Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio, I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we take you into a Nigerian kitchen with Chef Yewanda Komolafe. We chat about the street food of Lagos, I add a layer of flavors to create better tasting dishes. In Komolafe’s dinner series my immigrant food is
(clip)Yewanda Komolafe:part of the story of the dinners is that I'm cooking Nigerian food so far away from Nigeria, but like, with ingredients that I can find where I am, because that that I feel like is part of the immigrant story, the story of adaptation.
CK: Also, coming up Adam Gopnik talks about regional specialties and their shortcomings. And we present a recipe for beef and tomatillo Stew. But first is my interview who Gustavo Arellano he went on a three day journey from Las Cruces, New Mexico to Denver, Colorado to enjoy and also endure dozens of local recipes using chilies. Gustavo, welcome to milk Street. Chili has many definitions you right? It's a salsa that can be as thick as gravy or thin as water mellow or scorching cheeseburgers snack and meat rub full meal and appetizers so the definition of chili was pretty broad right?
Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, it's interesting because in the in the United States when we think of Chile, we think of course of a stew of usually ground beef with beans although Texans will always say real chili doesn't have beans, you put some cheese sour cream, chili powder and that's about it. And then sometimes we'll talk about chili peppers, maybe chili sauce, but along I 25 chili means something completely different. It's it means multiple things. So first and foremost, the question along the chili highway is always red or green because there's two different types of chilies everyone goes by the red chili and the green chili the red chili is gonna be the older chili the green chili is from the chili peppers are growing along the way there are big when they're unripe and then from there people put them into cheeseburgers they put them into stews, they put them into pasole which is a harmony student, but with their eggs, they eat them raw they grill them, they fry them. It's really remarkable and it's also a food ways that's really only known in that style in the American Southwest but especially along I 25.
CK: Are all of these dishes good ideas?
GA: Yeah there are some ideas that maybe are not the best, especially in New Mexico. It's put on anything your goodbye green chili vodka, which is okay, you could get red chili, Fettuccine Alfredo, which is actually pretty good. You get green chili brittle, you get green chili, Oh, geez, what are some of the weirder ones lollipops and whatnot. So I would say try it. And if you like it, you like it. If you don't like it? Well, at least you tried it and you could talk trash on it.
CK: When I was in Oaxaca a while back, I really started to understand more so than I ever had the chilies are about flavor not really heat as much. And you make this point a lot.
GA: When we're talking about chili along I 25. We're not talking about jalapenos or Serrano's or all the multiple types of chilies that you could grow or chilies from Mexico or anywhere else, we're specifically talking about a chili that's going to be when it grows with full size, it's going to be as long as your hand and pretty thick. So it's the same type of chili, but as soon as different flavors, depending on where it's grown. So people are going to swear by their types of chilies. And that's where you have big debates, especially between New Mexico and Colorado, where they fight over each other saying, oh, our chili is better. No, our chili is better. And the rest of the country doesn't really have a clue about it. But New Mexico wins because they have the bigger budget to promote their chili farmers and their chilies than anyone else. As an outsider. You're like, Wait, is it a chili? chili chili? So how could the terroir possibly or the flavor possibly change? 100 miles away but it does it really really does.
CK: The New Mexican Sunday, which actually, I have to say sounded appealing. Could you just describe what it is?
GA: Oh my Lord. Yeah, this is a place down in Las Cruces is a little chain. And they sell a New Mexican Sunday. So it's it's New Mexican to the core. So it's gonna be vanilla custard. inside of it, they put pecans pecans are huge industry in southern New Mexico, but they also have candied green chili, like little nubs of candied green chili, so you're gonna get a little bit of heat, but again, it's all about the flavor. He opens up your palate, you get a little bit of the spice as a flavor. It is amazing. And especially if you're in southern New Mexico, it's gonna be hot. So if you want to get that green chili one,
CK: so Mexican cooking, I mean, you drove 600 miles, you must have seen lots of different local variations on a theme. A lot of them are really different than the others.
GA: There's so many strata, as you know, you mentioned Oaxaca so Oaxacan foods going to be completely different from the food from say a highly score or which is more in the mountains or Veracruz which is on the coast, yet they all go back to Mexican foods. So similar Are you have Southwestern cuisine, Southwestern cuisine is American cuisine. But it's also Mexican cuisine because a Southwest what has been was a part of Mexico far longer than it has been part of the United States. So that influence is still there. But that said, because it is removed from the rest of Mexico, it's just going to be a different style of food. So New Mexican cuisine, it's simultaneously Southwestern New Mexican, American, and Mexican and all and even within New Mexico, the food in Las Cruces and the southern part of New Mexico is going to be completely different for the food up in Santa Fe, or further north into Chimayo and but it all still ultimately belongs to the same family of Mexican food.
CK: So kind of a personal question, but at the end of the three days do you check in the hospital for a colonic or something? I mean, what do you mean, your digestive system must be on strike by the time you're done, right?
