Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lunch in Lyon

On my way to the market this morning, a crooked gray-haired man with leathery sunned skin and a basketful of summer’s harvest under his arm, leaned in as he passed, and, cigarette dangling from his lips, said to me, “très jolie.” Ah, you made me smile little Frenchman, and I remembered an experiment I’ve wanted to try: instead of giving weight to the things that annoy me in life, I’ve wanted to see what would happen if I commented on all the nice thoughts that pass through my mind.

In France, that translates to forgetting the time in Paris when the server questioned why I needed a paper napkin with my coffee, and when I answered honestly, and in French, that I had a cold, and didn’t have any tissues with me to blow my nose, the server replied, “this is a café , not a pharmacy,” and delivered my coffee straight, no napkin. It also means ignoring the time in Lyon when the shopkeeper pulled the carpet up from under my feet as I was passing by, unconcerned that I might have fallen, and it means forgiving the Tabasco incident a while ago, when the French waiter refused to bring the hot sauce for my brunch potatoes because “it is not done”.

It involves a new way. It involves seeing the lovely things here: the pastries that look like lacquered jewels in shop windows (and taste as rich), the red terracotta tiled rooftops sloping with the slow shift of the earth, their brick chimneys rising haphazardly like an obstacle course at dusk for the flying swifts. It means taking in the fragrance of the market (and the character of the brusque but jovial farmers who sell there), the thyme-infused tapenade, the wine soaked goat cheese studded with cloves, the summery rosé with just a hint of pink. It involves appreciating the beauty of a culture that names a fruit mirabelle, that takes an hour and a half for lunch, and funds the arts because, for the French, art is as essential as food. I am smiling as I wander these twisty intimate streets, the sun shining on and shadowing different bits of facades with each turn. The rivers. The churches. The fountains. The old town. The market. The cobblestones. The golden tiptops of buildings. Très jolie...

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Pasta with Ground Beef, Parsley, Garlic Yogurt, and Paprika Butter Recipe (Piç Mantı)

After a breakup, comfort food is in order. Growing up in a half-Turkish household with an adventurous American cook for a mother, I am aware that my comfort food may be someone else’s challenge. I was born, and spent the first 18 months of my life in Turkey, and, as a baby, I rejected milk and adored yogurt, so consequently, many of my most soothing dishes involve it. Mantı is my favorite food of all time: a dish created by East Asians and introduced to Turkey by itinerant Turkic and Mongolian tribes, it consists of hand made dumplings filled with a mixture of ground lamb or ground beef, parsley and onion, and it is served with a warm garlic yogurt sauce, paprika butter drizzled on top. Because of the labor involved in making and rolling out the pasta dough, my mother copied a friend’s version, and used pre-made dried pasta from the store. Because it isn’t true mantı, my parents’ friends named this iteration piç mantı, or bastardized mantı, and this is the name I knew it by, even as a small child.

Two weeks ago, in the midst of a life change, I couldn’t cook. At the Union Square market I decided that I would purchase things that I could simply cut and eat, no cooking involved. I bought whole grain organic bread, to cut and toast, and added heirloom tomatoes, to cut and put on the bread with a little olive oil and sea salt. I bought some raw milk cheddar cheese to eat with those tomatoes and bread, and Persian cucumbers, to eat whole. I found some organic purslane, one of the most nutritious plants in the world, containing even Omega 3s, that I would wash, and eat entire stems of out of the refrigerator. Same with some purple kale. And I bought kimchee, rich in vitamin C, no cutting needed. Then I saw some grass fed ground beef and fresh goats’ milk yogurt, and comforting piç mantı was then added to the menu; I’d only have to cut the onions and parsley.

On a Turkish summer vacation once, when I was a child of about 7 or 8, and not knowing what the piç part of piç mantı meant, I returned home, confused and in near tears, after my Turkish friends made fun of me when I told them the name of my favorite food. Now I make both types of mantı, the hand rolled type when feeling ambitious, and the quick way when even cutting seems like a chore. Bastardized mantı, you did the trick: I’m in Lyon, France now, having just returned from the glorious market with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to cook up. This life is too beautiful for wallowing; onward!

Pasta with Ground Beef, Parsley, Garlic Yogurt, and Paprika Butter (Piç Mantı)

1 pound pasta shells (I used fusilli, because that’s what I had, but I prefer it with shells, because it holds the sauce better)

For the yogurt sauce:

1 quart yogurt (usually this dish is prepared with cows' milk yogurt, but I made it with goats’ milk this time, and it was fine, if a little more unusual)
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic, chopped (this is to your taste. I love garlic, so can add even more than 2 cloves. Use your judgment.)
Salt, to taste

For the meat mixture:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound ground beef (or lamb)
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

For the butter topping:

2 tablespoons of butter
1 teaspoon paprika (or a little more, depending on your taste)

At the table:

I serve this with sumac, which can be purchased at Penzey’s, and with cayenne pepper. Some people like it with dried mint flakes. Serving all three at the table, so your guests can choose their own preferred combination would be ideal.

Put a large pot of salted water over high heat to boil.

Put a large bowl somewhere warm (I put it near the stove), and add the yogurt, garlic and salt to the bowl. Let it come to room temperature while you execute the other steps.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, add the onion, and let it cook until translucent, but not browned. Add the ground beef, and cook until browned. Turn off the heat, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the parsley.

When the pasta is cooked through (according to the package directions), remove from the heat, drain, and save a little of the cooking water for adding to the yogurt sauce.

Combine the pasta, yogurt sauce, a little of the pasta’s cooking water, and ground beef. Mix well.

Quickly, in a small saucepan, heat the butter and the paprika until sizzling. Serve the pasta, yogurt and meat mixture in individual bowls, and top each bowl with the sizzling paprika butter.

Serve with sumac, dried mint, and cayenne pepper.

Similar recipes from A Hungry Bear Won't Dance: Ground Beef and Herb Stuffed Eggplant, Tomato, and Zucchini (Etli Karışık Dolma), Conchiglie (Pasta Shells) with Gorgonzola and Garden Orache (or Radicchio) Recipe, Creamy, Thyme Scented Fusilli with Purple Asparagus, Green Peas, and Bacon

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