Friday, August 31, 2012

French Green Lentil Salad

A basic simple lentil salad that couldn't be more satisfying, especially on a warm afternoon. The only trick is to season and re-season the lentils as needed and enjoy at just below room temperature. If you plan to keep them in the fridge for 2 or 3 days you may need to add more salt before serving. Cafe Drake's recipe is a simplified version of one appearing in Thomas Keller's cookbook Bouchon.

Rinse well 1 cup French (Le Puy) lentils and add to a saucepan, covering with water by 2 inches. Toss in a bay leaf and 5 or 6 peeled, whole cloves of garlic. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a very gentle simmer - overboiling will cause the lentils to break open. Cook for roughly 25 minutes or until lentils are tender but still slightly firm. Remove pan from heat and add about 2 t. salt and 2 t. red wine vinegar. Allow the lentils to cool in the liquid for an hour or so. 

When ready, drain lentils in a colander and gently toss with the vinaigrette as below. Just before serving stir in a good bit of tiny diced red onion and minced chives.

Vinaigrette: Mix 1 1/2 T. Dijon mustard with 1 T. red wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in about 1/4 cup olive oil until well blended. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

$1 A (small, very small) Bag Only!

Not the healthiest and not the worst snack ever, these spiced and roasted nuts validate Kansas City's reputation for tangy, smokey BBQ perfection.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Little Kitchen Music

Anyone who spends much time in the kitchen knows the importance of a culinary soundtrack - tunes keep us entertained, relaxed and sometimes even inspired. In an age when celebrity chef playlists are traded online Cafe Drake felt it only right to share the sounds behind our flavors. The songs never remain the same around here so check back in a couple of months and we'll lay out a list of what's currently rocking the autumnal kitchen.

Also, check out Death in the Afternoon's gorgeous Tumblr page. Despite the funereal name this is pure blissful Swedish pop.

 OMG we love King Melodies! Any of his 4 EPs keep us smiling while we stir.

Somehow Niki and the Dove combine best elements of several Cafe Drake musical heroines . . . Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, The Bangles, Kim Carnes. And yes, they hail from Sweden as well.

The THBC were the last offshoot band from Coil formed by Peter Christopherson prior to his death a few years ago. Dripping moody atmospherics, more than just a little eerie at times, the ultra-rare, full-length and only extant recording can be found on SoundCloud. Recommended sounds for cooking during thunderstorms.

Happy Birthday Us!!!!

Cafe Drake - the website - turned 7 this month. It's hard to believe so much time blogging has passed since that first post in August 2005, a feature on a culinary and historic house weekend in Newport, RI with Susan McKeever-Duys! 

In remembrance of temps perdu we've just uploaded a series of random photos (largely unedited, warts and all) taken well before Cafe D. made its web debut - please visit our annex site at Old Pictures. Right now we have several pages to scroll through and we'll post more images as we dig them up from dusty piles of photo CDs.

Here's to at least another 7 years online at Cafe Drake. Cheers and We Love You All!!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Chickpea Flour "Omelette"

Combining all ingredients except water at once makes this a recipe a cool breeze.

For best results fry "omelettes" in an iron or non-stick skillet.

These flatbreads resemble omelettes in color and texture (well, sort of). Try them with a spicy meat dish or stew and a vegetable and yogurt salad as above. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for about a day and reheated gently - with just a drop of oil - in an iron skillet.

Combine in a large bowl: 1 small onion, grated; 1 t. tomato paste, about 2 T. minced cilantro, 1/2 t. ground cumin, 1 3/4 cups chickpea flour and salt to taste (you'll need at least 1/2 t. and likely more). If you'd like, season further with a pinch of cayenne pepper and a t. or two of minced chilies. Mix well and slowly add water to the bowl until you have a consistency roughly that of pancake batter.

Heat a frying pan (iron skillet) over a medium flame and when hot dot lightly with vegetable oil. Ladle a large spoonful of the batter into the pan and spread out with the back of the spoon to a 5" diameter.