GA: You know what's funny, anytime I eat chili, now, my body just starts to like, turn like oh, my God, I basically whatever the opposite of immunization is, that's what happened with me and chili, unfortunately.
CK: Any last thoughts about road trips? You know, When I grew up, we did a lot of road trips with my parents. And I really haven't done that lately about that. That seems like something that should come back, right?
GA: Oh, road trips are a beautiful experience. I love just exploring and talking to people and learning about different cultures. I've been lucky that I have a career that requires that I be on the road as much as possible. So I've been able to eat across a lot of the United States, their regional styles and their regional foods. And so when people talk trash about different styles of food, I could say, hey, you're wrong. Go out and try it. I guarantee you, you're probably going to be very surprised and you're going to be better for it at the end.
CK: Gustavo, thank you so much for being on milk Street.
GA: Gracias for having me.
CK: That was Gustavo Arellano. His article for eater is entitled The Great American chili highway milk street radio is available anytime anywhere is a podcast you can subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. It's time for my co host, Sara Moulton, I'd answer your culinary question series, of course, the star of Sara's weeknight meals on public television, also the author of home cooking 101. Sara, what's up? Well, Chris,
Sara Moulton: I have a question for you. Before we get started, do you have any rules in your kitchen? Like when somebody else comes to cook with you? That you know, you just are sort of unmovable out? Like I'll give you an example in my kitchen? I insist that when we're doing desserts they use I have a specific cutting board for you know, slicing strawberries or whatever. Do you have any rules like that?
CK:The rule is, don't cook with me. No, I'm serious.
SM: Cuz you're too cranky?
CK: No, we, we had four people over for dinner on Saturday. And one of the couples want to come early and cook with me. And I said like, don't take the wrong way. But when I cook, I do it all day. And I do it very slowly. I just love wasting time cooking on Saturday, I have my own system. I listened to something with some music, BBC Radio, whatever. I love it. I do it at my own pace and have to socialize and organize the cooking with somebody else. I've just defeats the entire concept of cooking for me. Well, okay, solitary now serving in enjoying their company. That is a great time. But the cooking for me is a solitary experience. And I just like to do the whole thing.
SM: Well, good for you.
CK: And I'll wash the dishes. I'll clean up I'll do everything
SM: Will you invite me over for dinner?
CK: Yeah, you want to do anything?
SM: Go. I love it. That's a plan. But I guess first we should take a few calls.
CK: And on that note, welcome to middle street Who's calling?
Caller: This is Chris from Salt Lake City.
CK: How are you?
Caller: Hi, Chris. I am fantastic. Hello, Sara. Good to talk to both with you.
CK:How can we help?
Caller: Well, I read an article on carbon steel pans being better than nonstick. And so I looked up the winner which was Matt for Boise. Boise, okay. There's my French the 12 inch as being the best of the carbon steels. So it didn't say what size the surface area was. So I measured the pants that I have. And I've got a cast iron 10 inch, an all clad fry pan 11 inch all clad saute pan at 12 inch and I thought well, I'll just get a nine inch so I ordered the nine inch on Amazon. And when it arrived I was really disappointed to find out that it was like my crep pan.
CK: Yeah, it was like a kiddie pan right was too small.
Caller: Yeah, I wanted to nine inch surface area. Uh huh. So when go about finding out what the surface area if you don't have a pan right in front of you like that's
CK: an excellent question because they measure the pants from lip to lip and as you now know, a carbon steel yeah has a particularly flared side to it much more so than let's say a cast iron pan, which is pretty versus straight up? Yeah, a carbon steel, nine inch is going to have a much smaller, actual cooking surface than a cast iron nine inch because they're measuring from lip to lip and the sides flare out. I don't know how to answer your question, because unless it says something on the Amazon page, or wherever you're buying it, you really have to go to a store to buy it. And then you know,
SM: it should be like furniture or when they tell you every part of it.
CK: It also if you've talked about a saute pan versus a skillet, those mean different things about whether the pan trade side or not. So the tenants you don't need but you want a small pan for like two eggs, two eggs, and then you need a really large pan for everything. Yeah,
SM: but I think we've concluded that you really need to go to the store to buy it, which is, oh my god, how old?
CK: I believe in retail. So I do too. And there's a lot of cookware stores. One of the things that's interesting is, you know, bookstores have come back now, I hope because they actually can help you. Yeah. And cookware stores now are starting to come back as well, because they actually can help you make a decision, which you can't really do online easily. So I just like this one, just to end on a positive note, which is that if you don't have a carbon steel pan, everybody should buy carbon. So if you know how to use it. It is really nonstick. It's great. And it's so heavy here.
Caller: That’s what wanted a nonstick without getting all the chemicals.
CK: Yeah, you know, I always ask the question after year, there's a lot less coating on my nonstick pan and I wonder where it went, right. One last thing I've discovered is I cook with a fair amount of oil. Now because the oil doesn't really get absorbed by the food. It heats the food evenly because without enough oil, you get places where it's oil and places where it's metal. And also it keeps third nonstick coating. really well. Just make sure you use enough oil when you use the pans. That'll help keep it nice. That's my speech for today, folks. Okay, guys, thanks for
SM: Thanks for calling.
