September 17, 2008

R.I.P - David Foster Wallace

david_foster_wallace David Foster Wallace - novelist, philosopher, journalist, humorist and one of the best wordsmiths to put pen to paper died on September 12, apparently having committed suicide by hanging himself.

In his fiction, Wallace was considered the heir of Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo and in his essays and observational pieces, he could be a combination of Malcolm Gladwell and Chuck Klosterman. He could write with equal felicity about tennis, porn or food. He was published in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker and in Playboy. His breakthrough novel, Infinite Jest was named one of Time magazine's 100 Best English Language Novels.

I first learnt of Wallace from a 2004 Gourmet magazine article about the ethical complexities of boiling alive lobsters for food. I remember thinking at the time, 'this is an odd article for a food magazine.' But that was the subversive genius of Wallace - he could write a philosophical screed on the "whole animal cruelty and eating issue" in a food magazine. I'm sure that when Gourmet commissioned him to write the article, they were expecting a standard issue travelogue , not a footnoted, annotated essay, which as Slate writer Troy Patterson puts it, "ranks as a must-read for anyone even thinking of having dinner."

Since we all think of having dinner at some point, here is the article. Hopefully, it will make us think also of David Foster Wallace.

Godspeed, and farewell.

June 01, 2008

The Best Biryani in New York

sangam awningResize Wizard-1 Omigod! I think I may just have eaten the best biryani there is in New York City! Sangam is that proverbial hole-in-the-wall restaurant (it only seats six) that serves fantastic food from a limited menu. For most such places, the hype usually overshadows the food, but for Sangam, believe the hype, man (or at least get there fast, before the hype does overshadow the food).

As for the hype, here's what you need to know. I actually found and ate every last grain of rice of the biryani that we got on our last visit, literally - including a few that had fallen off my plate and on the table (much to the disgust of my date). I gnawed at the lamb bones. I even ate the frikkin' raita! I thought of my Mom.

In addition to the biryani (of which there are lamb, chicken and vegetarian variants), Sangam makes a Nargisi roll to die for. My only grouch is that they use ground chicken instead of lamb or beef. And for dessert, there is phirni, which, no exaggeration, will take you back to Birhana Road in Kanpur.

They have some vegetarian dooh-dahs - samosas, veggie rolls and the like - which are probably quite good too (I have no idea, 'cause I didn't try them - see no reason to).

Here's the kicker - Two people can eat there for under 30 bucks! The biryanis go for $7 - $9 depending on what you get, the rolls are $8 for a pair and the phirni is $3. And... on weekends they're open till 2 in the morning!

Someone please wake me - this has got to be a dream.

Apparently Ishrat Ansari, one of the co-owners started the restaurant because his wife made the biryani for some friends, word spread and soon they were deluged with requests for more. I say, good call Ishrat.

Sangam, 190 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012. Ph: 212.228.4648. Open 1PM - 11PM M-T; 1PM - 2AM F-S.

May 22, 2008

Crowning Glory

In the land of the Long White Cloud, just west of the Half Moon Bay, around campfires and in the warmth of the kitchen hearth, they tell the legend of the Wild Rose of Aotearea, a beautiful and noble queen who was a fierce warrior, a graceful chanteuse and was known for the indomitable courage of her convictions. A free spirit living up to her name, she thought that each day was a present and wanted all people to be the very best that they could be every day of their lives. So in honor of this mythical queen and the land whence she comes, here is a dish worthy of royalty.

You will need:

For the roast and the rub:

Two 6-8 rib racks of New Zealand lamb

2 tblsp olive oil

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 tblsp each: fresh thyme, parsley, mint, chives and oregano - all chopped. Also, a sprig of rosemary, chopped.

A beer/ soda can

For the stuffing (optional, but why the hell not?!):

A link or two of sausage (or the trimmings from the Frenching of the ribs, if available - see below).
1 onion, chopped
4 cups of mixed mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 can chicken broth

2 tsp dried thyme

2 tsp dried sage or marjoram

2 tblsp butter/ olive oil combo

Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:

2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp honey

1/4 cup finely chopped mint

2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil


Form the crown roast by bending each rack of lamb in a semi-circle and tying together end-to-end, fat side out, at the base and at the center, with twine. Or you can get a prepared crown roast. If this is a DIY project then you will probably need to
'French' the ribs too. In that case save and grind the trimmings to be used for the stuffing.

Preheat the oven to 375 deg F.

Rub the lamb with 1 tblsp olive oil. In a bowl, mix all the rub ingredients with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and apply to the lamb, pressing hard so it sticks to the meat (you know, actually
rub it in!)

Place the crown roast on a roasting pan, stick the can of beer in the middle to help the roast hold its shape and put the whole thing in the oven for 30-35 mins (130 deg F/ 10 mins per pound).
Remove from the oven, transfer to a plate, tent with foil and allow it rest for 15-20 mins. This is critical!

