Chana Masala: Art You Can Eat

It is inevitable that any time at an artists colony will be plump with the exchange of ideas.

When you toss artists from disparate backgrounds into a small cauldron and essentially seal it for a month, art, words, music and and more will certainly be shared. And so it was for me at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, Calif., earlier this year, where I spent a month isolated on a mountain ranch with a tiny crew of colony mates that included talented artists from Mongolia, India and Austria, a wonderful choreographer and composer and writers who inspired me every day.

In addition to art, however, we ended up having some rich exchanges over something surprising: Cooking.

As you may have read before on this blog, colony chef Dan Tosh fed us tremendously well on weekdays. But on weekends, left to our own devices, we ended up taking to the stove to teach one other a little about the dishes that fueled us in our own homes. Which is how I came to learn to make out-of-this-world chana masala …

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Traditional Cafe at Lonpo House (India): Coffee in the Himalayas

There’s only one thing better than having a well-traveled friend with a good appetite — one who also takes phenomenal photos wherever he lands.

By now, you’re probably familiar with the work of my dear friend Jesse, who shared some lovely pictures from a little coffee shop in Shimla, India, earlier on this blog.

As with any good thing, I always want more. And Jesse, knowing me all too well, quickly obliged.

So soon enough, a next despatch arrived from India — this one from a little cafe nestled in the Himalayas …

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Indian Coffee House (Shimla, India): Breakfast.

One of my absolute favorite photographers (and people) is on the road, wending his way through lesser-known India as I write this.

As much as I miss my dear friend Jesse when he’s off on these trips, I always look forward to seeing what treats he sends back. The first batch that arrived were of a gem of a coffeeshop in Shimla — a little place called Indian Coffee House that looks tightly swaddled in a bygone time and serves up terrific breakfasts.

With Jesse’s blessing, I’m sharing his photos with you. And I’ll let him tell you what transpired one morning in Shimla …

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Goan Pork Curry Tacos: Crossing Two Cultures

It could be said that I have never looked forward to a cookbook launch more than I have  “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent.”

No, it isn’t the fact that it’s the very first book I’ve ever blurbed. (“A charming tale of moving to Paris for love—and staying for food. Ellise Pierce’s delicious accounts of weaving together Texas and French cuisines will leave you hungry. But what truly satisfies are the lovely stories that bind them all together.” — Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family)

Or the fact that I’m mentioned in it. (Hello, page 189!)

Rather, it’s that in the close to three years in which I’ve been cooking along with Ellise over at Cowgirl Chef in our monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter lunchdate, I’ve been thinking: Why isn’t this woman writing a cookbook?

I’ve salivated over her black pepper strawberry scones, sundried tomato pesto palmiers and far more, thinking all of these need to be compiled in a book somewhere. Well, that time has come — Ellise’s cookbook hits bookstores May 15 and I couldn’t be happier for her.

To celebrate the occasion, the Let’s Lunchers decided on a virtual toast. In honor of Ellise’s blending of Texas and French cuisines, we’re each offering up a dish that melds two cultures. (Extra points if one of the two cuisines has roots in Texas or France.)

And so I’m thrilled to present: Goan pork curry tacos …

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Keema Chili: Texas, Meet India

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you may have noticed a monthly eruption of messages with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

It happens the first Friday of every month, when a motley group of bloggers from around the world get together to break bread over Twitter. This virtual monthly lunchdate began almost three years ago when three women in three cities who had never met found themselves wishing (on Twitter) at the very same moment that they had a BLT before them. Well, the Parisian, the New Yorker and the San Diego baker made a lunchdate for a BLT. This turned into a monthly affair, which grew larger than we anticipated. Now, we have bloggers in Australia, Paris, London, Canada and all over the United States gathering once a month to share a meal.

It’s been very sweet and genteel so far — we’ve sipped high tea together and shared age-old family holiday recipes. But that was all before someone brought up chili — that’s when the oven mitts came off and a smackdown began …

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Karavalli (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.): Scratching An Itch

Something peculiar starts to happen whenever I go more than a few days without eating anything spicy.

