Meal 128: Pakistan

Pakistan was, until 1947, part of India. While the intention was to create a new country for Muslims, the dividing line was in many ways arbitrary, ill-informed, or simply doomed, given that religious communities intermixed plenty. In particular, the huge state of Punjab was split in two. Then, millions of people moved across the lines in both directions (or died in the attempt) to the country that reflected their religion. Both of these factors explain why Pakistani food seems so similar to the North Indian food we know: they were once the same country — in fact, much of the Indian food in the US is Punjabi style — and many immigrants brought foods from other parts of what's now the Republic of India.

This meal fell during Ramadan, which posed both an opportunity and a challenge. I was excited to have a guiding principle, since the food after the fast is often ritualized. But the challenge was the risk of offense by indulging in all the post-fast treats without observing the fast itself. Several Muslims assured me not to worry, and in fact a Pakistani member of the US Embassy's staff in Islamabad graciously gave me plenty of advice on what to prepare. (Thank you Erin for the connection!) In addition to the below recipes, we began the meal with the traditional fast-breaking food: dates.

Our guest of honor was Kal, a previous Nosher, who was born in Afghanistan but spent a decade as a refugee in Pakistan before coming to the US. We also had Katherine, Carlo, Marsha, Robert, Chie, Lyall, Eileen, and friends.

Rooh Afza | Sweet drink

This is the fast-breaking drink of Pakistan. It's a commercial syrup that's mixed with water — what's known in British English as a squash — and much improved with lime. (Some mix it with milk.) It's was a completely unfamiliar flavor sensation, a blend of all sorts of fruits, herbs, and spices with the most recognizable note being rose. It wasn't really my thing but I can see this sugary drink being extremely quenching after a hot day with nothing touching your lips after sunrise.

Fruit chaat | Spiced fruit salad | Recipe

Some cultures have figured out that bold spices are a fantastic complement for fruit. A shake of Tajín, a Mexican blend of chili, dried lime juice and salt, perks up mango, pineapple, and just about any other fruit or raw vegetable. In Morocco, they often serve orange slices with cinnamon. And now we here have Pakistan's contribution to the genre. The blend is more complex than the others I've seen before, with elements of sour, salty, pungent, and minerally. It would certainly perk up less-than-perfect fruit, but when it's really good and in season like here, it's pretty tasty and addictive and a failsafe appetite stimulant. 

Dahi bhallay | Black gram fritters in yogurt sauce | Recipe

From a Western perspective, what's curious about this dish is how the fritters are soaked in water after frying. Why let all that great crisp go? So they can absorb the yogurt and tamarind dressing that makes them oh so tasty. This dish is quite a bit of effort with the frying, so it's not the sort of thing I'd just go about making on a weeknight, but it was a flavorsome treat.

Sai bhaji | Spinach and legume stew | Recipe

This straightforward curry is a staple of Sindh, the province of southeastern Pakistan. It's pretty straightforward to make, a stew of greens, tomatoes, a mild amount of spice, and lentils or split chickpeas. Unfortunately, I felt like what came out was kind of what went in: it was perfectly edible, but just not terribly exciting, and it's unclear to me if I did something wrong or it's simply meant to be that way. There's no doubt, however, that this is one of the most nutritious dishes I have cooked for a Nosh!

Karahi gosht | Goat simmered in tomato sauce | Recipe

This recipe calls for mutton, and in the Subcontinent, mutton means goat. (Not the meat of mature sheep, as in the UK.) I like goat, and good goat can be hard to find, so I ended up buying an entire goat from a small-scale butcher. I used two legs for this meal; the rest is in the chest freezer.

Now, to the dish. This one was a winner! A really straightforward, low effort technique — simmer the meat until it's cooked, then put in sauce stuff and let it cook until tasty. You don't even have to toast spices or do any other tedious prep, just dump and simmer. Even though it ended up more liquidy than pasty like it should have (was my yogurt too runny, or tomatoes too watery?), the flavors were excellent and bright and I oughtta make this one again.

Mutton nihari | Goat stew | Recipe

I couldn't decide which goat dish to cook, so I made both. If you're only cooking one, choose the other. The nihari was totally fine, but despite all the spices, turned out sorta plain, which was a disappointment after cooking for half a day. As with the saibhaji, I'm not sure if there was an error along the way, or that's just how it's meant to be.

