Tis the Season for Mulled Wine and Democrats in Alabama
Welcome to This Needs Hot Sauce (And Other Food Thoughts). I'm a very hungry native New Yorker sharing something to cook, something to order, and some food-related reads. As always, let me know if you have any questions or need suggestions. I'm happy to help. Let's dive in, with the help of some art from the Tate Modern.
Something to cook:
If you're prepping for holiday parties, definitely make some mixed nuts.
If you want to ruin a storebought product forever, make hummus from scratch (or semi-scratch, no shame in canned chickpeas).
I use this recipe and step one is the most daunting and fun: peel your chickpeas. I remember making hummus with my mom as a kid so I've got some hummus experience and this 100% makes a difference. It takes less than 10 minutes to peel them and is kind of soothing. Podcasts are nice companions (this one is hardcore relatable). Finally, show off your hummus' non-plastic origins by serving it in a nice plate, with a little dip in the middle. Drizzle olive oil, sprinkle paprika and cumin and top with parsley. Never fails.
If you haven't cooked in a week, make lentil-vegetable curry. I made this one that's a hybrid of recipes from Feed the Resistance and Small Victories (Julia Turshen writes great cookbooks). I know lentil soup doesn't sound exciting but this is an absolutely wonderful thing to make yourself. It will make cozy lunches and dinners and freezes well.
Thai Curry Vegetables and Lentils
1 red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced or grated
2 tablespoons grated ginger (or a 2 inch piece, grated)
2 tablespoons green curry paste
1 can coconut milk (light is fine)
Lots of vegetables (I use a small carnival or delicata squash, 1 head of broccoli, half a bunch of kale, and some frozen peas)
1 cup red lentils
Water or vegetable broth
In a large pot, heat olive oil, saute the onion, garlic, and ginger until it starts to soften, about five minutes. Add the curry paste and saute until it's a bit toasted, a minute or so. Then add the coconut milk and bring to a boil, adding some salt. Reduce to a simmer and add your lentils and the vegetables that take the longest to cook (this could be squash, sweet potato, regular potato, carrots, cabbage, anything really hard). Add water or broth so everything is covered (I used about 2-3 cups but it depends on how thick you'd like it). Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Next add medium cooking vegetables (broccoli, green beans) and simmer for another 5 minutes. At the very end, add any greens (kale, spinach, peas) and simmer for another few minutes. Taste and make sure everything is fully cooked. Add more salt if needed. This is super flexible, so skip the lentils and double the veggies if you want. You can add less water to make more of a stew and more to make it a soup.
You can serve this over rice or on its own and it's really tasty with peanuts, cilantro, lime juice, and chili garlic paste (Julia Turshen's suggestions). I know the ingredients here might not be ones you own but red lentils are super cheap and fall apart in the soup, curry paste is great for stirfries and mixing with yogurt as a marinade, and trying new things is fun. Hope you enjoy!
Something to order:
Quick Brooklyn plug before we hop across the pond: M Shanghai has my favorite dumplings in New York, the spicy vegetable wontons with peanut sauce. It's super chill even though it's by the Bedford stop and you should order the pea shoots.
I spent most of last week in London which was the best! Like New York, there's food from all over the world and each neighborhood has a very different vibe.
Some random food trends I observed, followed by a few memorable experiences
-Halloumi cheese is everywhere (this is very good).
-They've skipped almond milk and offer mostly soy milk and at the hipper places, oat milk, which comes in a carton and seems weird.
-Lots of fancy restaurants had mocktails on the menu, which is nice and inclusive.
-We should probably be eating more scones and drinking more mulled wine. Just a thought. The Christmas Markets even serve it in coffee cups for maximum portability. Big. Fan.
-Take away food is cheaper than eating in a restaurant. Coffeeshops and casual places list two sets of prices and you can save a few cents by taking it to go. Especially in New York where I use a coffee shop for either 2 minutes or at least an hour, this would be great.
