Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Saray - Packard's Corner Turkish Restaurant

I've been living in the same neighborhood in Allston for a little over a year. Close to Lower Allston, right in between Union Square and Packard's Corner. The rent is cheap, it's close to work, and there are several restaurants with vegan options very close by. In a city like this, by which I mean a city prone to very cold, wet weather and/or snowdrifts that come up to my hips, you need a place you can briskly walk to when you're not up for cooking.

But I'm bored!

I can't go to Grasshopper--my lower intestines can't take it!
I can't go to Punjab Palace--they won't make my food without chilis!
I can't go to Allston Cafe--their food is boring, their selections are often out of stock, and their coffee isn't very good.
I can't go to Toki--it's too cold for maki!
And I can't go to Peace O' Pie because I can't afford it!

And then, there was Turkish food.

My experience with Middle Eastern food is limited to dips and kebabs--hummus, baba gannoush, falafel, beef or lamb kebabs. The first three are vegan staples. But now my experience with Turkish food is much more broad--it includes salad, okra, and tea.

We started off our meal at Saray in Packard's Corner with a hummus plate and a salad of tomato, cucumber, and red onion tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley (ezme salatasi). The salad was light and refreshing, a really good start, and a very generous portion, meant for sharing.

But the hummus.

The hummus was the best I have ever had. The texture was just right--smooth and creamy, but still robust. It had a touch of lemon juice and garlic, perfectly seasoned with salt. If you love hummus, you have got to try Saray's. It's $4 for about 3/4 of a pint, so there's plenty to share with your table.

For our entree, we had the domatesli bamya, okra with tomatoes, onions, and garlic. It was incredible. Several full cloves of garlic softened in a stew of fragrant tomato and okra, served with rice. If you're not sure about okra, this would be a great introduction.

For dessert, we split an order of baklava. When I've had baklava in the past it's been very dry, with layers of phyllo dough and walnuts lightly sweetened with honey (or agave). This baklava was soaked in sugary syrup, so it had softened considerably, and was topped with crushed pistachios.

I had the best possible experience with a new cuisine--one of our tablemates was from Turkey. When she asked if we wanted Turkish coffee or tea, I had to say yes.

I've had Turkish coffee before. It's very strong, served in small cups, almost silty with fine coffee grounds, and usually taken with sugar. It was a little late for coffee, so I decided to try the tea. The reddish amber liquid was served in a thin, tulip-shaped, transparent glass (called ince belli) and came with sugar. It was incredibly fragrant, not too strong, and had a floral taste. An excellent finish to our meal.

If you're bored with the food selection in Boston, I'd highly recommend Saray. The food was simple and elegant, and according to our tablemate, very authentic. Price-wise it's on the expensive side, but splitting entrees and appetizers kept us all full and we had plenty to take home after. The service was fast and our waitress was very friendly and helpful.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sauvignon Blanc

Jeff and I bottled 29 bottles of our Sauvignon Blanc a few weeks ago. It was an interesting process. The kit we bought came with a neat siphon gadget that has a plunger in the bottom. We figured that we'd put these in the bottles, push down to start the flow of wine, and then let up when the bottle was full. Bad idea. They filled up about half way before the siphon lost its suck and the wine stopped flowing. Then we had to restart the siphon, which can be a messy production consisting of water getting all over the floor. Finally we decided to use the siphon hose straight up without the auto-siphon at the end. Until I realized that the flow valve might be a good idea to use we made quite a mess as wine spilled all over the floor at a high flow rate while I was going in between bottles.

The wine has been sitting for almost a month, and we have opened and drank a few bottles already. I'm hoping that the mildly strong bouquet will go away with time, I think it probably comes with the sulfites that are added right before bottling the wine. Honestly, I would like to do without sulfites entirely but I am not sure how else to sterilize the wine. I know that some people do without, but I would be worried about wild yeasts giving our wine a vinegar taste. The wine kit also recommends adding the sulfites if you want to let the wine age for more than six months in bottles. Clearly, I'd like to let my wine age, so I added it just to make sure it won't go bad.

