One of my favorite things about living in White Plains is its totally unintentional, unironic, very pre-mod touchy-feely multi-culti cuteness.
Aggressively indie, DIY, greenmarket-uber-alles Brooklyn it ain’t. Just steps from my apartment, there’s an Uno’s Chicago Grill. And if I want to throw on my hiking boots, I can really hit bastions of culinary experimentation and avant garde cookery, like PF Chang’s, Legal Sea Food and The Cheesecake Factory.
But in addition to the white bread drudgery of the main thoroughfares, White Plains also has 32 separate neighborhoods, many of which are, for better or for worse, distinct ethnic enclaves. Creepy, Orwellian, dystopian, uncomfortable social implications aside, the set-up makes for excellent eats. On my jaunts through the Plains with my dog Penny, we’ve discovered little pockets of Puerto Rico, Peru, Mexico, Italy, China and Japan, with little grocery stores, delis and cafes to match, their larders stocked to the brim with food from their homelands.
Every time I turn a corner in a new neighborhood, I smell tantalizing, funky, homey, spicy foodie smells — and I’m inspired.
Whenever I wonder how one would go about making anything from traditional North African Harira, old-school Scandinavian Gravlax or homemade Thai Fish Sauce, my go-to Bible of world cookery is Mark Bittman’s “The Best Recipes in the World.”
Since moving to White Plains, I’ve found myself reaching for “The Best Recipes” more often than ever. On Sunday, I decided to take that globe-eating spirit of gustatory whimsy sparked on recent neighborhood jaunts and create a buffet of world cuisine to pick from. Our friend Benedick, a rabid Pats fan, was coming over to watch football, and he is one of my favorite fellow serious eaters. I always know who to call if I want someone to sample my Pho, or if I need a buddy who will try sauteed goat eyeballs with me. He’s one of Stephen’s oldest New York friends, and one of our first visitors from the big, bad, city.
I’m including recipes for the most successful dishes below. (Some of my attempts bombed, most notably my frighteningly beige rendition of the usually inimitably spicy, herbaceous, bracingly fresh Pudina Pulao [a.k.a. Indian Mint Rice]).
Beef Empanadas by Way of China
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes 12 small empanadas
- 2 large hard-boiled eggs
- 1/3 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 TBSP olive oil
- 1 small garlic clove, pressed
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp red cayenne pepper
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 pound ground beef (preferably 80/20)
- 2 TBSP raisins, rehydrated
- 2 TBSP chopped pimiento-stuffed olives
- 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
- 12 large egg role wrappers (my Puerto Rican grocery store let me down — they were out of empanada dough and I didn’t have time to make my own, so I made do)
- 1 egg, beaten plus 2 teaspoons water for egg wash
- Sriracha, salsa, guacamole or sour cream for dipping.
- Boil eggs, peel, dice and set aside.
- Spray 2 parchment-paper lined baking sheets with Pam and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Heat olive oil in large saute pan add onion when hot. Cook onion, with salt, over medium-high heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and other spices, cook about 30 seconds. Add beef. Salt and pepper generously and begin to brown the meat. Break up into bite-size chunks.
- As meat is browning, add raisin, olives, tomatoes and cook until tomato juice has dissipated, but it’s still moist. Pull off heat and allow to cool. Remove star anise and discard.
- Meanwhile, prep the egg wash and put warm water in finger bowl to assist egg roll-empanada making. Spoon 3 tablespoons of meat onto a flattened pastry. Add some chopped egg. Roll up as you wish (I brought the four corners together and twirled them so they resembled a giant Hershey’s Kiss), seal with warm water, brush with egg wash and place on baking sheet.
- When baking sheets are assembled, pop in oven and bake until the dough is browned.
Korean Black Beans
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World
Makes 6 servings
- 1 lb. of dried black beans (rinsed several times and soaked overnight)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 TBSP mirin (or more sugar)
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1 1/2 TBSP dark sesame oil
- 1 TBSP toasted sesame seeds, more to taste (toast in a dry saute pan over medium heat until fragrant)
- Drain and rinse soaked beans, add enough water to cover, bring to boil. Reduce to simmer.
