Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Sambol By Any Other Name

A U.S. dearth of Indonesian and Sri Lankan restaurants (there are less than a handful of Indonesian eateries even in America's largest melting pot, the borough of Queens, NY) has left most of us largely unfamiliar with the defining element of those cuisines - a panoply of zesty condiments known as sambols. Functionally identical to India's chutneys, sambols accompany every meal at the Indonesian and Sri Lankan table; a slight distinction is the fresh and typically uncooked nature of sambols. Another difference is the omnipresence of citrus as a souring agent. Cafe Drake loves these piquant menu sidekicks so much we're sharing our recipes for two of the most typical and adaptable. 


A Sri Lankan sambol perfect with Indian, Indonesian and all Caribbean dishes. Cafe Drake HRV quaffs  the stuff with a fave meal of black beans, yellow rice and fried plantains. Like most sambols however, this is a hot and salty so consume as a true condiment, i.e. in moderation.

Wash and remove the leaves from stems of fresh mint until you have 1 1/2 cups (fairly tightly packed). Add to a mini food processor or blender along with: 2 cloves of minced garlic, 3 chopped green chilies, 3 T. shredded and dried, unsweetened coconut and 1 T. lime juice. Let sit for 30 minutes to moisten the coconut. If you have frozen or fresh available, use that by all means. 

Process all the ingredients until you have a smooth-ish paste. Season with salt to your taste; you'll need about 1/2 t.


Tangy and salty, coconut sambol often surprises palettes poised for creamy sweetness. This sambol is extraordinary served with roast chicken or broiled or grilled fish. A long shelf life in the fridge (up to 8 or 9 days) leads Cafe Drake HRV to make a hearty-sized batch - the recipe below can be halved. If you don't have dried red chilies on hand substitute 1 t. cayenne pepper, more or less.

Start with 1 1/2 cups of dried, unsweetened coconut and cover with 3-4 T. of hot water. Stir and set aside for 30 minutes. When the coconut has softened and reconstituted add it to a blender of food processor along with: 2 diced shallots (3-4 T. chopped red onion), 1 clove of garlic (chopped), 1-2 whole dried red chilies, torn into small pieces, 1 t. salt and the juice of 1 medium lime (or to your taste). Process until smooth. Good chilled or at room temperature, store the sambol in the refrigerator.

Lloyd Likes Being an Indoor Cat

More snowfall and frigid temps, regular events at Cafe Drake HRV, ensure that Lloyd Page can always be found lounging near furnace vents. Above, Lloyd naps in one of his beloved warm spots.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cairo Nights or, Kosheri for Dinner

The building blocks of the ancient Egyptian vegetarian dish known as kosheri.

Lentils (tiny Beluga variety used here at Cafe Drake) and pasta form the backbone of the mounded final presentation of kosheri. Typically rice is incorporated as well but winter waistlines determined we its omission this time around.

Another Brooklyn transplant, Ruth Kopelman headed over from nearby Woodstock to join us for dinner.

The simplest spinach salad is a welcome, light starter preceding a hearty main like kosheri. Cafe Drake dusted the greens with finely grated domiati, an Egyptian cheese primarily made in Cyprus now it seems.

Meaty, thick-cut and happily chewy roasted eggplant slices roasted and dressed with mint leaves and zabadi. The thick yogurt dressing is great atop all manner of green and vegetable salads and also useful as a dip for toasted pita wedges. Whenever summer arrives toss zabadi with wide egg noodles and a bit of olive oil; serve as side dish with fish or grilled chicken. Less bracing than Greek tzatziki due to a lower garlic content, zabadi also benefits from the refreshing notes of minced mint. Cafe Drake makes ours like this: simply peel, seed and dice 1 cucumber and place in a mixing bowl. Add to the bowl: 2 cloves minced garlic, about 3-4 T. minced mint leaves, a couple of healthy pinches of salt, a bit of ground cumin to taste and a generous grinding of black pepper. Stir together with 2 cups yogurt and a couple of T. of water. Ideally the yogurt should be thick, so if you're avoiding the whole milk variety substitute low-fat Greek yogurt. Whisk until all the ingredients are incorporated and set aside for 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Taste for salt, adjust if needed and serve cool.

