My Love for Eggplant Realized

The eggplant has a devout group of followers, and I’m happy to count myself among them. I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember – from the vinegar pickled ones my grandmother used to make during season, to the crispy and tangy eggplant parm I request every time I visit Mom. I love this vegetable in all its forms. So, when on a recent trip to India I tasted Achari Baingan for the first time, I was immediately smitten. I asked to meet the chef. Continue reading

More Dominican than Mangu

Until very recently, when the Dominican Republic came up, I thought of beautiful beaches, baseball, and bachata. Now I think of Mangu. Popular in most Caribbean cuisines, this mashed plantain side is a staple of the island’s diet. And it makes a great meal – especially breakfast – when served with eggs, onions, cheese, and sausage.

Here’s how Dominican émigré and Allston business owner Gloria Rivera makes it, and why. Reader, be warned: if by the time you finish reading this you think I’ve glorified Gloria, you’re right – and you will also understand why. Continue reading

How to Make Indian Chai

Besides Desis and those with a refined palate, most of us don’t know what true Indian chai is. What we know as chai is a soup of herbs and spices sold at coffee shops anywhere in the city – often with an excess of cinnamon, sugar, or just plain weird stuff.

That’s why when my neighbors Aman and Karina invited us over for dinner last week, I asked them to show me how to make authentic Indian chai. They chuckled at my request. Why would I want to learn how to make such a mundane thing? But they must have been honored, considering that when we arrived at their place – bottle of red wine in hand – the ingredients were already laid out on their kitchen counter.

While Aman boiled the water, Karina opened the wine. A few minutes later we were drinking chai, eating crackers, cornflake mix, and then drinking red wine. Lots of red wine. Continue reading

La Pastafrola: Quince Pie

pastafrola

This is always a childhood throwback – for those of us who grew up in Argentina, that is. After all, you cannot spend your childhood in that country without trying – and almost certainly falling in love with – this sweet quince pie.

What the heck is quince, you wonder? It’s a fruit that resembles a pear, but you’d be crazy to eat it fresh. When cooked, it has the most delicious floral aroma, sandy texture, and tangy taste. I’ll tell you more about it at the bottom of this post.

Quinces

Anyway, if you live in Allston you are in luck: Mayfair Foods – a small grocery store with a great selection of Latin American products, including many from Argentina: alfajores, yerba mate, dulce de leche, tapas para empanadas, pascualina – carries sweet quince paste, which is the main ingredient of a good ol’ pastafrola.

If you’re not an Allstonite, do not despair. Other stores in the Boston area carry the product. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll see. But, if you can’t find the damn quince – mom, cover your ears – you can use guava paste, dulce de leche, or any other (firm) fruit jelly of your linking. Okay, that probably just offended a bunch of Argentines. Continue reading

The Banana Bread Mystery

Cristina in NYC circa 1973

Cristina and daughter in New York City, circa 1973

New York City, 1973. Cristina, Carlos, and their newborn daughter huddle together on the couch at their small apartment on Hudson and 12th West. Sitting across from them, a German man who has been backpacking across the United States and is now staying at their place for a few days tells them about an amazing banana bread he recently tried: a lady who hosted him before coming to New York made it for him. It was so good, he asked for the recipe. Cristina makes the treat. She says this is the best banana bread ever. Period.

The thing is, though, nobody knows where the original recipe comes from. Continue reading