- Simmer, stirring occasionally. Check periodically to see if more water should be added. (Water should not ever dissipate completely; about 1/3 cup should be left when other ingredients are added). Cook until beans are almost tender, 1 to 2 hours depending on their age and soaking time.
- Add the mirin and simmer for five minutes. Add the sugar and soy and crank the heat. Maintain a friendly, happening simmer-boil, stirring furiously until the beans are nicely glazed and beans are still firm. Turn off the heat, stir in the oil and sesame seeds and serve.
Coconut Yum Puffs
Adapted from Mark Bittman
Makes about 3 dozen
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
- 3 egg whites, beaten to soft, cloud-like peaks
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch kosher salt
- For topping: Sesame seeds, Himalayan pink sea salt, poppy seeds, crushed pistachios
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray parchment-paper lined baking sheet with Pam, or line sheet with Silpat.
- Whip egg whites in a large bowl until they resemble soft clouds and hold a small peak — about 2 minutes.
- Add the remaining ingredients (not the toppings), mix with rubber spatula or hands until everything is incorporated.
- Using hands, form little round balls, about the size of ping pong balls, and place on baking sheet, about an inch apart.
- Leave some plain and top others with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, a funky salt, crushed nuts, or a combination of all.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until toasty brown. Let sit for five minutes on baking sheet before removing. Let cool for about 20 minutes and serve.
Nutritional breakdown for Beef Empanadas by Way of China: 20o calories and 8 grams of fat per empanada. Loaded with lycopene, protein, iron, Vitamin C. High in cholesterol, sodium, saturated fat.
Nutritional breakdown for Korean Black Beans: About 200 calories 4.5 grams of fat per serving. Simply bursting with rooting, tooting fiber. Significant source of seriously low-fat protein, detoxifying minerals, antioxidants and heart-healthy magnesium.
Nutritional breakdown for Coconut Yum Puffs: 87 calories per puff and 2.5 grams of fat per puff. The puffs are a caloric and fatty B-52 relative to their size, but they also harbor a potent bomb of nutritional benefits. Coconuts, considered a divine plant in certain Indian religions, are believed to bust up toxic regions of stress-causing oxidants, boost the metabolism, smooth out hormonal hiccups and heal digestive boo boos.
Cost breakdown for Beef Empanadas by Way of China: About $9 or $0.75 a serving, if you stock your pantry with basic spices.
Cost breakdown for Korean Black Beans: About $5 or $0.83 a serving, if you have to go out and buy just the beans and one of the sauce components. If you have to buy two or more, adjust accordingly.
Cost breakdown for Coconut Yum Puffs: About $3 as long as you don’t run out and buy a bunch of toppings, or $0.08 per puff.
The verdict: The empanadas were solid, super filling, flavorful without being too much for Stephen’s dainty palate and punchy enough to fail to bore my demanding buds, especially with a lashing of sriracha. There are what they are: zesty, hot, portable pockets of protein, nothing less, nothing more. Perfect to nom nom while watching (or not) the game. The beans were my favorite — they embody everything I love about the experience of eating. Fun to eat, delicious, nutritious, vaguely surprising and odd. The texture was firm, the sauce was smooth, the kick was salty with a heavy dose of fatty toothsome-ness, the consistency was buttery; they are healthy candy. (Sweet, perky, smooth, soulful, like edible Carlos Santana in my mouth. In a totally not-dirty way. Shut up.) The coconut yum puffs were Stephen and Ben’s favorites. Stephen feels quite strongly that the salt-tinged puffs are dietary supplements. “We should eat them with every meal. Do you think I can pack them with my lunch without smooshing them? More importantly: can I eat them with, no, as, breakfast?”
Make them again: Yes, though I may need to find a way to add more excitement to the empanadas. Pork? Perhaps. Better wrapper? Definitely. (I’m thinking phyllo dough).
In the future: I will try tempering chocolate and drizzling the puffs; I will pork up the empanadas and butter up the dough; I will stud the beans with even more sesame seeds.