Category Archives: Reviews

Filipino Specialties at Nipa Hut

Though Cleveland is much smaller than Chicago, we are always heartened to see how much diversity is really tucked away in the city and surrounding area’s restaurants. We had a craving for Filipino food recently, and were happy to find that there were actually two Filipino options in the Parma area: Nipa Hut (6775 W 130th St, Parma Heights, OH) and Mely’s Kainan (5382 State Road, Cleveland, OH 44134). We were craving Halo-Halo (pictured below), so we opted for Nipa Hut, since we saw it featured prominently on the menu (very scientific, I know).

Nipa Hut is primarily a grocery store, but also with a separate seating area to dine in, but it did not appear to be open when we went. Instead, during our Covid-era visit the only option was to pick up food from their ready made take-out selection. However, this restriction was not too big of a deal since the take-out section actually consisted a large number of refrigerated items, as you can see below. From these we selected: pancit bihon ($7.95), chicken afritada ($9.95), Laing (taro leaves in coconut milk), and we finished up with pickled papaya salad. Other options included chicken adobo (soy and vinegar marinaded chicken with thousands or variations), menudo (pork stew, different than the Latin American menudo, a tripe stew), fried sardines, palabok (noodles in a shrimp sauce) and kare-kare (peanut curry stew). We brought home our choices to reheat in the oven, and overall they held up very nicely. We were really surprised by the Laing, which we had never tried before – it was both tangy and creamy, with a nice shrimp paste kick – all complementing the slightly chewy, toothsome taro leaves. The pancit, a rice noodle dish, is one of our go-tos because its mix of stir-fried meat and veggies is so comforting (in this case chicken and bell peppers). The chicken afritada, a homey stew with a delightful savory sauce of tomatoes and spice, was surprisingly complex, and the chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender.

And now for dessert, which for us, was the main event. We ordered a halo-halo ($6.99) to go for each of us (and who wants to share?), which we enjoyed in the car before it melted. This dessert was made to order, and not available in the takeout counter. Halo-halo is a frozen Filipino sundae-like dish that means “mix mix” in Tagalog, and it is an idiosyncratic combination of lots of different sweet delicacies all contained in a single cup. No two places make it the same, though there are often common elements, like ube ice cream and jellied fruit. Our Halo-Halo contained: puffed rice, a scoop of ube ice cream, a slice of flan, shaved ice, condensed milk, jackfruit pieces, chickpeas (!) and bright-green pandan jelly. The beauty of halo-halo is that the combination of elements is more than the sum of its parts, trust us!

Nipa Hut was also connected to a sizable grocery store filled with any sort of Filipino grocery your heart could desire. We were also extremely intrigued by the large selection of ube frozen treats, including a frozen ube pie, which we really regretted not buying. Within the aisles of Nipa Hut, there was a staggering assortment of Filipino sauces, canned goods, and treats, and a selection of jellied fruits to make your own halo-halo! There were also more esoteric inclusions tucked away, including balut, a fertilized chicken egg. We highly recommend Nipa Hut if you are in search for Filipino ingredients, hearty comfort food, or even a little halo-halo as a treat.

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HaiSous: Innovative Vietnamese in Chicago

When we were living in Chicago we frequently visited HaiSous (1800 S Carpenter St., Chicago, IL, 60608), a Vietnamese restaurant in Pilsen run by husband-and-wife team Thai and Danielle Dang. We really enjoyed our food and overall experience at HaiSous and its sister restaurant Ca Phe Da (right next door) each time we visited. And we were not alone in our praise: HaiSous gained accolades as a Michelin Bib Gourmand Pick and as James Beard award nominee.

Dining at HaiSous Pre-Covid

The restaurant is still open during Covid, so we wanted to heartily recommend them to those still in Chicago. We are happy to see they still have some takeout options (both curbside and delivery) of their best-loved dishes (available Thursday – Sunday 4pm-8pm), along with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks including their famous Cà Phê Sữa Đá – Iced Vietnamese-style Coffee. During Covid, they have also pivoted Ca Phe Da to a new concept: Dang Good Wings, which has a pared-down menu of coffee drinks and HaiSous’ famous chicken (plus waffles)!

