Pickled Carrots, Onion, Jalapeño (aka the “Homage to Humble Taqueria Carrots” Post)

Those spicy carrots. As ubiquitous as fresh chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and an assortment of salsas at any hole-in-the-wall taqueria in Southern California worthy of its Mexican stripes. 

Approaching 10 years of living in NYC, and spicy, pickled taqueria-style carrots are one of the food memories that haunts this California expat yet, go figure.

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I’ve dabbled with pickling jalapeños, pickling carrots and the sum of these parts before. I highly recommend Momofuku’s pickled carrots — the brine has a sweetness thanks to rice vinegar and sugar, and just about anything else you have on hand can go into it, in addition to carrots.

This time, though, I was on a hunt for auténtico. When I discovered a post on Tasting Table for “Taqueria-Style Pickled Carrots,” adapted from Kevin West, a Los Angeles-based blogger and author of “Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving” — I knew I was on the right track.

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I stayed mostly true to the recipe, skipping the sterilization step as these carrots will live in the fridge for the duration of their short life (they’re already quickly disappearing) and also amping up the spice quotient. I used a mishmash of carrots that we had in the fridge and rough-chopped them to approximately the same size. I also used a white onion.

The brilliance of West’s technique lies in toasting the cumin seeds and crushing the peppercorns, two simple steps that really open up the spices and cause them to bloom, so to speak, in the brine.

Here’s the recipe, simplified and slightly modified:

Taqueria-Style Pickled Carrots
(Adapted from Kevin West via TastingTable)
Makes 2 quarts

2 lb. (approx. ) raw carrots, use whatever you have on hand, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
4 to 6 jalapeños, sliced thinly
8 cloves garlic

2 c. water
2 c. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. peppercorns, lightly crushed (mortar with pestle)
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin seeds

1) Toast cumin seeds in a small skillet until lightly browned and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

2) Combine water, vinegar, kosher salt, oregano and peppercorns in a saucepan; bring to a boil at high heat. Add onion and jalapeño and turn off heat.

3) Separately, bring salted water to boil, add carrots and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain in colander and add to onion and jalapeño in brine; return to a boil and then turn off the heat.

4) Divide cumin seeds and garlic cloves between empty jars. With a slotted spoon, divide carrots, onion, jalapeño between jars. Top off with brine and let cool to room temp before fastening lids and storing in the fridge.

**Pickled carrots will be ready to eat in 24 hours and will take on greater intensity the longer they are in the brine — but good luck keeping them around!**

Now, bring on the tacos… 

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Tuesday: Seeking Chicken Soup for the … (aka the “Table for One at Ben’s Kosher Deli” Post)

photo-8We pick our battles. Sometimes factors like convenience, cost or health-conscious mindfulness are cause enough to restrain from indulging in that desire of the moment: fancy sushi, duck fat fries, chocolate.

Other times, we just give in. And on Tuesday I was all but ready to dive in, face first, into a pot of noodles, matzo balls, kreplach, roasted chicken, diced vegetables all swimming in broth — that Jewish delicatessen staple, aptly called “chicken in a pot.” It’s like chicken soup on steroids, for when you need a prescrption-strength dose of chicken soup’s soul-and-stomach-soothing goodness.

photo-6Then I discovered that going price for chicken in a pot at Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen, the closest source for this comfort nectar, is $16.99 — also known as an instant $20 lunch.

My fail safes kicked in: I just can’t justify spending $20 on an ordinary Tuesday lunch. Not this Tuesday. Things aren’t “that bad.”

photo-7Instead, I treated myself to in-restaurant dining, which, being a party of one at Ben’s, meant a pot of pickles and a tray of cole slaw all to myself! And I treated myself to the “Double Dip” combo: Half a deli sandwich and a bowl of the soup of your choice, $11.49.

So in the end, I got my noodles and my chicken broth, my pickles and my cole slaw, and a hefty stack of corned beef on rye. And along the way, I found a little peace.

Wednesday: And This Is When I Fell In Love with Tïam (Wait for It … Right … Now!)

photo-4It began so innocently at Taïm. Somehow, given a brand-new menu of options, I quickly honed in on the hummus or babaganoush pita sandwich, which came with my choice of two salads inside.

Hummus or babaganoush? Also an easy choice: babaganoush, the eggplant-based spread, tends to be more of a free radical across restaurants and genres, and I was feeling adventurous. … As it turns out, this babaganoush is, by  my standards, practically perfect: smokey, pulpy, tangy, sweet and creamy, all sharing harmoniously. No one element pushing out of turn.

photo-10Add Moroccan carrots — long, thick cuts sauteed in garlic, cumin, paparika and E.V.O.O. just long enough to take the crunch away (not unlike the style of some of my favorite Mexican carrots, minus the heat) — and, finally, a light cabbage salad that’s been soaking away in a sweet & sour marinade; stuff everything into a supple, pliable regular or whole wheat pita, for $5.50. Uh-oh. Now I was in trouble.

