Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Rise of the Transplants





Susan and Sloane, like ourselves, have migrated north to quieter lives above the city. Recently they drove up to Cafe Drake for a tour of our town and a quiet dinner spent snacking, sipping and confabbing. First Friday  - a monthly event highlighting the merchants of Division and Main streets - shows Saugerties at its best, resplendent especially in early December; scores of holiday lights lined most of the 19th century buildings and shopkeepers and gallery owners rolled out local treats such as hand-dipped chocolates, brownies, wines and Hudson Valley-distilled spirits (we were partial to grappa from the Finger Lakes, a specialty of the region's enduring Italian-American legacy).

Dinner at Cafe Drake was simple and designed for grazing and gossiping:  rich, gamey Scotch Broth given a Moroccan twist with ras el hanout, salad, tahini dip, toasted pita with za'atar, cinnamon and honey glazed and roasted tomatoes, pickles and muhammara. See recipe for the latter below.

MUHAMMARA (RED PEPPER AND WALNUT DIP)

Our first encounter with this sweet and rich Arabic mezze (or appetizer) was in the improbable surrounds of a Middle Eastern restaurant/night club in Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela. Many years later we still can't resist leftovers tucked in pita halves with lettuce, tomato and onion. Muhammara also makes a terrific sandwich spread alongside turkey. Vegetarians should smear thickly over toasted wheat bread, top with avocado slices and make carnivores at the table jealous.

For this recipe good roasted red bell peppers in the jar are fine, but if you have the time to roast and peel 2 large sweet red bell peppers you'll notice the difference, happily. Throw the roasted peppers in a processor along with 3/4 cup toasted walnuts (toast in a 350 degree oven, on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes, shaking now and then to avoid burning), 2 cloves of minced garlic, 2 T. lemon juice, about 3 T. chopped onion or shallots, 1-2 t. ground cumin, 2 t. sweet or hot paprika and 1 small, chopped jalapeno pepper. Begin to grind all together and then add - slowly - at least 2 -3 T. olive oil

Spoon into a bowl and season as you like with salt and black pepper. Cayenne pepper is good here if you'd like something spicier and Cafe Drake usually stirs in about a T. of pomegranate molasses if we have it around.

Serve with pita wedges, toast points, bruschetta, et. al.




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