Green Papaya Salad

HaiSous used to have a set prix fixe menu, along with a rotating menu of a la carte Vietnamese favorites. You can still get some of our favorite dishes for takeout including: Crispy chicken wings with caramelized fish sauce and chili and Vietnamese Fries (6pc/18pc $15/$38). Papaya Salad (seen above) – shredded green papaya with beef jerky, fresh herbs, sesame and chili ($13). And of course, the classic Bun Bo Hue – a rice noodle soup from the region of Huế – beef/pork broth with lemongrass, chili and annatto oil ($15).

Pho in simpler times

Alongside their takeout options, HaiSous has developed some additional innovative experiences, including a multi course meal with a pre-recorded cook-along demo for $40 per person. According to the site, “you cook one dish along with us, we’ll make the rest! Watch as many times as you’d like, it’s pre-recorded.” Each month there is a different menu, so you can keep coming back for more. March 2021’s menu includes a cook-along for Bún Đậu Phộng Gà, a savory dish of rice noodles, peanut hoisin sauce, chicken and Thai basil. Along with the March cook-along, you receive the following pre-made dishes: green papaya salad and Chả Giò, a Vietnamese egg roll with a lettuce wrap, plus a pandan waffle with whipped coconut mousse for dessert. HaiSous new menu and cook-along experience looks amazing, and we wish we were in Chicago to try it. If you do, let us know what you think!

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For The Culture Issue 01: It’s Personal + The Pandemic

The first issue of For the Culture is out! For the Culture is a new food magazine dedicated to African, African American, and African Diaspora women and femmes in the food and wine industry. The first cover features historian and author, Dr. Jessica B. Harris, and the overall theme of “It’s Personal + The Pandemic.” The magazine is edited by chef and cookbook author Klancy Miller, and features work by all Black women writers and photographers. Miller describes the magazine as filling a void in the food media world, and serving as a place to celebrate and amplify Black voices. The magazine was first funded through a crowdsourcing campaign and a bake sale in 2020, and the first official issue just came out in January 2021. The first issue is centered on personal stories of the pandemic, and contributors from around the world weighed in with their experiences. The original theme was only “It’s Personal,” but Miller later modified it to include the pandemic as 2020 went on, which has obviously affected the food and wine industry and communities of color (and their intersections) particularly severely. I treated myself to a copy of For the Culture for my birthday, and I highly recommend this beautifully photographed, written and researched magazine. Get your copy on the For the Culture website here for $25.

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Issho Ni: Ramen and more in Cleveland

Issho Ni Ramen Sushi & Hibachi (34302 Euclid Ave, Willoughby, OH 44094). We are always on the hunt for good ramen in Cleveland, and we are sad to admit that it is a little bit hard to find. We had heard good things about Issho Ni, in the eastern Cleveland suburb of Willoughby, so we finally decided to bite the bullet and make the trek all the way out to the east side. If you blinked, you would miss it, since Issho Ni is an unassuming restaurant in a strip mall just off of I-90. But appearances could be deceiving. The menu at Issho Ni was pretty extensive: ramen is only one of the options, there is also a full hibachi menu, and a wide variety of sushi rolls. Plus, as a bonus in these COVID-19 times, we really liked that you could order and pay in advance.

Despite the large menu, we were all in on ramen, of which there were five different varieties: Issho Ni Ramen (no broth, topped with an egg yolk $14.55), Kuro (Black) Ramen with pork broth ($14.55), Kiiro (Yellow) Ramen ($12.47) made with a rich pork and chicken broth, Spicy Tonkatsu Ramen ($13.51), and a lighter choice of soy-based Shoyu Ramen, which could be made vegan (without an egg $11.43). We decided to get two varieties: the black ramen, which was seasoned with black garlic oil and squid ink, and the spicy tonkatsu ramen, marked with four hot peppers, piquing M’s interest. There was also the option to order extra broth or noodles, along with other extra helpings of other toppings (or to omit ingredients). We ordered our ramen for takeout – and greatly enjoyed the contact-less takeout service – we placed our order online, and they brought it right out to the car for us. They were certainly attentive to the details, and we appreciated how they put the toppings/noodles and the broth in two separate containers, so they would not get soggy.

