Archive for November, 2011

The Year’s Notable Cookbooks

William P. O’Donnell/The New York Times (“Rustica” and “The Foods of Spain”), Jake Guevara/The New York Times (“Seoultown Kitchen” and “Truly Mexican”), and Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times (“Cooking in the Moment”)
Published: November 29, 2011

It’s hard to do justice to all the great cookbooks published this year, but here are some of the Dining staff’s favorites:

Holiday Gift Guide 2011A selection of gift ideas from The New York Times.Go to the Holiday Gift Guide »
William P. O’Donnell/The New York Times
William P. O’Donnell/The New York Times
William P. O’Donnell/The New York Times.
William P. O’Donnell/The New York Times
William P. O’Donnell/The New York Times

ANCIENT GRAINS FOR MODERN MEALS by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, $29.99). Yes, part of the appeal is the title: “Ancient” sounds so much more interesting than “whole.” But Ms. Speck’s skill as a researcher, and her dual heritage in Greece and Germany, enrich the text — and not just in flavorful recipes like bulgur with butter-roasted almonds and cinnamon, and brown rice cakes with pecorino cheese, olives and sage. Refreshingly, she covers — and then dismisses — the subject of eating whole grains for health in the first half-dozen pages. She’s interested in flavor first, texture second and history along with both. JULIA MOSKIN

COOKING IN THE MOMENT by Andrea Reusing (Clarkson Potter, $35). Most chefs aren’t writers, but Ms. Reusing, of Lantern restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C., is a compelling exception. She built her reputation in the kitchen with ingenious combinations of Asian and Southern ingredients. Here she offers a vision of modern domestic life that includes chickens and small children, local bok choy and carnitas — and it’s written so nicely that you don’t hate the visionary. JULIA MOSKIN

COOKING MY WAY BACK HOME by Mitchell Rosenthal and Jon Pult (Ten Speed Press, $35). A Louisiana-influenced chef, Mr. Rosenthal runs three soulful American restaurants in San Francisco. He understands simple pleasures (prime rib, barbecued shrimp, angels on horseback) and how to give them the modern tweaks that home cooks want, like dates stuffed with peanuts and tasso. JULIA MOSKIN

THE FOOD OF MOROCCO by Paula Wolfert (Ecco, $45). More than an update of her influential 1973 book, “Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco,” this  colorful tome is the culmination of 40 years’ research and unprecedented access to Moroccan cooks and kitchens.JULIA MOSKIN

THE FOOD OF SPAIN by Claudia Roden (Ecco, $39.99). The first hundred pages of this doorstop by a prolific and serious food writer and Sefardita, or Jew of Spanish origin, offer a comprehensive history of the evolution of Spanish food. They are followed by a collection of clear recipes divided into a dozen sections, starting with tapas, and made accessible by inviting the cook to use canned beans and stocks. My guests raved about the thick spinach and chickpea soup, giant Galician tuna empanada in flaky pastry and lamb stew with honey. FLORENCE FABRICANT

THE HOMESICK TEXAN COOKBOOK by Lisa Fain (Free Press, $29.99). The author was never told in her Texas elementary school that if she ordered queso or kolaches or chalupas once she left home, she’d get only a plateful of disappointment. Transplanted to Manhattan, she found out. In her Dr Pepper-deficient environment, Ms. Fain taught herself to conjure the flavors she grew up on, and the fruits of her research make up this appetite-rousing book. PETE WELLS

MAKE THE BREAD, BUY THE BUTTER by Jennifer Reese (Free Press, $24). A great read for cooks afflicted by curiosity about the do-it-yourself movement in food. Ms. Reese goes beyond jam and chutney into pasta, pastrami and graham crackers. Even her failed experiments, like homemade hot dogs, are entertaining. JULIA MOSKIN

MODERNIST CUISINE: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF COOKING by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet (The Cooking Lab, $625). Dr. Myhrvold, a former Microsoft chief of technology, and his merry band of lab assistants have published an epic account of all cooking methods known to humankind — from primitive clambake to immersion circulator. The recipes are likely to drive home cooks mad, but the photography is both revolutionary and museum-worthy. JULIA MOSKIN