We'll try some before Thanksgiving to make sure it tastes good enough to bring to Jeff's for the holiday. If it's good by then, it'll also be good enough to give as holiday gifts in December. I just need to print out some labels to put on the bottles.

Right now our cider wine is settling. We used sparkalloids, which are a mix of some polysaccharides and diatomaceous earth, as far as I can tell on my Google searches. It takes longer to clear than isinglass, but I'm really happy not to be putting any fish bladder in my wine! For our next batch, Jeff and I will have to find a wine kit that doesn't have any pre-packed inside the box. (The first wine kit we purchased came with the grape juice as well as all the packets of sterilizers and fining agents.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Autumn Harvest Stew

Alyssa and I have been receiving shipments of produce from Boston Organics since last winter. We recently changed our shipment from the small box (1/2 fruit, 1/2 veggies) to the regular-sized box (1/3 fruit, 2/3 veggies) because quite frankly, we're addicted to fresh, varied, organic produce.

We opt out of a few items to make the box more local and tailored to what we will eat over the course of 2 weeks. We used to get lettuce, but it turned out that only I would eat it. Eating a big salad every night was nice, but not fair between the two of us. We also used to get bananas, but would rather support more local produce. They are good about offsetting items on your "no-list" with other offerings that are available that week, such as an extra squash or head of broccoli.

Last week's box included Sweet Potatoes, Summer Squash, Beets, and Parsnips. After a long Sunday of cleaning the apartment, a stew was in order. We had some onions, garlic, mushrooms, ginger and carrots laying about so we gathered all the veggies together:

and chopped them up!

In the pot they went, with a half gallon of water, a little wine, and a blend of spices. While the pot was simmering, Alyssa and I set out tidying up the apartment. I went out to get a wood saw for another one of our projects, and when I came back the apartment smelled amazing. After another 30 minutes or so, the wait was unbearable. The Autumn Harvest Stew was perfect for the appetite we had worked up from projects that afternoon. The stew was delicious! In all, it should last us for about 3 meals, and it is highly recommended that bread accompany this dish.

Next time we will likely leave out the beets from the stew:

They look really funky and are really awesome to cook with on their own, but their sweetness can dominate a dish. In this case they clashed a bit with the earthy flavors of the other vegetables.

We might be making another Autumn Harvest Stew in a couple of weeks when our next shipment comes in. Here's what's going to be in the next box:
"2 Anjou Pears (WA)
0.75 lbs Empire Apples (VT)
1.5 lbs Fair Trade Bananas (Ecuador)
2 Navel Oranges (FL)
1 head Cauliflower (NY)
0.75 lbs Celery Root (MA)
1.5 lbs Delicata Squash (MA)
1 head Green Leaf Lettuce (MA)
1 bunch Kale (MA)
1 4oz Mixed Sprouts (MA)
0.75 lbs Mixed Summer Squash (FL)
1 lbs Purple Top Turnips (MA)"

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vegan White Hot Chocolate Recipe

White Chocolate What's a vegan who loves white chocolate to do? I've tried to make my own, but have never gotten this recipe to work, even after five or six attempts. Fortunately, Cosmo's Vegan Shop carries white chocolate chips, and they had a booth at this weekend's Boston Vegetarian Food Festival. I bought five bags and stuck them in my freezer.

I decided to make some white hot chocolate last night, and there are a lot of recipes out there that call for heavy cream or half and half, but I decided to just keep it simple.

Vegan White Hot Chocolate
Yield: 1 Serving
1 C soymilk
1/4 C white chocolate chips
1/8 t vanilla extract
1 oz Kahlúa (optional)

Heat up the soymilk in a saucepan, and when it starts to get foamy, add the chocolate chips. Whisk it until it melts and combines with the soymilk. Add the vanilla extract and taste. If you like a stronger vanilla flavor, put in a bit more extract. Pour into mugs and enjoy! If you'd like a more grown up version, I added a jigger-full of french vanilla Kahlúa, and it was divine.

White Chocolate on FoodistaWhite Chocolate