Cafe Kashkar Serves Uyghur Food In Brighton Beach

Thankfully there was a map on my table at Cafe Kashkar, indicating where the Uyghur people live. It’s the western-most end of China, where China borders several Central Asian countries, just south of Russia. That explains, in part, why Cafe Kashkar (which serves Uyghur food) is located in Brighton Beach among so many Russian and Ukrainian restaurants. It also explains the interesting mix of flavors on the menu (though not, perhaps, the “Korean style” cabbage salad). My Salad Langsai, which was a blend of crisp vegetables pickled in vinegar, was chock full of thin noodles. I’m not sure of the origin of the Khonoom, pictured above, one of the few vegetarian options on the menu (it’s listed under the “hot appetizers” section of the menu). These were open-ended dumplings filled with shredded potato, topped with a sweet tomato sauce and raw onions. If they had been tightly wrapped I might have thought they were cousins of vareniki, but the khonoom were simply dough rolled around potato and steamed. If not for my newly discovered knowledge of the Uyghur people I might have said they had more in common with canneloni than pierogi.

Cafe Kashkar — 1141 Brighton Beach Ave

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Vegan Sandwiches By Monk’s Meats

I enjoyed the Vegan Shop-Up the last time I went — but recently I realized it was more than two years ago. It was high time for a revisit, so I went both in August and in October to see what was happening. Both times there was a huge line for the Cinnamon Snail Truck, which you may remember from this sandwich or this Vendy Awards. There was no line, however, for Monk’s Meats. I’d seen Monk’s Meats occasionally at food events like Smorgasburg but never eaten there. Monk’s Meats makes their own seitan, an alternative protein made with wheat gluten. On my first trip I got the Jerk Seitan Sandwich, in which the Caribbean-flavored seitan is cooked on a griddle and topped with a spicy pineapple salsa and a cabbage slaw. It was a great mix of salty, spicy, and sweet, and the seitan had a pleasant chewy texture.

It’s not all “fake meat” however. On my second visit they were offering a special based on foraged chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms. They called it the Mushroom Triple Threat: deep-fried chicken-of-the-woods, shiitake mushroom “bacon,” and truffled vegan mayonnaise. It was another great blend of textures and flavors, with fresh tomatoes and lettuce off-setting the crispy-crunchy mushrooms, even if the bacon tasted more “burnt” than “smoky.”

Monk’s Meats — Check website for pop-ups or to order online
Vegan Shop-Up — Pine Box Rock Shop, 12 Grattan St.

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Eggs Baked In Delicata Squash

Sometimes I get ideas to make a dish and I don’t know where the idea came from. In this case, I remember exactly how I got the idea. On my friend Chitra’s Instagram she posted a photo of delicata squash rings that she’d battered and roasted in the oven. I happened to have a delicata squash from the farmer’s market in my fridge, and was looking for something to do with it. And when I saw Chitra’s photo my first thought was, “I could put an egg in that.” I’ve heard of toad-in-the-hole, where a hole is cut out of the middle of a piece of bread and an egg is cooked in the hole. I’ve also heard of baked eggs in a cup. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of something like this. So here’s what I did.

Delicata squash is shaped like a tube with rounded ends, and has a slightly sweet flavor when baked. I cut off the ends (and saved them for later roasting). Then I cut the “tube” into pieces about 4 inches long, and scooped out the innards (and saved the seeds for later roasting). Then I oiled and seasoned two of the squash tubes and set them up in an oven-proof pan. I started it on the stove-top, over high heat, to get the bottoms browned. When they were brown I turned them upside down and put them into a 450 degree oven. I let them bake in there for about 30-45 minutes, until they got soft and golden. While that happened I cracked two eggs into separate bowls. When the squash was ready I pulled the pan out of the oven, and carefully tipped an egg into each one. A little big of egg seeped out from under the tubes, but the pan was so hot it cooked on contact and stopped up the leak pretty fast. I seasoned the tops of the eggs and put the pan back in the oven for less than five minutes. That’s more than enough time for the eggs to cook.

I took the pan out of the oven, and I used a spatula to remove the squash and eggs from the pan. I let them cool for a few minutes while I put together a quick salad to serve alongside it. The combination of roasted squash with rich eggs needed contrasting brightness and freshness, and the salad was a perfect foil.

So will eggs baked in squash be the next brunch craze? Doubtful, but they’re a lot of fun to make. And if you believe in such things it’s completely gluten free.