Chicken sajji | Slow-roasted chicken with spiced rice | Recipe

This recipe represents Balochistan, a mostly arid province bordering Afghanistan and Iran. This dish is a whole lot more like what I know of Gulf cuisine, with the animal roasted rather than cooked in a sauce. What's more, the rice is parboiled, which is a technique I associate with Persian food. (A stickler will note that rice in biryani, a pinnacle of Indian cuisine, is similarly boiled hard until nearly done. I will rejoinder that, in fact. biryani is of Persian origin.) Anyway, I loved this. Cardamom, vinegar, dried pomegranate, and even dates all feature, and make for one scrumptious whole.

Meal 88: Kenya

We've already enjoyed three meals from the Horn of Africa, but it's taken us until the K's to start into East Africa proper. It looks a whole lot more like Central African, though I'm happy and relieved to report that we found it quite a bit tastier.

As with so many former colonial countries, the borders of Kenya arbitrarily threw a bunch of tribes together. Accordingly, there's not exactly a national cuisine as such, but there are a few dishes that are extremely common throughout the country. So we made those collards and corn mush dishes, and rounded out the meal with dishes chosen from around the counties that stretch from the sea to Africa's highest mountain.

After our small trial run for Kazakhstan, we went big for this meal, taking advantage of our new, large dining room to seat twelve around two tables. Our guests were Hannah, Emily, Frank, Don, Chelsea, Sebastian, Craig, Laura, Kaely, and Brett. The first four arrived a half hour early, due to an error in my email, but they proved super helpful in the kitchen, as I'd once again misestimated the prep time in the dishes and was relieved to have a small army of choppers, stirrers, and washers appear! Thanks, folks!

And extra-special thanks to my buddy Walter, who lived in Kenya for several years, and gave me some excellent and very useful advice on what to serve. I love it when someone can distill the essence of a country's foodways and the culture around it — I still do plenty of research to support and understand, but the guidance and structure is invaluable.

Dawa | Vodka and lime with honey swizzle | Recipe

Dawa is the Swahili word for medicine. In this case, it's got the spoonful of sugar built right in, as this drink is essentially a caipiroska (vodka-lime-sugar) taken to the next level with a swizzle-stick dipped in honey. It's tart, it's sweet, it's boozy. And it's in my hand in the above photo!

Ugali | Cornmeal porridge | Recipe

Just about all of sub-Saharan Africa has some sort of mush as the bedrock of a meal. Kenya's no different. I read in a few places that a meal is considered incomplete without this simple mix of cornmeal and water, mixed so thick that you can stand a spoon in it, and then tear off clumps with your hand to use as a vessel for scooping whatever else is on the plate.

Sukuma wiki | Collard greens | Recipe

If you're the average Kenyan on an average day, that other thing on your plate is probably the humble, tasty, nutritious collard greens, simmered for a long time with maybe some onions, tomato, and a bouillon cube. The name means "to stretch the week," as in, it's the food you can afford to eat when your money's running out before you're next paid.

I was afraid I'd find it pretty bland, given that it wouldn't have the benefit of ham or bacon as done in Southern cooking. Maybe it's because this was some super fresh (and enormous! the leaves were like two feet long!) farmers-market collards, or maybe it's really that easy to bring good flavor with a few hours of simmering, or maybe the MSG in the bouillon saved the day. Whatever the reason, the greens were tasty and popular.

Nyama choma | Grilled goat

Some cultures, such as Chinese, bring romance and storytelling to the names of their dishes. So too with parts of Africa: Cameroon has a dish Poulet D-G, standing for directeur général, since the dish is considered so fancy and tasty it's fit for the boss. Not so much with nyama choma, which literally means "burn the meat." To be fair, that's pretty much all you do: once the meat's on the skewers, all you do is slather it with warm salted water every few minutes while letting the flames sear the outside and seal the tasty juices on the inside.

The meat in question here is goat. Several months ago, someone who I wish I could remember so I could give them the credit said, "Goat is like soccer: popular in most of the world, but not the U.S." Fortunately, it's not too hard to find in Portland. I biked in the rain to a Somali market up on Killingsworth, which offered me a choice of leg or shoulder — and we agreed that the latter is the better choice for kabobs. $5/pound including cutting into kabob size. In Kenya, the sale price would have also included free grilling with a place to sit in the back!

But who cares about what it's called or where I got it. The suckers were scrumptious, embarrassingly so given how little I had to do in terms of cheffing to get them on the table. I'm certainly doing this one again on a warm weeknight.

Kachumbari | Tomato "salsa" | Recipe

Mexican pico de gallo is a great foil for the rich meat on a taco. The East Africans pair their grilled meats with almost exactly the same condiment — fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime, chili — but it came to them via a completely independent and unlikely source: the English! Just as, in the Egypt nosh, we saw how they introduced a rice-and-lentil dish from India that transformed into the national food, they also brought an onion-and-tomato salad that became ubiquitous on the other side of the Indian Ocean. No point in reviewing: this really was exactly the same as how I'd make a pico de gallo.

Mchuzi wa samaki | Swahili fish curryRecipe

Whereas the grilled goat was the essence of simplicity, likely borne of the necessity of a nomadic lifestyle, this coastal curry shows off what you can do when you're in a tropical setting on the sea, with both the fish and the trading it entails. It gets its name from the coastal Swahili people, whose Kiswahili language has become the common language of much of East Africa. The dish was quite tasty, with a double-dose of turmeric imparting a pleasing color and a haunting flavor that brought zing to an otherwise simply flavored meal.

Muthokoi | Cracked corn and pigeon pea stew | Recipe

This dish of cracked corn and pigeon peas takes us back inland to the Akamba tribe of Eastern Kenya, and we're back to simple, earthy foods. I wasn't planning on making it, but at Mama Pauline's African Market, I got the two ingredients on a hunch that I'd find something to make with them. As you'd guess, this was a hearty and filling dish, with the flavor again coming from store-bought seasoning, a specific brand name called Royco. It's not even listed in the ingredients, and it's even written in lower-case in the recipe, that's how common the spice blend is. (Should you want to make this dish, you could use a bouillon cube, or look up "homemade royco" to find several variants. I can't remember which I used!)

Tea and cake

Walter, my buddy who'd lived several years in Kenya, gave me all sorts of specific and useful advice on the other dishes. But what he said about dessert cracked me up: "You MUST serve Bad Cake. It's effectively the national dish and national pastime. Kenyans love cake more than any people I've ever known, and they make cake worse than any people I've ever known also." This proved quite a challenge: how to make a cake that'd be intentionally bad? And bad in what way? Well, since I had a few gluten-free folks coming, I took advantage of the opportunity, and simply made a gluten-free yellow cake. Maybe it wasn't bad-to-Walter's-taste in the way Kenyans do it, but it definitely was, well, a gluten-free cake. To make the cake more Kenyan, I decorated it like the flag, which was easier and more fun than I expected.

A surprisingly nice start to East Africa, let's see how things go as we explore farther down the coast.

Meal 77: India

It's absurd to squeeze a survey of Indian cuisine into one meal. From Kashmir to Kerala to Kolkata, there's just a bewildering diversity of flavors, ingredients, and techniques that very well merit a 35-meal tour of all the states and territories. (Ooh, wow, that does sound fun.)

I did my best to incorporate as much regional diversity as possible into a single meal, while also creating a cohesive whole that collectively surveys a representative expanse of what's to be found in India. Of course there's much missing — no paneer, no saag, no dosa — but I did get in a lot of classics like dalbiryani, chaat, and masala chai. Where a dish has a clear regional provenance, I've listed the place, otherwise it's something that's enjoyed over a wide area or even the entire country.

Interest in the meal was so strong that we rented out space at the new Court Tree Collective, with a kitchen and seating for 25. Having such a crowd allowed for a greater variety of dishes, though I probably could have scaled back by one or two for the sake of sanity. It took two separate shopping trips, both times stumbling home with my backpacking pack full of rice, grains, yogurt, meat and huge varieties of spices!

Now let's get to it:

Gin and tonic

You know when you have to add gin to something to make it taste better, that something had to have been pretty rough. In this case, it's quinine, whose anti-malarial properties were appreciated by the soldiers of the British East India Company, but bitter flavor was found hard to swallow. Mixed with gin, lime, and sugar, however, and it became a drink whose popularity outlived the medical need.