In the meantime, if you're making the stuffing, now would be the time to do so. Sauté the onion in a medium hot skillet in a olive oil/ butter combination for about 4-5 mins or till onions are soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms, season with salt to draw out the moisture and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add sage and thyme, cook for a minute or two and add the accumulated juices from the roast and the chicken broth. Cook for about 5-6 minutes, add the parsley and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

To prepare the sauce, combine the white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey and chopped mint in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and mix in the extra virgin olive oil. You might even give it a pulse or two (no more!) in a food processor.

To serve, cut the string away from the roast, remove the beer can, place the stuffing in the center and serve with the mint sauce.

Carve at the table and you might just get some!

April 04, 2008

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict has consistently been one of my favorite brunch options. For a hearty mid-morning meal, especially when said mid-morning arrives after an ill-spent liquid night, there are few things that are better. Having made many variations of the basic recipe, I consider myself to be a bit of an Eggs Benedict connoisseur. So when Rearset's (much) better half requested my recipe, I was only too happy to pontificate.

There are conflicting histories as to the origins Eggs Benedict - one version, according to the December 19, 1942 issue of The New Yorker, involves the Waldorf hotel in New York, a Wall Street type called Lemuel Benedict trying to cure a hangover and ordering "buttered toast, crisp bacon, 2 poached eggs, & a hooker of hollandaise."

On the other hand, Elizabeth David in her classic 1958 book French Provincial Cooking says that the origins can be traced to a French dish called œufs bénédictine. But then the French believe that all great dishes originated in France so take this as you will.

Whether it was an irate New York broker or a French farmer, I am just glad that someone invented it. On to the recipe, or rather my version of it. This makes one serving.

You will need:
  • Two eggs - at room temperature! Give up the nasty habit of cooking eggs straight out of the fridge!
  • An English muffin, split into half.
  • The traditional recipe calls for Canadian bacon or ham, but I prefer Pancetta. Use as much as you like, but at least enough to cover the muffin halves.
  • A few leafs of Spinach (why leave the Florentine out of the fun?!)
  • A few tomato slices
  • White wine vinegar
  • Hollandaise sauce*
  • Parsley and/ or chives to garnish

Here's how you make it:
In a wide, deep sauce pan bring to a fast rolling boil enough water to completely submerge the eggs. Think like you're cooking pasta - there should be enough water for the eggs to swim around.

Butter the muffin halves and place on a plate - they will form the base of the dish. Render the Pancetta in a medium-low pan till it is heated through and beginning to crisp around the edges. Place on top of the muffins.

Next, the tomato slices, which go atop the Pancetta. At this point hit it with some coarsely ground black pepper. Next up, the spinach.

Blanch the spinach for about 30-seconds to a minute in the water that you already have boiling for the eggs. Remove and 'shock' the leafs in an ice bath. This stops the cooking immediately and keeps the spinach nice and green. Put the spinach on top of the tomato.

Finally, the eggs! Add about 3-4 tbsp of the vinegar to the water. The acid helps the egg to coagulate quickly into a pretty ball instead of turning it into egg-drop soup! When you're ready to add the eggs to the water, turn it down to a simmer (you don't want the egg bouncing around in there), break the eggs into a bowl and then gently slide into the hot water. Depending on how runny you like your yolks, give it 3-6 minutes. Fish out the eggs with a slotted or mesh spoon and set on top of the spinach.

Spoon on the hollandaise sauce, hit it with some parsley and/or chives and serve.

One quick note - As hard as it to imagine, there is a method to the sequence of piling the muffin - put the tomato on top of the muffin and you will have soggy bread. Put the wet eggs on top of the wet tomato and it will slide off.

*Hollandaise Sauce
Beat 3 egg yolks in a double boiler over barely simmering water. Make sure that the water does NOT touch the bottom of the bowl that the yolks are in. Do NOT let the water boil or it will scramble the yolks. When the yolks have thickened add a tablespoon of lemon juice and beat again till the mixture has doubled in volume. Now slowly(!) add half a cup of melted unsalted butter while continuously beating the yolks. When all the butter has been absorbed, fold in a dash of cayenne pepper and beat again till the sauce becomes glossy and smooth. You can hold the sauce over warm water or in a thermos for about an hour but ideally, it should be served immediately.

March 20, 2008

It's All Stir Fry

All Stir FryFood. There's a lot to be said for it. Especially when the quality – in terms of taste and, um, presentation – and the quantity – unlimited is best, are both available in spades. Then you can really shovel it down. Okay, I'm getting a bit carried away.

To return to the neighbourhood of the point, yesterday, a bunch of colleagues decided to head out for lunch. Nothing eye opening about that, of course. But we decided by a quirk of fate (20 minutes waiting at Lemon Grass Cafe) to chow down at the Noodle Bar. As restaurant moniker's go, by the way, that one sticks out as a truly creative one. It must have taken days, failing which, a committee of thousands of creative geniuses to come up with that one.

