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Tangra Masala


What's better than Indian Chinese after a hard evening shopping at Target?
I'd been eager to try this interesting take on Chinese food, where the
waiter kindly asks, "how well do you handle hot?' The tangra masala noodles
(an orange-red, from chile pepper?) and chile chicken were downright spicy,
but not overwhelmingly so. Good use is made of vinegar and fresh, green
minced chiles. I was curious if the food was going to be more like Indian
food with Chinese flourishes, or the other way around, which it is. It's
definitely worth delving into further. Bizarro menu twist: stars are next to
items that are not spicy.

TangraMasala * 87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, NY

Mock Green Papaya Salad

In composing a menu for a “Weed and Feed” party (that had nothing to do with smoking pot–I’m so not a stoner that I didn’t even consider the connotation) which involved luring acquaintances to my apartment with the promise of fabulous food in exchange for pulling the orchard of shoulder-high brambles that had consumed my backyard, careful consideration was needed. Burgers and hot dogs would be a tough sell. A Thai spread seemed like better bait and if you’re going to do Thai food in the midst of sweltering summer heat, a light, green papaya salad almost goes without saying.

Som Tam, a spicy salad consisting of shredded unripe, green papaya dressed with the salty (fish sauce), sweet (palm sugar), hot (bird chilies) and sour (lime juice, sometimes tamarind) foursome, is a northern Thai dish eaten for its cooling effect. Green papayas literally grow on trees in Thailand. It’s not quite so in the United States.

Living in Sunset Park, a Mexican neighborhood touching Chinatown, I didn’t think procuring papaya would be difficult and put off buying it until the day of the party. Faith in local produce was my first mistake. My confidence was shaken by both Asian and Hispanic grocers who each had a box of forest green, football-shaped behemoths in the back. The fruit wasn’t only freakishly large and pock marked, but outrageously priced. This wasn’t promising.

Sunflower-gold, ripe papaya taunted me at every corner. I skimmed sidewalk crates on the off chance a green one would jump out. The sugar cane and tropical fruit van around my corner was my last hope. I spied two greenish, mottled specimens on the verge of turning. Wishing I had x-ray vision to examine their interior, I desperately grabbed them anyway, despite the purveyor protesting, “They’re not ripe!” Figuring she knew what she was talking about, I felt relieved rushing home.

Panic set in as I cut into the papayas, revealing soft peachy flesh. Guests were to arrive in less than an hour, and the star ingredient was nowhere to be found. This was no time to be my usual slave to authenticity. (You wouldn’t guess it from my fascination with trashy food, but when it comes to replicating ethnic dishes I am a stickler for proper ingredients. Substituting soy sauce for fish sauce or ginger for galangal will throw me into seizures.) Quick, what could stand in? Green mango might work, but wouldn’t be any easier to score than green papaya. Cabbage seemed a pathetic substitute–this wasn’t a slaw. What else is tart, crisp, juicy and available anywhere any time of year? Granny Smith apples, I guessed. It pained me at first, but I got over the trauma of deviating from the recipe. Besides, it’s not like my friends are food snobs–they’d be happy with nachos and frozen ravioli.

Don’t bother with peeling, simply give them a spin through the grating disk of a food processor (grating by hand is a tedious nightmare), place into a colander and toss with fresh lime juice (the apples brown almost as fast as you can shred them). The excess liquid will leech while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

You can tweak the hot-sour-salty-sweet dynamic to your liking, I prefer an incendiary version, but whatever you do, allow for apple’s natural fruitiness. Less sugar is needed than in the traditional preparation. While not an exact match, green apples are an apt understudy, the result being a simple refreshing dish in its own right. Green apple salad tastes nothing like a compromise.

In a frenzied moment of forced improvisation, I discovered that it’s all right to tamper with tradition. I gained a new dish, and for the first time in a year, a clear view of my back fence.

Mock Green Papaya Salad

8-10 Thai bird chilies
6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon dried shrimp
3/4 cup green beans
3 cups green apple, shredded
Juice of 3 limes
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 ½ tablespoons palm sugar
10 grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup toasted, chopped peanuts

Using a large mortal and pestle, smash the garlic and chilies into a paste. Add dried shrimp and green beans and lightly bruise. Stir in the green apple. Toss with fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar, then mix in tomatoes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Mound on serving plate and top with peanuts.

Serves 4-6

This appeared in The New York Times mere weeks after I wrote the above. I’m no Mark Bittman, but heck…(oh, it’s archived now, but it entailed a green papaya recipe that used green apple).

Soda Craze

I don't know what's going on with soda these days. First Mountain Dew's Code Red with its "sensation as real as the streets" threw me for a loop. Now there's Vanilla Coke and Pepsi Blue. Being that I'm not a soda drinker, I haven't had much interest beyond the novelty factor. But vanilla is one of my favorite flavors so I couldn't resist at least trying that one. It tasted like Coke to me, but like I said, I drink it so rarely that perhaps my judgement is askew. I expected it to be more vanilla-y, like cream soda, which I guess I would just buy if that was what I was seeking.


OK, I'm a little confused. F&B stands for frites and beignets, right? So,
where are the Frenchie doughnuts? James and I swung by before heading to the
Paramus Mall for a quick sugar fix and the square fried goodies were nowhere
to be seen on the wall menu, and no one appeared to be eating them. The word
beignet is on the window, the trays and later we discovered, on the take-out
menu, but beignets clearly weren't going into anyone's mouth. Harumph. I had
the dog with chicken apple sausage and corn relish (love the sweet/savory
combo) and sweet potato fries. Both were tasty, but they were not beignets.
I don't know about that European street food.

F&B* 269 W. 23rd St., New York, NY

La Paloma

Blech, food for people with weird standards, i.e. my friends. I thought I ordered a quesadilla though it was pretty much a burrito filled with rice (I freakin' can't stand burritos filled with rice, there is no good reason for tortillas and rice to be that close together. God, and I love carbs). Others ordered burritos and they looked like the exact same thing filled with rice. And blasphemies of blasphemies, no one had a menu to order from, they just knew what they wanted (rice-filled burritos, apparently). I wouldn't be surprised if the entire menu was composed of dishes combining, you guessed it, tortillas, beans and rice. Never again.

La Paloma * 359 W. 45th St., New York, NY


This is one of those constant comment places. And as I've never been to the
South or Texas, I have little first-hand BBQ expertise. My impression is
that it's the best by New York standards. They slow-cook the meat in
smokers, sauce served on the side. Cuts like brisket and ribs are sold by
the pound, along with accompaniments like corn bread, chile and coleslaw. It
is good, but I don't know if it's truly great. However, it is probably the
best Texas style BBQ served in the back of an Irish sports bar in Queens.

Pearson's has gone through a million permutations since my original visit. I
can't even remember when an Upper West Side location popped up or when this
place went kaput for good. Now NYC bbq is all the rage–who would've
thought? (11/05)

Pearson's* 71-04 35th Ave., Jackson Heights, NY