In general, if you want to thrill food lovers, invite them into your kitchen and cook for them. Tell them stories of your mother Aruna in Bangladesh, preparing meals for her ten children. Entice them with aroma of onions meeting garlic and ginger and cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric. Pass around bowls of your secret spice mixtures. Make food you love and then feed it to them. This will make food lovers smile and feel that joy that only sharing a meal can bring. You will have given them a gift.

Bill and I had such a food lovers’ day today, hosted by Sarajit Chanda and Sarah Nic Lochlainn in their Fuchsia House restaurant in Ardee. Sarajit and Sarah invited food bloggers to a master class of  Street Food dishes that will be showcased in the upcoming Bangladeshi Street Food meets Irish Craft Beer evening on 12 July. Tom Doorley will be speaking at this event, and is working with Sarajit and Sarah to pair the dishes with Irish Beers and Ciders. After sampling the menu today, I can tell you the €50 ticket will be money well eaten. And there will be craft beer.

Sarajit kicks off the cooking class

The Bangladeshi Street Food dishes Sarajit cooked today are familiar Indian restaurant offerings: Lamb Roganjosh, Chicken Curry, Onion Bhaji, Auburgine Bhaji, Dhal, and Spinach with Prawns. Street Food from any cuisine is food that people actually eat–everyday people in their everyday lives. Sarajit’s versions of these dishes represent the best of those everydays–days with local meats and veg, the very best spices, everything that is needed and nothing else.

Roganjosh ready for eating

Aubergine coated with salt and turmeric, ready for frying

The moment of onion bhaji creation

A few things we learned today:

  • Pakora and Bhaji are two words that mean ‘fried’ and bhuna means to stir until thickened.
  • A paste of equal parts pureed garlic and ginger can keep for a few weeks in the fridge, or can be frozen. And it tastes great in just about anything.
  • Cream and ghee are not widely used in Bangladeshi cooking, or at least not in Aruna’s recipes.
  • Lentils are a common breakfast food in Bangladesh, and are frequently eaten at every meal. (I’m seriously considering adding lentils to my breakfast rotation.)
  • If you don’t have time to make your own garam masala, you can get pretty far with cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaves
  • Making a paste with dry spices and water will prevent the spices from burning. Make it up to an hour beforehand to intensify the flavor of the spices.
  • Turmeric is the go to spice in Bangladeshi cuisine. After a visit to Bangladesh, your toothbrush will be yellow.

The best part, the eating

Sarah and Sarajit also told us a lot about their Aruna sauces venture, and the patience and creativity required to bring their sauces to market. Each pouch represents loads of time, trials, and attention, and the benefits of an adhesive expert–not that easy to stick things to refrigerated plastic it turns out. Recent winners on Dragon’s Den, Aruna sauces are available in many retail outlets in Ireland. Look in the refrigerated section!

After meeting Sarah and Sarajit today, hearing their stories and seeing them in their kitchen and restaurant, I thought, wow, these guys are doing exactly what they should be doing. It was a real pleasure to spend time with them today, and to be taught and fed so graciously. And dining with fellow food bloggers is always great craic!

I have so much to tell y’all, I’m not sure where to start. So, I’ll start with right now.

Bill is in the kitchen making Chicken with Many Peppers.  Chicken with Many Peppers entered our lives at least ten years ago. Bill has made it dozens of times. I think I even made it once. It’s a bit of a staple, although we haven’t had it in a while. It’s back tonight. In Ireland we have to forgo the poblano peppers, but we usually have a stash of chipotle chile in adobo.* Tonight Bill made whole wheat and spelt tortillas to accompany the dish.

Whole wheat and spelt tortillas. The butter goes in the chicken dish, but buttered tortillas are not a bad idea.

Bill made tonight’s dinner in the new-to-us kitchen in our new-to-us house. We moved two weeks ago, after only eight months in our last house. We had been thrilled with the last house, primarily because of the kitchen. The kitchen had a beautiful oven and a gas hob and an American-size refrigerator with an ice maker. I thought I had adjusted to European ice habits **, but one clink of those frozen cubes brought me all the way back to full ice obsession. The kitchen was its own room with a door, and the kitchen had a window.

This is the old kitchen. It was a proper kitchen.

But the landlords decided to move back into their house with the lovely kitchen (and really nice bathroom!), so we were again on the move. Bill looked deep into his cook’s heart and found the three things he needed: a gas hob, a refrigerator larger than a dorm fridge, and a window. I was worried we wouldn’t find a place with that hob/fridge/window combo. Bill was looking at places online and was repeatedly bewildered and slightly horrified by the pictures of kitchens he found there. A week after we found out we needed to move, I was sitting in the lovely, proper kitchen with our Alabama friends Kenyon and Ami. I was telling them that I did not think we would find an acceptable kitchen. I said I felt a little weird praying for a kitchen with a window, but I was anyway. I really hated to see Bill give up his kitchen with a window.

Around 6:30 we had cracked open a bottle of wine when Bill burst through the front door. “You need to come see this house I just viewed,” he said. “Can we bring our wine?” we said. So we hopped in the car and drove five minutes, put our wine glasses in the cup holders and walked into a house with a gas hob, a reasonably-sized refrigerator and a kitchen window. And a kitchen skylight. “I could be happy in this kitchen,” Bill said. We liked the rest of the house, Ami and Kenyon gave it their approval, so we told the guy we’d take it. We drove back home and finished our wine. “What were you saying to me just three hours ago about kitchen windows?” Ami said.

Bill has been busy sorting the new kitchen. It’s not as nice as the last kitchen, but he’s finding things he likes about it, like a great bit of counter for chopping in front of the window. And there’s a nice leaning spot by the hob.

Bill finding his way in the new kitchen

The best part of the new place is the location. Still close to our Philipsburgh favorites Bombay Pantry and Lilac Wines, and much nearer to some pubs, Kennedy’s, a butcher and a green grocer. We can see the butcher from our house. Buses are much more convenient. I’m five minutes from the stop, and the bus drops me right in front of my office. The one downside to the new house is we’re down to one bathroom, but I think we’re going to be just fine.***

Hick’s smoked ham, swiss & Ballymaloe relish on my sandwich at lunch today at Kennedy’s.

 

* Mexican cooking ingredients are going to be so much easier to acquire now that My Mexican Shop is on the case.

** I once asked for ice in a German hotel; there was none. Not in the hotel restaurant. Not in the hotel bar. Not in the hotel period.

*** We are contemplating a second refrigerator.

A few weeks ago we bought a pork belly from Ryan’s farms at the Honest 2 Goodness  Saturday market. Bill had seen several recipes for Red Braised Pork Belly and was keen to give it a try.

Braising meat is a fairly simple enterprise. The most effort comes from preparing the pork by blanching in boiling water for a few minutes, dunking in cold water and then cutting into bite-sized cubes (a bit challenging with a slippery pork belly). The cubes are browned in oil, then removed. The recipe called for caramelizing some sugar in the oil, but turns out it is difficult to tell when sugar has caramelized in a black pan. Caramelized or no, add in chicken stock, star anise, a cinnamon stick, a crushed nob of ginger, soy sauce, black pepper and the pork to simmer on low heat for 1.5 hours. Then remove the lid and simmer for an additional half hour to reduce the liquid. Finally, throw in some sliced spring onions and cilantro/coriander.

Such a luscious meat needs simple friends. Steamed Napa cabbage (bok choy if you’ve got it) and boiled rice worked perfectly. Many times you want a crispy fat cap on your pork belly, but in this dish the gooey fat is terrific, melting into the rice. Some recipes even suggest removing the leanest part of the pork belly, as it will not turn very tender. Bill left it on, and it worked fine. Not super tender, but had lots of flavor. Another hour of braising may help if you keep the lean strip.

We both loved this rich pork with bright Asian flavors, and as you can see below, it changed Bill’s life.