After 2-3 minutes flip with a spatula and cook until both sides are golden brown. Keep warm in a very low oven while you finish preparing the other omelettes/flatbreads.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Two More Quick Curries

Combining coconut with savory vegetables is a hallmark of both northern and southern Indian cuisine. Here's a real favorite: Heat a heavy pan (such as cast iron) and roast over medium heat 2 T. chickpea flour until browned and toasty, about 2 minutes. A pleasant, nutty aroma will emerge but be cautious to not burn - frequent stirring may be required. Set aside. Now in a large skillet heat 2 T. of vegetable oil and when hot toss in 1 t. black mustard seeds. As soon as they begin to pop and fly from the pan add in 10-12 fresh or frozen curry leaves. Now throw in quickly about 5 cups of shredded cabbage and 1 large green bell pepper, cut into slivers. Stir very well to lightly coat the veggies with the oil then season with salt to your taste. Cook until the vegetables begin to wilt significantly, adding water only if needed. Cook covered at this point. After a few minutes add the toasted flour to the skillet and stir vigorously, trying to break up any lumps that may appear. Cook for another few minutes - uncovered  - until the cabbage is done to your liking. Check for salt and add more if needed along with 1 t. sugar. Cook a minute or two longer and serve hot or warm, topped with slivered green chilies and 2 T. dried unsweetened coconut.

A rare cauliflower curry that features large chunks of the vegetable, not the typical smaller florets. Mild enough in flavor to be served with any Western meal if desired. Begin by cutting 1 head of cauliflower into roughly 7 or 8 quite large pieces, removing the toughest part of the stem only. Set aside and heat 3 T. oil in a large, deep pot. Add 1 t. cumin seeds and let darken for a minute then tip in 1 onion, chopped. Cook over medium flame until the onion is soft. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and about 1 T. of shredded or minced ginger root. Stir in now 1-2 T. tomato paste and cook until all is blended. Add salt to taste and 1 t. sugar, 1/2 t. turmeric and 1 t. garam masala. Place the cauliflower in the pot and toss around to coat with the spices etc. Pour in about 2/3 cup boiling water, cover tightly and simmer until the cauliflower is just tender. Good garnished with chopped cilantro and, if you prefer it spicier, a dusting of cayenne pepper.

Babysitting for Sloane in Sunset Park

A quirky neighborhood front "yard"

Lunch Time

Sloane and the Giant Sprinkler

Eggplant Salad with Mint Leaves

This salad/side dish has become a standard at Cafe Drake. We make it at least once a week during this season of bumper crop eggplant. You can use either the standard large globe eggplant (also known as Italian eggplant) or the smaller, skinnier purple Japanese eggplant as above. Either will be delicious but do be certain to brown the eggplant well under the broiler - they should be tender and only slightly chewy.

Wash either 2 large eggplants (or 5 smaller Japanese eggplants), remove stems and slice into thin rounds. Sprinkle generously with salt and leave to drain in a colander for 30-45 minutes, not longer.

Rinse eggplant well and pat dry. Don't get obsessive about this step, just remove as much excess water as possible. Place sliced eggplants in a single layer on a LARGE baking sheet (or 2-3 smaller ones, to be broiled in batches) and broil for 4 minutes. Flip the slices (this is easier with a spatula) and broil another 3-5 minutes or until all is well browned but not burned. Warning: burning the eggplant will result in a bitter skin.

Allow eggplant to cool slightly then toss in a large bowl with a dressing made from: 2 cloves of crushed garlic, salt and black pepper, 3 T. olive oil and 2 T. wine vinegar (white is best but red is fine as a well). 

Cover and refrigerate overnight. Before serving allow the eggplant to come to just under room temperature and toss with 24 fresh mint leaves. If needed, season with more salt and pepper.

Guisado de Quintonil (Stewed Amaranth Greens)

For those looking in the right place, amaranth greens appear periodically in Chinese, Indian and Latin American markets, always sold in bushy, floppy bunches. The large flat leaves' undersides are threaded through with crimson veins, decorative enough to be worthy of any avant-garde floral arrangement worth its mettle. Instead of a Vase Cafe Drake plopped ours in the more conventional Pot for a quick blanching - the full recipe follows below. This is a Mexican take on amaranth leaves, prolific in Latin kitchens during Mexico City's rainy summer season.