It took about a half hour to drive home, so unfortunately, we are sure that the ramen suffered a little bit from the transportation. However, we found that the ramen broth was still pretty hot by the time we got home. The toppings were generous: in addition to the roast pork, we got a soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and green onions. The tonkatsu broth that was the base of both of our ramens was rich and delicious, and the black garlic also added an unexpected umami flavor. Additionally, the roast pork on top had a nice char and umami flavor. The only mark against them, is that the noodles were not as springy as we would have liked, and were a little tough. However, we have to say that, overall, this was one of the best bowls of ramen in Cleveland so far, especially taking the broth into consideration. Based on our first experience, we look forward to trying all of the varieties of ramen at Issho Ni at some point in the future. We are so glad that we gave Issho Ni a try, and think it is a great addition to the ramen scene in Cleveland.

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Japanese Shortbread Dove Cookies – Hato Sabure, 鳩サブレー

There is a bit of Japanese theme going on at ETW this month, since January is M’s birthday month and we were supposed to be in Japan right now, if Covid-19 were not occuring. In lieu of a trip to Japan, we are indulging in lots of Japanese food this month. When looking for an easy dessert to make to go along with our Japanese green tea, I came across these dove-shaped shortbread cookies called Hato Sabure, 鳩サブレー (translating to “dove sable cookies”). These cookies were created by the Toshimaya company in Kamakura, Japan in 1887 when European-style sable cookies were introduced into Japan, as the country opened to foreign influence. Hato Sabure has grown over the years into Toshimaya’s iconic cookie, and the bird theme carries throughout the shop and its decor, as you can see below. I love a good cookie as an accompaniment to a cup of tea, so I am happy to report that these sable cookies went perfectly with our Japanese green tea. The recipe I used for Hato Sabure was from the ever-reliable Just One Cookbook. I didn’t have any bird-shaped cookie cutters, so I made them into dinosaur shapes, which I think taste just as good!

The Toshimaya Store by Marc

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Pisto: The original Neapolitan Pumpkin Spice

Between the two of us, M has the stronger love of pumpkin spice, and every Fall he has to get his fill of this seasonal flavor. What Americans now call pumpkin spice – a variable mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove – is similar to many spice blends around the world, and we just learned of another international pumpkin spice cousin: Neapolitan Pisto (Italian Wikipedia). The key ingredients of the Pisto spice blend are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, and coriander. Pisto is a key component of the popular Roccoco and Mostaccioli (below) cookies, which are eaten around the Christmas holidays. Mostaccioli [recipe] are diamond-shaped spicy cookies coated in chocolate, and Roccoco [recipe] are ring shaped with candied fruit. Other Neapolitan holiday cookies like susamielli use Pisto as a major component. You can buy pre-blended Pisto in Naples, but we have never seen it for sale in the US. Fortunately, you can find recipes online like this one from SBS / Italian Street Food.

Mostaccioli by Caleb Lost

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The End of an Era: Sokolowski’s University Inn Closing?

Poland

Sokolowski’s University Inn (1201 University Rd. Cleveland, OH 44113) is pretty much the definition of a Cleveland classic. The restaurant opened in 1923 and was Cleveland’s oldest family-owned and -operated restaurant. However, that run might be over soon. Due to a combination of personal issues and the threat of Covid, the third-generation owners decided now was the right time to get out of the business, and the building is now for sale. Tremont, the neighborhood where Sokolowski’s sits, is rapidly gentrifying, so the land alone would surely earn a pretty penny.

We visited Sokolowski’s right before we left for Chicago for the year, and we are glad we got to experience this stalwart in its full glory before it closed, pre-Covid. Sokolowski’s bread and butter was its cafeteria line, at which you could grab classic Polish and Eastern European dishes to make yourself a tasty and reasonably-priced meal. Typical fare included kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, pierogi, and chicken paprikash. Other American (meatloaf, Salisbury steak) and Italian (chicken piccata, eggplant parm) dishes were also on offer, along with a smattering of veggies and desserts. The restaurant itself was something of time capsule, filled with dark wood, knickknacks, and religious paraphernalia. The restaurant also boasted an enviable view of Cleveland and the Cuyahoga River from high atop a hill.

