Albanian Frogs’ Legs, Fried Mussels, and Rice Balls

I have not yet started writing stories about my recent trip to Albania, but one of my surprising discoveries there was definitely the food. Albanian cuisine reflects the country’s geographical variety (from sea to mountain) and the cultural influences of its neighbors (Greece, former Yugoslavia, and Italy, just across the Straight of Otranto).

Today’s recipe is inspired by a dinner I had in Gjirokastra, at the restaurant Kujtimi. Although Gjirokastra is situated in a valley between the Gjerë mountains and the Drino River in southern Albania, it’s only an hour away from the sea line, and the menu at Kujtimi offers grilled meats, as well as fried mussels, trout, and frogs’ legs. There are also a few local specialties, such as qifqi, rice balls with egg and herbs. Since most of these dishes are prepared very simply and served without garnish, I chose to combine several of them on a single plate, with a few personal additions.

Albanian Frog Legs, Fried Mussels, and Rice Balls Continue reading

Chef Watson on MUNCHIES

OK, OK, I promise I won’t bug you with my off-topic work stuff for a while after this, but I just published a piece about Chef Watson on MUNCHIES: I’m Happy to Have a Computer Help Me Cook Better. The article focuses on the history of cookbooks, which you might find interesting even if you don’t care about Cognitive Cooking. (Reminder: you can request access to the app here.)

Cognitive Cooking - Chef Watson - IBM Food Truck

Ukrainian Snapshot: Privoz Market, Odessa, July 2013

Aaah, Odessa: the legendary Potemkin Stairs, the mail-order brides, the mafia… and the Privoz Market.

The Privoz was created in 1827, originally as a handful of horse-driven carts next to the older Stary bazaar. As more buildings were constructed, it slowly became the largest food market in Odessa, and it remains so. Don’t expect any neoclassical splendor like Saint-Petersburg’s Gostiny Dvor, however. Privoz nowadays is a chaotic, busy market that sells food, clothes, and everything else, in a maze of outdoor food stalls and covered halls that won’t impress you with their architecture.

What might surprise you, though, is the variety of food on display. Especially seafood.

Privoz Market Continue reading

Chef Watson 2014 Holiday News

You might remember that apart from this blog, my day job as a software engineer has been all about Chef Watson — the app that helps you discover never-seen-before recipe ideas — and I have a couple of announcements to share just in time for the start of the holiday season:

  • We just released a new interface for Chef Watson. You can read all about it here, and sign up here. So go ahead, answer the quick survey, and start making some crazy recipes!
    And since this is a Russian food blog and not some sponsored content provided by IBM, here’s a recipe for Eastern European Salmon Kebab. The instructions might need some minor tweaks, but the ingredients don’t sound half-bad:

Chef Watson - Eastern European Salmon Kebab

Signature Russian Amuse-Bouche: Potato Chip, King Crab, Brains, and Caviar

Here’s a bite-sized dish to kick-off the holiday season in style! This very Russian combination seamlessly mixes poor and rich man’s ingredients, with potato and brains on one hand, and king crab and sturgeon caviar on the other. It’s not the first time I’ve paired crab and caviar (see here), and I’ve also posted recipes for pork brains and veal brains before. Combining the brains with crab, however, proves to be particularly successful, resulting in a creamy mixture that’s both delicious and approachable — the brains are nearly unrecognizable.

This makes for a great amuse-bouche with a drink before dinner. It’s just salty enough to make you thirsty, and rich enough to help you absorb the alcohol. And so you won’t be mistaken, this is to be consumed with moderation: after excluding water content, almost 50% of both pork brains and caviar is fat. And I won’t even talk about the potato chips and butter…

Potato Chip, King Crab, Brains and Caviar Continue reading

Restaurant Review: Old Tbilisi Garden

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Red Alert! Greenwich Village is turning into a nest of Soviets! Only a few months after Ariana (the last restaurant I reviewed) set up shop on Houston Street, Old Tbilisi Garden opened its doors on Bleecker Street in the exact same block. (Not to mention the Langos Truck that’s been corrupting NYU youth, one greasy flat bread at a time…)

Old Tbilisi Garden has a pedigree that shouldn’t be totally new to my readers. Apparently, part of the team is comprised of none other than the former owners of Tbilisi in Brooklyn, which I reviewed here a few years ago. After selling their old restaurant and spending some time in the kitchen at Oda House, they moved to their new digs in July.

Georgian Cuisine - Old Tbilisi Garden Continue reading

Stuffed Vegetable Shashlyks, Eggplant and Zucchini Caviar

So you spent your summer preparing exotic shashlyks on the mangal. Making a döner kebab holds no secrets for you anymore. You’ve mastered the art of the lyulya-kebab, whether with meat or potatoes. And now you’re wondering: what else could you possibly put on a skewer to further defy gravity? How about stuffed vegetables, skewered transversely with their stuffing hanging dangerously over the hot coals?

This is more than just a dare, of course — it also makes for a delicious kebab! The idea again comes from Stalik Khankishiev, who briefly mentions it in Bazar, Kazan i Dastarkhan without giving an exact recipe. Thanks to yours truly, you’ll now have exact proportions and instructions, and you don’t even need to learn Russian.

Stuffed Vegetable Shashlyk

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Tashkent Adventures on MUNCHIES

Just published another article on MUNCHIES a couple days ago: “In Uzbekistan, A Bowl of Greasy Rice Will Make or Break Your Marriage”; or, “Where to eat in Tashkent, everything you need to know about plov, and what the hell is naryn?” (And so far, nobody has commented that if I’d bothered to learn two words of Russian or Uzbek, I wouldn’t mock the traditions of the good Uzbek peoples. Knock on wood.)

Some bonus material! Here is a picture of the plov in one of the giant kazans at the Central Asian Plov Center. Notice the puddle of aphrodisiac grease in the back of the kazan:

Tashkent - Central Asian Plov Centre - Wedding Plov

And for the anecdote…

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Tokaji Wine Review: Tokaji Sauska Aszú Essencia 2003

During numerous trips to the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, I’ve had the opportunity to taste hundreds of Tokaji dessert wines, and I’ve managed to build a small personal collection. With no great claim to being a sommelier, I will share with you my impressions about the wines, and stories about the people who make them.

It’s been too long since my last Tokaji post, but I’ve got a great wine for you. This is not a wine I tasted in Hungary, unlike the others in most of my past reviews, but one that I acquired elsewhere. I tried contacting the winery to ask for photos, but unfortunately they never responded, so you’re stuck with me taking pictures of my Tokaji bottle around my apartment (next time it will be with my favorite Etsy planks, I promise).

Tokaji Sauska Aszú Essencia 2003 Continue reading