Caller: Thank you. Okay, bye bye.
CK: just love it when people call about things I like I'm passionate about carbon steel.
SM: I know you are.
CK: Welcome to Mill Street Who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Joan in Red Bank, New Jersey. I'm calling about bread, specifically Irish soda bread. So a few weeks ago, my local library held an Irish evening and an Irish soda bread contest by dug out a recipe and my 30 year old sunset bread book. And I made it according to the directions but when it came out of the oven, it was smooth on top and then even golden brown was not peeked in the center or craggy and brown at the peaks. Like a lot of the other entries. So what could I do differently to get it to that nice rustic craggy effect.
SM: Do you feel like it didn't rise enough Is that what you're suggesting
Caller: It didn’t still rise the way I had expected it to kind of peeking in the center of
CK: How did you mix the dough?
and mix the dry ingredients by hand because I don't right now have a mixer. I didn't use fresh butter milk but had the buttermilk powder so I mixed the buttermilk powder in with the dry ingredients and then added the water with the eggs and it called for melted butter or margarine, two eggs one and three quarters cups buttermilk, etc. little sugar baking powder and baking soda
CK: and how did you mix the wet into the dry?
Caller: with a spoon
CK: and basically it was it shaggy when you had a ball of dough.
Caller: No, it was really batter.
CK: Ah I know what the problem is. Those powder butter milks. I think the recipes one quarter dry powder to one cup of water something like that. My guess is that's your problem you too much liquid in the recipe. It real buttermilk will be better. And I think however you converted the buttermilk recipe to the powder with water. You ended up with too much water because it was should be a fairly dry, craggy sort of rough dough. It shouldn't really have that much liquid at all. It's pretty dry.
Caller: Now this was definitely this was sort of pourable no matter running but it was pourable. Definitely.
CK: So I think if you make that recipe with real buttermilk, you'll be fine to other things. I would shape it into around very gently with your hands. It should be maybe an inch and a half high maybe a little bit higher but not more than that. And then shape it into around that will fit into a 12 inch skillet cast iron skillet. And I bake my soda bread in a cast iron skillet in the oven and you get a nice bottom crust with that. It also works
Caller: in like cast iron skillet and it has a nice bottom crust but it didn't have a nice top
SM: So you had that one covered. Let me let me recommend finding a book by Dureena Allen. She's a wonderful cook. She runs a cooking school in County Cork. And she has many cookbooks out and I'm sure she has her Really good recipe for Irish soda bread.
CK: The last thing is I make a whole wheat soda bread all the time, which has I think half whole wheat flour, half white, and some wheat German it little honey. And that's, I think my favorite bread in the world. Really? Yeah, I would rather have that than a rustic loaf. It's just it's a great toasts the next day. Next time you make soda bread, try a whole wheat version. It's quite good.
Caller: I will I sir. Well, and I think you're really put your finger on it with the liquid because when we talked about putting it into the pan, there was no way I could have padded it.
CK: Yeah, no. that just said too much. Yeah, exactly. easy fix.
SM: All right,. Thanks
CK: for calling.
SM: Yes. Take care.
Thank you. Bye, bye.
CK: This is Mill Street radio. If you have a cooking question, please give us a ring anytime. 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Mill Street. radio.com.
Caller: Hi, this is Joseph. I'm calling from Austin, Texas.
CK: How are you?
Caller: I'm doing well. How are you?
CK: I'm pretty good.
Caller: I'm calling to follow up. I had previously called about sweet potato fries. Oh, yeah, having trouble with baking them. You gave me lots of good advice and mix positive results. I would say Okay,
CK: tell us what you did. Tell us about the failure first.
Caller: Yeah. I first tried preheating the pan as he suggested Chris. And it ended up burning the sweet potatoes. However, you also suggested to use some potato starch. And I did have some extra tapioca starch handy. And I decided to toss it with that. It actually did help with the crispiness.
CK: Nice. So um, one for two, you preheated the pan for how long? And how hot enough?
Caller: For about 10 minutes on 425.
CK: That's what I would have done. And then I'll
SM: tell us what else yeah?
Caller: I then consulted my mother in law because she seems to be able to get them to come out a little bit crispier. And one of the things that I found was using organic sweet potatoes was actually coming out soggier than non organic sweet potatoes. And I didn't understand why that was.
CK: I don't know. Are they exactly the same type of sweet potato?
Yeah, they're both the jewels, right? The Jewel
CK: the red ones. I don't think that should have anything to do with the moisture content. This is probably all about the moisture content in sweet potato. It may be the one was stored longer. That's not to say that in overtime converts to sugar and maybe the supermarket one was stored may be drier and more version to sugar and browns better.
SM: Did you try cutting them a little thinner?
Caller: Yes, and my oven tends to run hot. So it would just burn them a little bit quicker. So that degree that I cut them for my oven worked out a little bit better.
CK: So I'm one for two and Sara zero for one. So we're one for three weeks. So
SM: in the end, the solution was to use regular supermarket potatoes and coat them with some sort of starch
CK: Do you use a lot of oil on the bottom of the pan when you were roasting them or no oil,
Caller: I usually use olive oil spray on the bottom of the pan and then kind of spray on top of the fries as well
CK: as I remember when we did this at one time, I think we use not a spray but you know a fair amount of oil in the bottom of the pan. So you almost were oven frying them. I think when preheating. If you had a bunch of oil there, and then put them on instead of just a spray, you're actually almost frying them. That's one of the thing I could go pick up the recipe but I think that was something that we did test at some point that might be worth it. But at least the starch worked which is good.
SM: So you're happier but not happiest. Is that true? Joseph?
Caller: Well, I think the ultimate goal is to get them crispy. And I just don't think it's going to really happen with sweet potatoes in the oven.
CK: it's not going to a big is there there's so moisture content so high.
Caller: Yeah, I think I'll have to resort to deep frying or something else.
CK: The French fry the fried potato was such a I've never made fabulous French fries at home ever. I think you need to file it. You need a big volume of very high oil that stays at that temperature is at the same temperature. Yeah. And when you get a really good French fry, you know, that's just
SM: nothing better. Right. Well, I rate I'm glad you're feeling slightly happier.
Caller: Yes. And to give you a point, Sara, you are also one from one because not flipping them was something he suggested and that definitely did help.
CK: Okay, there we go.
SM: Yay. Thank you so much.
Caller: Thank you.
CK: Take care. Listening to Mill Street radio. I'm Christopher Kimball. Up next I'm chatting with Yewanda Komolafe about the cooking of Nigeria that's coming up right after the break. This is mostly radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now it's my interview with Yewanda Komolafe. She's a chef recipe developer, also a food stylist who grew up in Nigeria and now lives in Brooklyn. In a recent feature for the New York Times, Yewanda collected her 10 essential Nigerian recipes. She's also the creator of the dinner series. My immigrant food is which she runs out of her own kitchen. One day, welcome to milk Street.
Yewanda Komolafe: Thank you for having me.
CK: Let's talk about Lagos for a second. Could you just give us a walking tour? You know, what does it look like? What do you see on the street is a street food just give us a sense of the place?
YK: It's it's a bustling city. It's colorful, it's crowded. There's traffic. There's all kinds of smells coming from like the street food, there's suya on the street that's puff puff.
CK: And suya is the
YK: Yeah, it is the skewered grilled beef, or puff puff is the fried dough. But yeah, it's it's it's very much alive. It's very colorful. And actually, I live in Brooklyn right now and live in New York. And that's one of the things that drew me to New York is because the city felt alive in the same way that Lagos does. If,
CK: if you and I cook together, what are some of the things I would learn from you,
YK: I think the layering of flavors and spices is something that sticks out to me about Nigerian food, it could seem like a lot going on, but they all play very well together. And when it hits your palate, it doesn't overwhelm your palate. And I think that in itself is a very specific technique that you can add smoked fish and little dried crayfish. And you can add a look as being all of which are really heavy flavors on their own. But you could add it to one dish and it doesn't overwhelm the dish in any way. They all just kind of play well together. So I think that the the style in which the flavors are layered, is a very specific thing.
CK: You mentioned in that piece in the New York Times, you had some essential recipes, you talked about the white bread. That was surprising to me, because it sounded like kind of like wondering,
YK: something is just kind of like wonder.
CPK: So what's the story with that? I mean,
YK:um, so I Agege read, the name to me is it's in itself a story. So the name comes from this huge bakery that existed in a very particular part of Legos called Agege. And it was everywhere growing up, it was, you know, it would come to your house, actually, because people would hawk it on the street. And I remember it being just so tender and soft. And it's, it's kind of like Wonder Bread, but it wasn't sliced. And so to get it slice was like a special thing. And I think it's also really heavy because it it's used as a vehicle for a lot of our soups and stews. And so that memory to me that like it's this big hunk of bread that's like really heavy, just sticks out to me.
CK: Your dinner series, my immigrant food is tell us about that.
YK: So my dinner series is something that came out of my desire to explore my cuisine. I had always cooked in restaurants, I'd never really cooked Nigerian food. And so the dinners gave me an opportunity to cook and share Nigerian food, and also tell the story of my immigration story, but also share the story of other people who have immigrated to this country.
CK: So what is your immigrant story? In other words, if you were to summarize, which is impossible, the nature of that story, what is that story?
YK: very condensed version is I I feel like I've always been an immigrant. I was born in Berlin, moved back to Lagos with my parents and my family moved to the US at 16. To go to college, and I've been in the US ever since. But also within that time I lost my student status here, and stayed on without paperwork. And so I lived here undocumented for about 10 years. And so in that time, I wasn't able to go back to Nigeria. And now I am I got married, and I've been able to go back to Nigeria. And so the dinner started out of a desire to be close to a place where I felt distanced from.