The completed main course arrives at the table. Kosheri ultimately consists of pasta tossed with lentils and then layered with spicy tomato sauce, caramelized onions and a tomato and chile relish. The weeknight North African repast was complimented throughout with a soundtrack of classic Egyptian tunes from intoxicating songstress Shadia.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

More Meals, More Snow

Japanese vegetarian cuisine, derived from Zen Buddhist temples, is often referred to as shojin ryori. We love the healthy lightness of these meals at Cafe Drake HRV and arranging/tablescaping them is at least half the fun. Incorporating protein via tofu is essential. As simple as it is speedy, nothing refreshes like a wedge of custardy-soft tofu decorated with sliced chilies or chives and drizzled with ponzu (a mixture of citrus juice and soy sauce).

A truly typical lunch at Cafe Drake HRV: okra and basmati pilaf, stewed chickpeas and whole wheat paratha.

Cashew Chicken, stir-fried broccoli, quinoa and house-made pickles. The poultry recipe is a new invention; based on the Chinese takeout menu standard, Cafe Drake's version is much less oily and can be prepared in 20 minutes. Don't believe us? Here's How: Cut 1 lb. of chicken tenders into 1" pieces and toss with 2 T. soy sauce, 1 T. Chinese cooking wine or rice wine or dry sherry and 2 t. grated ginger. Set aside for 15 minutes while you do everything else. That includes making the sauce and it's as easy as mixing together in a small bowl 2 T. water, 1 T. soy sauce, 1 t. Worcestershire sauce, 1 t. sesame oil and 1/2 t. sugar. If you'd like a more familiar, glossy sauce throw in 1/4 t. cornstarch. The clock is ticking so heat 2 T. vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. When the pan is very hot toss in the chicken, shaking off any excess marinade. Fry for about 2 minutes or until the chicken is opaque. Stir the entire time to prevent burning. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and throw into the pan 2 chopped scallions. If necessary add 1 more T. of oil. Cook for 15 seconds and return the chicken to the pan along with about 3/4 - 1 cup cashews. Cook for another minute or until the sauce has either thickened or largely been absorbed. Eat hot, and if you like, garnished with cilantro and/or sliced green chilies. A nice variation is to stir in 1/2 t. ground Sichuan peppercorns just before serving.

Our latest method of preparing pork katsu (above and below) is roasting the thin cutlets on a rack. They only need about 12 minutes at 400 degrees so 25 minutes prior to hitting the oven we tossed potatoes with salt and pepper and began roasting them.

Chances are it's snowy right now at Cafe Drake.

Salmon in a Bengal Mustard Sauce: After conducting a recent class in Bengali cuisine at Brooklyn Brainery, Cafe Drake perpetuated our latest food trend back home in the Hudson River Valley. Bengali mustard sauces tend to be bitter; the trick is finding a poised balance between pleasantly bracing and totally acerbic. The following recipe succeeds due to the addition of sugar and a brief cooking time. Remember, the longer dry mustard-based sauces simmer, the more wincing-bitter they become. Begin with 3/4 lb. of skinless salmon filets. Cut the fish into several pieces and rub with 1/4 t. each: salt, ground turmeric and cayenne pepper. Place in the fridge for about an hour. When getting hungry mix 1 T. water in a small bowl with the following: 1 T. ground mustard (powder), 1/2 t. cayenne pepper, 1/4 t. turmeric and 1/2 t. salt. Now add 7 more tablespoons of water to the mixture and stir till smooth. Heat 2 T. mustard or vegetable oil in a skillet over a medium flame. When hot throw in 1/4 t. black mustard seeds. After they have finished popping (cover the skillet with a lid if needed) add in 1/4 t. each of cumin seeds and fennel seeds. Pour in the mustard "sauce", along with 2-3 sliced green chilies, and adjust heat to a light simmer. Stir in 1 T. sugar. Quickly add the fish to the pan and cook gently for about 5 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the fish now and then but do not turn or stir. IF your fish cooks to your liking (medium, for example) remove before 5 minutes have elapsed. Very nice served - as in photo above - with a simple dal, rice and a yogurt condiment.