Spirits start flagging; an irritability obliterates the charming and pleasant person I choose to believe I am. You see, in Singapore, where I grew up, almost everything is spicy — dinner, lunch, breakfast, even high tea, an occasion that’s often marked with curries and fiery noodles (and chased with clotted cream-slathered scones). Nothing is subtle; everything is jacked up with curry powder, peppers, tiny bird’s eye chilis.

At home in New York, where I am master of my own meals, these cravings aren’t a problem. But when I recently found myself at an artists’ retreat in the snowy woods of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in the very fortunate situation of not having to worry about making my own meals for a few weeks, my demons started to emerge.

Thankfully, a friend had a solution — there was an outstanding Indian restaurant in town, he said. It seemed like one that could certainly scratch my spicy Asian food itch. And while I was skeptical of an outstanding Indian restaurant existing in a not-incredibly-diverse stretch of upstate New York, I was desperate for a cure.

So, on a chilly Saturday, we piled into a car and off we went …

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786 Yassin Restaurant: “Drunk Food” To Remember


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The moment I heard about 786 Yassin Restaurant, a place in Singapore that reputedly serves outstanding Indian mutton soup, I instantly begged to be taken.

When done well, soup kambing, as it’s called, is a hefty flavor bomb that’s hard to forget. It comes infused with coriander, cumin, cardamom, turmeric, nutmeg and star anise (among other spices) and dotted with crispy fried shallots and soft onion chunks.

This, no doubt, is the Chanel of soups.

When to have it, however, turned out to be something to consider.

“You can’t have soup kambing now lah,” said my friend Basil, who had told me about Yassin, prompting me to immediately suggest heading there for dinner. ”It’s mabuk food.”

Ahh, drunk food — the dishes that are the perfect panacea when you’re leaving a bar at 2 a.m. and looking for something to quell your hunger and sober you up. In the case of soup kambing, this heady concoction of spices does an especially efficient job of clearing your head and helping you wade out of your Chivas fog.

I didn’t want to have to get drunk in order to try Yassin’s though. So after some persuading, we were on our way.  

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Indian Chicken Curry: A Grandmother’s Recipe


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A few weeks ago, I found myself on the phone, frantically shuttling between calls to my aunt and my grandmother, trying to jolt their memories and nail down the ingredients we needed for my Singapore family’s take on chicken curry.

As the calls got more confusing and the ingredient list grew more nebulous, my friend Basil, a Singaporean of Indian ethnicity, sat nearby, listening in with an increasingly incredulous look.

“You’re sitting next to an Indian,” he finally said, “and you’re not asking him how he makes his curry?”

A very good point.

It turns out Basil, better known to his friends as the hard-to-miss, gregarious guy at any bar that he frequents, also knows how to cook. He learned 20 years ago in his grandmother’s kitchen, when he was drafted as a teenager to help her after she’d lost a leg to diabetes. “She would park her wheelchair at the entrance to the kitchen and bark out instructions to me,” he said.

Well, her lessons must have stuck because Basil then proved that he could rattle off her curry instructions as quickly and surely as he can list the latest Manchester United stats.

The moment I got back to my Brooklyn kitchen, I knew I had to try it.

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Gayatri Restaurant: One For The Road


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Your last meal in any city is no small matter, I’ve always believed.

It’s the meal you might still be able to taste as you look out at the diminishing skyline from the plane; the one that you’ll be thinking of to tide you over until you return again.

During my most recent trip to Singapore for book research, where to have my last supper was a particularly hard decision.

I’d eaten well. In just a few weeks, I’d clocked not one but two visits to Hock Lam for the umami bomb that is its gooey beef ball noodles. I’d trekked to the seafront Changi Village to sample the nasi lemak, a Malay dish of coconut rice with a fried chicken wing, sambal chili, fried egg and crunchy anchovies, from a hawker stall I loved but hadn’t visited in over 10 years. And I’d had a lovely lunch at Iggy’s, a high-end restaurant that served up a custard-like French toast dessert topped with thick flecks of truffles that was truly unforgettable.

When plotting the appropriate finale, one thing instantly came to mind.

My friend Basil had told me a few weeks back about taking some people to his favorite restaurant in Little India to eat spicy mutton, drink beer and watch the world go by. 

The choice was obvious.

Come, I said, let’s go.

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