spicy peanut stew with ginger and tomato

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when I think of the word “international”, a few cities jump to mind: new york city, london, washington, d.c. three starkly different cities with completely different atmospheres, and yet when I think of each one, the first word that comes to mind is “international”.

new york is bustling, its immigrant population in full display in the crowded streets and its immigrant-welcoming history commemorated by the statue of liberty. skyscrapers tower like trees fighting for sunlight in a concrete jungle. businesses from around the world are located in nyc, from large global corporations to small, immigrant-run bakeries.

london, on the other hand, feels like an old european city. there are the famous bridges, the castles, the colossal, centuries-old government buildings and museums. and yet there is undoubtedly an international presence felt in the communities of immigrants, many from former colonies, where the smells of spices not native to europe and the sounds of foreign languages spill into the streets.

and then there’s washington, d.c., the seat of the federal government and so wholly american, yet international. where embassies of small countries are tucked in basements of residential neighborhoods, where every block seems to have some sort of foreign language learning school or university building or government office. in washington d.c., one truly feels how internationalism is interwoven with american government and culture. so many parts of d.c. feel transient, from the revolving foreign staff to our own elected officials to the large student populace and young professionals.

even in my apartment building, I hear different languages in the elevator and in the halls and around dinnertime, delicious odors waft into my apartment. sometimes, it’s a whiff of kimchi, other times a roast chicken. while frying up the aromatics for this peanut stew, a riff on west african peanut stew, the scents of cumin, cayenne, peppers, and shallots quickly filled my kitchen. I can only hope that someone else in the building enjoyed the smells and that it perhaps inspired them.

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makes eight servings

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-in dice
1 tsp kosher salt + more to taste
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 inches ginger, peeled and minced
1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
3-4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup natural unsweetened peanut butter
1 medium-sized zucchini, cut in quarters lengthwise, then sliced 1/2 in thick
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped + more for garnish
chopped peanuts (optional)

julia moskin. spicy peanut stew with ginger and tomato. new york times. 24 january 2007. accessed 12 september 2017.
1 in a colander, toss eggplant with 1 tsp salt and set aside for 30 minutes. dry off with paper towels.
2 in a small bowl, combine cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne; set aside.
3 in a large pot, heat 3 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. add shallots and fry, stirring often, until soft, crisp, and caramelized, ~10 minutes. using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to a large bowl, leaving oil in pot. raise heat to high and add eggplant. cook, stirring often, until lightly browned and just tender, ~10 minutes. transfer to bowl with shallots.
4 add remaining 1 tbsp oil to pot and heat over medium-high heat. add ginger and chilies then cook, stirring for 30 seconds. add spices and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds. add onion and cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, until softened and translucent, ~5 minutes. add tomato paste and cook, stirring, ~1 minute.
5 add diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, eggplants, shallots, and sprinkling of salt. bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. place peanut butter in a medium bowl, add 1-2 ladlefuls of hot soup and stir until emulsified, then pour mixture back into soup.
6 reduce heat to a simmer, add zucchini, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes, until vegetables are tender. turn off heat and stir in lemon juice and chopped cilantro. let cool slightly and taste; add salt if necessary.
7 serve with rice, garnished with cilantro leaves and chopped peanuts.

*ingredients are flexible – juice of 1/2 a lime works well if you don’t have lemons; you can also add sweet potatoes (pan-fry with eggplant), collard greens/kale (add with diced tomatoes and vegetable stock), and/or chicken (1/2 chicken breast added after onions are softened and cooked for 3-4 additional minutes).

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snickerdoodles

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this past summer, I took some time to visit old friends who had moved to europe. it is wonderful, the way that time and distance can disappear when one reunites with a good friend. my first leg was berlin, a city I could see myself living in one day.

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view from the french cathedral, gendarmenmarkt

in berlin, evenings spent at hole-in-the-wall restaurants where the tables spilled into the streets turned into late nights spent sipping beers with good company and counting rats along the riverbank, or dancing, or chatting around sticky tables in smoke-filled dark bars. days were spent biking to flea markets, napping in the dry blazing heat at parks, stopping through coffee shops across the city, and marveling at the artifacts, paintings, and bullet hole-riddled walls of berlin’s museums. everything was closed on sundays, and the city seemed all the more alive for it.

I have to say that I failed to try any traditional german fare, instead enjoying the cuisine of their sizable immigrant population, from delicious south vietnamese fish to burning hot korean fried chicken wings to late-night doner kebabs.

since returning from europe, I have moved to washington, dc. to break in the oven (and bribe/befriend my new classmates), I decided to bake up a batch of cookies. apparently, snickerdoodles might come from an english butchering of a german word, schneckennudel, or “snail noodles”… or it might just be a nonsensical name invented by someone in new england. either way, in my mind, snickerdoodles are a quintessential american cookie, a food of comfort after weeks on the road.

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makes ~1 1/2 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
10 tbsp (138g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar + 2 tbsp (divided)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cinnamon
samantha seneviratne. snickerdoodles. new york times. 17 february 2017. accessed 23 august 2017.

1 heat oven to 375ºF. (I baked different batches at 350ºF, 375ºF, and 400ºF in my electric non-convection oven and the 375ºF worked best; if you have a convection oven, you may want to lower the temperature.)
2 in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.
3 in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and 3/4 cup guar until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as necessary. beat in the egg until creamy, then add the vanilla, again scraping down the sides. add the flower mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low until just combined. (don’t over beat, as your cookies will become too tough!)
4 place the dough in the fridge, covered, for 10-30 minutes.
5 in a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tbsp sugar and cinnamon. roll the dough into golf ball-sized balls and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
6 transfer the dough to parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets, at least 3 inches apart. bake the cookies unitil just set and dry in the center, 10-12 minutes. transfer each sheet to a rack to cool for 1-3 minutes, then transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely.