Page 1

Lemon Cardamom Cookies /32 Chinese Dumplings at Home /18


LET’S GRILL Wood-Fired Duck Charred Leeks Cake in a Cast-Iron Pan & Other Pleasures of Cooking Outdoors In the Cold

On the Hunt for the World’s Most Coveted Tea Pomegranates and Pilafs: The Cuisine of Azerbaijan

Issue 187

FEB / MAR 2017

How worldly you are has nothing to do with a passport. THAT’S CONTINE NTAL

CONTENTS A cake of pu-erh travels from the remote mountains of China to the cups of tea aficionados the world over (see page 60 for story).

“Pu-erh is the Helen of Troy of teas, synonymous with luxury and power.”







Ducks roasting over coals and other delights of outdoor cooking in Montreal by Meredith Erickson

The mysterious and delicious culinary traditions of Azerbaijan’s capital city by Anya von Bremzen

4 S AV E U R . C O M

In the dizzying heights of China’s Yunnan Province, a quest for the world’s most intriguing tea by Max Falkowitz



Steep a cup of Yogi tea and you have something more than delicious. Every intriguing blend of herbs and botanicals is on a mission, supporting energy, stamina, clarity, immunity, tranquility, cleansing or unwinding.

®,©2015-2016 East West Tea Company, LLC

Every cup is a gift to mind, body and spirit.



EAT THE WORLD Burma to Go Underground takeout keeps Burmese expats fed / PAGE 11 Looking for Princess Pamela A soul food legend revisited / PAGE 13 The Pastry Archipelago Custard-filled fofas in the Azores / PAGE 15 The Sesame Connection Ethiopia’s surprising seed trade / PAGE 16

Primer: Dumplings / PAGE 18 Steamed, boiled, and pan-fried perfection

Lou Who? / PAGE 24 A French stuffed-cabbage classic makes a comeback

The Big Apfel / PAGE 28 Mimi Sheraton’s love affair with German food in N.Y.C.

How to Care for a Lemon Tree / PAGE 32 A citrus plant becomes part of the family

A Meal to Remember / PAGE 78 Behind the scenes at a Bangladeshi wedding feast


We’re digging in to the world’s most magical and maligned ingredient: sugar. See the light and dark sides of sweetness at Learn how to hunt for octopus like a local in Thessaloniki. Visit to see why #saveurlovesgreece A new year means it’s time to refresh your pantry. We’re taking deep dives in to everything from cooking fats to baking spices at We perfected the world’s softest, fluffiest loaf: milk bread. Head to to see the recipe and more: apple-butter bostock and Shibuya toast, anyone?


Raw Garlic Sauce 22 Soy Dipping Sauce 22 Chile Oil 22 German Pretzel Dumplings 31 Roasted Sunchokes with Potatoes and Mushrooms 37 Yunnan-Style Breakfast Noodle Soup 75 SEAFOOD & VEGETARIAN

Steamed Mixed Shellfish Dumplings 22 Stuffed Leeks with Blue

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Cheese, Raisins, and Almonds 38 Potatoes with Chestnuts and Clams 45 Eggplant and Walnut Frittata 57

Stuffed Meatballs and Chestnuts in Saffron Broth 56 Chicken Pilaf in a Lavash Crust 58


Princess Pamela’s Brown Coconut Pie 14 Crab Apple Liqueur with Cinnamon 42 Cast-Iron Squash Pudding 40 Almond-Cardamom Pakhlava 54 Sweet WalnutCardamom Cookies 57




Pan-Fried Spicy Beef Dumplings 20 Boiled Pork and Chive Dumplings 21 Lou Fassum 27 Sauerbraten 31 Fire-Roasted Duck and Pheasant with Red Currant Jelly 37



Discover a world where time resets and life reinvents — it’s the authentically reimagined Ojai Valley alley Inn & Spa with the storied Wallace Neff Heritage Bar, Bar the lavish new Indigo Pool, Pool and introducing our new signature restaurant, Olivella, where valley-to-table cuisine comes alive with an adventurous California take on Italian gourmet. Reserve a moment today.


©2017 Ojai Valley Inn & Spa


Pretty much anything goes: celery that’s lost its snap, onions and garlic still in their skins, stray stalks, a handful of carrot tops, pepper­ corns scattered like buckshot, and, from the freezer, frosty bones. Things forgotten and unearthed. Onto a sheet pan and into the cranked­up oven. The ragtag mess emerges gently burnt, transformed, ready to release its mysteries to the pot of water set at a trembling simmer. After a few hours the whole house smells good, though often I’m the only one awake to savor it. I’ve been taking stock and making stock, lots of stock, late into the night—partly for the hon­ est pleasure of putting scraps to good use and partly for the abstract distraction that making stuff from memory offers. This isn’t a politi­ cal magazine, but it is put together by people living in the actual world. And for many of us, this has been a particularly weird and dispirit­ ing winter. We read the news, we wonder at the state of things, and we seek comfort in famil­ iar, nourishing rituals. This is not a posture of retreat: In rough times we believe more and more in the redemptive power of travel, of get­ ting out and eating with others, as evidenced by our contributors’ far­flung adventures in

8 S AV E U R . C O M

Adam Sachs Editor­in­Chief Follow Adam on Twitter and Instagram @sachsmo M AT T TAY L O R - G R O S S

I’ve been making stock, lots of stock.

Azerbaijan (page 46) and along the tea trail in Yunnan, China (page 60). But sometimes we just want to stay in and cook. A quick office poll reveals a shared return to essentials. We’re buying wine by the case and inviting friends over. “I’ve made some kind of soup every day,” reports one editor. “And I put extra, and unnecessary, emphasis on carefully chopping every ingredient in some particular way.” Another colleague notes a renewed fasci­ nation with potato pancakes: “If I can’t keep up with how the world’s falling apart, at least I know how to manage the relationship between potato starch and egg whites.” Test Kitchen director Stacy Adimando admits she’s been compulsively baking pies. “Maybe it’s a desire to comfort people and show generosity. Whatever it is there will be two more today—I can’t stop.” And so there were pies in the Test Kitchen, two of them. And we all, more or less, will sur­ vive another day. However troubling or sunny the weather or the news is outside, one thing is always true inside this place: It usually smells really good. We hope it does in your kitchen too.




Elizabeth Chin, Katherine Craddock (Kitchen); Nissan Haque, Daryn Wright CONTRIBUTING EDITORS


Adam Leith Gollner, Alexander Lobrano, Shane Mitchell, Bruce Schoenfeld (Wine), Amy Thielen



“World class knives.” SAVEUR Test Kitchen


Anthony Licata






Ilana Brizel SALES NEW YORK SALES Matt Levy, Christine Sendelsky,






Eric Zinczenko

Eshonda Caraway, Lynsey White, Shaneza Rahaman LIFESTYLE GROUP CREATIVE SERVICES

Steve Gianaca, Sarah Hughes, Gabe Ramirez, Ingrid Reslmaier


“The best bet.” New York Magazine



John Graney


David Butler






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For customer service and subscription questions, such as renewals, address changes, email preferences, billing, and account status, go to saveur. com/cs. You can also email, call toll-free 877-717-8925 in the U.S., call 515-237-3697 outside the U.S., or write to SAVEUR, P.O. Box 6364, Harlan, IA 51593. (ISSN 1075-7864) Issue: No. 187, Feb/Mar 2017. SAVEUR is published six times a year (Feb/Mar, Apr/May, Jun/Jul, Oct/Nov, and Dec/Jan) by Bonnier Corporation, 460 N. Orlando Ave., Suite 200, Winter Park, FL 32789. Copyright 2016, all rights reserved. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without consent of the copyright owner. Periodicals postage paid at Winter Park, Fla., and additional mailing offices. SUBSCRIPTIONS: U.S., $29.95 for one year, $49.95 for two years. Foreign surface mail to Canada: $35.95 for one year; to other foreign destinations: $41.95. For subscription information in the U.S., call 877-717-8925, outside the U.S., call 515-237-3697, email SAVcustserv@, or write to SAVEUR, P.O. Box 6364, Harlan, IA 51593. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to SAVEUR, P.O. Box 6364, Harlan, IA 51593. For faster service, please enclose your current subscription label. EDITORIAL: Send correspondence to Editorial Department, SAVEUR, 15 East 32nd Street, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10016; email: We welcome all editorial submissions but assume no responsibility for the loss or damage of unsolicited material. Retail sales discounts are available; contact Circulation Department. The following are trademarks of SAVEUR and Bonnier Corporation, and their use by others is strictly prohibited: IN THE SAVEUR KITCHEN, SAVEUR FARE, SAVEUR MOMENT

“Knife art.” Fine Cooking




What happens when the last Burmese restaurant in New York City closes down? Hungry expats turn to an underground network of amateur food clubs to get their �ix BY RACHEL NUWER


In New York City, to eat Burmese cuisine, you must first find a private food club. Here, tomatoes in fish sauce and beef tripe curry are ready for members to pick up.


ne Saturday in Elmhurst, Queens, Ma Chaw Su Kyaw was busy sautéing chile catfish in her home kitchen. Not yet noon, she had already been cooking for five hours, neatly packing clear plastic containers for the 30 or so people who would arrive to pick up soft tofu salad, cold chicken garlic noodles, and sweet coconut tapioca cake. Kyaw runs one of New York’s underground Burmese food clubs, a handful of home cooking operations that were born of demand for the elusive cuisine—so elusive the clubs’ audiences are almost entirely Burmese. Unlike Thai, Laotian, and Malay cuisine, Burmese has yet to enter the city’s restaurant scene successfully, so home cooks have stepped in to fill the stomachs of nostalgic expats.



Above: Burmese expat and food club cook Ma Chaw Su Kyaw prepares to package her week’s subscriptions, including long-simmered stews and soups. Right: A traditional Burmese breakfast of rice noodle soup with lemongrass and fish cakes.

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Burmese has yet to enter the city’s restaurant scene successfully, so home cooks have stepped in to fill the stomachs of nostalgic expats.


Kyaw’s front garden brimmed with roselle, an herb prized in Burmese cooking for the sour kick it gives to soups. Her kitchen was pungent, perfumed with fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and shallots. Before relocating from Yangon in 2002, Kyaw had never been much of a cook. “All I could do was fry an egg,” she said, balancing on a tiny footstool and leaning over a massive pot brimming with diced catfish she bought in Jackson Heights’ Little India. “Now my dream is to open a restaurant.” Like many Burmese in N.Y.C., Kyaw arrived here following a family member with a visa—in this case, her mother. Using recipes she found online, Kyaw taught herself to make countryside-style Burmese dishes like beef tripe curry and lemongrass noodle soup. On the threshold of legal, these clubs require a bit of research to uncover. I found them via Ye Lin, who organizes an annual Burmese food festival benefiting Burmese orphans. A Metropolitan Transportation Authority supervisor, Lin came to the United States in 1992 in search of opportunity. “It’s the most authentic Burma food you can find,” said Lin of the clubs, “not just in New York but in the U.S.” There’s a woman in Rego Park who specializes in large orders; a family in Elmhurst that cooks Karen dishes, food from ethnic groups residing mostly in southern Myanmar; and a woman in Woodside known for dry dishes, like spicy fried anchovies. A woman called Aunty cooks famously spicy food for a membership of 140-plus. At one of her pickups, I sampled frog curry, spicy shrimp salad, preserved catfish in tomatoes, sour dandelion soup, and pae kyaw (chickpea fritters big as a dinner plate that double as curry scoops), each packaged up in takeaway containers, labeled in neat Burmese script—all for $38. Where Aunty’s membership is communicated


by word of mouth and the texting app Viber, Kyaw manages hers through a closed Facebook page called “New York City Burmese Community.” There, she publishes a weekly handwritten menu from which patrons can order. If she introduces a new dish, she’ll test it with her family and post photos for feedback. Occasionally, she takes requests. While Kyaw packaged dozens of portions and nestled them into bags, she checked her work against orders written in a spiral notebook. “It’s a very small, close-knit community,” Lin, who had come along, said. Kyaw’s kids wandered in and out of the living room, and customers greeted her in Burmese. Kyaw had also prepared big portions of northern pork curry, chicken liver and gizzard curry, sour leaves and bamboo shoot soup, and sautéed eggplant. I ordered them all, despite Lin’s warning that I’d be eating Burmese for a month. The food lasted 48 hours, and I’d be back next weekend. n

Strobel served smothered pork chops, sweet potato biscuits, and buttermilk pie to a crowd of regulars that included Diana Ross and Andy Warhol.

