal, I decided upon a slice of red velvet cake. Now, I must offer a warning. Do not attempt to eat this by yourself after having an entire meal. You can’t do it. The cake is moist and the frosting is not overly sweet. A raspberry syrup is drizzled across the slice, adding a bit of complexity and variety depending on where you put your fork. The only problem is that this slice is more like a slab. The cake is four layers high and generous in width. Unless you share, you will not finish.

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Although I felt a little out of my element, I had a great time. The owner Leon Ellis says, “This is an emerging area in Harlem, it was designated to be ‘Restaurant Row’ on the west side, with the resurgence that started in Harlem. We were the first to open in the vicinity, because nobody wanted to come over here.” Chocolàt sets a wonderful standard for restaurants to come and I look forward to seeing the area develop as time passes.

Chocolàt Restaurant Lounge

223 Frederick Douglas Blvd (120 Street), Harlem, NYC 10026

T: 212-222-4545   F: 212-222-9594

www.chocolatharlem.com   zuri@chocolatharlem.com

A Home-Cooked Meal for Spring Break

Warm Waraq Dawali, with stuffed grape leaves, zucchini, and lamb chops

Much of what we associate with home is the food that we grow up eating. Many people will tell you that nothing is better than mom’s cooking. When we are homesick, what we miss most is our favorite home-cooked meal. After making the 12-hour-long trip back home for spring break, I could not help but ask my mom to prepare my favorite meal, and I’d like to tell you about it. This dish has many names depending on where you’re from. My family calls it waraq dawali, others call it waraq ‘inab, others dolma. Stuffed grape leaves (waraq in Arabic), are the main component of the dish. It is believed that the word dolma comes from the Turkish dolmak, to stuff. There are many varieties of stuffed grape leaves. In Greece and Turkey, they are served as cold mezzes, whereas in Egypt they are eaten hot, accompanied by other stuffed vegetables such as eggplants and cabbages.

My favorite dish, waraq dawali, is a pot with layers of stuffed grape leaves, stuffed zucchini, tomatoes, and onions, and lamb chops on the top. These layers are tightly packed in a large pot, cooked, and then inverted on a plate. The stuffing is usually a mixture of rice, minced meat, and tomatoes, although different households will have different varieties , just like different American homes have different varieties of Turkey stuffing on Thanksgiving.  While the pot is on the stove, the juices of the grape leaves and zucchini flow, trickling down through the layer to give moisture and a lot of flavor. The lamb chops at the very top of the dish (or the very bottom of the pot), are juicy and tender. This dish is really one of the most popular among people from the Middle East. It’s a perfect meal; it offers lots of protein from the meat and the stuffing, a healthy serving of carbs from the rice, and rich nutrients from the grape leaves and zucchini. It is a very filling meal, and can keep you warm when the temperatures in that part of the world occasionally drop below 60 degrees.

Appetizers: Lahmeh Mabroumeh on the left; Kibbeh on the right

Lunch in the Middle East is, of course, never complete without some delicious sides. The day I had my favorite meal, my mom also prepared two of my favorite side dishes. The first is called Kibbeh and originates in the Syrian city of Aleppo. A kibbeh is prepared by encasing a minced meat and onion mixture in a dough-like shell made from bulgur wheat, lemon juice, and even more meat. This oval-shaped dumpling is then deep-fried, giving the case a crunchy texture. No one ever said that all Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food is diet-friendly, but kibbeh is a really popular side-dish found all over the Levant and Iraq, with many different variations and shapes. The other side dish that I had was specifically a Palestinian pastry that consists of rolled up filo dough stuffed with, again, meat. Its name, lahmeh mabroumeh, is accurately descriptive because it literally means “rolled up meat.” Usually, this pastry is found as an appetizer accompanying other savory pastries like spinach or cheese pies (fatayer sabanegh w jibneh).

As you may have guessed, after eating all of this food in one sitting, I was too full for dessert, but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t have any. In my next post, I’ll tell you about my favorite Middle Eastern dessert, the knafeh. 

Georgian Cuisine

Oda House interior

New York is unique in many ways, but  the diversity of its residents may be one of the most important ways. This city has drawn immigrants from all over the world for centuries, and one of the lasting legacies of this is the immense diversity of the city’s food scene. One example of this unparalleled variety is located on the corner of avenue B and 5th street. Oda House is one of a very small number of Georgian restaurants, and I think it’s best to clarify that I am referring to the county located in the Caucasus and not the American state of the same name.

Khinkali - beef and pork dumplings

Georgian cuisine, while relatively unknown in the United States, has a considerable reputation elsewhere in the world. In Russia and other countries with closer contact with Georgia there is great respect and admiration for Georgian food and Georgian wines, which are often considered luxury items. My friends and I tried to order several appetizers and different entrees in order to best sample the sort of food offered at Oda House. For appetizers we ordered Qindzmari, boiled catfish in a cilantro, garlic, and vinegar sauce which was very flavorful and hearty; Khinkali, beef & pork dumplings which were well seasoned and very elegant; and also Megruli, a sort of cheese bread that looked a lot like a personal pizza and consisted of a mixture of Georgian cheeses. For entrees the party ordered Chashushuli (veal in a vegetable sauce), Chakapuli (seared lamb also In a vegetable sauce), and finally Chanakhi (lamb in a sauce of several herbs).

Megruli - cheese bread

Each dish was very sharable, presented on separate plates and with serving spoons, making the restaurant a good location for a group of friends. The restaurant has a pleasant atmosphere, its lively but was not overly crowded on a Friday night, and possesses minimal decorations to remind you that you are in a non-western restaurant. Most dishes have meat, and many also have nuts, but there is sufficient variety to meet most dietary restrictions and still enjoy the unique flavors. The restaurant was reasonably prices with entrees about $20 and well portioned appetizers about $10 a piece. Overall I would recommend the restaurant to anyone who is interested in experience the somewhat uncommon, but not particularly unusual and highly diverse and rich cuisine of Georgia.