Gracious Visits to Brooklyn

Of the many perks of return visits to Brooklyn - delivering chutneys and conducting classes at Cobble Hill's temple of fun and knowledge Brooklyn Brainery - none are savored more than time spent with friends and helping ourselves to favored local grub. Above: the exquisitely tailored and immaculate environs of Cafe Jen and Ben and that Brooklyn/Lower East Side delicacy, the onion bialy. The classic Yiddish breakfast roll is so good at Peter Pan Bakery we brought half a dozen home to Cafe Drake HRV. Hint: they freeze well. Too well, says our waistline.

Winter Whites Remain in Style

Cafe Drake HRV is blessed with pristine vistas all around us, including as seen above, the grounds of Olana in nearby Hudson, NY.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Beluga Lentils

More than visually striking, beluga black lentils not only retain their shape when cooked properly, but offer a meatier texture than green or brown lentils. Keeping them firm is easy following our fool-proof plan:

Begin with 1 cup of black Beluga lentils. Rinse them very well in several changes of water and then drain. Bring a large pot of water to boil just as you would for pasta except skip the salt - sodium is often the culprit in unevenly cooked legumes i.e. soft outside, crunchy inside. When the water is rapidly boil add lentils and immediately reduce heat to low. Simmer the lentils for 10 minutes or so, never more than 15. Drain in a colander and set aside for further use. These cooked lentils will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days. Ours don't last that long though as Cafe Drake employs the tiny jewels in this winter salad as below.


We're pretty impressed with ourselves when we serve this salad nestled in Bibb lettuce leaves as an elegant first course. Leftovers are usually gobbled up with simple garlic crostini after guests depart for the evening but cold the next day is also sublime. Visual pun foodies might also try a spoonful over sour cream-crowned baked potatoes and see if anyone actually misses the caviar!

Make a dressing by whisking together about 2 t. of Dijon mustard, 2 T. good olive oil and 2 T. of your favorite vinegar (we've been using sherry, vermouth and an Anjou pear variety lately). Toss the dressing in a mixing bowl with about 8 thinly sliced baby bella mushrooms (white button mushrooms would work of course as well). Season all generously with salt and black pepper. CAREFULLY add in the lentils and stir gently to incorporate. Set aside for 30 minutes or more and re-season as needed before serving. The main goal here is to stir the lentils as little as possible to avoid breakage. If you have them around you can always add in some snipped chives and/or minced parsley but toss in just before eating.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

From the Lens of Jenifer Ruske

In the woods behind Cafe Drake HRV

Cold Outside, Warm and Cozy Inside

Into the Woods

Extraordinary Meal at PanZur (Tivoli, NY). Directly above: beef heart tartare

Drinking, Reading and Prepping Parsnip Salad

Just Lloyd

The ghee comes out for special meals!

Pork Belly, Red Cabbage Slaw and Creme Fraiche Flatbread at PanZur

Above photos: Assembling at table - and enjoying - an appetizer of Pani Pura

Lunch at Grist Mill Tavern in Gardiner, NY

Winter in New Paltz, NY

Grist Mill Tavern

Jen's Chocolate Pecan Pie

Lasagna a la Terziani

A Bounty of Wild Mushrooms (pan-fried in butter by Ruske for crostini cocktail treats)

Lloyd Requests Daddy Queue Up a New Spotify Playlist

Kitchen Prep Station at Cafe Drake HRV

Kale Salad and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

The Ever Popular Dance Party

New Year's Day Brunch