  • 3/4 pound quintoniles (amaranth greens)
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 large serrano chile, minced with seeds (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • Tortillas, for serving

1. Wash the greens several times in cold water to remove excess dirt. Fill a 3½-quart pot about two-thirds of the way with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and then the greens. Boil until just tender, about 3 minutes (timing will vary if using other greens). Strain and set aside.
2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent and softened, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, stirring until aromatic, 15 to 30 seconds. Stir in the minced serrano, tomatoes, black pepper and one-fourth teaspoon salt, or to taste. Cook until the tomatoes just begin to break down, about 5 minutes.
3. Pour in the chicken broth and stew, covered, until the flavors marry, about 10 minutes. This makes about 4 cups quisado de quintonil. Serve with tortillas.

Pickled Radishes

These quick pickles marinate to perfection within just 24 hours and will last in the fridge for at least a week or two. An authentic condiment for all Mexican meals, try these with any dried bean dish, tossed in salads or as part of an antipasto/relish tray. Cafe Drake keeps tucking a few into pita pockets slathered thick with hummus.

Begin by trimming the ends of 1 bunch of radishes. Discard the leaves or keep for another use if you like. Slice radishes into thick rounds. Place in a clean quart jar (must have a lid) along with 1 sliced green chile and 1/2 of a sliced onion. Throw in a clove of chopped garlic. Set aside.

Bring to just a boil: 1 cup white vinegar, 2/3 cup water, 1 t. sugar and just under 1 T. of salt. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 t. coriander (ground or seeds are both fine) and 1/2 t. mustard seeds. Stir well and pour over the radishes. Allow to cool then cover with lid and leave in fridge for 24 hours before gobbling.

Summer is Purrfect for Stretching Out

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lunch of The Lazy

Cafe Drake reheated dal from dinner the previous evening and enjoyed with a $3 falafel sandwich. Talk about cheap and fast.

Red Curry Chicken

We're not sure what is happening at Cafe Drake, so atypical is it for us to prepare Thai food at home, preferring authentic Northern Thai nom noms at select (Queens) restaurants only. (When Thai food goes wrong, it goes REAL wrong. And in NYC at least most of it is just so wrong). Even more surprising is the ease of whipping up a truly savory Thai red curry with minimal effort and maximum flavor. Keep it simple and serve this entree with steamed jasmine rice and roasted tomatoes as above. Snipped chives (or slivered scallions) and plenty of cilantro are essential garnishes. Fish sauce phobic? Switch it out for an equal amount of soy sauce.

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon Red Curry Paste
  • 1- 1 1/2 lbs. skinless, chicken thighs
  • 1-13.5 oz can Coconut Milk
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced 
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into very large chunks
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Fish Sauce
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves 
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat.
  2. Add Curry Paste and stir until bubbling.
  3. Add chicken and brown on both sides.
  4. Add Coconut Milk, bell pepper, scallions, Fish Sauce, lime juice, brown sugar and basil.
  5. Simmer until chicken is cooked.

A New Variation on Pad Thai Noodles, Sort Of

Pad Thai is the last dish Cafe Drake would order from most Thai restaurant menus as we're usually rewarded with a sticky pile of sticky-sweet noodles. Here is a wonderful recipe for a less cloying vegetarian version. Don't fret over the long ingredients list - we made ours without the bean sprouts or peanuts and substituted soft tofu for the eggs. If you can't find vegetarian oyster sauce just employ the traditional condiment found on all supermarket aisles. No tamarind paste? Swap out with an equal amount of lemon or lime juice. Should you have access to a nearby, well-stocked Asian market, try this dish and the eggplant below dressed with fresh leaves of rau ram, a spicier version of cilantro.

Vegetarian Pad Thai was particularly delicious accompanied by this recipe for Thai-style stir-fried eggplant.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

We Dine with Jen (Ruske) Frequently


Enoki Mushroom Salad
Cucumber, Onion and Spiced Peanut Salad
Simmered Dried Spanish Chorizo with Tomatoes, Peppers and Garlic
Smoked Eggplant in Red Chili Sauce with Chinese Chives
Cilantro and Parsley Salsa
House-made Pickled Carrots
Sourdough Boule and Whole Wheat Rolls