Why the odd ruddy color and hand-labeled bottle? I made the tonic syrup from scratch, with a kit my mom sent me from Oaktown Spice Shop. With allspice, cubeb pepper, lemongrass, citric acid, and chinchona bark (the source of the quinine), plus the juice and zest of lemon, lime, and orange, the flavor was far richer and more complex than something like Schweppes. Plus, when you make it from syrup, you can choose the relative sweetness and strength of flavor of your drink. If you're a serious G&T fan, it's worth exploring.

Pani puri | Potato-filled crispy puffs with chutney | Recipe

Indian English leans on hyperbole when describing its food. I saw the word "lip-smacking" on a lot of recipes, particularly those for chaat, a genre of intensely-flavored, intriguingly-textured, quickly-eaten street foods based around a fried element, of which pani puri is probably the most popular. The name means "water puffs," and they're assembled by filling a fried puff with a starchy mix (in this case, and probably most common, potatoes and onions), before dousing in a thin but strongly flavored sauce (in this case, and probably most common, a blend of tamarind and cilantro-mint chutneys thinned with water). A little dollop and it becomes a dahi puri, "yogurt puff." They need to be eaten very quickly after assembly, lest the crispy puffs get soggy from the filling.

Note that rather than making the blended chutney as described in the recipe, I made them separately so they could be used for other purposes. The recipes for those are farther down.

Punjab/Delhi: Dal makhani | Black lentil and kidney bean stew | Recipe

It says a lot about India's esteem for lentils that the most famous dish at one of the country's most highly regarded restaurants is a dal. On my first trip to India, my parents and I went to Bukhara in Delhi and had the renowned dal Bukhara, a richly flavored stew concentrated by slow cooking overnight over a wood fire. It's just one of thousands of variations of dal makhani, a stew of whole black lentils and kidney beans invented by a Punjabi immigrant who opened a restaurant in Delhi after the Partition.

Most recipes for this hearty, tomato-tinged stew call for pressure cooking. Not having the right equipment, nor the desire to rush things, I found a recipe going the opposite direction, with a slow cooker, in search of Bukhara's glory. I ended up cooking it even slower and longer than the recipe calls for, finishing it off with a few hours on high with the lid off to cook down the liquid and concentrate the flavors, and to compensate for the extra cooking time I bumped up all the spices by a bit. I made it completely vegan — that is, oil instead of ghee — until the end, when I pulled out the above bowl for our vegan guests, and doused the rest of the pot with ghee and milk. I think it turned out super-well, all those spices blending well with the rich, almost smoky, depth that comes from cooking legumes for so long.

West Bengal: Shorshe maach | Carp in mustard sauce | Recipe

Mustard and freshwater fish are the two hallmarks of Bengali cuisine, a lush land where the Ganges meets the ocean, so this dish was a clear choice to represent the region. (As a lovely indication of the syncretic nature of New York's foodways, though, I bought the fish from a Chinese grocer, a block away from the Indian supermarket which happened to be all-vegetarian.) The dish was promising but didn't quite turn out flavorful enough, probably because I was rushed to complete it and forgot to add salt and pepper at the right moment. That said, the dual assault of mustard, both from the oil that the fish steaks were fried in as well as the paste I blended up from raw seeds, and the firm flesh of the carp, at least brought the core elements.

Hyderabad: Murgh dum biryani | Yogurt-marinated chicken slow-cooked with rice | Recipe

I get the feeling that biryani is to Indian cuisine what chili is to American: substantial regional variation and strong opinions on the right way to do it. In opposition to one approach where the meat and the rice are cooked separately and mixed only right before serving, I chose to follow a technique used in the royal court of the Nizams in Hyderabad, where parboiled rice is layered on top of richly marinated meat, which is most commonly chicken. The scents of the dozen or so spices in the marinade, plus the silky moisture from a generous bath of yogurt, perfume all of the rice. To ensure maximum concentration of flavors, the flame is as low and diffuse as can be, and the lid is wrapped in a rope of dough to trap in every bit of steam. That means the final cooking is blind, so you can’t check on how things are going, which is always a bit nerve-wracking.