More on Burma’s enigmatic cuisine:

Looking for Princess Pamela Stumbling upon an old soul food cookbook, the Lee brothers uncovered the story of restaurateur, poet, and jazz legend Pamela Strobel BY LESLIE PARISEAU



don’t bet against a woman like that,” Matt Lee says of Pamela Strobel, better known to disciples of her cooking as Princess Pamela. Orphaned

and alone, Strobel made her way north from South Carolina in the 1940s. She opened the Little Kitchen in New York’s East Village in the 1960s, and in 1969, she published Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook, an original take on Southern cooking from the perspective of a self-made African-American woman. Later, she opened Princess Pamela’s Southern Touch, where she served smothered pork chops, sweet potato biscuits, and buttermilk pie to a crowd of regulars that included Diana Ross, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wolfe. And then the trail goes cold. The restaurant closed in 1998, and it’s unclear what happened to Princess Pamela after that. “She could still be out there for all we know,” says Matt, who with his brother, Ted, will reissue her cookbook this month under their new imprint with Rizzoli, the Lee Brothers’ Library. The brothers, who write cookbooks and travel stories, have hired a private investigator and interviewed dozens of

Strobel’s patrons and old friends. And they’ve attempted to do right by Strobel by introducing her to an audience that is familiar with the idea of Southern and soul food via books like Edna Lewis’ The Taste of Country Cooking but is seeking to understand the cuisine’s history more deeply. “Customers ducked under a metal roll gate—which always seemed one-third closed, even during business hours—and obeyed the handwritten sign (‘Please Knock’) since the door was kept locked,” the Lee brothers write in the introduction to the new edition. “Time slowed down if you were allowed in the door. The feeling of entering, and being accepted into the genteel Southern outpost…must have been a great privilege against the hurly-burly of post-Vietnam-era New York.” When Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook first appeared, it was part of a surge in books on soul food, but it has since gone unsung in the canon of great Southern cookbooks. The Lees came across their first copy at a vintage bookseller’s in 2004 and snapped up copies whenever they appeared on eBay, hoping to one day shed light on her contribution to Great Migration cooking. Books under consideration for the series include The Foxfire Book and The Graham Kerr Cookbook, but what propelled them toward Strobel first was her strength, unusual success, and lyric tone. What’s striking about paging through Strobel’s cookbook isn’t the revelation of some lost trove of recipes but the language with which the recipes are stitched and woven together. Each is spare, economical, meant for experienced home cooks, and gilded with a poem that reveals a glimpse of Strobel as a complex character— simultaneously optimistic and jaded, elegant and earthy, defiant and kind. A recipe for fried chicken that runs fewer than 70 words (“Pour [bacon] drippings into a frying pan…and heat well”) is juxtaposed with a poem about finding



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Princess Pamela’s


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14 S AV E U R . C O M

M AT T TAY L - - - - - - - -

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The Pastry Archipelago Each island in the Azores has a love affair with sweets. In São Miguel, it’s the fofa BY JACQUELINE RAPOSO


e don’t set our alarm clocks in Povoação. Church bells clanging nearby or one of the neighborhood’s many vocal backyard roosters do the job. Sleepy-eyed, we cross the jardim—the cobblestoned center of our waterfront village on the island of São Miguel where benches and gardens surround a gazebo—to Restaurante Jardim for galãos (lattes) and one of Maria de Deus Rebelo’s decadent fofas da Povoação, éclair-like pastries full of vanilla custard. In the Azores, the mountainous midAtlantic archipelago belonging to Portugal, every isolated island has its own locally beloved pastries, each with its own history. On São Miguel, where my father is from and where we often visit, there are several: slightly sweet griddled bolos lêvedos (Portuguese muffins) made with the pungent mineral waters of the hot springs in Furnas; dense, intensely sweet queijadas de Vila Franca do Campo, which for decades were made by cloistered nuns and have little in common with the custard cups also called queijadas or their Continental cousins, pastéis de nata; and fluffy suspiros, or “meringue kisses,” which are ubiquitous throughout the Azores and melt on the


tongue to reveal slightly chewy centers. My family, however, is loyal to Maria and her fofas. Around the 1930s, fofas appeared as an elegant dessert reserved for dinner parties thrown by the wealthy. They were distinct from the rustic, simple sweets most islanders made, and became so popular with visiting revelers that they gained the surname of our little town. The recipe for these rich, delicate pastries, likely adapted from the éclair, was a closely held secret, guarded by matriarchs who’d mix the batter and only allow maids into the kitchen when it was time to pipe and fill them. When that generation of women passed, fofas fell out of fashion. But one woman, a maid named Almerinda, wrote down her observations and bequeathed them to her friend Maria de Deus Rebelo upon her death. In 1990, Maria brought the fofas da Povoação back to life. Maria pipes thick pâte à choux into two bulbous strips, which puff into airy caverns of eggy layers. Once the pastries are baked, she slices and fills them with a half cup of yolk-rich custard laced with vanilla. The top gets a quick swipe of chocolate buttercream made with powdered sugar, butter, and cocoa powder for a sweet and slightly chalky frosting. One bite of the massive puff, and the entire thing collapses into a mess of pastry flakes and cream. “It gives me such pleasure to see the way people enjoy them,” says Maria, who has owned Restaurante Jardim with her husband, Carlos Rebelo, since 1984. Today, tourist buses make stops for her fofas. On a good day, she can sell up to 300—significant for a small restaurant in a tiny town on a remote island that otherwise hasn’t changed much in decades. She jokes that she now earns her living from fofas alone. “Just to see the joy on their faces gives me a tremendous amount of pride. Furnas has bolos, Vila Franca has queijadas, and Povoação has my fofas.” n



The best tahini starts in Tigray, Ethiopia, ground zero for the world’s most coveted sesame seeds BY STACY ADIMANDO

1 6 S AV E U R . C O M



The Sesame Connection

t was a good year for sesame in Ethiopia. The reliable hard spring rains had ended abruptly in time for July’s planting, and the frost held off until late November, giving the seeds time to turn bright white and plump up with oil. Of the dozens of sesame varieties, it’s the buttery, complex Humera seeds that produce the best tahini, prized throughout the Middle East and beyond. And those sesame seeds start here in the rich soils of Humera, a town dotted with mud huts in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, near the Eritrean and Sudanese borders. Worldwide demand for sesame has surged 20 percent in each of the last two years, much of it going into the production of oil, sesame-topped breads and cakes,



In Ethiopia, sesame stalks are vigorously shaken by hand to remove the seeds (right) from the okralike pods. The seeds are laid out on tarps to dry in the sun, then packed into 50-kilo bags (left) bound for the Middle East.

and, increasingly, tahini—a creamy paste made from the pure ground seeds. Ethiopia, where sesame is the second most profitable export after coffee, still lacks the resources to process the seeds on a large scale, so most tahini-destined harvests are shipped to Israel or Turkey for refining and packaging. “I had only known tahini as this ambiguous beige sauce or an ingredient you add to hummus,” says Jackie Zitelman, an American who launched Soom, a single-origin tahini brand made with Humera sesame, with her sisters Shelby and Amy in 2012. After tasting a carrot cake made by her then-future mother-in-law in Israel, she saw a glimmer of tahini’s potential. “In Israel, tahini is used for baking, as a condiment that goes on everything, and even as a fat for cooking.” For Zitelman, gaining access to Ethiopian seeds was easy. When she met her Israeli husband, he had been working as a small-scale tahini distributor and gained connections in the business. The two began importing Ethiopian seeds for the Soom label. For the most part, they’re painstakingly hand-harvested in small amounts by a large number of farmers, then trans-

ported to Israel for processing before arriving on the American market. “The norm in the U.S. had been to open a jar of tahini and find something bitter and brown and separated,” says Zitelman. “With Ethiopian seeds you get a totally different thing.” Chefs Michael Solomonov of Philadelphia’s Zahav and Dizengoff and Alon Shaya of New Orleans’ Shaya have become Soom disciples and use the brand in their restaurants. Zitelman hopes that championing Ethiopia’s sesame trade will translate into rewards for the farmers that arrive as reliably as the hard spring rains. n The ultimate pantry guide to tahini: open-sesame


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DUMPLINGS A brief and joyous guide to China’s endlessly adaptable dough pocket BY M A X FA L KOWI T Z & H EL EN YO U


umplings may be the perfect food: protein, vegetable, and seasoning all wrapped in a tidy parcel of starch. There’s a reason nearly every culture on Earth makes them. Now, if only they weren’t so tricky to construct. • We’re here to tell you they aren’t. At Helen’s Flushing restaurant, Dumpling Galaxy in Queens, New York, the dumpling menu

is 100 items long and the kitchen churns out as many as 10,000 every day. In our new book, The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 2017), we’ve broken down the entire process for home cooks who don’t have a staff of dishwashers. • So take a moment. Breathe. Invite some friends over for dinner, and ask them to help you in the kitchen. Dumplings are best shared; the same goes for the labor of making them. • The Lunar New Year is just around the corner, so now’s the perfect time to throw a dumplingmaking party.



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P H O T O & I L L U S T R AT I O N : S U B C R E D I T S

1. DUMPLING STEAMER LINERS: You’ll need some


Good dumplings don’t require a pantry full of equipment, but a few inexpensive items can lend a helping hand. All of these products, from steamers to paddles, can be easily found online or at your local Asian grocery store.

sort of insulator to keep dumplings from sticking to the steamer. Cabbage leaves are traditional, but parchment liners—perforated rounds of parchment paper— also work. 2. BAMBOO STEAMERS: Find a classic bamboo steamer big enough to fit over your widest pot: The wider it is, the more dumplings you can cook at once. Steamed dumplings need space—about an inch between each—but with a 12-inch, two-level steamer, you can easily cook two dozen at once. 3. EGG CARTONS: Dust an

empty carton with flour and store your just-formed raw dumplings in it to preserve their shape before cooking.


While store-bought wrappers will never replicate fresh, they’re a handy shortcut we support. Helen’s preferred brand is Twin Marquis, made in New York City. (It’s better to have mostly homemade dumplings than no dumplings at all.) 5. CLEAVER OR DOUGH SCRAPER: Evenly cooked

dumplings are made with accurately portioned dough, which is best cut with a wide, flat blade dusted with flour to keep everything from sticking. 6. ASIAN-STYLE ROLLING PIN: Forgo hefty West-

ern rolling pins. Seek out a smaller, foot-long, ½- to 1-inch-wide dowel. 7. DUMPLING FILLING PADDLE: A far better tool

than a measuring spoon— no scooping raw meat with your fingers—these paddles help cut and portion filling evenly.





4 5



P H O T O & I L L U S T R AT I O N : S U B C R E D I T S


The possibilities for dumpling permutations are countless. Here, we offer three classic recipes with which to begin your dumpling adventures. Now, go forth and fill. Pan-Fried Spicy Beef Dumplings MAKES ABOUT 42; Photo pg. 23

Active: 1 hr. 40 min. • Total: 2 hr. 10 min. In these delightfully rich dumplings, homemade or store-bought chile oil is balanced by freshness from scallions and ginger and sweetness from oyster sauce. To maximize the crispy surface area, stretch and arc the shape of the raw dumpling slightly.

For the dough: 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting ¼ tsp. kosher salt 2 large egg whites

Uncooked dumplings can be frozen on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 4 hours until completely solid, and then stored in sealable plastic bags.

A Note on Dumpling Dough


othing compares to the lightness and elasticity of homemade dumpling dough. Easy and lowmaintenance, it entails no yeast, no fat, and no worries about over- or undermixing. We use the same dough for boiled and pan-fried dumplings. In addition to water and flour (bleached flour will be easier to work than unbleached), we add salt for subtle flavor and an egg white for greater elasticity. For steamed dumplings, we begin by mixing a portion of the flour with boiling water. This classic Chinese method

precooks some of the starch, resulting in a suppler, stretchier dough that can be rolled more thinly than our boiled and panfried dumpling dough (no salt or egg white required). No matter what dough you use: Don’t worry about prettifying your dumplings. As long as they’re well sealed and free of air pockets, they will cook deliciously. Back where Helen’s from (Tianjin, in northern China), a simple, firm fold is perfectly acceptable. Fold your way to dumpling heaven:

For the filling and cooking: 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more for frying 1 medium onion, minced (1⅓ cups) 1 tsp. chile oil or more, to taste 1 lb. fatty ground beef 3 scallions, white and green parts minced (scant ½ cup) 2 Tbsp. oyster sauce 2 Tbsp. soy sauce 1 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper ½ tsp. kosher salt ¼ cup all-purpose flour ¼ cup white vinegar 1 Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add 1½ cups lukewarm water and the egg whites and stir with fingers. (Dough should be shaggy with dry pockets of flour, like biscuit dough.) 2 On a well-floured work surface using floured hands, knead the dough, dusting with more flour as needed, until smooth, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a lightly floured bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rest 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. 3 Make the filling: In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 7–9 minutes. Stir in the chile oil. Let cool. 4 In a large bowl, combine the beef, scallions, oyster sauce, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, pepper, and salt and mix with hands. Fold in the cooled onions. 5 On a floured surface, knead the dough briefly until satin smooth. Cut into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ¾-inch-thick log and cut with a cleaver or a sharp knife into 12 equal pieces about the size of an egg yolk. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the balls generously with flour and drape with a damp paper towel to hold. 6 Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand. Using an Asian-style rolling pin, flatten the dough a bit more. Roll from the edge of each dough disk to its center, rotating the disk between rolls. Repeat until the wrapper is 3 inches in diameter and the edges are half as thick as the center. Transfer back to the well-floured work surface and tent with a damp paper towel. Repeat with the remaining wrappers. 7 Holding a wrapper in your palm, fill the center with a tablespoon of filling. Pinch the edges of the wrapper shut to form a half moon, squeezing out any air bubbles. Tug the ends of the dumpling slightly to elongate, then curve into a slight crescent shape. Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers (you may have a few extra wrappers).

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For the dough: 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting ⅛ tsp. kosher salt 1 large egg white For the filling: 1 lb. ground pork 2 Tbsp. sherry cooking wine 1 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger 2 tsp. soy sauce ½ tsp. kosher salt ½ cup minced garlic chives (Chinese chives) or conventional chives 1 Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add ¾ cup lukewarm water and the egg white and mix with fingers. (Dough should be shaggy with dry pockets of flour, like biscuit dough.) 2 On a well-floured work surface using floured hands, knead the dough, dusting with more flour as needed, until smooth, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a lightly floured bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rest at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. 3 Make the filling: In a medium bowl, combine


8 In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, vinegar, and 2 cups water to make a slurry. 9 Brush one or two 10-inch nonstick or cast-iron skillets lightly with oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add 8 dumplings to each pan with the flat sides down, at least ½ inch apart. Pour in ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon of the slurry, then partially cover the pan. Increase to high heat and cook 1 minute for nonstick or 2 minutes for cast iron. Lower the heat to medium and cook 3 minutes for nonstick or 2 minutes for cast iron. Lower the heat to low, and cook 3 minutes for nonstick or 2 minutes for cast iron. Remove the lid and cook until water has evaporated and a golden brown starch disk remains, 3–4 minutes more. Using a flexible spatula, loosen the disk from the pan. Place a large plate over the top of the pan and flip the disk onto the plate in one motion, crispy side up. Serve immediately.