CK: So give us an example of a typical dinner from the series.
YK: So a typical dinner would be actually the very first one started with a trip to Vermont, where there may be some amazing goat farms in Vermont. And so, you know,
CK: that's exactly the answer I gave you, the first thing you do is go to Vermont, to do a Nigerian dinner. Don't you see it? I knew what you were gonna say.
YK: And so it started with a trip to Vermont. And we found an amazing butcher shop, they had goat leg, which I immediately decided that I needed to have them drove back to Brooklyn. And so we had this goat leg and I was like, well, I just have to make Nigerian food. And so part of the story of the dinners is that I'm cooking Nigerian food so far away from Nigeria, but like, with ingredients that I can find where I am, because that that I feel like is part of the immigrant story, the story of adaptation. Until the dinners have a cocktail hour, you sign up online, so you don't really know who you're having dinner with, which I think is part of the charm. And there's a total of three seated courses. And one standing course which at the end of the night, it's dessert, and I figure people want to mingle and talk. And so part of the dinners is also having a conversation, I write down questions, exploring whatever topic that I feel that people would be interested in talking about. And yeah, so it's like a dinner in a conversation.
CK: So you mentioned go like, and one of the dishes you mentioned, in my research, you talk about braised goat leg. How do you braise a goat, like, how big is I mean, this is a I mean, a young goat.
YK:So a goat leg is probably about four to five pounds, I would say. And typically I would raise it in its own broth. And with some aromatics, I put like a pot of the goat leg with onions, tomatoes, pepper, and some broth and just let it go for about three hours in a Low Temp oven. While that's going I make the batter, which is a base sauce of
CK: peppers, habanero tomatoes. And this is the sauce you you talked about as being sort of the central
YK: this for sauce, similar to sofrito.
CPK: So it cooks like in 20 minutes.
YK: Yeah, it cooks in about 20 minutes. And so after the goat leg is braised, I put it in that sauce, add some of the braising broth and let it go again for another hour. So it's about a four hour process. But once you're done, the meat is falling off the bone. It's completely tender, it falls into the sauce. You eat it over rice, and you're happy.
CPK: So another thing you've you've done, this is the new york times to talk about your pantry. And I'm really a huge fan of having the right pantry because that completely changes your cooking. Yeah. So what are the things you keep the four or five things you keep that you think other people should have around?
YK:Oh, absolutely. Fermented locust beans is one. It's it's really fragrant. I would liken it to fermented black beans. It's not sweet like me. So but it's got that same depth of flavor. And it completely changes the flavor profile, but in an amazing way. So I think fermented locusts being this one. chilies. I like spicy food. But I think also, you know, back to the technique and Nigerian cooking, I think there's a way that you can cook with chilies where it doesn't overwhelm. I think habanero chili is really the oils really just haven't give a specific flavor to the food and a specific space. I would say ground cassava it's called Gary. Also fermented product but fermentation to give a light tank.
CPK: Do you ever make the equivalent of stock using the fermented beans of the cassava just like you would? So is that something you ever done?
YK:I haven't tried that. But that would be an interesting way to use it. Absolutely. Yeah. I don't see why it wouldn't work
CPK: I just said so I can say I gave you some advice.
YK: I'm putting that in my back pocket.
CPK: I didn't write it down and then
YK: the next recipe you see would be for stock with with locust bean.
CP: What else what else in your pan?
YK: Let's see what else stock fish like a dried fish or Dried crayfish or a smoked fish. Those are two different flavor profiles, but they also add a certain depth and Emami to the dish. And let's see, the last product would be plantings. I like very sweet plant chains. And to get it that way, they need to be ripened up until the point that they're almost all black on the outside. Because when you fry them, they just give a lovely crunchy caramel layer on the outside. And so yeah, I think those would be the five products.
CK: Are there any breads other than the Wonder Bread?
YK: Agege bread does the Wonder Bread, I wonder. I guess that's a relatable way to put it.
CK: already flat breads or any other kinds of breads that I
YK: praise I haven't really seen flat breads if they are flat breads. It's as a result of the Lebanese and if I'm I don't know if I would call this a bread but it's it's made from rice flour that's been a little fermented, called masa. And it's a vehicle for meats and stews and soups. And they're made in a little sort of like a cast iron skillet with deep holes in it like deep pockets in it. And that would be it's not quite a bread, but it's bread. Like it's spongy. It's it's a little sour from the fermentation.
CK: Some places in the world have cook Cooking is a philosophy. It's not just about the food, right? So it's about context. It's it's what the food means to in your life. I assume that in Legos, when you grew up, there was a context for the food, right? It wasn't just the food. What was that context?