I think everything turned out super deliciously, with fully cooked and tender chicken and delicately textured rice. The only problem being that the recipe uses so much rice that there was no room in the pot to mix up the chicken and the rice, nor the bowl I inverted the mix into, so all the chicken got eaten off the top and we were left with a mountain of rice. If you end up making this recipe, be sure to use a larger pot than you might think you need, or else you can cut back on the rice and just have a higher meat proportion.

Kashmir: Rogan josh | Goat in red sauce | Recipe

Goats are well suited to the steep terrain of Kashmir, which is also renowned for its moderately spiced and richly flavored chilies, so it’s fitting that the region’s most famous dish combines the two. I followed the style of the pandits, a sect of Hindu Brahmins that the term “pundit” is named after, by not using onions or garlic, so the richness of the sauce comes only from the yogurt and spices — and the color only from chilies, not even tomatoes. (I couldn’t find the rottan jot that’s apparently used to lend even more redness.) I thought the dish, which bubbled slowly and happily on the back burner as I prepared the rest of the meal, was a treat, a bold but not overwhelming blend of spices standing up to the gamy meat.

Tamil Nadu: Chettinad vendakkai masala | Okra in tomato curry | Recipe

It’s hard to find okra that’s not insipid and flabby in the winter. I’d bought and frozen some gorgeous farmers market okra at the height of the summer, anticipating a meal that’d make use of them. I could think of no more germane meal than India’s, where they’re coyly called “lady’s fingers.” This preparation comes from the Chettinads, a prosperous class in the southern state of Tamil Nadu which is famous for its food. Diana and Colin led the preparation of this one, with a healthy dose of tomatoes making for a moderately spiced and all-around tasty dish that highlighted the okra’s firmness and happily downplayed its sliminess.

Kerala: Paruppu kulambu | Pigeon pea sambar with mixed vegetables  Recipe

To the east, and also contributing a vegan dish, is Kerala, a place of friendly, modest people that not so modestly calls itself “God’s Own Country.” Befitting its dense network of lush inland waterways, the sambar is a typical dish that's a particularly soupy dal with various vegetables. Taking advantage of the abundance at the Indian market, I threw in the most uncommon vegetables I could find from the suggestions in the recipe, with odd names like ashgourd and timbora, though I should have skipped the drumsticks since they turned out very stringy.

Assam: Amitar khar | Green papaya in alkaline mustard sauté | Recipe

The Northeast states are connected to the rest of India by a sliver of land between Nepal and Bangladesh known as the "chicken's neck." The physical isolation highlights the distinctiveness of these so-called Seven Sister States, which in many ways are more culturally and ethnically aligned with Southeast Asia than India. This dish provides an example of a very different sort of cuisine, which uses few spices yet employs a unique technique of sautéeing a food that's more commonly seen raw. If I could have found it I would have used plantain ash, but instead I substituted baking soda, which lends a bit of crispness as well as a distinctive salt-ish flavor.

Chapati | Flatbread | Recipe

India offers a huge variety of flatbreads, from the well-known naan, a yeasted, toothsome bread originating in Central Asia and popular in the north, to crêpe-like, griddle-cooked, dosas in the south, generally filled like an airy, crispy burrito. But the humble chapati, made of nothing more than grain, water, and elbow grease, is a food that’s made and enjoyed in probably hundreds of millions of homes on a frequent basis, a cheap tummy-filler that’s also a great at conveying a morsel of food to the mouth.

Sarah-Doe judiciously added enough water to a pre-mixed blend of durum semolina and wheat bran until it was not too dry but not yet sticky, and rolled them out, and then Max cooked them one at a time in a pan until they got just a bit toasty. They tasted every bit as nutty and satisfyingly warm as I remember from India.

Kesar chawal | Saffron rice | Recipe

By the time I got to cooking this part, we were already running short on time and pots. I got creative by preparing the whole thing in a rice cooker, first heating the ghee and throwing the spices in the bottom of the pot (protip: it won't heat unless you leave the lid on!), and then adding the soaked rice and the saffron. It actually turned out quite well, though I've since read that rice cookers are better suited for moister East Asian short rice preparations than drier, fluffier basmati long rice, but you could have fooled me.