A NEW TURN IN THE SOUTH by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter, $35). Though he is the chef behind acclaimed restaurants in Atlanta and Athens, Ga., Mr. Acheson thinks and cooks like a civilian. His modern, Southern-leaning recipes are models of clarity and simplicity, and reading them makes you feel at home: the book begins with lemonade (spruced up with mint, rosemary and vanilla) and ends with chocolate-chunk oatmealcookiesPETE WELLS

ODD BITS: HOW TO COOK THE REST OF THE ANIMAL by Jennifer McLagan (Ten Speed Press, $35). Sweetbreads with orange and cumin may seem like something that only the mysterious wizardry of high-end chefs could produce. But with this book on offal guiding you through a Sunday’s worth of soaking and poaching these truly odd bits, they can be an elegant dinner on a Monday night. Light the candles, pour the wine, bring out the good silver; you’ll think you’re in a restaurant. NICK FOX

PLENTY: VIBRANT RECIPES FROM LONDON’S OTTOLENGHI by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle Books, $35). This collection of vegetarian recipes has been avidly taken up by those who shun meat, but it will be an eye-opener for carnivores. (Mr. Ottolenghi is one himself.) With their cosmopolitan influences and unfamiliar seasonings — stock up on sumac — these dishes make a compelling case that vegetables hold far more interest than meat for cooks and eaters alike. PETE WELLS

RICE AND CURRY: SRI LANKAN HOME COOKING by S. H. Fernando Jr. (Hippocrene Books, $19.95). A wonderful tour of a lesser-known cuisine. If you dined out and ordered Leela’s Chilaw crab curry you’d make a spectacle of yourself, coating your wrists in gravy rich with coconut, curry leaves, chile, garlic and cumin, flecking your face with bits of crab shell. At home, only your family will stare, and they’ll be a mess, too. NICK FOX

RUSTICA: A RETURN TO SPANISH HOME COOKING by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish (Chronicle Books, $35). Beautifully photographed though somewhat randomly organized, this book, by an Australian chef who was born in Spain, covers key regions and ingredients with many alluring home-style recipes: crisp baby shrimp fritters, fat green beans with garlic confit, roasted cod zapped with hot garlic and chile dressing and cheesecake with a caramelized top. FLORENCE FABRICANT

SEOULTOWN KITCHEN: KOREAN PUB GRUB TO SHARE WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS by Debbie Lee (Kyle Books, $24.95) isn’t a comprehensive guide to the cuisine, but her beer-friendly recipes are an easy way in. And once you make the pimento-scallion glaze — part of several dishes and delicious alone on burgers, cold shrimp, eggs — it won’t seem an inconvenience to go to a Korean store for the thick crimson gochujang chile paste you’ll need. While you’re there, you can pick up magnolia berry syrup for Ms. Lee’s chicken meatballs, soju for her chile chicken wings and sweet rice flour for her jeon-style shrimp cake. (If you give a moose a mandu….) NICK FOX

SIMPLY GREAT BREADS by Daniel Leader (Taunton, $22). When did bread become so complicated? Too many new bread books are thick with words, expounding on dry topics like the differences between a levain and a poolish. This slim volume, perfect for novices, contains just 28 recipes that manage to cover a lot of ground, from English muffins to ciabatta to chocolate babka. JULIA MOSKIN

THE SWEETS OF ARABY by Leila Salloum Elias and Muna Salloum (Countryman Press, $21.95). The authors of this intriguing cookbook are sisters of Syrian ancestry who plumbed the text of the “Tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights” for food references, then adapted recipes from medieval manuscripts to accompany 25 of Scheherazade’s stories. Most of the confections, made with nuts, phyllo, dates, saffron, honey and sesame oil, will be discoveries for those who know only baklava: many are fried, and even the halvah, perfumed with rose water, is unusual — a firm pistachio jelly. FLORENCE FABRICANT

TENDER: A COOK AND HIS VEGETABLE PATCH by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press, $40). The organizing principle is the tiny farm Mr. Slater tends in the 40-foot yard behind his house in London. He has seeded the book with tips for urban gardeners: how to weedasparagus (by hand), what to do when foxes take up residence (get used to them). Most recipes are in a Mediterranean mode, and all bear Mr. Slater’s impatience for nonsense and his unerring instinct for what’s good to eat. PETE WELLS