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Exploring The Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi Restaurants Of Coney Island Avenue

It started innocently enough. Someone emailed me and asked if I had any recommendations for Indian food here in Brooklyn. When I thought about it, I realized I didn’t have any recommendations. I know a couple of mediocre places here, and some good places up in Queens, but no good places in Brooklyn. So I did what anyone else would do: I put the question to Twitter. Most people agreed — despite how large and diverse Brooklyn is, there isn’t much in the way of good Indian food here. I did get a few recommendations, including a place called Madina. There’s a stretch of Coney Island Ave, roughly speaking between Beverly and Cortelyou Roads, that has several Indian/Pakistani restaurants and Madina is one of them. The restaurants all look similar: they have warming trays full of savory foods (which are then heated in the microwave), a small area for salad, and large display cases full of brightly colored desserts. And they’re all relatively cheap places to eat. I had gone through this area on the bus, but never eaten there. Madina had some good reviews online, and best of all it’s open basically 24 hours. I stopped by on a Tuesday around 11:30am — and Madina was closed. So I walked down to another restaurant, and thus started this entire blog post…

Click to continue…

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Kimchee Market In Greenpoint

Greenpoint is a traditionally Polish neighborhood, but of course here in Brooklyn (and all of NYC) everything changes. Over the past few years there have been lots of different, non-Polish, restaurants opening there — for better or for worse. One of the newest additions to the neighborhood is Kimchee Market, a small storefront Korean shop. When I was in Korea earlier this year I had some incredible food, and I love kimchi. The woman at the counter was very helpful and friendly; although they don’t have too many vegetarian kimchis, she double checked to make sure which ones were vegetarian and gave me some samples. They have three kimchis that don’t contain any animal products — a fantastic one with garlic shoots that made me recall Korea, another good one made with slivers of dried radish, and a simple pickled fresh radish. They also have a handful of Korean groceries and pre-made food sets, though none vegetarian.

Kimchee Market — 191 Greenpoint Ave

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Homemade Chile Paste

About a month ago at one of my local farmer’s markets I did a double-take. Next to some fresh herbs I spotted something I hadn’t seen before at the market — lemon grass. Apparently it can be grown here in the NYC area. As I often do when I see something new at the market, I bought some without really knowing what I was going to do with it. As luck would have it, another vendor was selling heaps of serrano peppers, and I bought a big handful of them. As I contemplated my purchases, an idea began to take shape in my mind. Why not make my own Thai-style chile paste? So I did. In my tiny food processor I put four serrano peppers (bot red and green, roughly chopped), a few stalks of lemongrass (pounded with the back of my knife, and then cut into manageable pieces), the zest and juice of a lime, some chopped mint, chopped cilantro, a splash of vegetable oil, and a healthy pinch of salt. I blended it together until it was a rough paste, tasted it for seasoning, and adjusted accordingly. It’s spicy, sour, and salty, with great herbal flavor.

So what did I do with the paste? I used half of it as an add-in for some veggies I was sauteing, and served with rice noodles. I used the rest to marinate tofu — I cut the tofu into cubes, and slathered them with the paste. After about an hour I fried up the tofu and mixed with some veggies, and served over rice. It’s a versatile addition to just about any dish, and could even be eaten raw as a dressing — it would make a great cole slaw.

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Vegetarian At Smorgasburg In Prospect Park

I’m no stranger to Smorgasburg, the weekly gathering of food vendors that grew out of the Brooklyn Flea. It has grown so big, with at least three locations around the city, that I’d actually gotten a little tired of it. Then there was an announcement: the Smorgasburg usually held at Brooklyn bridge Park was moving to Prospect Park. Not just Prospect Park, but a ten minute walk from my apartment. It was so close that it seemed silly not to check it out. I met up with Donny on one of the first Sundays at Prospect Park, and it was PACKED. We walked around but it was too crowded for us, and we left. I returned a few weeks later, much earlier in the day, and the crowds were much more manageable. This past Sunday was the final week of Smorgasburg in the park (they are moving to Industry City for the winter), so I met up with my friends Jess & Garrett (and their son) for the final hurrah.

One of the reasons I had gotten tired of the event was that I was getting sick of the same old vendors that seem to show up at every single food event. On my two visits I tried to get some food I hadn’t eaten before, and some of it was quite good. At the top of this post you’ll see banh cuon, tightly wound Vietnamese rice rolls filled (in this case) with a flavorful mix of tofu and mushrooms, from Bep Vietnamese. Just above this paragraph is the pan con queso, the vegetarian option from Venezuelan hot dog vendor Santa Salsa. A long hunk of chewy white cheese is marinated, seared on the griddle, and then served in a bun with various sauces and crumbled potato chips. Other delights: vegetarian laksa from Mamak, a Malaysian food vendor, and black bean-stuffed sopapillas topped with a fantastic New Mexico-style green chile sauce from Zia.

I still don’t plan on making Smorgasburg a habit; it’s just too crowded and over-hyped for me. But it’s nice to know that it’s still capable of surprises, and of providing some good food.

Smorgasburg — check website for dates and locations

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