Bihar: Lauki ka raita | Spiced yogurt with calabash | Recipe

I've found cooling relief in mildly-flavored yogurt sauces during many a bit-too-spicy Indian meal in raita. But it turns out that its name comes from the words for "pungent mustard," thus it's intended as a sort of flavor-enhancing chutney. This version comes from Bihar, a populous Northern state between Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, and features calabash, a long, large, and mild-flavored vegetable that's also known as bottle gourd because it can be dried and used as a vessel. In any event, when grated, boiled, drained, and squeezed dry, it lends nice texture and a little flavor to the spiced yogurt, a good enhancement to many dishes, especially biryani.

Chutneys | Condiment sauces | Recipes: TamarindCilantro-mint

If you've ordered northern Indian food, chances are you've seen these sauces. They're so common that many know them simply as "sweet chutney" and "green chutney." As with most Indian foods, they're quite a bit more complex than that: the "sweet" one also carries the puckering tang of tamarind plus a moderate chili heat, and the "green" one features two fresh-flavored greens with aromatics and a rich spice blend. If you go for the sweet one, I really recommend seeking out the pourable tamarind concentrate rather than the compressed block, it'll save you lots of time. Both of these recipes turned out really well, and were great in the pani puri in addition to being a complement to pretty much everything else.

Aam ka achar | Mango pickle | Recipe

Unlike the European version, Indian pickles aren't done in vinegar, but rather with spices and oils. They're an endemic part of most cuisines around the vast country, with moms and grandmas making their own pickles the way many make jam elsewhere. I couldn't make this mango pickle right for three reasons reasons: done right, it takes unripe mangoes a few weeks to pickle, of which the first several days should be spent in direct sunlight, and I had a week in a dreary winter with half-ripe mangoes. I went with this recipe because it accounted for not-perfectly-unripe mangoes, and was generous with the amount of time required. And my goodness, they turned out pretty well! The mustard flavor is of course there due to both the oil and the seeds, but the mango brings through a moderate sweetness while the chilies and other flavors bring an intriguing zing to every bite. Almost all of the jar got eaten!

Masala chai | Milk tea with spices | Recipe

Tea is the most Indian of drinks, but wasn't so commonly consumed there until the turn of the 20th century, when the British began to exploit the very market that was growing the crop. Putting their own spin on it, the new chaiwallas tossed in spices that were considered "warming," such as ginger and cardamom, along with whatever else suited. Masala means spice mix — chai on its own is just the Hindi word for "tea" — and personal preferences for which ingredients to put in and how much, such as cinnamon, star anise, and clove, vary considerably, as well as opinions on whether it's better to grind the spices or use them whole. I started with the recipe here, with the addition of a bit of star anise, a bump up of the cardamom, and a cheap "dust" tea instead of the Assam because that's what most commonly used. It was fantastic, I'd have consumed a whole quart were I not concerned for the caffeine!

Kaju burfi | Cashew "shortbread" | Recipe

The folks who sell burfi (sometimes, and unfortunately, known as barfi) have a great racket going. Every Indian I've asked about it said this is something that you buy from the store, not make yourself, as if it's something very complicated. But it turns out to be one of the simplest desserts I've ever made! Really all it takes is grinding cashews (or better yet and probably cheaper, using cashew powder if you find it), mixing them with powdered milk and sugar, kneading with a tiny bit of water, rolling out, cutting and refrigerating. Boom, you've got a mildly sweet and rich finger food that is simply an ideal pairing with a complexly spiced masala chai. Burfiwallas, I'm on to you!

Gajar ka halwa | Carrot pudding

Think carrots are weird for dessert? Well, remember the existence of carrot cake, and let's talk. This is another deceptively simple dish — little more than carrots, milk, and sugar — though compared to the burfi it takes rather more labor. In particular, to boil down a bunch of milk until there's no liquid left takes a lot of stirring to avoid scorching. (Grating all those carrots could have been an even bigger pain, but fortunately I have a grating attachment for my Cuisinart.) With a dash of ghee, it becomes a pretty rich dessert, but hey, it's carrots, so it's healthy, right?

Our friends the Bansals helped us with the menu; this recipe comes from their family.

