How we cook and what we cook are the subject of much discussion when we sit down to plan our community dinners.
Our classes cover a wide array of cuisines, techniques, and styles, so I've always wanted our dinners to feel like they belong to us. At this point it's fair to say we have a style, built largely on the early days when Kim and I were growing as chefs together. We both like food that is layered, colorful, and filled with textures, but we also like our food to feel casual and approachable. Messy even. I take my time writing out the menu descriptions, in hopes of sharing how excited we are about each dish, and what we think it will taste like (because we haven't ACTUALLY developed the recipes yet), while also hoping that no one on the other end is rolling their eyes with every adjective.
After 5 1/2 years of community dinners, we've been finding ourselves a little itchy. Our geographic roots are clearly in the Pacific Northwest, but our family has grown to include more voices, and with that, more flavors. We tested the waters last spring with a Japanese-inspired dinner that triggered several long discussions about what it means for the Pantry to give a nod to Asian flavors. We certainly don't harbor illusions that we can cook Japanese food better than the chefs in Japan, so we searched for a way to maintain our own voice with those new ingredients. It was a smashing success (if we do say so ourselves) and we followed it up with a Vietnamese-inspired dinner last summer, and then an Indian-inspired dinner this February. We called it "the Spice Route", in a nod to the journey all these fantastic ingredients make as they find their way to our plates:
Papadum with cilantro avocado mousse and pickled mango
Coconut-chickpea fries with caramelized onion and Madras curry aioli
Mini crumpets with spicy carrot jam and crème fraîche
Roasted cauliflower with turmeric-coriander cream
Lime, cilantro, and fried onions
Spicy gunpowder prawns
Sweet potato pancakes, cilantro yogurt, savoy cabbage slaw
Tamarind lamb shanks with Nepalese curry paneer purée and toasted coconut
Ginger-braised black lentils with carrot, celeriac, and mustard greens
Coconut rice pudding with fresh mango
Pink peppercorn-spiced caramel sauce
I got my first taste of Indian food around the age of 21, on my first trip to London. I fell so head-over-heels in love with that first meal that I refused to eat Indian food again for at least a year, because I was so afraid it wouldn't live up to what I remembered (oh to be that young and romantic about food again!). I was finally convinced to give it another go while visiting New York, and then likely ate Indian food once a week in the years that followed. I love the colors, the richness, the heat, everything about it. So when we decided to host an Indian-inspired meal at the Pantry, I set the bar pretty high. This month's dinner was led by Jay, our newest chef, who came to us with a resume that included heavyweights like Gabrielle Hamilton and Renee Erickson. It was his first time in charge of a dinner, and well, I didn't make it easy. It took several rounds of recipe testing to hit the bullseye on each dish, but boy did we. We served this dish during our standing appetizer course, and I might have been given the stink-eye for how many times I went back for more. It was worth it.
- Pickled Mango
- 2 cups peeled semi-ripe mango, cut into small cubes (from about 1 mango)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 2 tablespoons fennel seeds, lightly ground
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds, lightly ground
- 2 teaspoons red chile flakes
- Avocado Cilantro Mousse
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon citric acid
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 bunches cilantro, washed and chopped (stems too)
- 4 medium avocados, split, pitted and scraped
- 2 limes, juiced
- 1 cup yogurt
- Kosher salt to taste
- As many papadums as you like.
Make the pickled mango:
In a medium sized bowl, mix the mango with the salt. Leave for 1 hour. Drain and discard the water that has accumulated.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil for 20 seconds or so over medium heat. Add the seeds and spices and stir until the seeds pop and the spices are fragrant, about a minute.
Toss the spice oil with the mango. Serve immediately or refrigerate and use for a week.
Make the avocado mousse:
In a blender, combine all the ingredients except for the avocados and blend until a smooth puree. Add the avocados, then blend until smooth. Add kosher salt to taste.
Fry the papadums:
Cut the papadums into small strips. Fry at 350 degrees until bubbles puff on the surface of the papadum and they crisp, about 30 seconds.
Drain on paper towels and serve with the mousse and pickled mango. If needed, garnish the whole thing with a healthy does of flakey salt.