TRULY MEXICAN by Roberto Santibañez with J. J. Goode and Shelley Wiseman (John Wiley & Sons, $35) focuses on sauces, with chapters on salsas, guacamoles, adobos and moles. So rather than create composed dishes, you can use his unusual red peanut sauce or deep, rich adobo D. F., made with chiles and Mexican chocolate, to dress rotisserie chicken. Try a few more recipes from Mr. Santibañez — Rosa Mexicano’s culinary director before he opened Fonda in Brooklyn — and anchos, pasillas and guajillos could become regulars in your cupboard. NICK FOX

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Just another lunch at my Aunty Dora's flat on Park Street


I didn’t title my cookbook Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking for nothing. The best Sri Lankan food your are likely to get in country or abroad, for that matter, is not in a restaurant, but rather at someone’s home. Don’t get me wrong: I love to eat out when I’m traveling and check out new places, but sometimes you get food fatigue on the road. The best remedy for that is a home cooked meal. You know exactly where the food came from, who cooked it, and you can have it as spicy as you like–and as much of it as you like as well!


My Aunt Dora’s flat on Park Street in an area called Slave Island, is usually my base of operations when in Colombo. It’s centrally located, and my regular trishaw driver Nimal hangs out at the temple under the Bo tree across the street. I call on him to make many of my lunchtime excursions because he knows all my regular spots, and can weave in and out of gridlocked traffic to get me where I want to go,  no problem. It’s sometimes  a hairy ride, but never a dull one.


One Saturday, I was ready to take my cousin Sam’s family out to lunch somewhere, when his wife Charmalie started complaining that they had too much food in the house. Iraesha, the cook, had left several curries in the fridge, and they would apparently go bad if we didn’t eat them that day. Far be it from me to waste good food. Plus, I had been eating out almost every day for both lunch and dinner since I had been in Sri Lanka, and I needed a little break.


rice, the starting point of any good meal


parippu or dahl, when added to rice makes a perfect protein


miris malu or red fish curry


polos or young jackfruit curry


mallun or sauteed greens


fresh gotu kola salad


a gotu kola sambol


curried brinjals or eggplant


potato curry with kiri hodhi


fried onion sambol


I counted 10 different dishes–including rice–and all of them were good. I certainly didn’t expect such a grand lunch, but then I realized that this is how they eat everyday. And why on earth would you want to go out if you had food like this? They must look at me like I’m crazy or something.

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Sometimes these blog posts don’t work out as planned. I had planned, for example, to do a post on string hoppers, the rice noodle “nests” popular in Sri Lanka for breakfast and dinner. Problem is, I wanted to buck tradition, or conditioning, or whatever you want to call it, and have string hoppers for lunch. Not such a big deal, you  might think, but try finding string hoppers at lunch time in Colombo. My cousin Cane and I set off for Bambalapitiya with high hopes, but kade after kade, we struck out. In a land where rice reigns supreme, and lunch is the main meal, it seems as though it’s a serious breach of dining etiquette here to expect string hoppers for lunch.

string hoppers with fish ambul thiyal, kiri hodhi, pol sambol, and onion sambol

string hoppers with fish ambul thiyal, kiri hodhi, pol sambol, and onion sambol

So we ducked inside Hotel De New Pilawoos, a member of Colombo’s popular Pilawoos franchise (but neither a hotel or French or new), and settled instead for some biriyani. Sri Lankan biriyani is slightly different to what you’ve come to expect from this dish. For one, there’s no yogurt involved. The meat and rice are also cooked separately–and in this case the chicken is actually roasted while short-grain samba rice replaces the traditional long-grain, fragrant basmathi. You also get a whole hard-boiled egg, a side of minchi (mint) sambol, gravy for the chicken, and a piece of pineapple for good measure. We supplemented our biriyani with a side of beef curry because it looked so good!

the main event

with a side of gravy

and, of course, some beef curry

I must say that even though I did not get my string hoppers for lunch, I was not mad at this meal. The rice was bursting with flavors, prominent among them the essence of rose, which Muslims love to use in their cooking (and biriyani, of course, originally being a Moghul dish). The roasted chicken, though juicy, was much aided by the addition of the curry gravy. The minchi sambol added a cooling component to the whole meal (as did the sliver of pineapple), and the beef curry, though a little tough, tasted fine.