Boiled Pork and Chive Dumplings MAKES 24; Photo pg. 23

Active: 1 hr. 15 min. • Total: 1 hr. 45 min. Try to find a fatty blend of ground pork; it will improve the filling’s flavor and juiciness. Chopped garlic chives, which have a peppery raw-garlic flavor, and fresh ginger cut through the rich meat. Make sure the dumplings are completely sealed and devoid of air bubbles to prevent any leaks during boiling.

Dumplings don’t need pleats to be perfect. They’re perfect by nature of being dumplings. Simply fill, fold, and pinch your way to little pockets of happiness.

Rules for Better Dumplings

FRESH INGREDIENTS MATTER: No amount of dumpling folding skill or soy sauce can rescue the flavor of wilted chives or low-quality pork. Use the best ingredients you can find. VEG OUT: The real star of any dumpling filling isn’t the meat; it’s the vegetables, which add flavor and moisture. To avoid too much moisture, wring out cooked, watery vegetables in a tea towel or cheesecloth before mixing into your filling. FATTEN UP: Dumplings need fat for flavor and texture (lean ground meat turns grainy when cooked). Restaurants typically use meat with 20 to 30 percent fat for a richer dumpling that’s also more resistant to overcooking. Have your butcher grind a whole cut of meat: a pork or lamb shoulder, say, or equal parts chicken breasts and thighs. MIND YOUR MIXING: Mix your filling by hand until it develops a slightly tacky quality, which will keep it from falling apart during cooking. But don’t overmix: Squeezing the filling through your fingers or mixing until it’s completely homogenous will make for an unpleasant and stiff texture.




the pork, sherry, ginger, soy sauce, and salt and mix with hands. Fold in the chives. 4 On a floured surface, knead the dough briefly until satin smooth. Cut into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ¾-inch-thick log and cut with a cleaver or a sharp knife into 6 equal pieces about the size of an egg yolk. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the balls generously with flour and drape with a damp paper towel. 5 Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand. Using an Asian-style rolling pin, flatten the dough a bit more. Roll from the edge of each dough disk to its center, rotating the disk between rolls. Repeat until the wrapper is 3 inches in diameter and the edges are half as thick as the center. Transfer back to the wellfloured surface and tent with a damp paper towel. 6 Holding a wrapper in your palm, fill the center with a tablespoon of filling. Pinch the edges shut to form a half moon, stretching the dough slightly as needed and squeezing out any air bubbles. Transfer back to the tented work surface and repeat with the remaining wrappers. 7 In a medium pot of boiling water, add 6 dumplings at a time. Boil for 2 minutes on high, then reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 2 minutes more. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the dumpling wrappers are puffy, a final 2 minutes. 8 Using a slotted spoon, transfer the dumplings to a plate. Serve immediately.

Dipping Sauces These versatile sauces will make your dumplings happy.

Raw Garlic Sauce MAKES ¾ CUP

Whisk 16 cloves minced fresh garlic with ¼ tsp. lemon juice and ½ cup water. Chill 1 day or up to 1 week.

Soy Dipping Sauce MAKES ¼ CUP

Whisk 2 Tbsp. soy sauce with 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar, 2 tsp. sugar, and 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 2 days.

Steamed Mixed Shellfish Dumplings MAKES 24; Photo pg. 23

Active: 1 hr. 10 min. • Total: 2 hr. In China, this combination of shrimp, scallops, and crab is a special-occasion dumpling filling. The clean flavor and slippery texture of the shellfish are unobscured by any filler. Serve steamed dumplings directly from the bamboo steamers, since their delicate wrappers can break in transfer. For the dough: 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting ¾ cup boiling water For the filling and cooking: 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil ½ cup minced shiitake mushrooms 2 garlic cloves, minced (1 tsp.) ½ lb. medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and minced (1 cup) ¾ cup lump crabmeat, minced 4 medium scallops, chopped into a paste (¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp.) ¼ cup minced scallions (white and green parts) 2 tsp. freshly grated ginger 2 tsp. sherry cooking wine 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 1 tsp. kosher salt 1 tsp. sugar

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Chile Oil MAKES 2½ CUPS

In a small saucepan, heat 2 cups vegetable oil to 325°. In a heatproof bowl, mix ½ cup red pepper flakes, ⅓ cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), 3 cinnamon sticks, 1 star anise, 2 Tbsp. minced ginger, and 1 coarsely chopped scallion. Stir the hot oil into the spice mixture. Let cool. Remove the scallion and cinnamon sticks. Store chilled in a sealed container up to 6 months.


cup minced garlic chives (Chinese chives) or conventional chives large green cabbage leaves, for lining the steamers

1 Make the dough: In a large bowl, add 1 cup and 3 tablespoons flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the boiling water until the dough forms an elastic ball. Fold in the rest of the flour by hand. (The dough will have some dry pockets of flour.) 2 On a well-floured work surface using floured hands, knead the dough, adding more flour as needed, until springy and smooth, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a lightly floured bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rest 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. 3 Make the filling: In a small skillet over mediumhigh heat, heat the oil. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Remove and let cool. 4 In a medium bowl using your hands, mix the mushrooms, shrimp, crabmeat, scallops, scallions, ginger, sherry, pepper, salt, and sugar into a sticky paste. Fold in the chives. 5 On a floured surface, knead the dough briefly until satin smooth. Cut into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a log and cut with a cleaver or a sharp knife into 6 equal pieces about the size of an egg yolk. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the balls with flour and drape with a damp paper towel. 6 Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand. Using an Asian-style rolling pin, flatten the dough a bit more. Roll from the edge of each dough disk to its center, rotating the disk between rolls. Repeat until the wrapper is 3 inches in diameter and the edges are half as thick as the center. Transfer back to the well-floured surface and tent with a damp paper towel. 7 Holding a wrapper in your palm, fill the center with a tablespoon of filling. Pinch the edges shut to form a half moon, stretching the dough slightly as needed and squeezing out any air bubbles. Tug the ends of the dumpling slightly to elongate, then curve into a slight crescent shape. Repeat with the remaining wrappers. 8 Line the baskets of one or more large bamboo steamers with cabbage leaves. Leaving at least 1 inch between each dumpling, lay in as many dumplings as will fit. Stack the steamers and cover with a lid. 9 In a large pot over high heat, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Place the steamer over the pot (if using multiple steamers, use multiple pots), with the steamers resting at least 2 inches above water. Steam until the dumpling wrappers are translucent and shiny, 7–9 minutes. 10 Turn off the heat and carefully remove the steamers from the pots. Uncover the steamers and serve the dumplings immediately, straight from the steamers.

PAN-FRIED: The most difficult to master—you’ll have to dial in exact cooking times and temperatures based on your particular stove and pan— pan-fried dumplings are bound together with a slurry of flour, water, and vinegar that is poured into the sizzling pan. As the liquid evaporates, the starch fries to a crunchy golden brown, connecting the dumplings with a paperthin pancake that you crack like a crème brûlée.

Three dipping sauces to know (clockwise from left): raw garlic; soy; chile oil. See recipes on opposite page.

STEAMED: Since they’re not knocked around by boiling water, steamed dumplings are more delicate. Made with thinner skins, they often feature beautiful, intricate pleats like you’ll find at dim sum in Shanghai or Hong Kong. This method is ideal for leaner seafood and vegetable fillings.

( ) D U M P LI N G M E TH O DS


Almost all dumplings fit into one of three broad categories: the boiled, the steamed, or the pan-fried. Each has its own advantages, but dumplings are flexible creatures. Mix and match your fillings at will.

P H O T O & I L L U S T R AT I O N : S U B C R E D I T S

BOILED: The easiest to make—just throw them in boiling water—this is the most common style in northern China. It’s great for red meat fillings and thicker, more rustic wrappers that give you a little resistance on that first nibble. 23


Lou who? Meet lou fassum, the once beloved, now mostly forgotten stuffed cabbage dish from the French Riviera that’s worth getting to know BY M I TC H E L L DAV I S & L A U R E N T G R A S

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f you just started eating in restaurants yesterday, you might think that cabbage was a new ingredient popularized by contemporary Nordic chefs. Of course, for millennia cabbage has been a mainstay of the masses, a hearty, filling vegetable that can grow in climates as diverse as Poland and Provence and keep in a cold cellar for months on end, longer if fermented. It’s common in traditional dishes of food cultures as varied as Japanese, German, Chinese, and British. And still it was a surprise for us to realize that both Laurent’s grandmère in Provence a nd Mitchell’s grandmother in Fort Lee, New Jersey, made stuffed cabbage on a regular basis. Of course, their recipes were different. Like many bubbes in the area, Mitchell’s grand-



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home cooks attempt it today, though it is still available in the center of Grasse on the menu at the Michelin-approved restaurant named, aptly, Lou Fassum. Maître cuisinier de France chef Emmanuel Ruz makes individual fassums that sit confidently on his dégustation menus alongside more contemporary preparations of foie gras, fresh pastas, and wild game. Redolent of garlic and dense with several varieties of fresh and cured pork, our lou fassum is about as straightforward as it gets—though we have left out any offal (liver, spleen, or what have you), which would likely find its way into the traditional Grasse mix and could be added if you

May the farce be with you (and other tips for stuffing your cabbage)

Flavoring a Farce mother would make a filling of ground beef with onion, rice, raisins and, on occasion, ground gingersnaps—her secret weapon. She’d wrap the meat mixture in individual leaves of cabbage and braise these rolls in a sweet and sour tomato sauce typical of Mitteleuropean Jews. This kind of stuffed cabbage is known in Yiddish as holishkes and you can find it on menus in Jewish delis as well as in Jewish homes around the world. Laurent’s grandmother worked over a woodburning stove in a country house outside Antibes. First, she’d prepare a filling with rice, peas, several types of pork, and plenty of garlic. Then she’d line a large bowl with a clean dish towel on which she’d arrange leaves of blanched Savoy cabbage. This she would fill with her forcemeat and shape into a sphere resembling a whole cabbage. Finally, she’d poach it in a light stock until it was cooked through. This dish is known as lou fassum in the flower-growing town of Grasse, where it is from. And although it sounds as if it could be the name of one of Mitchell’s grandmother’s countryclub friends, lou fassum is local dialect for stuffed cabbage. Like many humble, regional French dishes, this one has a heartiness and earthy allure that makes it immediately familiar and comforting, even if you’ve never eaten it before. In the kitchen, after so much care goes into making it, an attachment grows between the cook and lou, so that when the latter emerges from its fragrant poaching liquid and the cook pulls back its swaddling to reveal a beautiful green orb, he can do nothing but beam with parental pride. At the table, slicing a wedge reveals a filling as complex and beguiling as a fine country pâté. Though of peasant origins, lou fassum is equally suited to more sophisticated dining. A little black truffle in the filling would not be out of place. Just a few decades ago, lou fassum (aka sou fassum, lou fassun, chou vert en fassum, or chou farci à la Grassoise) was once so common in the region around Grasse that just about every housewife had a fassumier, a reusable mesh net with an opening at the top to help shape the dish. Fewer

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As with flavoring a sauce, it is important when making a filling or forcemeat—known as farce in French—to build up layers of flavor. You start with the main ingredient, pork in this instance, and add elements to reinforce or fill out the flavor from there. To the ground pork in this filling we add cured but not smoked bacon, prosciutto, and cooked ham to make the pork flavor richer and more complex. (Smoked bacon would overpower the whole thing.) We add some earthiness with mushrooms, onions, and garlic. A fresh, green taste comes from peas and Swiss chard. The cheese and a few grinds of black pepper tie it all together.

About Poaching Liquid The role of any poaching liquid is to capture all of the flavors of whatever is poaching in it, and also to become the backbone of the flavor of what is being poached. There is a give and take. The liquid has to be light to start, with few ingredients, so that it can take on whatever is given to it. In this dish, the stock, made from chicken and tomato, has a delicate flavor and some sweetness that balances the richness of the pork and the bitterness of the cabbage, which ends up almost tasting sweet itself.

As is often the case, the poaching liquid is the basis of the glaze and can even be served as a bouillon along with the meal.

Using the Right Cabbage Savoy cabbages, which have a crinkled, tender but sturdy leaf, are the ideal choice for lou fassum—the leaves are easy to peel away without breaking, and the beautiful veins on each leaf make the dish even more visually striking. If you can’t find Savoy, green cabbage can also be used. To prepare, blanch the whole head in boiling water until its outer leaves tenderize, then remove each leaf whole. Repeat as needed. Red cabbage should be avoided, as it will color the farce in an unappealing way.