YK: Food is a part of every ceremony. In Nigeria, you know, when you have a baby, there are very specific ingredients that are brought to the ceremony that names the baby, when you are getting married. They're very specific ingredients like Cola, not like yams, and you know, ingredients have meanings. And I really think that this is so in every culture, that food is not just about the eating, you know, to me while I would have been here food is memory to me. So I you know, seeing a bowl of jollof rice is a memory to me, like my grandmother making it. And so food can have very different meanings I think, and it did in in like us.
CK: One day, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure. You actually came here to the studio I get to interview in person. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
It's it's been great. Thank
YK: you so much for having me.
CK: That was chef Yewanda Komolafe. It's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe beef and tomatillo stew. Lynn, how are you? I'm great, Chris. You know, Mexican food is not Taco Bell. We've known that for a long time. It's not even many of the traditional recipes that we know now. It's really been changing a lot. And probably the one chef in Mexico City who's doing the most to change. The definition of Mexican cooking is Enrique Olvera. He has a couple restaurants in New York including cosmetic, traditional ingredients, many traditional ideas, but he makes them a little bit fresh and new. We spoke to him and one of the dishes we were interested in was something more traditional a beef and tomato stew.
Lynn Clark: So it's not surprising that he uses tomatoes in some of his more traditional recipes. The tomie to has been around since pre Columbian era, Mexico, it's a small green fruit wrapped in a papery husk, very citrusy kind of looks like a tomato, but the flavor profile is much more tart. It really lends itself to a stew here because we've got those rich flavors from beef, combined with the brighter flavors of the tomato.
CK: And it's often used in lots of sauces mixed with chilies or other peppers, put in a blender and then finished in a skillet. So it's a common ingredient.
LC: Absolutely. So traditionally, this is made with bone in piece of beef and it's cooked all day long. Enrique sort of streamlined it for us already a little bit by using boneless beef Chuck. However, he cooks the beef and the onions and the potatoes in three different pans. And we knew you would definitely not go for that. So we wanted to try to get everything in one pot, which we were able to do by sort of layering everything and the flavor profile was just the same.
CK: So with the basic method, so it's
LC: like a typical stew, a milk street style stew, so no pre routing of the beef. The beef gets tossed together with onion, garlic, chopped jalapeno and some spices that goes in the In a Dutch oven for about two hours, we take it out and we add in some Yukon Gold potatoes that are cubed and the tomatoes and we add those later on because we don't want those potatoes to break down and we want to keep the flavor of the tomatoes really nice and bright. If you choose to prep the potatoes ahead of time, just make sure to submerge them in some cold water so that they don't discolor
CK: so you add the potatoes, the tomatoes because back in the oven for how long
LC: one more hour until the potatoes are tender and the beef is tender. And then when it's finished, you can top it with pumpkin seeds, cilantro, some slice jalapeno, you can keep the leftovers, make tacos from it, serve it with some white rice. It's a great meal to have one night, like a Sunday supper and then use leftovers during the week for a weeknight meal.
CK: You know I'm so tired of my plain old New England's to have been making for many years. This sounds actually a lot more interesting.
LC: This is not your New England.
CK: You're not in New England anymore. Lynn Thank you so much.
LC: You're welcome Chris.
LCL You can get this recipe for beef and told me to stew at 177milkstreet.com
CPK: You’re listening to milk street radio. Coming up. Adam Gopnik tells us about how his trip to Italy spawned an epiphany. We'll be right back. This is mostly a radio I'm Christopher Kimball. Next up Sara Moulton. I will tackle a few more of your culinary questions.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street, who's calling?
Caller: Hi Sara. My name is Alex Matthews. Hi, Alex.
SM: Where are you calling from?
Caller: From West Newbury, Massachusetts. How can
SM: we help you today?
Caller: I have a question about bread baking hardware.
Caller: Mostly kind of the simplified stuff from flour, water, salt, yeast. All those recipes tell you to prove the shape the loaves and proving baskets. And I don't have any and I wasn't sure what's special about them or what they actually add to the process.
SM: A proofing basket lends support to the dough and also gives it sort of a pretty pattern. You know, it can be made out of cane. But you can also use a bowl just lined with a cloth. If you get an actual proofing basket that's lined with cloth, it helps to absorb some of the moisture. But I think it's more for aesthetic than any other reason just because it looks pretty to have those rings around the outside of the Dell. I mean, you don't have a proofing basket. How's it been going?
Caller: It's generally been going. Okay, like it always tastes good. The shaping is one of the parts that I have more difficulty with. But I'm probably not controlling for all the variables. Then I heard a conversation that you and Chris had with the caller where you talked about our temperature and especially during kind of late winter baking, we keep our house heated only to about 62 or 64 degrees. So I know that it's not quite warm enough. But I figured a proofing basket was one thing I could certainly fix or if I should just use one of the millions of bolts I have.
SM: I think a bowl is just fine. But let me see what Chris has to say here.
CPK: Let's start with the obvious question. What kind of bread are you making? Is this a bull you know around European loaf? Is that what you're doing?
Caller: Yeah, round European low, no sour.