Going to Sokolowski’s is a right of passage for every Clevelander, and it even won a James Beard award as an “American Classic” in 2014. Sokolowski’s definitely represented the Cleveland of another era, and was one of the last of the old-style Eastern European restaurants hanging on. With the recent(ish) closure of the Slovenian restaurant Searle’s Country House in 2017, the closing of Sokolowski’s marks the end of a culinary era for Cleveland.

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Chengdu Impression: Sichuan in Chicago

Chengdu Impression (2545 N Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614) is one of the places we could have sworn we have already written about. When we were back in Chicago, it was one of our go-to spots to take friends craving Chinese cuisine. In the past few years, the number of options for regional Chinese in Chicago has really exploded, and we are so happy about it. Sichuan food – known for its spiciness, both in terms of heat and the unique numbing effect of the Sichuan pepper – in particular is now available at several restaurants throughout Chicago, and Chengdu Impression is a standout. Since the restaurant opened several years ago we have been there at least 5 times (and maybe more), which is saying something, since we are usually on the hunt for something new.

The Chengdu Impression menu includes both Americanized Chinese favorites (orange chicken and General Tso’s) along with a section of Sichuan dishes. We never tried ordering the American Chinese dishes, choosing to stick to the Sichuan side of the menu, but we assume they are good, too! Over the course of our many visits we started to settle on some favorites. First up is a classic dish, the mapo tofu ($13.50, above) tofu cooked in a spicy sauce with the signature numbing Sichuan peppercorns. The version of this dish at Chengdu Impression is our favorite in the city.  We also like to start off with a small appetizer portion of Dan Dan Noodles (spicy noodles in a Sichuan peppercorn sauce, below). Another one of our favorites was the dry chili chicken ($14.50), breaded chicken pieces with a mix of chilies, which we have had at other Sichuan restaurants, but we love Chengdu Impression’s version because there is not too much superfluous breading, and still a nice amount of spice. A dish that was new to us was “Ants Climbing a Tree” aka Ma Yi Shang Shu ($13.95), a savory dish with vermicelli glass noodles, ground pork and a spicy sauce. For those looking for something different, a great vegetarian option is the YuShiang eggplant ($12.95) sauteed with sweet and sour sauce (you can also get YuShiang dishes prepared with meat).

The Sichuan dishes at Chengdu Impression are fresh and authentic, with generous portions. On one or our trips we even with with someone who had lived in Chengdu, and he was pretty impressed. We absolutely loved trying a new Sichuan dish every time we visited, and we can’t wait to be back in town so we can continue to work our way through the menu. Fortunately, the restaurant is still open, as of September 2020, for takeout. And if you are going to the iconic Chicago Blues Club, Kingston Mines, in the future, Chengdu Impression is literally the perfect place to eat, right across the street.

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21st Century First Nations Bannock

One of the most emblematic foods of the First Nations in Canada is Bannock, a type of flatbread made with wheat flour, lard, baking powder and sugar. Versions of Bannock are found on both sides of the Atlantic, though the version in Canada may not be related to the Scottish version, and may predate it. Different Nations make their own versions and it is closely related to Fry Bread in the US. Check out this recipe from Eat Drink Breathe which has been adapted from Chef Andrew George Jr.’s book Modern Native Feasts. In the video below, Jean Cunningham from Alberta shows us how to make Cree Bannock.

Though Bannock is a traditional food for First Nations Canadians, new versions are being re-imagined in the 21st Century. You can find Bannock at restaurants at Indigenous-run restaurants in Canada, including Kekuli in British Columbia, which has several locations. We were delighted to learn about the recent appearance of Bannock doughnuts at new First Nation-owned café owned by the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation in Prince George, British Columbia.