Cooking en Torchon A clean, thin dish towel is a common tool in French kitchens. Perhaps its widestknown application is foie gras en torchon, a preparation of fattened duck liver that is rolled in a towel like a sausage and poached. Laurent has three or four towels in his kitchen he uses only for cooking (i.e., not for drying dishes). You can also use several layers of cheesecloth, but be sure to purchase good quality cloth that doesn’t throw off any threads. In a pinch, plastic wrap can also work.


like. Preparation isn’t difficult, but it does take some time, so it’s a relief to know it can be made a day or two in advance, held and cooked, or cooked and held until reheated to serve. (It’s delicious at room temperature, too.) With a better public relations team, lou fassum might find itself in the pantheon of great spherical stuffed dishes, alongside haggis and, perhaps, San Francisco sourdough bread bowls filled with clam chowder. Thanks to Robert Burns, haggis has poetry to prove its worth, but lou fassum has its own prayer, known as the Grasse Bénédicité: O bèu façun tant desia, gràci à Dièu ti sies pas creba, Preguen bèn sou boun diou, avans de li coupa sou fiou. O nice cabbage, so desired, thank God you hold out, Let’s pray to the Good Lord before cutting the string. n

Lou Fassum SERVES 8–10; Photo pg. 26

1 Make the poaching stock: In a large pot, add the chicken thighs and cover with 6 quarts cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Skim any impurities from the surface. Add the tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt. Let simmer 3 hours. 2 Strain the stock and reserve. Save the chicken for another use. Peel away the stem and skin of the tomatoes; chop the pulp and reserve. 3 Make the lou fassum: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, using a sharp, short-bladed knife, core the cabbage. Remove at least 20 intact outer leaves. Thinly slice 2 cups of the remaining raw cabbage and set aside.

Active: 1 hr. 30 min. • Total: 5 hr. 25 min. Lou fassum is most dramatic when presented whole, then sliced into thick wedges. Serving the pieces with a stockbased glaze is optional. The dish can also be drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs, or ladled with chicken stock and topped with a dusting of grated cheese. Serve with mashed or roasted potatoes if desired. For the poaching stock: 2 lb. bone-in chicken thighs (6–7 thighs), skins removed 2 vine-ripened tomatoes Salt For the lou fassum: 1 large head Savoy cabbage 1¼ cups (8 oz.) long-grain white rice ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided 1 large head garlic, peeled and chopped (⅓ cup) 1 large white onion, peeled and chopped (2½ cups) 6 oz. maitake or other mushrooms, sliced 2½ tsp. kosher salt, divided Freshly ground black pepper 1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed, leaves thinly sliced (3 cups) 2 lb. ground pork 5 oz. thick-cut cooked ham, julienned (1 cup) 3 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into shreds (1 cup) 10 slices unsmoked bacon or pancetta, cut into lardons (½ packed cup) 1½ cups (8 oz.) fresh or frozen peas 1½ cups finely grated Tomme Tarentaise, Comté, or another flavorful hard cheese Zest of half a lemon For the glaze (optional): 1 tsp. cornstarch 2 Tbsp. olive oil 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter Salt

4 Set a large bowl of ice water next to the stove. Working in batches as needed, add the leaves to the boiling water and cook until slightly softened, 2 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the leaves to the ice water. 5 Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the rice and let cook until softened slightly, 4 minutes. Strain into a colander, rinse with cold water, and set aside to drain. 6 In a large skillet over medium-high, heat ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 3 minutes. Add the thinly sliced cabbage and chard and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.

olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and a generous amount of black pepper; mix well. 9 Line a large, roundbottomed bowl with a clean linen dish towel or 3 layers of cheesecloth (there should be significant overhang). Starting with the largest leaves, lay the blanched cabbage pieces on top of the towel, arranging them stem side down in a concave manner, overlapping the leaves significantly to create a sphere with sturdy layers. Transfer the filling to the cabbage-lined bowl, pressing down with your hands to compact. Tuck the leaves in as needed to fully enclose the filling and shape the lou fassum into a neat, firmly packed, liquid-tight sphere. Wrap the edges of the towel around the cabbage so they meet at the top center. Using twine, tie the towel very tightly to make sure the lou fassum holds its shape. 10 In a large, deep pot, bring the prepared stock to a boil. Carefully lower the lou fassum knot side up into the stock, and add water to cover if necessary (up to 4 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cover and simmer until the cabbage is firm when pressed and a rich, deep aroma emanates from the pot, 2 hours. Lift the lou fassum from the pot and transfer to a colander to drain and cool slightly.

7 Transfer the vegetables to a baking sheet, and spread into an even layer. Refrigerate until completely cool, 10–15 minutes.

11 If making the glaze: Transfer 3 cups of the cooking stock to a small pot and bring to a boil; reduce by two-thirds (leaving 1 cup), about 25 minutes. Combine the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon cold water. Whisk the olive oil and butter into the reduced cooking liquid, then whisk in just enough of the cornstarch slurry to form a thin glaze. Season with salt.

8 In a large bowl, mix the pork, ham, prosciutto, and bacon. Add the tomato pulp, rice, sautéed vegetables, peas, cheese, and zest. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons

12 Untie the lou fassum and carefully invert onto a large serving plate. Either pour the warm glaze on top or slice into wedges and serve with the glaze on the side.


A vintage postcard view of Lßchow’s Restaurant, located on East 14th Street in Manhattan, which opened in 1882 and catered to German food lovers for a full century.

g i l B pfe A THE



lthough I am sure that the first German words I knew were danke and bitte, I doubt that Rouladen, sauerkraut, and marzipan were far behind. Credit for my early fluency goes to one Anna Müller, a Frankfurt-born housekeeper in our Brooklyn home until I was about 7 years old. Cooking was not among her duties, but occasionally she treated us to a specialty she knew we favored. Foremost among them were Rinderrouladen—beef pounded thin, then rolled around bacon strips and minced onions, braised, and finally sauced with aromatic pan juices and sour cream. Anna also prepared sauerkraut to the perfect state she proudly pronounced as “dry but juicy.” That was served with various wursts purchased from Trunz, a local German meat shop close

Mimi Sheraton, longtime observer of New York’s culinary landscape, on her lifelong love of Rouladen and Baumkuchen, and other pleasures of German food in America

to our home and probably the place where I developed an abiding passion for liverwurst in many of its unctuously varied forms. The marzipan came from Königsberg each Christmas as Anna’s gift to me. Fitted into a bright red heart-shaped box, the almond paste was baked in the classic Königsberg style to impart a cookielike texture and modify the cloying sweetness that confection otherwise has. The brown glaze on the heart’s ruffled edges framed jewel-like dottings of red candied cherries, orange and lemon peels, and glassy, citrine-green angelica. I have often seen it in my dreams. Having a long history with that lusciously nurturing cuisine, I intermittently missed many of its flavors and textures, not unlike some of the Eastern European–Jewish food that I mainly grew up with: soul-comforting, volcanically hot soups such as cabbage or split pea or cold fruit soups for summer; meats mellowed with softly simmered onion and garlic, the reassuring blush of sweet or smoky paprika, and the airy accents of dill and caraway seeds. Relief came when I moved to Manhattan in the fall of 1945 and became a frequent shopper in Yorkville, the enclave centered along East 86th Street from Lexington Avenue to First Avenue that was in full flower in the mid 1940s through the 1960s. That long enticing row was lined with the pastryshop cafés known as Konditoreien, several butcher shops among which the only survivor is Schaller & Weber, and Bremen House, a wonderful upscale grocery palace that featured not only German specialties but French cheeses and pâtés at far below downtown prices. My favorite restaurants were the inexpensive Austro-German Blaue Donau and the


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O P P O S I T E : M A T T T AY L O R - G R O S S

elegant Hans Jaeger’s, where local Feinschmeckers arranged special dinners in game season. My pet haunt was Cafe Geiger, frequented during the day by local ladies wearing deep fur felt hats and downing several courses of pastries, a setting that made me feel for all the world as though I were in Frankfurt, the only visible English word being exit. I loved Geiger not only for its best, freshest beef tartare, but for its amazing bakery, the highlights of which were the big, puff y jelly donuts, aka Berliner Pfannkuchen, and the spit-turned batter cake known as German pastry shops, like Kleine Konditorei, once dotted New York Baumkuchen or tree cake. Standing City’s Upper East Side and were beloved by the author, whose The German tall, slim, and hollow with crusty Cookbook was recently republished in a 50th anniversary edition. ridges, it suggested a tree trunk, and the almond-scented, poundcakelike interior showed toasty rings like the rings Times, I awarded it four stars and became a regular of age on a tree trunk cross section. Long gone from until it closed in 1988. New York, delicious Baumkuchen is still turned out Undoubtedly the biggest breakthrough for Ausyear-round at the enticing Lutz Café & Pastry Shop in trian food came to New York in 2000, when Kurt Chicago. Many of Geiger’s other delectables, especially Gutenbrunner opened his stunning modern Viennese the aromatically spicy Christmas cookies and punrestaurant, Wallsé, in a Jugendstil setting. gently fragrant Linzer tortes, are now offered by Hans “I wanted to show Austrian food in a more modern Röckenwagner in his bakery and cafés around Santa way, a bit lighter and sometimes with nontraditional garMonica, California. nishes, as it was being done In addition, I frequented many now bygone German then in Vienna,” he explained MIMI’S LIST and Austrian restaurants outside of Yorkville, most to me recently. With his less Great Austroespecially the modest Blue Ribbon near Times Square formal restaurant downGerman Food and the convivial Klube’s on 23rd Street. But the bigtown, Blaue Gans, which in America gest draw was the venerable Lüchow’s on 14th Street, features sausages and a panoopened in 1882 and close to my Greenwich Village ply of great crisp schnitzels, Mader’s home. I heard my parents talk of it when I was a child and his deliciously old-style Milwaukee, Wis. and thought it was Chinese but fortunately found out fare at Café Sabarsky in the otherwise. That became the place I skimped to afford Neue Gallerie, GutenbrunSchroeder’s at Christmastime, when the world’s largest decorated ner, more than any other San Francisco, Calif. indoor tree took center stage and the menu included chef, made Austro-German crisp, golden roast goose served with champagne food relevant to today’s Röckenwagner kraut, to be followed by a rum-scented apple pancake innovation-minded audience. Bakery Café Culver City, Calif. flambéed tableside. Sunday night was celebrity time Now, fortunately, there are at Lüchow’s, and I once stared in total awe seeing the even more opportunities to novelist Edna Ferber in one of the sweeping, largehave great Austro-German 3 Square Café Venice, Calif. brimmed felt hats that identified her. cooking in New York, a Traveling outside of New York, I always made stops in tament to the enduring Chicago at the Berghoff, where I learned to play it safe power of its appeal. Grünauer Lutz Café & Pastry Shop Chicago, Ill. with wursts on sauerkraut. And when in Milwaukee, I came back last March with tried to have one meal at Karl Ratzsch’s and another at Grünauer Bistro, a handMader’s, both still going strong, by the way. some, tavernlike setting for No surprise then that I welcomed the return of excellent boiled beef, goulash, and hot and airy Salzsuperb Austro-German food when Vienna ’79 opened burger Nockerl. And even less formal and more lustily in 1979 on East 79th Street. Operated by Peter authentic is Werkstatt in Brooklyn, where since 2015 Grünauer with Thomas Ferlesch as chef, it introduced Ferlesch has been dishing up puff y dumplings, red a nouvelle style of presentation to reassuringly classic cabbage, and sauerbraten. They draw me back to cozy preparations in a smartly urbane, tailored supper club dinners of Rouladen and sauerkraut with Anna, to my setting. Then the restaurant critic for the New York native borough. 

Sauerbraten SERVES 6–8

Active: 1 hr. • Total: 3 hr. 30 min. Chef Thomas Ferlesch of Brooklyn’s Werkstatt restaurant says one thing is nonnegotiable when it comes to making this classic German dish: the use of beef shoulder, also called flat iron steak, or Schulterscherzel in German. “It has just enough fat for braising without being too rich and greasy or too dry,” he says. One ½ ¾ 1¼

2 2 ½ ½ 1 4 4 1 10 3 3 1 1 1 1

4-lb. flat iron steak tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed tsp. freshly ground black pepper cups unsalted butter, lard, or vegetable oil, divided carrots, diced (1½ cups) parsnips, diced (1½ cups) celery root, diced (½ cup) cup tomato paste (750-ml) bottle red wine cups apple cider cups beef or chicken stock Tbsp. apple cider vinegar juniper berries bay leaves garlic cloves, peeled cinnamon stick sprig fresh thyme cup all-purpose flour bunch flat-leaf parsley

1 Season the beef generously all over with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add ½ cup fat and heat until hot. Add the beef and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 3 minutes each. Transfer to a large plate. 2 Lower the heat to mediumlow and add the carrots, parsnips, and celery root to the pot; season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned in places, about 3 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and stir in the tomato paste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until darkened slightly, 3–5 minutes. Add the

wine, cider, stock, vinegar, juniper berries, bay leaves, garlic, cinnamon, and thyme, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Carefully return the beef to the pot; cover and cook at a low simmer for 1 hour. (Alternatively, you can simmer the beef in the center of the oven at 350°.) 3 Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium heat, heat ¾ cup fat until warm. Add the flour to make a roux and cook, stirring or whisking constantly and reaching all sides of the pan, until the flour is golden brown, about 15 minutes.



pinch nutmeg Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper soft pretzels, bagels, or day-old kaiser rolls, cut into 1-inch pieces (1¼ lb.) Unsalted butter

1 In a large skillet over medium heat, add the lard and heat until melted. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until

roll, then tie knots at both ends. Wrap the roll in aluminum foil for an extra seal. Repeat with the remaining pretzel mixture. (You will have 6–7 rolls.) 4 In a large pot of boiling, wellsalted water, add the rolls. Cook at a gentle boil for 30 minutes. 5 Transfer the rolls to a clean cutting board. (Dough rolls can be kept overnight in the refrigerator at this stage.)