CK: Is this a really soft, I mean, the reason I disagree with Sara a little bit, have used them for years. They are a cane basket, but they're almost always lined with linen of some kind. And so you don't really get a pattern on the outside. It just shapes the dough. So as it proves it's not going to go all over the place. It's a linen covering inside and then you put some flour on it. I don't think it really absorbs much moisture but just gets it out of the basket easily. It's simple, you could use a ball lineup with a kitchen towel would also work. So I mean the big advantage With a linen line basket is the dough one stick, so you can turn it over. It's light. So I think it's just a practical way of getting something out of a bowl without it sticking.
Caller: Yeah. And so maybe even I'll just try a flowered linen cloth.
I think that's a good plan. Alex, thank
CK: Alex, thank you so much. Yeah, good luck and just use the flower kitchen towel to start
SM: and let us know how it goes. Of course. Okay, thanks, Alex.
CPK: This is milk street radio, have a cooking question, Sara and I probably have an answer. Please give us a ring at 855-426-9843. That's 855-426-9843, or email us at questions at milkstreet radio.com. Welcome to milk street Who's calling?
Caller: This is Pam from Missoula.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: Well, I have a question about vices. I typically like to buy a little more than I know, I'm going to use and then put them in the freezer, and then take them out of the freezer as I need them. But I've been in a debate just recently with my partner, and he says, putting them in the freezer ruins them. So I wanted to know, is it okay to put them in the freezer, or should I just buy a little bit at a time,
CK: I don't know, if it ruins them, you might get some moisture, you know, as they come out, I think it's just you know, I don't want to have to look into places my spices, and everything else that goes in the freezer, I would just as a rule, buy what you need for six to eight months, it'll store fine, just keep it in a cool, you know, dark place. But I assume it's in a not in a glass jar, it's in a sealed jar of some kind. That's metal, hopefully. And then you're good to go. And I think this whole rule about spices six months. I've said this before, but I've had really good spices that were fine Two years later, I think it just depends. And the other thing you can do is buy whole spices, and then grind them or toast them at the last minute. And that's the best way to get really fresh spices. So instead of ground cumin, or ground coriander by whole, toast them in a skillet for a couple minutes, then grind them up in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. And you'll end up with really great stuff. So that would be my suggestion is six months at a time and try to buy whole spices as much as you can and then grind them to order.
SM: I agree with everything Chris said. But I have a question. There must be a reason that you thought to begin with you should start freezing them. What was that?
Caller: It's just that I would go to the store, you know when you can buy them in bulk. You know, I fill up a little bag. Honestly, I didn't realize how much I was buying. And so I'd get home and I put some in my little container. And then I think well, I don't want this stuff to just sit out and go bad, I guess. And so I thought putting it in the freezer would help.
SM: Have you found it to change in its quality? Or do you still feel like it's perfectly fine. I feel like it's fine, I guess To be honest,
CK: ground spices or whole spices their ground.
SM: One of the ways you can tell if your spices over the hill is by its color. So you know, breaking that sort of Brown is not so flavorful. Likewise
CK: Cayenne, or you could open the top and smell
SM: that that gets a little hard when it's frozen, though is
what I'm saying. That's that's a good point.
SM: But I wouldn't buy spices in bulk, you know, because sometimes when they're stored like that, they're not going to be that fresh to begin with.
CK: I wouldn't buy this is horrible. But try not to buy spices in the supermarket. I mean spending money on really good spices for you know what, $40 a year, whatever the number is, get really good spices because that's the easiest way to completely transform your mind. Okay, and in small amounts, small amounts, by the whole spice as much as possible and get the best quality. There's just a world of difference between fresh coriander, cumin or whatever. And the lousy stuff. It's worth it. Yeah, it's a tiny amount of money.
All right, I have a
coffee grinder the small one that I no longer use and I have used it for spices, so I'll just get it out and use it again.
SM: Yeah, good idea and clean it out in between with pieces of bread. That's how you clean it out.
SM: Oh, okay. or rice. Yes. Okay.
CK: Take care.
SM: Thanks, Pam. Bye bye.
Yep. Bye bye.
CPK: This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some words of wisdom from one of our own listeners.
Listener: Hi, this is Debbie from Littleton, Colorado. And I have a tip related to a listener question from several weeks ago about the best way to his best interest. My advice. My tip is don't test the truth at all. Instead, buy the essential ingredient that gives us that flavor, which is citrus oil. This is not fake. It's not an extract of the actual oil that's contained in the skin. It's extremely strong. You used to buy the drop, and it lasts forever in your fridge. I always buy boyajian you want the culinary type, not the aroma therapy type. No more dried up that is sitting in your fridge. Thank you
CK: If you'd like to share your own culinary tip on Milk Street radio, please go to 177 Mill Street com slash radio tips. Next up, it's time to hear from regular contributor Adam Gopnik. Adam, how are you?
Adam Gopnik: I am Well, Chris, how
CK: are you? What flight of fancy will be taking this week?