Carrots - 1 kg
Milk  - 1 litre
Sugar – 6 to 8 tablespoons (adjust to taste)
Pure Ghee - (clarified butter) 2 tablespoons.
Almonds - Blanch in hot water for 15 minutes, drain and peel. (I found sliced blanched almonds at the store!)
Peel , wash and grate the carrots. Cook the carrots in milk on medium to high fire, stirring from time to time so that it does not catch the bottom of the vessel, till the milk evaporates and there is no excess liquid. Add the sugar.  After the sugar melts add the ghee/butter and cook for about 15 mins on medium heat (or till the ghee/butter appears to separate from the carrot mix), stirring frequently so that it does not catch the bottom of the vessel.  Add the chopped almonds and serve hot.

Raise your hand if this is your first nosh!

Huge thanks to the folks who came early to help out: Sarah-Doe, Max, Diana, Colin, and Christen, to Hrithik and Reena Bansal for their advice from across the world, to Sophie for the Bollywood playlist, and to all the attendees whose donations, after doubling, will lead to almost 8,000 meals given by the World Food Program. Researching, shopping, and preparing for a crowd is a whole lot of work, but seeing how much impact one meal's worth of donations can make is really motivating — and sharing a crazy tasty meal with friends new and old makes it so much fun.

Meal 72: Haiti

Have you ever pondered what would have happened if something went differently at a given point in history? Compared with the rest of the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is sort of a real-life example of contrarian history. The crux is a slave revolt against French colonial masters that, incredibly, led to independence in 1804. The slave system was ruthless and required a constant influx of slaves, which had the silver-lining consequence of a strong syncretic culture quickly developing that combined French and West African influences — ranging from language (Kreyol is mostly French vocabulary but has strong West African grammatical influence) to cuisine to religion.

Our meal fell directly on fet gede, a Vodou celebration blending the Catholic traditions of All Souls' Day with West African-derived spirits and beliefs. To get into the mood, we made an altar with some of the traditional elements, including an offering of our own ancestors' favorite foods. The meal, while not unique to this holiday, is one that would be appropriate to the festivities, particularly because the spirits related to death love spicy food. To bring a little bit more of Port-au-Prince to Brooklyn, we turned out the lights and ate by candle, since most folks only get electricity a few hours a day, if any.

Joining us for this adventure were Lisa, Alex, Samantha, Johan, CJ, and Rachel. Alex spent a month in Haiti, whereas CJ recently lived there for a year.

Kremas | Rum cream | Recipe

The drink par excellence for fet gede is pikan, hard liquor steeped with scotch bonnets. CJ brought some that she'd made for last year's, so you can imagine how pungent it was — all you need is the tiniest sip of this truly firey water.

For the rest of our Haitian-style drinking, we drank this cordial that's pretty much the opposite — an unctuous, sweet, spiced blend — with the only part in common is the alcoholic strength, thanks to being made with overproof rum. Between the spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg) and the thickness of the liquids (condensed milk, evaporated milk, cream of coconut), this drink was quite reminiscent of eggnog, just a whole lot stronger. While all enjoyed the flavor, some found the thickness too heavy to indulge in more than a glass, but I quite happily managed to have several.

If you choose to follow this recipe, just note two things: you should use more than a quarter-cup of water to make the simple syrup, and this made two liters in total (and I only used a 750 ml bottle of rum, rather than 1L), so be prepared to give plenty of it away. Oh, and it's extremely important to look people in the eye when toasting. Goodness knows you don't want to get on the wrong side of the spirits.

Pikliz | Spicy pickled slaw | Recipe

Growing up in California, taquerias were a core part of my childhood, and at some point my dad taught me the awesome trick of picking out the carrots from amongst the pickled japaleños at the salsa bar, to get the spice infused from the surrounding peppers while also getting more of the vinegar flavor. I feel like pikliz takes this concept to a marvelous extreme, with just a few extremely hot scotch bonnet peppers seasoning a whole jar of shredded cabbage, carrots, and whatever other veggies you throw in, by bathing together in spiced vinegar. And then there's whole cloves thrown in there to add a little more exotic flavor. I threw all the vegetables through the Cuisinart's shredding disc, but next time I would probably use the thin slicer for the cabbage to keep it in larger pieces.