Where we ate (abridged):
-Ottolenghi: I was so excited to try one of Yotam Ottolenghi's delis in London. I ate at Nopi last night I was there and love his creative vegetable recipes and instagrams. We visited the Notting Hill location on our first there and the experience was pretty disappointing. There was no room at the communal table even though it was 3 pm so we got takeaway. The staff answered our questions as if they were doing us a favor by letting us spend money there. We got a bunch of salads (available by weight) and an expensive bottle of water (they wouldn't give us a cup of tap) and ate outside. Some of the salads were really good (the eggplant with pita croutons and amba powder and the sweet potatoes with walnuts and raisins stood out) but the broccoli and cauliflower were straight up undercooked. Like hard to cut with a dumb wooden knife undercooked. The customers were very fancy (it was Notting Hill which had sort of Tribeca or Brentwood Vibes) and maybe they got better service than we did. We also got a saffron pistachio bun for dessert, which they did not offer to warm up (we warmed it up at our friend's apartment) which was good but not life-changing. Everything was really expensive too. So Yotam, protect your brand and make sure you hire nice people and cook your vegetables properly. The people are counting on you.
-High tea at Bea's of Bloomsbury was so low key and fun. Their scones were fantastic (clotted cream is one hell of a drug) and the service was great. There are lots of fancy tea places in London so this one is less instagrammable and more friendly, which I appreciated. It's small so make a reservation. They had really good coffee too, which is important even at high tea. #teamcaffeine
-Pubs, pubs, pubs! London is a good place to drink. We visited Cambridge for the day and had a pint at the pub Watson and Crick used to hang out at.
We had Thai food and cider at Churchill Arms which covered its exterior in multiple Christmas trees. We played a really cool game at a wine bar where you try to identify a mystery wine from their list. The prize is a whole bottle.
I loved the mulled wine at this bar and also out of a coffee cup from a Christmas market (thanks for the tip, Teal).
The drinks at the Cocktail Trading Co. (thanks, Jesse) are so creative: Emma's was served in a seashell, Madeline's "Sauvignon Private Ryan" was in an army ration cup and they were playing Mr. Brightside when we walked in. My favorite cocktail of the trip was somewhere else...
- DISHOOM, easily the best meal of the trip. Dishoom is an Indian restaurant inspired by the cafes of Mumbai, which they refer to as Bombay. There are a few locations around town and the Shoreditch one is the biggest. The waits are long (restaurants take reservations a lot less frequently in London and in some places you had to actually queue up rather than leaving your number and coming back later). Local friends said it was worth it and six of us went Friday night. We were quoted a 2-hour wait and it honestly felt like the cronut line (which I've never waited in). Staff gave out chai and mint tea and sherry to keep us warm and it was gonna be a long time. I wore my boot the whole time I was in London and went up to ask if I could sit somewhere during the wait. They gave me a buzzer (huzzah!) and let us go wait in the bar area, which had seats. The rest of the group got to come in too and we got drinks and snacks, which made the time pass really quickly. This cocktail though had all my favorite things, described as "charismatic mix of lime juice, tequila and turmeric honey lassi syrup, shaken hard and strained finely into a sours glass. Warning: wayward drinkers must seek redemption." They seated us after 1 hour and 50 minutes and someone with Dishoom experience took charge of the group's order. The food was so impressive, all these dishes I'd never tried. It was a meal where the amount of food was daunting but then we finished all of it.
Pau Bhaji: This mashed vegetable mix that you spoon onto hot buttered buns. The menu claims, "No food is more Bombay."
Vada Pau: A potato fritter with addictive chutney
The bowl of greens was grilled broccoli and snow peas with chili and lime (so good).
The house black dal is cooked over 24 hours and so good.
The service was amazing and we didn't feel rushed after sitting down. When it came time to pay, I braced myself. We had ordered A LOT and each had drinks and some people got dessert. Split six ways, we each paid less than $45. Dishoom is a triumph and I already want to go back.
Other London favorites: the Churchill War Rooms (a must visit), the Tate Modern, strolling through Liberty of London and Fortnam and Mason, walking along the Thames, Kensington Palace, reunions with friends. Thanks Emma for being such a great travel buddy!
Something to read:
Anthony Bourdain on reacting to bad news
10 Kitchen Skills I've relearned after losing my hand
What's Hanukkah like in Ethiopia?
I finally watched Wonder Woman on my flight home and rereading this Gal Gadot profile was a delight (food related because, the egg sandwich).
Tried Pannetone last night from Trader Joe's (thanks, Zoe) and it's basically the Italian version of challah plus some dried fruits. Really good. Why do so many people hate it?
Happy Hanukkah! It's latke time and holiday treat time and year-end list time and also take a deep breath time.
Happy eating and thanks for reading.