4 After the beef has been cooking for 1 hour, add the roux to the pot with the beef, stirring to incorporate. Bring the liquid to a high simmer, then reduce to a low simmer. Cover and let simmer until the meat is tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour more. 5 Chop 2 tablespoons of parsley and set aside. Add the remaining bunch of parsley to the pot. Cover, turn off the heat, and let rest 30 minutes. 6 Remove the meat to a cutting board. Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain the cooking liquid and discard the solids. Add the sauce back to the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste. 7 Cut the beef into thick slices and reheat briefly in the sauce. Serve drizzled with sauce and garnished with the reserved chopped parsley.

Serviettenknödel (German Pretzel Dumplings)

Sauerbraten with pretzel dumplings and cider-braised cabbage (see for recipe).

SERVES 10–12

Active: 1 hr. 50 min. • Total: 3 hr. 20 min. These savory dumplings are great for sopping up the juices from sauerbraten and other braised meats. Start with dayold pretzels to help the dough crisp up more quickly. ½ 2 ¾ 1 8

cup lard yellow onions, minced (1¾ cup) cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped quart milk large eggs

softened and golden brown, 30 minutes. Mix in the parsley. Turn off the heat and let cool. 2 In a large bowl, mix the milk, eggs, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the pretzel pieces and the cooled onion mixture and let soak for 1 hour. (Mixture may be runny.) 3 On a clean workstation, lay out a sheet of plastic wrap. Place about 1 cup of the dough mixture on the plastic wrap in a log shape. Close the plastic wrap around the mixture to form a 1½- to 2-inch-thick

Unwrap and cut into 1½- to 2-inch-thick slices. 6 Line a baking sheet with paper towels. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2–3 tablespoons butter. When foam begins to subside but butter solids are not yet browned, add as many slices as will fit in the pan (about 15). Cook, turning as needed, until the dumplings are well browned on both sides, about 20 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dumplings, cleaning out the pan and adding more butter between batches.



How to Care for a Lemon Tree Life lessons from a favorite family plant BY JESSICA SOFFER


y father had a lemon tree named Marilyn. She was a gift from my husband, Alex, who gave her to my father 11 years ago, when Alex was still my boyfriend and my father was still well. His sense of smell was his strongest tie to his childhood in Baghdad, where lemons fragranced the streets and were essential components of okra or meat dishes or phyllo walnut rolls, and their oily skin was burned over open flames as incense, the scent both invigorating and comforting. For the first three seasons Marilyn refused to fruit for my father—though not for any lack of effort on his part. Fastidiously, he sprayed her with rose water and sang to her in Arabic. He gave her prime real estate in my parents’ apartment: in the sun always and next to him at the dinner table, where my father often sat for hours, well after the plates had been cleared, reminiscing about his youth. But then, things changed. My father got sick with cancer—and then, sicker and sicker and sicker. And because of doctors’ appointments and hospital visits and everything else, we all forgot about the lemon tree except for my husband, who one day found her, moments from dead, and almost ended our relationship. How could you? It was our first big fight. After that, he made Marilyn our responsibility. He brought her to our apartment, moved her from the fire escape in summer to the bathtub in winter to the windowsill in the shoulder seasons and around and around we go. We played jazz to her in the mornings and lavished her with praise. When we brought her inside well before the first frost, we sponged down her leaves with delicate soap and cloths as if she were a small child. Of course, it wasn’t just about Marilyn. In lucid moments, my father would ask, “How is she doing?” “Great!” we’d say. We hoped that it might bolster him for a little while. In a way, it was the least and the most that we could do.

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Two months after my father passed away, Marilyn had her first big bloom. Three whole lemons. We couldn’t believe it. We cheered. We arranged them on the counter like found robin’s eggs, and tended them as if they might hatch. When a friend came over and asked if she could use one to remove a garlic smell from her palms, we nearly kicked her out. But then, of course, we did have to use them, somehow. Produce is produce. The pressure was on. We’d waited years. And my father. And everything. We couldn’t possibly use a squeeze here, some zest there. We had to be deliberate, careful, reverent. And so, we were. Or so we thought. We planned to preserve them in olive oil. All three. The recipe was at once reminiscent of my father and appreciative of Marilyn’s hard work. And



simple. That was key. And so we tried. And we failed. Somehow, we added double the salt and rendered the poor little lemons inedible. They made our mouths pucker and smack. Worse, there was nothing we could do, and we tried everything: more acid, more liquid, rinsing them off. We supplemented with lemons from the bodega down the street, apologizing all the while, but it did no good. Nothing worked. And we were so, so sorry. Still, not everything was lost. Marilyn must have forgiven us. The next year, she produced five perfect lemons. We were even more careful this time. We used two for a simple roasted chicken (my father’s mother used to make a whole chicken on Fridays, cooking it over open flames outside and then smothering it in a pillow afterward to trap the juices and keep the moisture from escaping, either an Iraqi technique or just a my-grandma technique, I’m not sure) and three for a bourbon, maple, and mint cocktail that was as good as any I’d ever tasted. It’s hard to say if it was the best citrus we’d ever had, or if it just felt like that. But it did feel like that. Taste, after all, is really only one small component of taste. In the years that followed, Marilyn continued to be good to us. Every winter she produced just a handful of lemons. And every time, the same pressure. Some years, we made tarts—and they were the best tarts. Other years, we made marmalade with vanilla and cardamom—and never loved a spread more. Always, always, only the people we loved the most were beneficiaries of Marilyn’s bounty. Once, we got our friends drunk on lemon margaritas and midway through, when I told them, These are Marilyn’s lemons! everyone stopped mid-sip, unsure whether to drink up or stop drinking altogether. Three years ago, we bought Marilyn a life partner (a lime tree that we named JFK), and she began to fruit twice and then three times per year. Soon, we were inundated with citrus and had to become more inventive because still, we refused to use her lemons for daily activities, for any sort of supporting role. And so we made lemon bars and cherry-andlemon salsa and pasta with roasted zest. I asked my father’s sister for recipes that she remembered from Baghdad (she was in her 90s by then)—and we riffed on her cardamom cookies, adding thick curls of preserved lemon on top. We thought about how to do right by Marilyn. One morning, not long ago, when I made the warm apple cider vinegar, Manuka honey, and lemon concoction that I drink every day, I wondered why it tasted so good. Turns out: Marilyn. Her lemons had gotten mixed up with the others. And it seemed clear then that reverence to Marilyn, and thereby to my father, didn’t need to be so grave, so ceremonious. We didn’t need to make a thing of it. And every day, or whenever the time was right or the mood was right, her fruit could come in, brightening things, lightening things, as only good lemons can do. n

Candied Lemon Cardamom Cookies MAKES ABOUT 30

Active: 1 hr. 35 min. • Total: 3 hr. 40 min. The author’s father grew up in Baghdad, eating not-too-sweet lemon cookies like these, each garnished with a curl of candied peel, alongside tea. Be gentle with the rolling pin and use plenty of flour when rolling to keep the delicate dough from cracking. For the candied lemon peel: 2 large lemons, top and bottom ends sliced off 1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for coating For the cookies: 2 cups plus 2 Tbsp. allpurpose flour, and more for dusting 1 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. ground cardamom ½ tsp. kosher salt 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened ⅓ cup granulated sugar 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract For the lemon glaze: ¾ cup plus 3 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar 3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice Pinch of salt 1 Make the candied lemon peel: Place the lemons cut side down on a cutting board. Following the curves of the lemons, cut away the outermost part of the peel. Trim away most remaining white from the peel, then very thinly slice the peel lengthwise. (You should have about 1 cup.) 2 Line a baking sheet with foil and place a fine-mesh wire rack on top; set next to the stove. In a medium pot of boiling water, add the sliced peel. Cook until tender, about 15–20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the peel to the prepared rack and spread into a single layer. Let dry 15 minutes. 3 In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and 1 cup water; bring to a boil over mediumhigh heat and cook until the sugar is dissolved, 2 minutes.

Add the peel and cook, stirring occasionally, until it looks translucent and the syrup is thickened, 10–12 minutes. 4 Remove and transfer the candied peel back to the wire rack, leaving room between each piece to dry and solidify. Let rest 1 hour. Toss the peels in additional sugar. Finely mince ¼ cup of the candied peel, and reserve the rest for garnish. 5 Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 300°. In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt. 6 In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at medium-high speed, 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and add the lemon zest and vanilla; beat briefly to incorporate. Add the flour mixture and chopped lemon peel, beating on low speed and scraping down the bowl as needed until incorporated (mixture will be crumbly). 7 Use the warmth of your hands to form the dough into a ball. Divide it in half. Roll out the first half to ¼ inch thickness on a very well-floured work surface, adding more flour as needed to the surface and your rolling pin. Cut the dough using a 2-inch cookie cutter. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to 2 parchment paper–lined baking sheets. Scoop up the dough scraps and reserve. Repeat with the other half of the dough, then use the scraps to roll and cut more cookies as needed. 8 Bake the cookies, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until they have a lightly browned tinge, 30–35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a drying rack to cool at least 15 more minutes. 9 Meanwhile, make the glaze: In a medium bowl combine the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and salt; stir well with a fork until no lumps remain. 10 Dunk the cookies into the glaze, covering a third of each with glaze and letting excess drip back into the bowl. Transfer to the drying rack and place a piece of the candied peel on top. Let dry, 10–15 minutes.


BY MEREDITH ERICKSON Recipes by David McMillan & Frédéric Morin




















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-A I















Out back at Joe Beef’s outdoor stove, ducks crisp and render over the fire before being slathered with red currant jelly (see page 37 for recipe).

In the Little Burgundy neighborhood of Montreal, there is a sequestered noname street just off Rue Charlevoix that happens to be one of my favorite places in the world. It’s a narrow conduit behind restaurants and shops where deliveries are made and cooks tread busily between kitchens. There is an outdoor smoker, a woodburning oven, and a huge grill with a spit, some boxed gardens, multiple terraces, a trout pond, a tool shed, and across the street, Parc Vinet, where you can see kids whizzing by on the ice rink in winter, or hitting line drives under the lights of the baseball diamond on long summer evenings. Eleven years ago, Frédéric Morin and David McMillan opened Joe Beef, a French market-fare restaurant with a back door out onto that no-name street. I was there the first night as a server and still feel a deep sense of belonging at the restaurant, even though years have now passed. I think this is the allure of Joe Beef, really, that diners who will spend only a few evening hours there over dinner also feel that sense of belonging, or at least discovery of a certain

Clockwise from top left: Joe Beef’s Dave McMillan, dressed for an outdoor feast; potatoes roasting on embers (see page 45 for recipe); carving a fireroasted duck, fresh off the heat; staying warm with homemade crab apple and cinnamon liqueur (see page 42 for recipe); a winter’s grilling spread.

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1 Pat the birds dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Trim any extra skin around the cavity of the duck. Running your hands beneath the skin, carefully separate the skin from the flesh without tearing or removing it. Season the outer part of the skin and the inner cavity of both birds generously with salt and pepper, then transfer to the refrigerator and let rest uncovered at least 6 hours or overnight. 2 In a hearth or fire pit, prepare a small fire. Alternatively, set a rack in the center of an indoor oven and preheat to 350°. In a small pot, warm the lard or other fat and add the armagnac, thyme, and garlic. Brush both birds with the lard mixture. Using a 3-foot piece of twine soaked in water, hang the duck by the limbs or cavity above the fire; or in a large roasting pan fitted with a rack, position the duck off to one side of the rack. If hanging the bird, set a pan beneath it to catch any drippings. 3 Roast the duck until the skin is just starting to color and some of the fat has rendered, about 25 minutes.


Note on the Recipes: Fred and

Dave like to play with fire, so when they gathered to cook this winter feast, they used nontraditional cooking techniques—suspending a cast-iron pan of squash over the open flame, for example—and spaces. What follows are their recipes, adapted for those of us with more or less normal kitchens, and castiron pans that don’t levitate.

4 If cooking with fire, move the duck closer to the heat source, or add more wood to the fire as needed to increase the heat. If cooking in a home oven, retrieve the roasting pan and raise the oven heat to 525°. Meanwhile, baste the duck with some of the rendered fat from the pan, or more of the rendered lard mixture. Hang the pheasant next to the duck, placing a pan beneath it to catch drippings, or adding it to the other half of the roasting pan.



Active: 30 min. • Total: 1 hr. 25 min. (plus resting) Fred Morin and Dave McMillan of Joe Beef in Montreal cook a mix of birds over flames and embers, using hooks and chains to suspend and rotate them (different-size birds will cook at different speeds). “The spin, the way the fat drips down, all combines to make a wonderfully burnished bird,” says McMillan. Ambitious home cooks can hang birds using twine or wire over a backyard fire, or simply roast birds on a rack set in a roasting pan in the (indoor) oven. 1 1 2 1 1 1 ⅓

whole duck (4–5 lb.) whole pheasant (about 3 lb.) Salt and pepper Tbsp. lard, duck fat, or olive oil, plus more for basting Tbsp. armagnac, cognac, or brandy Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped garlic clove, smashed cup red currant or apple jelly, warmed


Active: 15 min. • Total: 1 hr. 20 min. Catching the drippings trickling down from cooking birds—a trick Morin and McMillan recommend especially midway through roasting, when the fat begins to render and run more rapidly from the skin—adds lustiness to a simple dish of roasted roots and mushrooms. Storebought duck fat or lard is an easy cheat. 1½

1½ 1 4 1 ½

lb. sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), scrubbed, large ones halved or quartered lb. fingerling potatoes, scrubbed, large ones halved or quartered lb. crimini mushrooms, trimmed garlic cloves Tbsp. kosher salt cup rendered duck fat

1 Preheat a woodburning or indoor oven to 475°. Run all of the vegetables quickly under water and do not dry them. 2 In a large bowl, add the sunchokes, fingerlings, mushrooms, and garlic; season with the salt and toss to distribute. 3 In an extra-large (16-inch) cast-iron skillet or in a roasting pan, heat the duck fat over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Turn out the vegetables into the pan and spread them out into an even layer without stirring (the pan will sizzle and steam dramatically). Cook until the vegetables have just begun to brown on the bottom, 5–7 minutes, then stir to dislodge them from the pan. Cook, without stirring, until browned on another side, 3–5 minutes more. Stir again to dislodge, then transfer the pan to the oven. 4 Roast the vegetables, stirring once halfway through, for 20 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350° and cook until the sunchokes are very tender when pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes more.