Of course, I couldn’t wash down a Muslim meal without a traditional Muslim dessert, so we chose to have some faluda. Faluda is a sweetened drink made with milk, ice cream and rose syrup, which is super sweet, and gives the drink it’s signature pinkish hue. There are also sometimes bits of tapioca floating in the drink for texture. You essentially stir up the whole thing and enjoy it like a milk shake. I hadn’t had faluda in a while, and this one was perfect because it was not overly sweet for my tastes. Though I had been to Pilawoos many times before, I can understand why it is the goto place for such foods as biriyani or Kothu roti in the evening–consistency is the key!


Hotel De Pilawoos

417, Galle Road, Colombo 3. (btw 6th Ln & Alfred Pl), Colombo, Sri Lanka

011 2 574795

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specialty of the house at Juchunyuan

Colombo has no shortage of Chinese restaurants, most of which serve food with its own particular character, shaped, of course, by local tastes (meaning, it’s much spicier than the run of the mill storefront Chinese in New York or any western city for that matter).  It’s also probably nothing like the ‘authentic’ Chinese food you get in China. That’s why Juchunyuan is such a find: It’s a Chinese restaurant in the heart of Colombo that obviously caters to a largely Chinese clientele looking for a true taste of home.

You could call this well-worn establishment a hole-in-the-wall because it’s off the eaten path, but a clean one at that exuding an odd charm. Though not heavy on ambience, the downstairs dining room, with its 4 semi-private booths, is at least spotless and cooled by AC. While upstairs offers additional seating, both times I have been there it was empty (which might have something to do with the waitresses not wanting to carry the large chafing dishes of hot soup up the stairs).

the upstairs dining room

Besides the paucity of décor, the first thing you notice upon sitting down is the gas burner built right into the center of your table, definitely an omen of good things to come. Also of interest is the single-page, double-sided menu that flashes Chinese characters at you (another good sign), but fret not as closer examination reveals tiny English subtitles written beneath. And anyway, didn’t you always want to know how to write “pig’s heart” or “sheep’s stomach” in Mandarin?

Once again, don’t be intimidated by the menu, because at least one of the waitresses speaks passable English and she will help you out with ordering.

“So how do we do this?” I shamelessly blurted. I might be a gastronaut, but never professed to being a know-it-all.

Our helpful waitress, Lena, directed our attention to the other side of the menu, which lists the different kinds of soup available. They’ve got fish, chicken, “pig bone” and even duck with beer among the offerings. You can order it spicy or not. We settled on the “three sort sea food with short rib soup,” extra spicy, of course.

Soup's On!

Soup is not only the starter here, but the star, as well as the medium in which you will cook your meal. That’s right; if you thought the chef was going to do all the work, guess again. This is, after all, not just any restaurant, but  a “Resraurant” as the sign proclaims.

Sign by Scooby Doo

The flip side of the menu features a dizzying array of ingredients. In addition to the afore-mentioned offal, they also have more normal stuff like prawns, cuttlefish, beef, mutton, and vegetables such as mushrooms, kelp, cabbage and kan kun.

“What’s good, today?” I asked Lena. She recommended the prawn wonton.

“We’ll have an order of those.”

I also got up to peek at the table next door, filled with a group of Japanese men happily swilling cold beers with their hot soup, and decided on getting some prawns, white cabbage, kan kun, and noodles.

“That should be enough for now.” I said, thinking about the “three sort seafood and short rib” that came with the soup.