Anyway, we duly chewed our pencils up, ticking off the ingredients we wanted for the big wok job. I've already forgotten its given formal name, but in essence, you pick the veggies, meats, noodle variety, condiments and sauce(s), and they stir fry the lot (and a lot it is) and serve it in a serious looking bowl.

The thing is, most of us, took in the first forkful (or chopstick full in my case – and proud of it, I might add (you would be too, if you were clumsy, not especially motor-coordinated and still managed a full meal with smooth, slippery fake porcelain chopsticks)) and remembered wistfully, the lovely Gordon House Hotel and its glittering star, All Stir Fry. I've been there over, and over. And I love that place. And I'm about to tell you why.

The concept is simple. They have three glassed-off stir fry counters, manned ably by a trio of wiry chefs (neither of whom are in that pic, though). Outside the glass is a salad bar of sorts, with noodles (usually ramen and flat) at the corner, veggies in front and meats on the other side. You take a bowl (red ring say you're a <sneer> vegetarian and a black ringed bowl says all's right with your world) and fill it up. Or, if you're smart, you take two noodles (yes, just two noodles) and fill just a wee bit more than half the bowl with stuff, veggies first and take it to the chefs. There's a fair number of sauces on the board classified by how strong they are and you're free to experiment with them, including asking the stunned chef to add three or more sauces together. Plus condiments if you like. The result, somehow, is always extremely hot, extremely fresh and very tasty food.

Start a meal with their most excellent crackling spinach and a beer, follow it with a quick wok. Which is involved, involving and very satisfying process I just described. You can go back for as many bowls as you like. And while wasteful, should a particular bowl turn out not to your expectation, you can always skip and get a more appealing one. I've never once visited them without hurrying to the services halfway through to loosen that belt one notch or two, and I've never once managed to put together a combination that I didn't like. Even as I write this, sunbursts of flavour are going off in my head – I've taken many a long wok in there – the devil's sauce and its fiery arrogance, or the marginally milder burn of the mongolian sauce... I think I need to go back for another fix.

I do believe they now have a much bigger menu, but frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. Didn't someone already say that? Well, it applies.

Dessert? Forget it. There's never space. And they do have lovely fortune cookies that say things like, 'You're about to get lucky.' As in what? The trouser tops will suddely turn elastic and you could squeeze in a bowl or two more? Sigh, that would be nice, come to think of it.

I do believe a restaurant review is supposed to include stuff about staff friendliness, knowledge, ambience and so forth. Well, let me see. Staff is nice. They bring the menu to you. And fresh bowls when you finish the last one. And the beer also. They know where the wok bar is. Ambience. That's good too. There's place to sit. A green wall with lots of woks mounted on it. High windows so you don't look out and focus on putting the stuff away. I cannot remember the music, but there must be some. And yeah, the Quick Wok costs Rs 300.

All Stir Fry LogoAll Stir Fry | Online Menu
The Gordon House Hotel, Battery Street, Colaba
Council Hall, Mumbai - 400039
Phone: 022-22871122

Images mooched from

March 19, 2008

Back to the Basics 08.01 - How to Hard-Boil a Freaking Egg

Since we have already confessed to a man-crush on Anthony Bourdain, who better to tell us than the man himself. From his “Les Halles Cookbook” (2004, pg. 69, Bloomsbury, New York):

“Put your eggs gently into a small pot filled with cold water. Bring the water to a rapid boil. As soon as the water is boiling, shut off the heat and put a lid on top. After 10 minutes, remove the eggs and slide them carefully into ice water to cool. When cool? Peel. Here’s how you know if you’ve done it right: If the egg is cooked through, the shell peels of cleanly, and the yolk is not surrounded by an unsightly gray ring. Gray ring? Try again.”
Couldn’t have put it better myself if I had tried.

March 11, 2008

Welcome to A Grain of Salt, a blog (mostly) about food and all things related

Over the years, I have realized to my great joy that I am, in fact, a foodie. There, I said it. There is no shame in it. When you begin to rhapsodize about the crunchiness of pig's ears or the bitterness of fried neem leaves, you might as well 'fess up. I have also realized, to my greater joy, that most of my closest friends are foodies. And so when one the closest friend of them all, brother really, and a successful professional and blogger to boot, asked me to write a food blog with him it seemed, it was one of those forehead-slapping 'duh!' moments.

And then laziness took over and we let the thought stew for a goodly bit. But here we are at last, and not a moment too late I say. The blog will be driven, at least initially, by rearset, whom you've already met and me, Kaultilya.

But WTF will you two write about, you ask. Hmm, let's see... share a recipe, or talk about technique, or diss a restaurant, or rave about a beer (or ten) or confess our man crush on Anthony Bourdain or protest the objectification of women using the Hooter girls as a case
study – I don't know, it will be pretty free form.

So welcome again. And remember to Take Life with A Grain of Salt