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Pastry Post-Doc: The iconic Hawaiian guava chiffon cake

Today, August 21, is Statehood Day in Hawaii, which represents the anniversary of when Hawaiians voted by referendum for US statehood in 1959. To celebrate today, we are going to explore one of the most iconic treats from post-statehood Hawaii, guava chiffon cake. This dessert was created by Herbert Matsuba at Dee Lite Bakery in Honolulu in the 1960s, and has remained an island favorite ever since. The cake has spread with the Hawaiian diaspora, and is also popular in the California Bay Area, especially the classic guava cake from Aki’s Bakery (also sadly now closed). The traditional Hawaiian guava chiffon cake is bright pink from guava puree, and is topped with a guava jelly. The original Dee Lite bakery was bought out by Saint-Germain Bakery in 1990, which unfortunately closed in 2018. Here is a recipe from the Honolulu Advertiser, which aims to replicate the original Dee Lite recipe, as does this Guava Rose recipe. The New York Times shares a version adapted from Alana Kysar’s book “Aloha Kitchen: Recipes From Hawai‘i.” While we can’t go on a trip to Hawaii anytime soon, this may be the next best thing!

Guava chiffon cake from Dee Lite Bakery in Kalihi, Honolulu. William Yamada puts frosting into a chiffon cake. photo by Craig T. Kojima for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin

 

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Watermelon Ice for Ferragosto in Sicily

ItalyAugust 15, Ferragosto, is a national holiday in Italy, and one of the biggest events of the year. It originally was celebrated in Roman times as Feriae Augusti, the festival of emperor Augustus, however it was later syncretized with the Catholic holiday of the Assumption of Mary and moved to August 15. It is a day of food and fun, and also marks the peak of summer vacation for many Italians (and the closing of all of the shops for at least 2 weeks). Each region of Italy has different specialties for Ferragosoto. Watermelon is popular as a refreshing treat throughout the country, but particularly in Sicily, where it is used for the Ferragosto specialty Gelo di mellone (in Sicilian dialect: gelu di muluna/miluni). Gelo di Mellone is an iced watermelon dessert, similar to granita, but thickened with cornstarch. Traditional toppings include pistachios, chocolate shavings, and sometimes jasmine blossoms. It doesn’t seem very hard to make, and there is no special equipment needed. Check out these recipes from Food Nouveau, Italy Magazine and Memorie di Angelina. We are entering the dog days of summer here, and we think we may make some this weekend!

Gelo di mellone

Gelo di mellone from Italian Wikipedia

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What is Fiori di Sicilia?

We recently put in an order for tea from one of our favorite Chicago purveyors, Rare Tea Cellar, and one of their varieties is Sicilian Wild Flower Chai, featuring the the flavor “Fiori di Sicilia,” which literally means “Flowers of Sicily.” We were intrigued, so we took a chance (and it turns out we love the tea)! We looked up the extract, and it is not from any Sicilian flower per se, but is actually a combination of citrus and vanilla extracts. You can buy Fiori di Sicilia from King Arthur, or a variety of online sources. Food 52 has a cookie recipe that calls for Fiori di Sicilia, and it can be easily substituted for vanilla extract in most sweet recipes. If you are feeling especially DIY, An Edible Mosaic has a recipe to make your own Fiori di Sicilia extract. A similar flavoring is called Panettone Extract, which combines both vanilla and citrus flavors, along with some additional spices. This variety is also especially popular in Brasil, where it is known as Essência de panetone.

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The Kopitiam Experience in NYC

malaysiaKopitiam (151 East Broadway, New York, NY 10002) has been on our radar for a while. When we visited Singapore and Malaysia we were first introduced to Nyonya (also known as Peranakan) cuisine, which is a mix of the Chinese and Malaysian cultures that settled in the region. Since then, we have been on the lookout for this delicious cuisine stateside. Kopitiams are traditional coffeehouses/eateries found throughout Malaysia (the name comes from the Malay word for “coffee” and the Hokkien word for “shop”), and the NYC restaurant is a modern take on this restaurant genre. Kopitiam is inspired by the Nyonya heritage of chef/co-owner and James Beard Semifinalist Kyo Pang. The restaurant is co-owned by chef Moonlynn Tsai.

We were lucky enough to visit Kopitiam last year with a friend, so we were able to sample a wide variety of dishes in simpler times. Fortunately, Kopitiam is still open for carryout during Covid. As a result, the menu is more limited, but many of the favorites we tried last year are still there. Under normal circumstances, Kopitiam is a quick-service restaurant, no reservations accepted.