Lena disappeared and reemerged with our utensils, an array of tools fit for us budding soup chefs, which included a tiny soup bowl and porcelain soup spoon, two metal serving spoons, one with holes; a fork; and a set of chopsticks. She flitted back and forth behind the scenes, returning with a delectable assortment of condiments—fresh chopped garlic and cilantro, peanut sauce, soy sauce, and a thick chili oil.

condiments and raw ingredients for the soup

“Wow! This is getting more interesting by the minute,” I said to my cousin Cane, who had turned me onto this place, though he had only eaten some fried rice on his initial visit. Cane was visibly excited because like most Sri Lankans, this was an entirely new dining experience for him.

Lena appeared next with a large stainless steel bowl of soup, whose broth was practically bright red from the preponderance of chilies. It’s good to see that extra spicy meant exactly that. She rested it on the gas burner in the center of the table, and turned on the flame. Then the stuff we ordered started appearing on the table in quick succession, raw, of course.  Our mouths sufficiently watering by now, we wasted no time, sliding a couple jumbo prawns (with head and tail intact) into the mix along with whole leaves of white cabbage, some freshly made prawn wontons, and kan kun  (stems and all).

Cousin Cane ready to get into some soup

While this stuff quickly cooked in the bubbling cauldron, it was time to assemble our bowls of soup. First in went the pre-cooked rice noodles, over which I ladled several spoonfuls of the spicy broth. Next I added a bit of all of the condiments, and finally some of the now cooked vegetables, wontons and a rosy red prawn. I gave it a little stir and sipped a spoonful of the broth.

“Wow! Flavor” I said as both mine and Cane’s eyes seemed to light up at the same time.


The broth alone was something worth writing home about with its three kinds of seafood and pork ribs. We found out after the meal that the seafood in question was actually dried squid, oysters, and mussels, which had been imported from China, according to Lena. As far as I knew, you couldn’t get this kind of stuff in Colombo.

The "three sort seafood" flavoring the broth -- dried oysters, squid, and mussels

More raw ingredients went into the broth and fished out cooked into our bowls. After much slurping and chewing it seemed like we actually made a small dent in the huge chafing dish of soup. But this was clearly a meal fit for a minimum of four people.

So we went away happy and satisfied with our taste buds thoroughly titillated, and resolved to bring the rest of Cane’s family to help us conquer the next bowl of soup (and next time we did go for the pig’s heart and cow’s stomach).  Juchunyuan proved itself a marvelous and surprising find in the middle of Colombo, and if you ever find yourself with curry-fatigue, it’s got just the tonic for you.


Juchunyuan Restaurant

450 B Charles Drive (off Duplication Road)

Colombo 3


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One of the new Sri Lankan food trucks selling lunch packets

Lunch being the main meal in Lanka, I noticed that there’s a ton of places to get a quick, midday rice and curry—from street side stands and trucks that sell 100 rupee rice packets to the informal, sit-down restaurants that cater to the office crowd.  While most rice packets are perfectly fine, they have usually been sitting around since morning and because they are already boxed, you really don’t know what you’re getting until you open it up. That’s why I prefer to go to a place like Gamay Kade. Though you pay a little more (240 for the basic rice and curry meal with 4 vegetables and a meat dish), you get a load of different dishes to choose from, all piping hot and fresh in the traditional clay chattys in which they were cooked. This is Sri Lanka’s version of fast food, served in a clean setting, under spinning ceiling fans, and on real plates.

My plate at Gamay Kade: fish, prawns, dahl, mallun, beets & mango curry

a side of fried fish

Arjuna's plate: fish, prawns, dahl, jackfruit, mango, mallun

I checked out the Gamay Kade (which roughly translates to ‘village diner’) on Union Street in Colombo with my friend Arjuna,  a  Sri Lankan filmmaker, and went away quite satisfied.  Not only were there about 15 different curries from which to choose, but they also served Chinese food, buriyani, and Malay specialties such as Nasi Goreng. After taking a peek at the sumptuous offerings before us, we told the cashier what we wanted, paid, and got a ticket, which we presented at the buffet line. Here, a lady served up a heaping mound of rice (red rice for me), as well as red fish curry, prawn curry, dahl with spinach, beetroot curry, mango curry, and mallun (sautéed greens). Arjuna got some jackfruit curry instead of the beets, and we also got a side order of fried fish. After washing up at the washing station, we dug in with our hands (the traditional way of eating rice and curry) thoroughly enjoying the feast before us.  The total food bill—a whopping 680 rupees (US $6.18 or $3.09 per person). It tasted as good as home made, and we did not go away hungry.


