Every year I write about the Red Hook Ball Field Vendors, and every year I wonder how much longer they can keep going. Sure, the number of vendors has dwindled over the years. And some of the trucks that remain have been purchased by new owners. This is actually a good sign, I think. It means that people are still willing to invest in the ball fields, both with their time and their money. On a recent visit I had something I’d never had before, molotes. They are airy homemade tortillas, deep fried until slightly crisp on the outside but still soft inside, wrapped around your choice of filling. I got one with cheese and one with potatoes. They are topped with shredded lettuce, crumbled cheese, and some fresh salsa. I suggest heading out to Red Hook to check out the vendors while they’re still around.
Red Hook Ball Field Vendors — 155 Bay St
I’ve mentioned this before, but often I will buy something at the farmer’s market without having a clear idea of what I plan to do with it. Such was the case a few weekends ago, when I bought some fiddlehead ferns. They’re slightly expensive, but they’re delicious and only available for a very short time, so I went ahead and bought them. I also bought a variety of radishes — green, purple, and white. I thought maybe I’d make a salad with them, or maybe pickle them. I also bought some spring garlic and some fresh microgreens.
The next day I realized I could make a dish using a little bit of each. A cold soba noodle salad seemed like the perfect vehicle to bring everything together. I started in the morning by shredding the purple radish, then tossing it with sugar, salt, and rice wine vinegar. I left that in a closed container in the fridge to pickle for most of the day. When it came time to make dinner I rinsed the fiddleheads and then blanched them in salted water. While they drained and cooled I started cooking the soba noodles (made from buckwheat flower). I made a quick vinaigrette with a little chili paste, minced spring garlic, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, soy sauce, and a little canola oil. I rinsed the cooked noodles under cold water to cool them down, then tossed them with the fiddleheads and the vinaigrette. Then I topped the noodles with some of the pickled radish, and topped that with some of the microgreens.
It was a great mix of textures and flavors — the chewy, nutty noodles, the slightly crunchy and vegetal ferns, the bright bitter flavors of the microgreens, and the crisp, sharp tang of the pickled radish. It was a great meal for a late spring night.
Here in Brooklyn we’re at the point of Spring when we have 80 degree sunny weather one day, then 50 degree cloudy weather the next. It was the latter yesterday, when Donny and I made the trip out to Red Hook. After a trip to Ikea we decided to make our way over to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies for a little dessert. The swingle — a single-serving key lime pie, dipped in chocolate and frozen on a popsicle stick — was just the thing to make believe that summer had arrived. Proper summer may be over a month away, but for a few minutes I was able to at least pretend.
Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies — 185 Van Dyke St
As much as I enjoy eating in Brighton Beach, I have always been skeptical of the restaurants on the actual boardwalk. My only experience with them was several years ago, when one of my good friends had his bachelor party at Tatiana. That was Tatiana, the restaurant and nightclub, while next door is Tatiana Grill (I have no idea if the restaurants are actually related). On a recent visit to Brighton beach my girlfriend suggested we try one of them, and we picked Tatiana Grill almost at random. We ended up having a huge meal, and everything was good. The Salad “Vinegret” was a tasty mix of beets, potatoes, pickles, cabbage, and peas, all in a vinegar dressing. The Ukrainian borscht, which the menu pointed out as vegetarian, was one of the best I’ve ever had (though it was more tomato-based then beet). Above you see the vareniki, delicate steamed dumplings filled with potatoes. We also had the mushroom Julian, mushrooms cooked in a rich cream sauce and then then baked with cheese. We almost got more food but they were out of the Odessa-style eggplant salad. It’s just as well though, we had more than enough food as it was. And it proved to me that the boardwalk restaurants needn’t be dismissed just because they are ont he boardwalk.
Tatiana Grill — 3152 Brighton 6th St
I was disappointed when I found out that Strictly Vegetarian, the vegan Ital restaurant on Church Ave, had closed. I was doing research into more vegan Caribbean food when I found out about Four Seasons, almost directly across the street from where Strictly Vegetarian was. It’s a similar setup — they have a variety of dishes in steam trays, and you pay based on the size of the tray you want. Having learned from my previous experience I went for the $8 tray, loaded up with “a little bit of everything.” On the day of my business that was a bed of peas and rice and lo mein noodles, smothered with stewed chickpeas, “beef” with green beans potatoes, chopped dried bean curd in a curry sauce, and minced “beef” with chili peppers. Then some marinated cucumbers and pepper sauce topped the whole thing off. Eating through the plate revealed a variety of flavors; savory and sweet, shot through with bursts of spices. Four Seasons also has a full service juice bar and bakery, all fresh and all vegan.
Four Seasons — 2281 Church Ave
Back when I wrote about Cafe Kashkar I remarked on the Korean flavors that popped up on the menu. Several blocks away at Cafe At Your Mother-In-Law the link between Korea and Uzbekistan is even more explicit. Uzbek and Russian specialties share the menu with Korean ones, and of course there are some crossovers. The tofu salad (pictured above) is made with strips of tender, chewy dried bean curd sheets. Although the menu describes the salad as being seasoned with Korean spices, it tasted more Eastern European to me — particularly the flecks of fresh dill scattered throughout the salad.
The hanum (a more refined and, frankly, better version of the khonoom I had at Cafe Kashkar) was decidedly more Uzbek — delicate dumpling skin wrapped around steamed potato, covered with a sweet onion and tomato sauce and topped with more dill.
Cafe At Your Mother-In-Law — 3071 Brighton 4th St
Although I cook a lot, I hardly ever use cookbooks. But when a friend of mine releases a cookbook, I make an exception. Fellow Brooklyn vegetarian and blogger Chitra Agrawal, owner of Brooklyn Delhi, has a new cookbook out. Vibrant India is a natural extension of Chitra’s mission to marry the flavors of India with a uniquely Brooklyn aesthetic. With a few specialty pantry ingredients, such ad black mustard seeds and hing (aka asafoetida), the home cook can transform local ingredients into great Indian dishes.
I wanted to start with a few simple dish, with ingredients I had on hand. The stir-fries, or palya, seemed like a logical starting point. First up is a potato stir-fry (alugedde palya) with onion and ginger. The potatoes are simply boiled and then cooked with onions. In addition to the spices mentioned above the cooking oil is seasoned with curry leaves and a bit of ginger and chilis, and this incredibly flavorful oil permeates the entire dish. I ate the potatoes with some simple rice, but the book mentions that you can use the same mixture to fill a dosa (there’s also a recipe for how to make the dosa in the book).
Next I tried the cabbage stir fry with lemon and curry leaves (yalekosu palya). Although there were similarities with the potato dish this leaned more heavily on the smoky flavor of the curry leaves and the toasted dal (lentils) that get sauteed in the flavored oil. The cabbage is slightly wilted but still a bit crunchy, then tossed with dried unsweetened coconut, and finished with lemon juice and cilantro.
There are a wide variety of recipes in the book — salads, breads, desserts, etc — and some are more complicated than others. I’m looking forward to cooking my way through most of them.