Kopitiam serves breakfast all day, featuring some iconic favorites including iconic kaya butter toast ($5) slathered with kaya (pandan coconut jam) and butter. This is one dish we are sorry we missed, and we hear it is amazing. Also available for breakfast is nasi lemak, which is perfect for any time of day ($9). The components of nasi lemak are coconut rice, egg, cucumber, and crispy anchovies, all topped with homemade sambal sauce, and it is definitely more than the sum of its parts.

True to its coffeehouse moniker, Kopitiam serves several varieties of coffee and black tea, hot and iced, and served with and without condensed milk. One of the most famous drinks is the teh tarik (seen above), tea foamed with condensed milk. There were other non-caffeinated options like Bandung ($4.5, the pink drink above) made with condensed milk and rose cordial syrup, or if you want a throwback taste of childhood, you can order Horlicks or Milo ($3.75) malted milk drinks.


We ordered two chicken dishes, which served as appetizers. First up was the pandan chicken ($6.5) steamed chicken dumplings steamed in aromatic pandan leaves. Those who like chicken wings, will love the Belacan wings ($7) bone-in chicken wings coated in a salty-sweet caramelized shrimp paste chicken. Our favorite light bite was probably the cold spicy sesame noodles ($8), the house-made spicy sauce was both rich and savory – a total umami bomb – and perfectly served cold. We can’t turn down handmade noodles, so we had to order the Pan Mee ($12) flat homemade flour noodles in anchovy broth, fried anchovies, wood ear mushroom, spinach and minced pork. This was probably my favorite dish, and the mix of flavors with the salty anchovy kick was amazing.

Don’t sleep on the desserts either. We were really excited to see a variety of Kue Lapis, a many-layered flavored cake, here served in a cinnamon version ($3). You can also order rose and lychee flavored mochi, or honeycomb cake. Kopitiam is a real taste of Malaysia in New York, and we can really appreciate the dedication and care the team brings to every dish. We are looking forward to getting back to NYC some day soon and sampling more of what Kopitiam has to offer.

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Tamales de ceniza: Ash tamales from Puebla at Sabor Poblano

Mexico FlagOver winter break in Chicago last year we visited Sabor Poblano (7027 N. Clark) in Rogers Park after it was highly recommended to us (and it later was reviewed in the Chicago Reader). We are so glad to try a restaurant that features the foods of Pueblo State in Mexico, and we loved tasting regional specialties, including some dishes we had never heard before. They are open for pickup now, so please give them a try. The menu includes pambazos (dipped sandwiches), quesadillas, tacos and a variety of moles, and some special weekend-only dishes like barbacoa. Everything we tried was delicious, and one of our favorites, the red mole Poblano, was killer. We were really excited to try a much rarer specialty from Puebla – tamales de ceniza – which translates directly to “ash tamales.” These tamales are known in Morelos and Guerrero state as Tamales Nejas.

Tamales de Ceniza at Sabor Poblano in Chicago

Tamales de ceniza are flat, unfilled and rectangular, and are made with masa and ashes from the wood-fire stove, and steamed in banana leaves. The flavor of the Tamales de ceniza was really interesting! The black flecks permeated the masa, and the flavor was smoky, but not gritty like you may think ash would be. Since these tamales, unlike many other Mexican varieties, are not filled, and are used more as a platform for other sauces and flavors. At Sabor Poblano they are served as the perfect vehicle for the green mole sauce and chicken. There are similar tamales from Michoacán called corundas, which are triangular, but are also not filled. There are not many recipes for Tamales de ceniza online of you are looking to re-create them at home, but here is a recipe in Spanish. One of our favorite cooking YouTube channels, De mi Rancho a Tu Cocina has a video for how to make the similar corundas.

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Support the Bakers Against Racism International Bake Sale

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I have been really happy to see the Bakers Against Racism bake sale project on Instagram gaining attention and participation. Started by DC-based pastry chef Paola Velez, a James Beard Award finalist, along with chefs Willa Pelini and Rob Rubba, this project aims to unite bakers (professional and amateur alike) who will be selling baked goods with at least 50% of the proceeds going to charities benefiting the Black community. The best way to see what bakeries in your area are participating is to check out the Bakers Against Racism Instagram (and there may be accounts for your specific area), and to follow the Bakers Against Racism hashtag. Pre-sales start today, June 15, for most bakeries, with pickup on June 20. Some bakeries may also offer shipping or delivery. So buy some baked goods for a good cause!