Never mind the crappy iPhone picture on the left, this is, hands down, one of the best under $6 sandwiches I have had anywhere in the city.

Vibrant flavors, really good for you, and so reasonably priced, no wonder this place has a line stretching out the door most photo-5nights. (Well, that and it seems the good people of the West Village like to queue up, if you consider that Magnolia Bakery and the Mark Jacobs cheep-o store are just around the corner.)

But that wasn’t all. I also had my fair share of a giant side order of fries ($4), cut skinny and served piping hot, which come with saffron aïoli, and my fair share of a falafel sampling ($3.50), two of each kind of falafels that are giving nearby Mamoun’s a run for its money.

photo-6You know why? Because there are falafel options: green (parsley, cilantro, mint), red (roasted red peppers) and Harissa falafel (Tunisian spices.) Because they are perfectly poppable bits. Because, for once, they are not dry or over-fried or prepared too early and don’t buldge as you try to take a bite and disintegrate into bland, falafel dust.

They are so good that I didn’t even need the sauce. The whole place was that good — forget the “Cash Only” (although that’s an important sign),Taïm would do well to post, “We’re practically perfect, no extra sauce or extra seasoning required. Go ahead, try us.”

Yes, please!

Sunday: What Took Me So Long? (aka the “Made it to Prune, Finally (and Then Had To Wait Some More” Post)

Prune. I’m not really a fan of the shriveled, deep purple-colored, giant raisin(ish) fruit that also happens to be sort of a gross metaphor for wrinkly, wet skin.

photo-1On the other hand, I am unapologetically pro-Prune, the tiny, food-centric restaurant just west of the street grid nexus that is First Avenue and First Street. I first became smitten with Prune back in August, 2007, when the restaurant cameoed on the season 3, “New York” episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show, “No Reservations.” (Admittedly, I am a bit of a Bourdain groupie.)

But that was just the beginning. Every time Prune has crossed my radar since, it just gets better and better. You could say: j’ai été lèche-vitrine — French for “I have been window-shopping,” although I prefer the literal translation, which is, “I have been licking [Prune’s] windows” — for some years now.

So why did it take me until August 16, 2009, to get inside that door?

photo-5Not for fear of price point. Brunch entrees range from $13-$19, with some interesting a la carte items, such as a toasted caraway seed omelette with sour cream, under $10. You’re paying a couple of bucks more than most downtown brunch spots, but then again you’re not going to find a dish like the butter-crumbed eggs with spicy stewed chickpeas, preserved lemons and warm flatbread ($14) anywhere else in the city. Fresh, tomato-y, buttery: this is just an impeccably thought-out dish, a true testament of Gabrielle Hamilton‘s ability to look to the world’s kitchens for inspiration and transform them into her own.

photo-4The huevos rancheros— eggs baked in a light sauce of tomatoes, garlic and chilis, finished off with melting cheese and sidled up onto a plate with black beans, a giant hunk of avocado and a handful of homemade tortilla chips ($15) — is a Mexican breakfast that my mother, a dietician, could get behind (and delicious, too). Instead of satiating my curiosity, this first meal at Prune actually stoked my curiosity. I want to find out more.

photo-2So what took me so long? Well, no pun intended, Prune is tiny, popular and doesn’t take reservations, which means it always, always has a wait. On this day, my friend and I were told it’d be about 40 minutes — tolerable, in the right circumstances — and in actuality we waited about one hour, 10 minutes. We stopped in for coffee at Simon Sips down the block, and stood around in the summer sun, chatting as women do, which was fine.

But I am rarely in the mood to put my patience to this test for dinner on any given night, let alone brunch on a weekend morning. And even though I gave Prune what I consider to be one of the highest compliments a restaurant can receive (the bit above about “instead of satiating my curiosity…), I can’t think of when I’ll be back.

photo-3Sigh. I wish the restaurant didn’t use the tiny bar as designated “seating.” If I could wait it out at the bar, working my way through Prune’s fascinating list of specialty bloody marys ($9/ea.) — the Chicago Matchbox (left), which is made with homemade lemon vodka, has a veritable garden of pickled vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, baby white turnips, caperberries, green beens and radishes – I could promise to be back a lot sooner.

TIP: Might help to try a late lunch-brunch. By about 3 pm, a half-hour before the restaurant stops serving brunch, the wait had all but disappeared.