 

Over the last few weeks, Bill has been watching the asparagus for sale in the grocery store move closer to Ireland. Like a child waiting for Santa, Bill envisioned the green spears flying across the conjugate graticule* grid of the globe**, ever Ireland-ward. It’s in Peru! Now Mexico! Egypt! ¡España!

When it hits the UK, Bill said, that’s when we buy.

And then Twitter brought the news. UK asparagus would be available at the Honest2Goodness Market. So to the market we went. A trip to H2G is always a good time. On this visit we had my parents along and ate lunch (an Asian fish stew) before visiting Glasnevin Cemetery, and stopping by Kavanagh’s (aka, the Gravedigger) for a pint. A brilliant Saturday.

In addition to the asparagus, we picked up some Glebe Brethan cheese, Arun Bakery Vlaas, and fresh eggs. Turns out, these ingredients, spiked with a bit of white truffle oil, make an incredibly scrumptious sandwich. And the perfect kick off to Asparagus season.

An amazing sandwich

A sunny spell in Glasnevin

*really, you don’t know this is the term for the latitude and longitude webbing?

**Bill didn’t really envision (nor envisage) this

I’ll probably always associate wild garlic with St. Anne’s Park. The park is the first place I ever saw it, or saw it when I knew I was seeing it. I’m the kind of person who can notice a slight garlic aroma on a walk and not really wonder where it’s coming from. Bill, on the other hand, scented it like a herbivore beagle, picked some strappy leaves and proceeded to pesto it. We didn’t notice the garlic until a little late that year, so the following spring Bill watched for the little shoots and waited patiently until it was big enough to eat.

So it’s only fitting that wild garlic brought us to St. Anne’s Park a few weeks with a group from Slow Food Dublin. We were on an urban foraging expedition that would culminate in a lunch celebrating green things plucked from park lanes. We were being hosted by Tom O’Connell of O’Connells who had fed us breakfast and accompanied us on the bus ride to the park. He had already procured loads of wild garlic, but we picked up some nettles and some Alexanders to take back for our lunch. [Note that it is possibly illegal to forage in parks, so like, don’t tell nobody.]

Talking about Alexander

Ladybugs are called Ladybirds in Ireland. By any name, they are not afraid of nettles.

 

Upon return to O’Connells, Chef Udo Wittman demonstrated making several dishes with wild garlic–a potato and wild garlic soup and a beet, wild garlic & goats cheese salad. Chef Udo was great, giving us lots of information and laughs. Two things I found interesting: the tiny nettle leaves can be eaten raw with no treatment (yikes!) and that urban honey is more flavorful because of the variety of flowers.

Chef Udo grates beet for our salad

And then then the best part–lunch!

Our menu:

Wild Garlic Soup
Charcoal Oven Roasted Leg of Lamb with Wild Garlic Champ, Sauteed Nettles and Alexanders Gratin
Irish Country Rubarb Cake with Whipped Cream

Chef Udo's garlic soup was scrumptious, drizzled with some wild garlic and parsley in oil

The lamb was terrific. O'Connells has a charcoal grill that provides a wonderful flavor to the grilled meats.

The sauteed nettles were a revelation--so tasty, and it takes just a minute of cooking to remove the sting.

The Alexanders' celery-like flavor was delicious in the gratin.

A fantastic meal–and we had earned it by strolling through the park and looking so intently at plants!

Several folks shared some harrowing nettles stories from childhood, but I think every one agreed that nettles can indeed be food. And Bill and I learned about Dock leaves that always grow near nettles and are supposed to neutralize the sting. Tom and Chef Udo were such great hosts, our companions were lovely and the sun shown on us. A fantastic outing.

As it turns out, Bill, Dad and I were back in St. Anne’s today picking wild garlic and nettles for our Easter dinner. Bill used the garlic to stuff the lamb, and he’ll hopefully recreate the magic of the sauteed nettles.

Bill picking wild garlic for our Easter dinner