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Pure Perfection in a banana leaf packet!

Although I did a much earlier post about the “Battle of Lampreis” in Sri Lanka, I realized today after lunch that there really is no competition: The lampreis at The Dutch Burgher Union is hands down THE BEST and only lampreis worth eating. For all you novices out there, here’s a little refresher course: Lampreis is a complete rice & curry meal wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. Authentic, traditional lampreis is comprised of the following individual dishes–samba rice cooked in marrow bone stock; tempered brinjal (eggplant) curry; a fish cutlet or frikadel; a mixed meat curry of pork, beef, and mutton; seeni sambol; fried ash plantain curry, and blachan (a tasty condiment paste made of dried prawns, onions, lime, salt and spices).

Though she appeared a little creepy on the No Reservations: Sri Lanka episode, a little Burgher lady by the name of Lorraine Bartholomewsz, is still the one who makes the lampreis sold at DBU, and she certainly gets massive kudos for her cooking. The delicate samba rice was perfectly cooked and amazingly flavorful due to the rich stock it was cooked in, yet not greasy at all. The tempered eggplant was melt-in-your mouth delicious, while the fried ash plantain had body to it and was not mushy in the least. The mixed meat curry featured tiny cubes of pork fat to enhance its taste, and both the seeni sambol and blachan were bursting with flavor. Instead of only one cutlet or frikadel, there were two. The fact that each individual dish would have been amazing on its own explains why this little package of rice and curry was the equivalent of a multiple foodgasm. If the lunch crowd in Manhattan could get a hold of this, FUHGETABOUT IT!

So, thanks, Lorraine, for your skills, and thanks to the DBU for making this available to the general public. I would recommend calling ahead and reserving yours in the morning as the lampreis becomes available at 11 am and is usually sold out by noon. While normal rice packets sell for about 120 rupees, the DBU lampreis is certainly no steal at 390 rupees, but certainly worth every finger-licking mouthful. Enter around the back of the DBU where there is a little counter where you can pick up your order, and they even steam it for you, so it’s ready to eat!


Dutch Burgher Union of Ceylon
114, Reid Avenue
Colombo 4
Sri Lanka

Phone +94 11 258 4511 / +94 11 533 1661

Email – info@dutchburgherunion.org


back lot of the DBU

Lampreis: Get yours before its all gone!!!

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Green Cabin, 453 Galle Road, Colombo 3

According to my Aunty Dora, who’s old enough to know, the legendary Colombo eatery, Green Cabin (453, Galle Road, Colombo 3 — Phone: 588811 or 591841), and its sister restaurant The Pagoda Tea Room (105 Chatham St., Fort, Colombo 1 – 011 232 5252)have been feeding hungry Colombo residents for a long time. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I saw a sign saying that the Cabin is celebrating 127 years, which means it was founded in 1884, making it arguably one of the cities oldest dining establishments.

the dining room, which overlooks a nice garden

the bakery and take-away section

I, for one, remember coming here as a mere tot for short eats, cake, and their famous chocolate eclairs. Later on, when I was old enough to appreciate iced-coffee, this was the place of choice. It was only rather recently that I ate  a full rice and curry mal in their garden, a small oasis of calm in bustling Bambalapitya. I also used to come here for lampreis for lunch, though I think the quality of their lampreis is slipping. But whatever you say about Green Cabin, they are an original, and while plenty of new chains have cropped up to provide competition—including The Fab and Caravan Fresh—I still prefer the short eats and iced coffee at Green Cabin (with Perara & Sons as a close second). Not only do they have such a wide selection, but according to my cousin they are all made fresh in house. The same Rodrigo family also runs both spots as they always have, according to my aunt. In this age of big chains, you’ve just got to love a mom & pop shop where you can still get good food and good service as well as a little piece of history to boot. I managed to get a shot of most of the savory short eats on sale that day, but the stock changes daily. Also, they had a lot more whole cakes and sweet items, but unfortunately, no eclairs!

can't forget the ice coffee!

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