Bamboo Shoots with Green Chili Sauce

A most bizarre curry side dish, Bamboo Shoots with Chili Sauce. Here's how to make it: you'll need to begin with somewhere around a pound of bamboo shoot tips. Although the fresh variety is widely available at most Asian supermarkets (Chinese, Indian etc) they require more than a bit of fancy knife work and an extra sharp blade to peel and prepare. Better Cafe Drake thinks to buy the canned shoots, packed simply in water without salt or any preservatives. Drain and rinse the bamboo shoots well and slice into 2" long pieces. If you want to serve more than four people as a side dish, you'll need to grab two cans (not a problem as they coast about $1.75 each). Now in a small saucepan bring a cup of water to boil along with 20-25 fresh small green chilies. Yes it's a lot! Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until chilies are soft. Put the chilies in a blender with a bit of the boiling water and a good bit of salt - puree until relatively smooth. Now add 2-3 T. canola oil and stream in while blending. Toss the chile puree with the bamboo shoots and leave for 5 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Even better: mix all together and refrigerate for a few hours. Bring to room temperature before serving as a side dish or condiment.

Monday, August 13, 2012

New Fridge. New Random View.

Empress Dal

Of the dozens of dals cooked in Cafe Drake's kitchen this is the only version we make using plain old brown lentils. And although the most-popular-in-America variety is generally called for in this preparation, we prefer using (as seen above) the tiny French green lentils known as lentilles de Puy; they retain their shape and texture far better and are less likely to shed their skins while cooking. If you don't have the amchur (or dried mango powder) you may substitute the juice of 1 lemon. Amchur however adds a distinctive, floral note, is available at any Indian market for less than $2 per small box and is vital to many Indian recipes.

Begin by washing well and draining 1 cup of brown or French green lentils. Set aside.

Heat 3 T. vegetable oil (canola or grape seed are good) over medium-high heat in a saucepan and toss in: 2 t. cumin seeds, 3 whole dried red chiles (do not break up) and 1/2 t. turmeric. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Now add 1 clove of garlic (minced), the drained lentils, 1/2 t. cayenne pepper and 1 T. amchur (dried mango powder). (If using the lemon juice stir it in in the last minute of cooking.) Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that forms on top and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils are soft, no more than 30 minutes in general. If you need to add a bit more water during the cooking process. When the lentils are cooked ladle out about 1/2 cup into a bowl and mash well with a fork. Return to the pot and add 1 t. salt or to your own taste. Cook for another 5 minutes, uncovered, stirring now and then until a semi-thick consistency has been achieved.

Stir in lemon juice if using and serve hot, topped with cilantro and slivered scallions.

Octavio Joins Us For Dinner


Shrimp Crackers
Tomato and Onion Salad
Braised Bok Choy with Garlic and Dried Chilies
Pan-Fried Noodles with Vegetables, Bay Scallops and Oyster Sauce

Pork Stew with Tomatoes and Ginger (from Bhutan)

Pretty much everything goes in the same pot at the same time. Now do you really need simpler than that?

Bhutanese pork stew served with brown rice and stewed yellow squash snagged roadside in the Hudson Valley.

Bhutanese cuisine is simple beyond Western conception. Perfect combinations of fresh ingredients are seasoned with little fuss but judiciously; dishes are laden with red chilies that never decimate other flavors. The pork stew below, besides boasting a soul-nourishing broth, is a good introduction to a little known and misunderstood culinary world.

If we've tweaked your interest, here's a 2011 post featuring a Bhutanese cheese curry. (Cafe Drake prepared the cheese curry with enormous success for an enthusiastic cooking class recently at Brooklyn Brainery.)


Begin with one pound or so of boneless pork, center loin for example. This is the time to purchase a nice cut of meat, one of the heritage breeds perhaps, humanely raised. (At Cafe Drake we feel meat should be a special occasion and not an everyday occurrence so we're willing to spend more when do cook it). Cut the pork into cubes roughly 1" in size. Add to a pot along with: 3 cups of water, 2 T. grated ginger, 1 large onion, chopped, 1 t. salt and 3/4 t. cayenne pepper. Grind a generous amount of black pepper over all, stir well and cook over a medium flame for 30-40 minutes.

Now stir in 1 lb. of fresh tomatoes, cut into large pieces. Reduce heat a bit and simmer gently for another 15 minutes or until the meat is tender. This may take longer depending on the quality of pork used. 

When ready to serve taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. A very soupy stew, this is excellent with plenty of rice or bread for soaking up the succulent broth. Best when garnished with lime wedges and chopped cilantro.