The Fourth of July Weekend Wrap-Up Post

Oh, Fourth of July. Every year you are the ultimate excuse for the ultimate indulgence of all food things American: barbecue, burgers, hot dogs, beer, backyards (or, in New York’s case, roofs and patios), and every year I take you up on your offer. 

photo-3This year I started extra early (unintentionally) on Thursday night, when I shared an order of dry-rubbed chicken wings and a bacon cheeseburger at Daddy-O in the West Village, along with a pair of one of the best cocktails I’ve had in a really long time:

It’s called the Eastside, and is gin muddled with cucumber, mint and lime juice, shaken and served frothy cold in a martini glass. Really, the ultimate summer refreshment. Just look at all the floating fresh bits! The picture doesn’t quite tell the story, but they were layered, suspended, in the drink at different levels and looked really cool. 

The next day, we celebrated the official federal holiday in style with happy hour at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ. There’s one close to my Upper East Side neighborhood, but there are also about a half-dozen other locations around the city. Brilliant happy hour: Between 4p-7p, domestic draft pints (Bud and Bud Light) are $2 and all appetizers are half-price at the bar. 

photo-1We tried the frickles, deep-fried pickles served with a creamy horseradish sauce; the peel-and-eat shrimp, which are doused in Old Bay seasoning and come with lemon wedges and a zesty, homemade cocktail sauce; and a basket of rib tips, the brilliant discovery of the day.

What are rib tips? As far as I could discern, rib tips are the knobs and ends of the rib rack which are usually chopped off to give a slab of ribs that uniform cut. The result are knobs of bone, fat and meat that have been as slow and as long as the rest of the rack, and that are heavy with meaty bits. Each rib tip takes a little bit of inspection and the willingness to get down and dirty, but it’s worth it: The meat is supremely succulent and tender.

photo-2At happy hour, a basket of these bits goes for $4 — a really good deal. Brother Jimmy’s has a Monday night special of all-you-can-eat rib tips, wings and all-you-can-drink domestic beer (2 hours max) for $15.95 that is a great deal, except that I probably wouldn’t be able to finish too many more than the $4 happy hour basket. Oh, but they’re so good. A basket has plenty enough rib tips to sample all of Brother Jimmy’s sauces, which arrive in a rack with any barbecue order. The sauces are lighter and more vinegar-y, as is the way with South Carolina-style barbecue. 

On the Fourth of July I found myself in the unusual position of fresh stovetop-grilled hot dog in hand — just as the now-famous Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island was about to begin. 

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photo(4)It’s odd to say that I ate my one dog in the time it took these professional eater-bingers to consume 50-plus, but I’m confident I enjoyed it more. No bun dipping in water necessary.

Elsewhere at the party: Pizza, a plate of brownies, plenty of beers and plenty of friends. It was a good holiday.

Lunch: Grow, Port Authority Greenmarket, Grow! (aka “The Katchkie Farm Sandwich” Post)

In my “About” page, I mention that the BLD Project isn’t a diary of what I’m eating so much as why, where and how I eat.

photo(9)Lunch today is a perfect, self-contained example of how I investigate, how my online connections influence my real-life decisions, and vice versus. The ebb and flow between virtual and actual.

It started with this tweet from @nytimesdining:

Diner’s Journal: Port Authority Greenmarket: A Match Made in Midtown http://bit.ly/aWGG7.

The Port Authority is in the vicinity of my work neighborhood, so I had to find out more. I followed the link to the Diner’s Journal blog post, where I found a mention about one of the two vendors at this brand-new greenmarket selling sandwiches.

Done. Sold. I gotta go. On principle, to support this fledgling project. I’m excited! I responded to @nytimesdining on Twitter:

@nytimesdining Sandwiches, you say? Heading to new Port Authority Greenmarket at lunch on principle. (viaDiners Journal http://bit.ly/aWGG7)

photo(7)The Times’ blog doesn’t mention anything about the sandwiches other than that they were there, so I headed for the Port Authority still missing pieces to the puzzle. (The post also failed to mention that the greenmarket is in the smaller, northern terminal of the P.A., the part north of W. 41st Street. That could have been useful.)

Here’s what I discovered, on site: Katchkie Farms will indeed be selling a different veggie sandwich each week, using vegetables from their farm, Bread Alone bread and Hawthorne Valley cheese.

photo(6)photo(5)This week’s version: roasted zucchini, pickled radish slices and romaine lettuce, on a sunflower-seeded bread, both slices smeared with a creamy, spreadable quark cheese with bits of roasted onion, probably shallots. Not exactly your heartiest sandwich, but soul-satisfying in that get-out-of-the-city, country picnic sort of way. I swear you can taste the fresh air.

photo(7)The sandwiches are $6.50 alone, or, for $8.50, pair it with a Katchkie Farm Thunder Pickle — they start off deceptively bread-and-butter-pickle sweet, but finish with a kick of heat, not for the faint of heart — and a glass of Katchkie Farm’s spearmint basil iced tea, which might just be the perfect elixer for a hot summer day, when it ever gets hot.

All in all, a welcome addition to the neighborhood.