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How to make Yewande Komolafe’s Nigerian Jollof Rice

Jollof rice is one of the most famous dishes in West Africa, and famously, each country thinks their take on the dish is is the best. Jollof rice is made with garlic, ginger, onions and habanero / scotch bonnet peppers (you can customize the heat levels), and it often accompanies roasted meat or fish dishes, and sides like fried plantains. It is considered one of the national dishes of Nigeria, and it is to that country to which we turn today for our Jollof rice journey.

Yewande Komolafe is a NYC-based chef who was raised in Lagos, Nigeria. She previously shared her 10 Essential Nigerian recipes with the New York Times, one of which being Jollof rice. We have enjoyed Jollof rice many times in restaurants, but never tried to make it ourselves. However, after watching Yewande Komolafe’s video, we knew we had to take the plunge. Her Jollof rice recipe [here] was easy to follow, and we even had most of the necessary ingredients on hand already. One note: the recipe calls for parboiled rice, and if you are just using regular rice, you will want to add more liquid than the recipe calls for in order to properly cook the rice. The end result was delicious: hearty, spiced and spicy, thanks to the scotch bonnet. As she says in the video, this would make a great meal for a crowd alongside other hearty Nigerian recipes. We served our Jollof Rice with chicken thighs roasted in Obe Ata (which is the same taste profile as the Jollof Rice) and fried plantains.

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Teranga restaurant at The Africa Center in NYC

When we visited New York City last fall we met a friend for some food and snacks at Teranga, located on the ground floor of The Africa Center in Harlem (1280 5th Ave.). The mission of The Africa Center is to celebrate contemporary African culture and the cultures of its diaspora, and Teranga, opened in 2019, furthers that mission. Teranga is the concept of Senegal-born chef Pierre Thiam, and features dishes from a variety of African countries, with an emphasis on West Africa. If you would like to hear more from Chef Thiam, you can listen to him in conversation with food historian Jessica B. Harris at 5 PM ET, June 9th, 2020 in partnership with The Africa Center and the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD).

We love the mission of Teranga to bring fresh, accessible African food to the neighborhood. All of the dishes at Teranga are served in a customizable bowl format: you pick a base, a main, sides, and a sauce. The West African influence on the menu is apparent right away with the bases of Attiéké (fermented cassava from Cote D’Ivoire), Jollof rice (tomato spiced rice that a popular throughout West Africa) and Liberian red rice. For the mains you can choose Moroccan-spiced salmon, roasted chicken or veggies. The sides again dip into West African territory, with fonio (a type of grain found in West Africa, which Thiam sells through his food company, Yolélé) and Senegalese Ndambe (Black eyed pea stew), among others. You can top your dish with peanut mafe, or the mild onion yassa. There are even various levels of hot sauce available, from smoky Ghanaian shito to super-spicy Senegalese kani.

We are partial to Teranga’s Jollof rice, and absolutely love the mafe peanut sauce. You may notice that we wolfed everything down before we were able to get a picture. Also noteworthy are Teranga’s delectable fresh-squeezed juices ($5). In particular, we are fans of the ginger and mint (strongly gingery, in the best possible way) and the hibiscus Bissap. Teranga’s space on the ground floor of the Africa Center is a really nice and welcoming place to sit and relax, and we hope to visit again when hanging out is possible. As of 6/8/20, Teranga is open for delivery and pickup, and is also providing meals for NYC essential workers, and you can support their GoFundMe here. We love the accessibility of the food at Teranga, and the fact that you can mix and match for dozens of possible combinations. Please give them some love!

Bowls from the Teranga website

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Edna Lewis, America’s Culinary Queen

A cookbook that should be in every American home is Edna Lewis’ The Taste of Country Cooking, one of the veritable bibles of Southern cuisine. Lewis was an influential cook, author and trailblazer, as one of the first African-American women who published a cookbook without hiding her gender or race. By the time she died in 2006 she had been rightly recognized in the pantheon of great American chefs. However, she was still not as much of a household name as some of her peers.

Edna Lewis was born in Freetown, Virginia in 1916, the granddaughter of an emancipated slave. She grew up cooking traditional Southern dishes with her family, using techniques that did not require modern appliances and ingredients that were local to the area. She later moved to Washington DC and eventually New York City where she became a fashion designer. She first worked as a chef at Café Nicholson in 1949, where she brought her southern cuisine to a broader audience. She worked later in catering and even as a docent in the Hall of African Peoples in the American Museum of Natural History. She wrote her first cookbook The Edna Lewis Cookbook in 1972. Her stature continued to grow with each subsequent cookbook, especially with The Taste of Country Cooking in 1976 (edited by Julia Child’s editor Judith Jones), where Lewis incorporated her own personal stories and recollections with recipes. She followed this with In Pursuit of Flavor in 1988 and The Gift of Southern Cooking in 2003 (with Scott Peacock).

Throughout her life, Edna Lewis remained a tireless proponent of Southern cooking, increasing its esteem in the US, and bringing southern recipes to a wider audience. In the 1990s Lewis was honored with a James Beard Living Legend Award and was named “Grande Dame” by Les Dames d’Escoffier International. Two years after her death in 2006, Gourmet published Lewis’ essay “What is Southern Cooking?,” an elegant distillation of her philosophy. In 2015, Francis Lam penned a great piece for the New York Times about Lewis’ enduring legacy, “Edna Lewis and the Black Roots of American Cooking.” In more recent years, a new generation of chefs became familiar with Lewis’ work, and her cookbooks received a publicity boost after a “Top Chef” tribute.

Another great way to honor Lewis’ memory is to cook some of her recipes. There are almost too many delectable recipes to decide among, but here is a smattering: Busy Day Cake, Shrimp Grits, Baked Tomatoes, Biscuits, Fried Chicken, Greens and Cornmeal Dumplings, Stove top Asparagus, and Oven Brisket. If you are looking for more Lewis recipes, please get one of her cookbooks, and if you can, buy from a Black-owned bookstore (we often shop at Semicolon in Chicago).

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How to support Black-owned restaurants in your city

Many people in America are looking to diversify the way they understand the world (and eat!) at this moment in time, and rightly so. Where you spend your money matters, and the experiences you choose matter, now more than ever. A great place to start is by increasing your support of the Black-owned restaurants in your area, which are being disproportionately impacted by economic disparities and other crises like COVID-19. Anela Malik explains exactly why it is so important to support Black-owned restaurants now, and all the time, better than I could. A valuable resource to easily find Black-owned restaurants in your area is the EatOkra App (for Android and iPhone), and Korsha Wilson lists several other resources at Food & Wine. Hungry Hungry Hooker has a great compilation of city-by-city resources, many found on Instagram. For another city-by-city view, Eileen W. Cho has compiled a growing list of databases and articles of Black-owned restaurants throughout the US. Included among these is the list of Cleveland-area Black-owned food businesses I compiled this week. This list is a work in progress and I am looking forward to patronizing many more of these restaurants in the near future.

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Quarantine Kitchen: What can you do with chicken backs?

vietnamJamaican_FlagWhat can you do with a bag of chicken backs? We received this intriguing question from our friend, who had mistakenly picked up a bag of chicken backs at the grocery story when he was intending to get chicken thighs. We are all getting desperate when we see the grocery shelves completely picked over, so we understand the feeling. Chicken backs are what is left of the chicken after the breasts, thighs and legs have been removed, containing a good amount of both bones and meat. The most obvious answer is to perhaps utilize these to make stock or bone broth, which you can then use for a myriad of other recipes including matzoh ball soup. Homemade stock is delicious, but we were looking for something a bit more creative. Fortunately, in many other cultures, it is common to use the chicken back for any number of savory dishes. We were particularly intrigued by this Vietnamese chicken and rice recipe, Com Ga from Viet World Kitchen (pictured below). You can also use the chicken backs to make the broth for Chicken Pho (Phở Ga). Chicken backs are a popular staple in Jamaica, so they find themselves into a variety of dishes including this Jamaican curry and can be substituted into the classic Jamaican dish, Brown Stew. Even the humble chicken back can shine!

ComGa

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