5 Roast both birds until the skin is browned and the juices from the leg joints run mostly clear when poked with a paring knife, about 25 minutes. Remove the birds briefly and brush with the warmed jelly. Roast, swiveling the birds on strings or rotating them as needed, until the skin is caramelized and darkened, 5–10 minutes more (watch closely for burning). 6 Remove and let the birds rest 5 minutes. before carving. Serve the pieces in a shallow pool of the pan drippings. 37

Secret Garden utopia that has no affectation (and a whole, whole lot of rib steak). People rave about the brief glory that is summer in Montreal—packed terraces, pretty girls on bikes, the European feel of the old port, the abundance of the Jean Talon market, with its piles of berries and flowers and smoked fish—but for me, it’s in the deep freeze when the magic happens. You can cross-country ski over Mont-Royal and descend for a glass of Alsatian white and eggs for brunch. It’s the time of year when restaurant windows are fogged over and you find yourself perched upon a banquette during a snowstorm, eating quail and drinking Cornas. And at Joe Beef, in the depths of winter, that magic is equally apparent indoors—where the cozy rooms are packed and it feels like all the diners are part of the same wedding—as it is outside. “At a certain point in the winter, minus 30 degrees Celsius, you get pushed inside, which is a shame



Active: 20 min. • Total: 50 min. The bold flavors of blue cheese, anchovies, and Worcestershire sauce—plus a little kiss from the flame—make otherwise mild-flavored leeks just the thing for a cold night by the fire. Roasting them under sealed parchment paper allows the leeks to steam, tenderizing them before they char. 4 1 ½ ½ ⅓ ¼ ¼ 2 ½ 1½ 1 24 2

large leeks, rinsed (3¼ lb.) Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt cup olive oil stick unsalted butter, melted cup raisins, chopped cup crumbled blue cheese cup dill, chopped Tbsp. red wine vinegar Tbsp. hot sauce tsp. Worcestershire sauce tsp. freshly ground black pepper almonds, coarsely chopped anchovy fillets, chopped (optional)

1 Prepare a woodburning or indoor oven to 425°. Line a large rimmed baking sheet or cake pan with a 15x34-inch piece of parchment paper (half the sheet will be hanging off), or use two 13x17-inch pieces. 2 Cut the dark green parts off of the leeks, then finely chop them until you have 1 cup; reserve. Starting ¼ inch from the roots of the leeks, cut the leeks lengthwise down the center, leaving the bottommost layer intact. Run the leeks under cold running water, gently separating the leaves to release any dirt, then pat dry. 3 Transfer the leeks to the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle ¼ tsp. salt over each leek. 4 In a medium bowl, mix the oil, butter, raisins, cheese, dill, vinegar, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, almonds, anchovies (if using), remaining salt, and reserved chopped leek greens. Spoon a scant ½ cup of the mixture down the center of each leek. 5 Fold the hanging edge of the parchment paper over the leeks, or place a second piece of parchment on top, to cover. Tuck the edges under and fold, creating a sealed pouch. 6 Roast for 30 minutes. Then remove and discard the top layer of parchment paper. If cooking with wood fire, shift the pan closer to the heat source. For an indoor oven, preheat to broil. 7 Roast or broil the leeks until the leeks and filling are slightly charred in places, 2–3 minutes. Carefully cut each in half crosswise using kitchen shears or a sharp knive, and serve.

Above: Two members of the Joe Beef extended family, Marc-Olivier Frappier (at right) and J.C. Rainville, prep for the feast. Right: Fire-roasted chestnuts will be mixed with bacon and clams for a hearty potato stuffing. Opposite page: You might not think to stuff leeks, but you should—they’re the perfect shape.

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because there is an outdoor element to everything we do,” Fred tells me one night as he’s scoring the skin of a piglet shoulder in preparation for a winter feast. Tending the red coals of the fire— above which numerous pheasants and ducks spin on hanging wire hooks— Dave chimes in, “Cooking over fire is the oldest job in the world. It’s not prostitution.” He pauses, using a pocketknife to slice sunchokes destined to be a bed for drippings, then says, “And with fire, there is an important yet simple preparation: You must gaze into the coals, touch the heat, get lost in the time, heat, question yourself, overanalyze the fire. Mastering coals is a window into the beginning of it all, and is always time well spent.” Melanie Terziyan, a cook at Le Vin Papillon, Dave and Fred’s wine bar, walks by as we’re stuffing fat leeks with an anchovy–blue cheese mix,

CAST-IRON SQUASH PUDDING SERVES 8–10; Photo at left and opposite

Active: 1 hr. 5 min. • Total: 1 hr. 55 min. This luscious, cakelike pudding, made with milk-poached butternut squash batter and crowned with caramel-drenched delicata, rides the line perfectly between side dish and dessert, “kind of like yams with marshmallows,” says Morin, who serves it with caramel sauce or sweetened whipped cream. For an easy caramel sauce and squash topping (pictured right), double or triple the quantities of delicata and granulated sugar, and repeat step 4 as needed. Or if you want to amp up the savory nature of the dish, nix the caramel and offer grated cheddar at the table. 1 3 ½ ½ 1

Above: Squash pudding baked in a castiron pan comes out just as moist as classic British steamed pudding. Much like a tarte Tatin or upside-down cake, a thin layer of caramel at the bottom of the pan results in a beautiful top crust.

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½ ½ 3 3 2¼ 2 ¾ ½ 1

lb. butternut squash, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 3 cups) cups whole milk stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing cup granulated sugar delicata squash (1 lb.), washed, halved lengthwise and seeded, sliced ½ inch thick cup turbinado sugar cup grade B (dark) maple syrup large eggs Tbsp. apple cider cups all-purpose flour tsp. baking powder tsp. kosher salt tsp. ground ginger generous pinch ground nutmeg

1 In a medium (4-quart) Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, add the butternut squash and milk. Bring to a low simmer over medium-high heat, then continue to simmer until the squash is fully tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside. 2 Grease the bottom and sides of a large (10-inch) cast-iron skillet or hanging pot with butter. Set aside. 3 Drain the butternut squash and discard the milk. Transfer the squash to a medium bowl. Using a metal whisk, mash the squash until mostly smooth. Set aside. 4 Fill a measuring cup with 1½ cups water and set it next to the stove. In a 12-inch, heavy-bottomed skillet (not the prepared cast-iron skillet), combine the granulated sugar and ½ cup water. Cook over mediumhigh heat, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve, until the mixture is simmering and just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Immediately stir in ¼ cup water (mixture will bubble vigorously), then carefully add the delicata squash, arranging the pieces so they fit tightly in one layer (omit any pieces that don’t fit). Cook the squash in the caramel, adding ¼ cup more water each time the caramel becomes dry, until the squash is softened and lightly browned on one side, 8–10 minutes. Flip the pieces and continue cooking and adding water as needed, until the squash is tender (but not too soft) and well browned, and the caramel is thickened and bubbling slowly, 8–10 minutes more. 5 Pour the caramel and delicata squash into the prepared cast-iron pan, arranging the squash in a single layer. Set aside. 6 Prepare a fire in a hearth, fire pit, or woodburning oven. Alternatively, set a rack in the center of an indoor oven and preheat to 350°. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and turbinado sugar to incorporate. Beat in the maple syrup, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed, then beat in the eggs one by one. Mix in the cider and squash purée. 7 In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, and nutmeg. Fold the dry ingredients into the squash mixture. 8 Pour the batter over the squash in the cast-iron pan, then spread with a spatula to cover (be sure the batter reaches all the way to the edges of the pan). 9 Suspend a hanging pot over the fire, rest a skillet on the embers, or bake the pudding in the oven until the batter has risen and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 42–45 minutes. 10 Remove and transfer the pan to a wire rack; let cool 10 minutes. Place a large, flat serving plate atop the skillet and carefully invert. Let cool slightly, then serve. 41

CRAB APPLE LIQUEUR to be set on glowing embers to char and crisp. She helms the outdoor grill from 3 p.m. to midnight five nights a week and is always preoccupied, yet happy and utterly in her element, cooking up tender chicken legs and charcoaled eggplant. Most restaurant cooks only see the outdoors when they’re lugging garbage out the back door, so there’s a certain good fortune in spending the entirety of service cooking in the open air, surrounded by trees with the cool sky overhead. “We would like to think people want to work for us given our gentlemanly reputations or the quality of our food,” Dave says with a smirk, turning his attention to a puréed squash batter, which will be poured into a cast-iron pan and hung over the open fire. The result: an airy, sweet pudding-cake hybrid. “But I’m sure a lot of that has to do with allowing people the space to occasionally work alone in the outdoors.” The meal comes together before the sun has set, and we bring everything over to the benches by the trout pond. In between sips of crisp white wine and a cocktail made from homemade crab apple liqueur, we pull the steaming hot, tender meat from a duck with our fingers, each piece burnished with a sweet currant

“Mastering coals is a window into the beginning of it all, and always time well spent—whether it be summer or winter.” Right: Fred Morin (in tan cap) and Dave McMillan make an effort to keep their work as relevant outside the kitchen— they have plans for a small apple orchard near their restaurants—as it is inside.

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Active: 20 min. • Total: 1–2 months Goldschläger’s far subtler (but still gold-flecked) relative, this afterdinner sipper has sweetness, a cinnamon aroma, and an apple finish. Crab apples, which can be dropped in whole to steep, are ideal due to their low water content. “If you’re from somewhere warmer and your crab apples are not as tart,” says Morin, “add a splash of good cider vinegar at the end.” 2 1 4

lb. hard, fragrant crab apples, scrubbed clean cinnamon stick cups Everclear, or substitute high-proof vodka or rye whiskey

⅓ ⅓

cup maple syrup cup sugar Gold flake, crumbled (optional)

1 In a 4-quart jar or other tight-sealing container, add the apples and cinnamon. Cover with the alcohol and seal. 2 Store in a cool dark place for at least 1 month and up to 2 months. Then strain and reserve the liquid, discarding the apples. 3 In a small pot over medium heat, add the maple syrup, sugar, and ⅓ cup water; bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove and let cool completely. Add the syrup to the infused spirit, stirring to incorporate. Stir in some gold flake, if desired. 4 Using a funnel, transfer the liqueur to a clean glass bottle. Shake to distribute the gold flake before serving. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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UN-WINE A TAIL OF TWO COUNTRIES On this private luxury tour through the undiscovered wine regions of Argentina & Chile you’ll explore the Aconcagua Wine Valley, the Atacama Desert, and the Salta Wine Region. The adventure begins in Santiago with an exploration of the Aconcagua Valley, home to winemakers working in extremely difficult conditions to create their wine. Further north, the Atacama Desert is an adventure of a lifetime. Explore the driest desert on Earth, housing the Atacama salt flat, volcanoes, lagoons, hot springs, geysers and rolling sand dunes. Finish across the Andes visiting the wineries and vineyards of Salta & the Cafayate and the Torrontes vineyard. Accommodations include the uber-luxury hotels and lodges Explora Atacama and House of Jasmine Salta.

Exclusive to SAVEUR readers: Behind the scenes exclusive meeting with winemakers from Argentinean Northern Gastronomy & Wines, a courtesy appetizer for two served at La Table Terrace and a special tasting of local dishes (humitas, empanadas, tamales and regional recipes) and wines of Salta. *Subject to availability and seasonal rates. Booking deadline is April, 2017.

For more information, contact Michele Benigno, Worldview Travel

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glaze. Nearby, the crackling of the waning fire keeps us company. This notion of fire and feral cooking is very much Montreal, a place where the city meets the hills, both geographically and metaphorically. We can be in an off-grid cabin in less than 30 minutes. Ten minutes from Joe Beef is a First Nations reserve. We rub our hands together, taking our final sips of wine, as Dave muses, “We’ve worked in kitchens for 20 years plus. Hot confined rooms with white tiles, fluorescent lights, and stainless steel—it’s a little bit like being an inmate. Any opportunity to not work in that environment, even if it’s a frigid 30 degrees below zero? That’s a success.” n

Below: What’s cooler (and more dangerous) than basting and crisping a bird under your oven’s broiler? Finishing the skin with a spattering of flaming fat. Opposite page: In the last step of cooking, stuffed potatoes get a hefty dose of grated smoked cheddar.




Active: 2 hr. • Total: 2 hr. 40 min. These stuffed potatoes, which tenderize first in foil packets then crisp up in cast iron atop the coals (or in the oven), are packed with a mix of roasted chestnuts, bacon, and juicy whole clams. “Clams and potatoes are a match made in heaven,” says McMillan of the unusual, yet welcome addition of seafood to potatoes. “Just think about clam chowder.” 4 20 4 4 2 1 20 ¼ ¼


medium Yukon Gold potatoes (2½ lb.), scrubbed clean chestnuts Tbsp. unsalted butter slices (2 oz.) bacon, chopped shallots, minced (⅓ cup) garlic clove, minced (1 tsp.) littleneck clams cup heavy cream cup chives, minced Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste cup grated smoked cheddar (3¾ oz.)