AG: Well, I have been thinking about the nature of the regional specialty. And I'll tell you why I'm thinking about that, Christopher, because one reason I may be in a particularly good mood today is I am just back from Italy. I love Italy, as I'm sure you do, too. And I love Italian food, as I'm sure you do, too, is who does not. But what I was struck by is something that produced in me what I am going to propose to you as GOP next law of the regional specialty, that and this is a very radical proposition that they vary in quality in proportion to one's distance from the region. Now, you may ask, why am I saying this? Because I went to Rome and had one of the three great Roman pasta dishes, and that is amatriciana, spaghetti amatriciana it's bacon and onions, and little hot pepper and tomatoes. And it's great, maybe along with roast chicken, my go to dish for family and for my own satisfaction. And then I went on to bolonia. And there I had, of course, spaghetti or chitarra. In that case, Bolognese right now the another great dish, the Ragu made from pork and beef, and veal, and a little tomato and beef stock. And here's what struck me to be honest to the Christopher is that both the amatriciana, I was eating in Rome, and the Bolognese I was eating in Bologna, you were far inferior to versions of those dishes that I have had in London, and New York and San Francisco, and even if I dare say it have made here at home myself, and these were not, you know, second rate tourist restaurants.
CK: And I'm just wondering, are you going to have to take down your Facebook page, change your name, because you're in really deep trouble at this point,
AG: I always like to walk out blindfolded to the edge of the of the roof and then jump off. Now, I am not saying that they're not great food to be had at these restaurants. It was wonderful food. And I could detail the fresh noodles with white truffle and the also buco and so on. But the particular signature dishes of the towns that they came from, were not as good frankly, as ones I have had here often at New York restaurants, I've been struck by a kind of brilliant little hack to take the onions and the bacon, and saute them till they're really crispy and reserve a considerable portion of the onions and pancetta and add it in at the very end. So you get a much broader palette of flavors, soft and crispy, sweet, and hot. And it just was better. And the same thing was true about the Bolognese the Bolognese in bolonia is disappointing. What and I don't know a harsher thing you could say. Now, obviously, when I say this, Christopher, it is not to put down the genius of Italian cookery. It's really just to propose a kind of perverse principle of evolutionary design and cooking. It's It seems to me that because there's no competitive pressure on these dishes in their native places to alter, they remain locked in place, but all around them superior versions are being made. In other words, there's no pressure on spaghetti bolognese in bolonia to compete with all the other pasta dishes. It is the thing itself. It's the height of it. I'm thinking of things like bouillabaisse in marsay I've never had a great bouillabaisse in marsay I'm thinking about things like even to take another perverse, extreme American Thanksgiving dinner, the best American Thanksgiving dinner I've ever had was repaired by an Italian chef in London. Now why would that be? It's because the Londoners and Italians who were coming to eat it would not be satisfied as you and I would be by simply having our expectations fulfilled, saying, Oh, that's what Thanksgiving dinner tastes like slightly tasteless Turkey, the slightly paced like gravy, the too sweet cranberry sauce and so on. No, it had to be elaborated, it had to be accented, there had to be more spices and more flavor in that dish to make it palatable. I think the same thing is true very often about the prime regional specialty of a place.
CK: Well, I would add something though, which is first of all, you can get a lot of lousy pasta in Rome. Yes. So this may be true for larger cities, but homecooking or smaller restaurants and smaller towns maybe are don't fall prey to this problem.
AG: That could be but you would think that if you went to what was suggested to you by Italians, as the best, most typical cucina of the town, and you ordered the signature dish of the town, you would expect it to be outstanding and as you just said, is very often less than outstanding, not that all the food wasn't very good, just those dishes tend not to be as good. And I think that tends to be a rule.
CK: Okay. But my second theory is this people in Rome when they want to have a mature Seon or r&b or whatever, they are there to enjoy their life and have a glass or two of wine and go out and just have a good time at dinner. Like if they have pizza, Naples, they're just going to enjoy the pizza, they're not going to go through a process of rating on a scale of one to 10. Maybe the perfection of the food is no longer the point in a place where they live with a daily How about that?
We're saying the same thing. And I think in slightly different words, that there's no competitive pressure on it to be better, because it is what it is. And that's what people come for, for it to be what it is. And I think that that's true. And I think as a consequence, you get this funny, perverse effect, where as you just said, the pasta you eat in Rome is less satisfying than the past you might find elsewhere.
CK: So your advice, thank you, Adam,
AG: is please go to Rome, but not necessarily to eat the classic pasta dishes, go to a region order the things that are the regional oddities, not the regional specialties, and I would bet you will eat better.
CK: I think that's an excellent point. Adam, thank you so much. Pleasure to talk. That was Adam gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker. That's it for today. If you tuned in late or just want to listen again, you can download and subscribe to millstreet radio wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about millstreet please go to 177 millstreet comm there you can download each week's recipe, watch the new season of our public television show or browse our online store and order our latest cookbook. It's called the milk street cookbook. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's milk Street, or on Instagram and Twitter at 177 milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks Of course for listening.
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