Pikliz is such an essential part of the cuisine that everyone who'd been to Haiti whom I told about this meal asked if I'd be making it, and there's even an expat website called So, if you're doing a Haitian meal, don't leave this out, and be sure to start this a few days in advance to let that spice from the peppers migrate over to the vegetables! And then throw it on just about everything, as there's little on the Haitian table that won't go well with some vinegary crunch-n-spice.

Tasso cabrit | Fried goat | Recipe

This was, hands down, the tastiest goat I've eaten in my life. What it's lacking in visual appeal, it way more than makes up in flavor and texture.

It started with a trip to the Fertile Crescent, where the butcher cut stew pieces of meat to order, including the super-tasty rib bits. Then to Bed-Stuy where I had to pop into a few markets to find the elusive sour orange, a green fruit with thick skin, a ton of square-ish seeds, and appropriately named flavor that's just excellent as a marinade. The night before the meal, I squeezed up the oranges, mixed with a bunch of other ingredients including lime, ground clove (there's that spice again!), hot peppers, etc.

Some recipes call for a simple vinegar marinade and then boiling with all the flavors; other call for a rich marinade and then a simple boil. I find it hard to let go of good flavors once you've got 'em, so the next afternoon I dumped the whole bowl, meat and marinade alike, into a pot, added water to cover, and then let that simmer for a good two hours or so. The recipes say to boil, but tough meat always enjoys slow heat, and my tweaks were vindicated by a really tasty and tender meat.

But wait, there's more! Once I finished frying up the plantains, I turned up the heat and threw the goat in the same oil, adding a lovely crisp to all the edges. Once served, these tasty chunks lasted approximately five minutes on the table. The only challenge was successfully navigating all the bones by candlelight!

Sauce Ti-Malice | Tomato and onion sauce | Recipe

This sauce is pretty much soupy sautéed onions with hints of other ingredients. I saw it mentioned on pretty much every site I visited, but I'm not sure I get it. The rest of the cuisine has such vibrant flavors and textures, while this came across as kinda bland and watery. Did I do something wrong?4

Diri ak pwa | Rice and beans | Recipe

Doesn't that look like an exotic, perhaps African, name for this dish? Actually, it's the Kreyol transformation du riz au pois. Highlighting one face of the large American presence in Haiti, this recipe comes by way of a missionary.

I'm fascinated by how many ways there are to cook rice and beans. This one has you boil the beans (which I'd pre-soaked), adding some coconut milk and parsley toward the end, then re-introducing the bean broth and the beans and then finally the rice, with a heavy unlidded boil and then finally a slow simmer with the lid on. It was a lot of work and required a lot of attention, which proved quite worthwhile, with a great semi-moist texture on both the rice and the beans, and a nice richness thanks to the coconut milk. (I actually made coconut milk from scratch, by cracking, prying, and shredding coconuts, adding water to the shreds, and squeezing to extract the milk. Maybe that made a difference, but it was probably hardly worth it.)

I made a whole ton of it, using a pound of little red beans and five cups of rice; three nights of leftovers later and we've still got plenty left! Fortunately, it tastes great when crisped up in the frying pan with the addition of extra veggies and some pikliz!

Banan peze | Twice-fried green plantains | Recipe

For all the fried ripe plantains I've made, this was actually the first time I've fried the unripe version. Known as tostones or patacones in Spanish, these bananes pesées — weighted-down plantains — are fried once, smashed, and fried again. I can't find confirmation online, but my suspicion is that if the edges would burn before you managed to cook it all the way through, so smashing after the heat softens it makes all part of the slice close to the surface. Or maybe it's just that more surface area means more crispiness. Anyway, yum. Even though I have a deep-fryer, I made these in a frying pan so I could get more of these flat things going at a time.

Bonbon siwo | Molasses cake | Recipe

This cake-like dessert can be pretty honestly described as a fluffy brownie, but with molasses and spices instead of chocolate. I thought it was OK, but on the dry side. (The first recipe I found called for a ridiculous four sticks of butter, whereas this one has one stick, perhaps the truth and beauty lies somewhere in between.) However, it was an excellent supporting actor for a scoop of the nutmeg ice cream left over from the Grenada meal!

Post-dinner lingering, by candlelight