1 In a fireplace or fire pit, build a fire; let the flames die down so only glowing embers remain. Alternatively, preheat an oven to 425°. 2 Prick the potatoes with a fork, then wrap individually in foil and place close to or just touching the coals, or on a baking sheet in the oven. Bake, rotating every 10–15 minutes using tongs, until the potatoes are tender but not completely soft,

about 50 minutes. Remove, open the foil, and set aside to cool slightly. 3 Meanwhile, set the butter out to soften. Using a paring knife, score the chestnuts on their flat sides with an X mark and place in a chestnut pan or ovenproof skillet. Nestle the pan atop the embers and cover to roast the chestnuts, or transfer the pan uncovered to the oven. Roast until tender, about 25 minutes. Remove and set aside. When cool enough to handle, peel, then crumble or chop the chestnuts into a large bowl. 4 Halve the potatoes lengthwise, then scoop out the flesh into the bowl with the chestnuts, leaving a ¼-inch-thick border of flesh remaining on the skins; reserve the flesh and skins. 5 In a medium Dutch oven or heavybottomed pot over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until crispy, about 6 minutes. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, 2 minutes more. Add the garlic, clams, and cream. Cover and cook until the clams open, about 20 minutes. Discard any that do not open. 6 Pick the clams from their shells and add to the potato-chestnut mixture. Pour the cream sauce into the mixture, then stir in the chives and remaining 2 tablespoons softened butter. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. 7 Divide the mixture between the potato skins, and place the skins on a baking sheet. If the potato flesh is not completely creamy, bake for 15–20 minutes. Once fully tender, cover potatoes with the smoked cheddar and bake until the cheese is bubbling, 5–10 minutes. 45


The wild, futuristic architecture of Baku, Azerbaijan—seen here at Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center—is just one reason why this city is ripe for exploration.

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The capital city of Azerbaijan is home to a fantastical rising skyline, rose-scented markets, and the world’s last great undiscovered cuisine FOLIO FOLIO

BY ANYA VON BREMZEN Photographs by Jason Lang



ehriban Kazimova, the 69-year-old mother of my Baku friend Zulya, is sticking long iron nails of the hardware variety into a pomegranate the size of a baby’s head. She then lowers her spiky work into a pot bubbling with a slurry of ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Then she heats a horseshoe over a burner. A horseshoe. Grabbing oven mitts, she screams an incantation in Azeri and drops the red-hot horseshoe—splosh! clunk!—into the pot, leaving the whole fairy-tale brew to simmer just short of forever, until it’s time to strain out the metal. And that, dear comrades, is how you concoct fisinjan, the Azeri version of a chicken, pomegranate, and walnut stew of Persian origin that hereabouts comes black as the blackest Oaxacan moles and just as layered and rich. “Screaming scares the stew into blackening,” Mehriban explains matterof-factly. And if it doesn’t do the job, why, oxidation from the horseshoe and nails will. Welcome to Azerbaijan, a onetime Soviet republic, where you’ll dine on fisinjan and other saucy (though un-nailed)

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stews called khurush, along with ethereal pilafs bejeweled with dried fruits, nuts, and barberries. Where the table is always laden with lavish sprays of whole opal basil and tarragon. Where you’ll wrap briny village cheeses in flatbreads, dab tart homemade yogurt on fluffy omelettes called kükü, and savor lamb so flavorful it doesn’t need salt. Then, over quince compote (or vodka), you’ll gossip (surely) about another Mehriban—Mehriban Aliyeva, the current first lady of Azerbaijan, who looks like Gina Lollobrigida and loves launching eye-popping new cultural projects. The tarragon, the saffron-stained rices, the sexy accents of unripe plums and verjus, the gigantic stuffed meatballs bobbing in broth—they are one reason my boyfriend, Barry, and I have returned for the second time in a year to Baku, the windy capital of this Caspian country of close to 10 million people wedged in between Iran and Russia in the easternmost corner of Europe. This most fascinating of places has a Turkic language, heavy Russian cultural baggage from its years attached to czarist and then Soviet empires—and the world’s last great undiscovered cuisine, mostly indebted to sophisticated Persian palace cooking but with enticing inflections of Georgia, Russia, and Ottoman Turkey. As a former Muscovite born in the USSR, I’ve brought my

Clockwise from top: An egg dish with eggplant, walnuts, and barberries (see page 57 for recipe); Zulya Kazimova shopping at Yaşıl Bazar; riding horseback on a public beach; Maiden Tower, built in the 12th century, in Baku’s Old Town. Opposite page: Dinner at Mehriban Kazimova’s dacha near Baku.



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own family baggage to Baku. During World War II, my grandfather Naum, then a dashing Soviet intelligence chief, was stationed here to help prepare for the Tehran Conference— the first meeting of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, held south across the Caspian Sea. His family, including my 7-yearold mother, joined him here. Mom still describes Baku as an Orientalist mirage amid the devastation and hunger of wartime. Fishing in the Caspian was Naum’s spy cover. His aides, she recalls, would haul in a sturgeon the size of a sailor, split open its stomach, and scoop out the caviar. To this day, she can’t look at fish eggs without feeling guilt at her family’s luck while the rest of our ravaged country was starving. Equally vividly, my mother remembers Baku’s stench of petroleum. Oil. It was why Hitler veered calamitously toward Baku, but his Luftwaffe held off bombing. The Führer wanted the city’s vast energy reserves intact. Since ancient days, oil and natural gas have fueled the unexpiring flames of Azerbaijan’s Zoroastrian cults, and now they underwrite post-Soviet Baku’s futuristic high-rises, malls, and Dubaiworthy starchitect showstoppers—while the city’s ornate fin de siècle facades testify to the late 19th-century heyday when Azerbaijan pumped half the world’s crude and local peasants turned overnight into oil barons. On my previous trip here I’d ogled the fantastical architecture, toured a Zoroastrian fire temple, and filled a plastic bottle, amazed, from black oil pools oozing in the arid moonscape outside Baku. And then I met Zulya, cousin of an Azeri friend in New York and such a fiercely formidable cook that the trip turned into my own Ottolenghi-esque mirage of charred eggplants, yogurt swirls, and dried rose blossoms. So now I’m back, to pry out Zulya’s and her mom’s kitchen secrets. In between dolmas and pickles and syrup-drenched sweets, I’ll try to untangle Baku’s complicated cultural layers.


ehriban, Zulya’s mother, lives between Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana boutiques in a graceful 19th-century quarter—not the kind of hood, you’d think, where folks ritually scream at their pots. Entering her building, Barry noted the tomato-red Maserati parked across the street outside Z-style, a chic takeout food shop Zulya owns with her husband, Rufat. Mehriban belongs to a caste of old Soviet-educated elites. A former engineer, she’s married to Azerbaijan’s retired traffic-police chief. I prod her now about the horseshoe in the simmering fisinjan stew. She shrugs. “It’s how they do it in Lankaran,” she informs me, “my birth city of amazing cooks down on the Iranian border.” Soviet times, though, were very different,

Mehriban Kazimova is a skilled home cook who doesn’t shy away from old Azeri cooking techniques—like yelling at her stews to help them color.

annotates Zulya. “Then Mom mostly cooked borscht and stroganoff. My parents vacationed in Moscow.” But the folkloric foodways held fast in Azeri DNA—and I’m now primed for Mehriban’s plov, or pilaf. Anyone familiar with Iranian cooking will recognize the basic pilaf technique: Dump aromatic basmati rice in a huge pot of water. Drain when half done. Steam again long and slow under a towel-swaddled lid until each grain is as eloquent as an Omar Khayyam quatrain. Most crucially, line the pot with lavash or a layer of rice mixed with butter and yogurt to create that addictively crunchy bottom crust called kazmag (tahdig to Iranians). “In Azerbaijan we have perhaps 200 plovs,” proclaims Mehriban. “I know at least 50.” For now, she’s showing off the borani pilaf, steamed with pumpkin cubes drizzled with sweet condensed milk and eaten with smoked kutum, a Caspian whitefish. The funky contrast of sweet pumpkin, buttery rice, and salty shreds of kutum is reason enough to fly to Baku. Ditto the stuffed cabbage Zulya supplies, not the leaden Slavic variety but delicate pouches elegantly filled with meat, dried fruit, chestnuts, and herbs. As I watch Mehriban reach for enormous jars of preserves— white cherries, rose petals, and feijoa, the intoxicatingly fragrant pineapple guava—to accompany our sage tea, I try to unpack the Azeri obsession with preserves and compotes: Ottoman influence or Soviet-era fixation with putting up everything dictated by shortages? Mehriban’s household is its own cultural mash-up. Turkish soap operas blare on her Azeri-channeled TV, while beyond a flimsy partition, her husband, the ex-traffic-police chief, watches old Soviet films on his own TV.   The next morning Barry and I survey Baku’s architectural mix from our 18th-floor window at the Marriott Absheron, our glossy high-rise hotel near the Bay of Baku. The Government House, a Soviet-Gothic relic of Stalinist gigantomania, hulks right below. In the distance, the Flame Towers, a trio of wavy 2012 glass-and-steel skyscrapers, loom like friendly earthworm monsters from a Miyazaki film. Closer, Beaux-Arts oil-boom mansions line Baku Bulvar, the leafy promenade running along the crescent-shaped Caspian waterside. Just inland, the UNESCO-protected walled medieval Persian Old City has been pristinely restored, a stage set of honeyedsandstone hammams, caravansaries, and carpet shops. Its highlight is the squat Maiden Tower, a marvel of 12th-century brickwork that looks uncannily art deco. Then again, not even an architect could tell which layer is which, because recently the whole city center has been sandblasted, refaced, and melodramatically lit to resemble Haussmann’s Paris—by way of Vegas—at the whim of first


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lady Mehriban, a 24-karat Francophile. And yet Baku isn’t an artificial desert folly like Dubai. The history behind its faux-French facades is real and resonant. Zulya now swings by in her praline-colored Mercedes to whisk us to Yaşıl Bazar, her favorite market. Tanned, coiffed, and sporting torn skinny jeans over Gucci wedges—a vision of Baku by way of Beverly Hills—Zulya had never planned to become the city’s premiere food diva. She trained as a concert pianist. But as a teenager, she says, she was more seduced by the frilly Soviet tortes baked by Valya, their Russian neighbor, than by sonatas and nocturnes. She begged Valya for recipes, surprised her parents with perfect éclairs, pestered Mehriban to recall old Lankaran dishes. In 2000, on a whim, she opened Z-style in her father’s former garage space. “On opening day I stood mortified,” she recalls. “Customers swiped every last piroshki from my lovingly arranged display!” That night an earthquake shook Baku— but the next day Z-style was even more mobbed. Now with five Z-style shops, a thriving catering business, and a new Caspian-side restaurant about to open, Zulya aspires to be Baku’s Ottolenghi (her hero).

Like everything in Baku, the Yaşıl market is extremely clean, more boutique than souk. Black and white mulberries are arranged in precise checkerboard patterns; pretty baskets overflow with fava beans and thin wild asparagus. In a spice row Zulya sifts bejeweled fingers through artful pyramids of plump, tart zirinc (dried barberries) and sumac in every shade of purple and burgundy. “What decadence!” she gasps in the preserves and pickles shop, where for one jam they stuff each yellow cherry with walnuts. Farther on a lady is selling fig vinegar, abgora (verjus), homemade rose water, and narsharab (pomegranate molasses) under a portrait of Lenin. At each stall Zulya schools me in Azerbaijan’s fruity-tart-herbaceous seasonings. “These flavor levenghi, the walnut paste for stuffing chicken or fish,” she says of the sundried fruit leathers that shine like sheets of edible fabric in flavors such as cornelian cherry. These plums? Puckery green alycha brings zing to herbed stews; amber dried albukhara commingles with chestnuts in a khurush called turshu govurma, or fills giant soup meatballs that Zulya plans to prepare. We stop at the verdant sabzi (greens) counters loaded with some 20 species of herbs. “Herbs are essential to our Azeri table, as palate teasers by themselves,” says Zulya, “and as elements in our dishes.”

Below: Sweet walnutcardamom cookies (see page 57 for recipe). Opposite page: Driving on the beach near Baku (top); a re-creation of the original 13th-century Bibi-Heybat Mosque, destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1936.

Here’s tarragon for chopping into dovga, a refreshing cold yogurt soup, and kever (garlic chives) and cilantro for a green stew called sabzi govurma. “Ours is the world’s greenest cuisine!” Zulya declares. A strange thought, given that Baku sits on a diabolically parched, dusty peninsula. After the market comes a quickstep food crawl: some gutabi to start, floppy filled flatbreads singed on convex griddles inside the Old City; then a whole Caspian fish, crisp-fried then braised in a luscious sour plum sauce at a waterside fish restaurant on the southern edge of town; then a pastry high at Zulya’s nearby catering kitchen—where smiling white-coated dames brush syrup over 14 layers of pakhlava, stencil elaborate herringbone patterns on pastries called shekerbura, and shape mutaki (dainty sweet rolls) around cardamomscented walnuts.


eading back, we stop at the Bibi-Heybat Mosque, perched above a hauntingly uglybeautiful graveyard of rusting old oil derricks and tankers. The mosque is a venerated 13thcentury shrine that was destroyed by Soviet atheists in 1936, then resurrected with showy sleekness in the ’90s with the blessing of Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s monumental ruler, now dead and succeeded by Ilham, his (less monumental) son. Azerbaijan is a paradox: a predominantly Shiite country whose citizens love Russian vodka. Another paradox: Heydar Aliyev, who was an atheist, communist KGB chief before he started blessing mosques. In Baku, Aliyev père is immortalized not by a somber stone mausoleum but by a swooping, quasi-extraterrestrial fantasia of white curves that, from some angles, resembles whipped cream piped in from the cosmos. I mean the Heydar Aliyev Center, one of Zaha Hadid’s most breathtaking buildings. Here in this white apparition conjured by power and petro-fortune, we behold Heydar Aliyev’s vintage cars, Heydar Aliyev’s many medals, Heydar Aliyev’s manifold gifts from other world leaders. (Putin gave a macho rifle; Romania’s president, an old-ladyish tea set.) There’s some space for international art exhibitions, too, and a pretty swell ethnographic museum. “At least someone’s willing to spend a country’s billions for global cachet,” Barry quips the next day, as Zulya’s husband, Rufat, threads sweet nuggets of sheep’s tail fat onto skewers. We’re gathered at Mehriban’s dacha, a short drive east of Baku, for a multigenerational family feast to celebrate Azerbaijan’s Independence Day. By late afternoon,


Below: Chicken pilaf in a crispy lavash crust (see page 58 for recipe). Opposite page: An array of Azeri sweets, including a starburst of almond-cardamom pakhlava (recipe at right).

Mehriban’s airy bourgeois kitchen is a green, aromatic blur of parsley and chives sautéed for the sabzi govurma, of dill bouquets snipped for the herbaceous pahla plov, a delicate pilaf studded with fava beans. Eggplant whirs in the food processor for the baked kükü omelette textured seductively with walnuts and barberries. Mehriban is stuffing softball-size meat orbs with dried fruit. These will be floated in saffron broth with chickpeas and chestnuts in küfta bozbash, a soup garnished with a zesty flourish of sumac-dusted onions. Because one pilaf is never enough, Zulya now brings her celebratory rice tour de force out of the oven. It’s called khan (also shah or something else royal) plov, and it’s rice baked inside a golden lavash pastry case bathed with a truly indecent amount of butter. Whoosh! Zulya inverts the royal pilaf onto a platter. Crunch! She slices open its casing. And a fragrant cargo of saffron rice, barberries, candied lemon peel, dried fruit, chicken, and nuts—Zulya’s modernized take on the classic—cascades out of the pastry. Toasts ascend to the sky. I marvel at the bright bowls of trompe l’oeil cherries and grapes decorating the table; they look fresh but are actually pickled. As a Muscovite with homes in New York and Istanbul, I feel as if all my life I’ve belonged at this generous Turco-Russian-Persian table. Rufat refills our glasses with vodka. I think of the complicated Soviet past we all share, of my small mom finding a brief wartime paradise in Baku, of the natural resources and geopolitical forces that have separated our former “fraternity” of Soviet republics into the haves and have-nots…of all the Azeri dishes I still haven’t savored. Zulya taps my shoulder, as if reading my mind. “Anya… Anyechka,” she cajoles. “Next time you come to Baku, we’ll make you a whole huge Caspian fish stuffed with walnuts!” n

Almond-Cardamom Pakhlava SERVES 24; Photo at right

Active: 50 min. • Total: 1 hr. 20 min. (plus overnight cooling) At Zulya Kazimova’s bakery in Baku, pakhlava—the Azeri version of baklava, which she cuts into a diamond shape— is made using 14 layers of a dense yeasted dough rolled out so thinly and painstakingly that it becomes translucent. For home cooks, prepared phyllo dough produces a wonderfully crisp, lighter, and flakier version. To defrost frozen phyllo quickly, set it in a microwave (still wrapped in its plastic packaging) on the defrost setting for about 30 seconds, then rotate the package and repeat. For the syrup: 2 cups sugar ½ tsp. saffron For the filling and dough: 2¼ cups whole almonds, plus more whole or blanched almonds for decorating 1 Tbsp. plus ½ tsp. whole cardamom pods 1¼ cups sugar 1 cup melted clarified butter One 16-oz. box phyllo dough, thawed overnight in the fridge, sheets cut in half to fit a 9x13-inch baking dish

1 Make the syrup: In a medium saucepan, add the sugar, saffron, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove and let cool. (Syrup can be made 1 day ahead and stored, covered, at room temperature. Skim away any crystals that form.) 2 Make the filling: In a food processor, pulse the almonds and cardamom until finely ground. Add the sugar and pulse a few times to incorporate evenly. 3 Preheat the oven to 375° and set a rack at its center. Meanwhile, brush a 9x13-inch glass baking dish with some of the melted butter. Place a sheet of dough in the bottom of the dish. Brush the top with melted butter. Repeat 7 times to yield 8 buttered layers. Sprinkle the buttered dough with a third of the prepared almond filling, distributing it evenly. Add another 4 sheets of dough, brushing each with melted butter, then cover the top with half of the remaining filling. Repeat with 4 more sheets of dough, more melted butter, and the remaining filling. Finally, add 8 sheets of dough, brushing each with melted butter. (You will have some leftover dough; freeze and store for another use.) Using a sharp knife and leaving a ½-inch solid border around the sides of the pan, slice the dough lengthwise into four 1½-inch-thick columns. Then make diagonal cuts every 1½ inches across the columns to create a pattern of diamond shapes. Brush the top layer generously with melted butter, and top each diamond of dough with a blanched or whole almond. Transfer to the oven and bake 30 minutes. 4 Remove the baking dish from the oven and reduce the heat to 300°. Brush with more melted butter. Bake again until lightly golden, 30–35 minutes more. 5 Remove the dish from the oven. If needed, using a sharp knife, cut along the creases again, then pour 2 cups of the saffron syrup evenly over the pahklava (it will sizzle dramatically). Let cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the baking dish overnight before serving.

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Küfta Bozbash (Stuffed Meatballs and Chestnuts in Saffron Broth) SERVES 6

Active: 1 hr. • Total: 2 hr. 30 min. (plus chilling time) Made with a simple broth steeped with saffron and fresh mint, this traditional Azeri soup has delicate flavors. Chickpeas, chestnuts, and tender lamb-and-rice meatballs filled with dried fruit give it heartiness, and garnishes of radishes, scallions, and red onion add texture and crunch. For the meatball filling: ¼ cup golden raisins 6 dried apricots 5 pitted prunes 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter 1 small white onion, chopped (1 cup) ⅓ tsp. ground cinnamon ⅓ tsp. ground turmeric Juice of ½ lemon Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper For the meatballs and soup: 1 lb. ground beef or lamb 1 medium white onion, grated (¾ cup) 2 Tbsp. short-grain rice Salt Freshly ground black pepper 1 pinch crumbled saffron steeped in ⅔ cup hot water 8 cups beef, chicken, or lamb broth 20 peeled cooked chestnuts One 16-oz. can chickpeas, drained 6 sprigs mint, tied in a bundle Dried mint, for garnish Minced or thinly sliced red onion, for garnish Thinly sliced radishes, for garnish Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish

1 Make the filling: Add the dried fruit to a heatproof bowl and cover with hot water; let rest until plump and softened, about 20 minutes, then drain. 2 In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Once foamy, add the onion, cinnamon, turmeric, drained fruit, lemon juice, and 1¼ cups water; season with salt and stir well. Bring to a low simmer, then cook until the onion and fruit are very soft and almost falling apart, about 40 minutes. Mash the mixture with

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Küfta Bozbash

the tip of a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste and let cool. (Can be done up to 2 days ahead; cover and refrigerate until ready to proceed.) 3 Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, onion, and rice; season generously with salt and pepper and stir vigorously to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours or up to overnight. 4 Set a bowl of very cold, salted water next to a workstation. Retrieve the meatball mixture and form into six 2½-inch balls, dipping hands into the salted water to help shape and smooth them. Form a 1-inch indentation in each, then fill with 2 teaspoons of the prepared filling. Cover the filling with the meat and smooth the meatballs into neat spheres again with wet hands. 5 In a medium (8-inch) pot, bring 5 cups water to a simmer. Gently add the meatballs to the pot and simmer until the meat and rice are cooked, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and skim the cooking liquid.

6 Meanwhile, in a medium (10-inch) pot, combine the saffron liquid and the beef broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the chestnuts and chickpeas and bring to a simmer; partially cover the pot and cook until broth is fragrant and chestnuts are tender, 15–20 minutes. Add the mint bundle, then cook 10 minutes more. Remove the mint. Transfer the meatballs to the broth (discard the meatball cooking liquid) and simmer for 5 minutes more. 7 Divide the meatballs and broth between 6 bowls, being sure to distribute the chestnuts and chickpeas evenly. Garnish with dried mint. Serve with the red onion, radishes, and scallions for topping.

Sabzi Govurma (Herbed Lamb Stew) SERVES 6; Photo pg. 57

Active: 35 min. • Total: 2 hr. 5 min. Garlic chives, which taste similar to scallions but with a faintly spicy raw garlic flavor, are common in Azeri stews. In this one, the butter-stewed

greens feature as prominently as the lamb, if not more so. A bit of verjus (unripened grape juice) or lemon juice brings lift and acidity to the stew’s deep flavors. 2¼

1 1 1 4


3 ⅓

lb. trimmed boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes Salt large yellow onion, halved pinch saffron (6–8 strands) stick plus 2 Tbsp. (5 oz.) unsalted butter, divided large bunches (1½ lb.) garlic chives (aka Chinese chives) or scallions, washed, dried, and cut into 1-inch pieces (12 cups) large bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped (2 cups) Freshly ground black pepper Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon leaves cup plus 2 Tbsp. verjus or lemon juice Rice pilaf, for serving

1 Season the lamb all over with salt. In a medium pot, add the lamb, onion, and enough cold water to just cover (5–6 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cook, skimming the broth as needed, until the lamb is tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove the lamb with a slotted spoon. Pour out all but 1½ cups of the broth in the pot (save the remainder for another use if desired), and stir in the saffron. Turn off the heat. 2 In a large skillet over high heat, melt 1 stick butter. Once vigorously foaming, add the garlic chives and parsley

and season generously with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until wilted and slightly darkened, 4–5 minutes. Transfer the greens and their juices to a large bowl and carefully wipe out the pot. Add the remaining butter and melt over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 4–5 minutes; season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the saffron-broth mixture, cooked greens, and tarragon. Stir in ⅓ cup of the verjus. Bring the stew to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. 3 Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining verjus. Serve with rice pilaf.

Badimjan Kükü (Eggplant and Walnut Frittata) SERVES 8; Photo pg. 49

Active: 20 min. • Total: 1 hr. This hearty Azeri egg dish—which can be served in small pieces as an appetizer or side, or cut into larger wedges as a main—is loaded with ground walnuts, onions, and eggplant, giving it a nutty, meaty consistency and color. Dried barberries, with their slightly sour tang, and fresh, cool pomegranate seeds add delicious, colorful contrast. 1¾ 1 2 1

Sabzi Govurma

cups walnuts, plus 1 Tbsp. chopped walnuts for garnish large eggplant (about 1 lb.), peeled and coarsely chopped medium red onions (1 lb.), coarsely chopped heaping tsp. freshly ground

¾ 6 ½

black pepper tsp. kosher salt large eggs, beaten cup dried red Persian barberries, pomegranate seeds, or a mix, plus more for garnish Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 Set a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat to 375°. In a large food processor, add 1¾ cups walnuts and pulse until small crumbs form. Remove and set aside. To the bowl of the food processor, add the eggplant and onion. Process until finely minced but not yet porridgelike. 2 Transfer the eggplant mixture to a fine strainer and place in the sink or over a large bowl. Top with a small plate, pressing down firmly to extract as much liquid as possible from the mixture; let rest 10 minutes, then press down firmly again. 3 Move the mixture to a large bowl and season with pepper and salt. Stir in the eggs, ground walnuts, and barberries. 4 In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Once it's bubbling, add the egg mixture, stirring briefly to coat some of it in butter. Spread the egg mixture into an even layer using a spatula and allow it to cook until the center is steaming and the edges are lightly bubbling, 2–3 minutes. Transfer to the oven and bake until the top is golden and the eggs are set all the way through, about 30 minutes. 5 Remove from the oven and let cool 2–3 minutes. Slide the kükü onto a large platter, using a rubber spatula as needed to help gently dislodge it from the pan. Let cool slightly. Garnish with the chopped walnuts and more barberries or pomegranate seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature, sliced into wedges.

Mutaki (Sweet WalnutCardamom Cookies) MAKES 32; Photo pg. 53

Active: 45 min. • Total: 3 hr. 15 min. (plus cooling) These raisin-and-nut-filled cookies bear similarities to rugelach, but the dough is finer, crumblier, and shortbreadlike. They are great right out of the oven, but even better the next day. For the most intense, perfumy spice, use freshly ground cardamom.


For the dough: 1½ cups plus 1 Tbsp. sifted allpurpose flour, plus more for dusting ¼ tsp. baking soda ¼ tsp. kosher salt ½ stick (4 Tbsp.) cold unsalted butter, chopped into ½-inch pieces ¼ cup sour cream 1½ tsp. vodka, or substitute ice water ¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract

cookies. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

For filling and baking: 1¼ cups walnut pieces ½ cup sugar ½ cup (1 oz.) golden raisins, chopped ½ tsp. ground cardamom ¼ tsp. kosher salt ¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract 2 large eggs, whites and yolks separated Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Khan Plov (Chicken Pilaf in a Lavash Crust)

1 Make the dough: In the bowl of a food processor, add ¾ cup flour, baking soda, and salt; pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse until only fine crumbs remain. Add the sour cream, vodka, vanilla, and the remaining ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon flour; pulse just until a dough starts to form. Transfer to a clean work surface, knead into a ball, then slice into 2 equal pieces. Form each into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours. 2 Make the filling: In the clean bowl of a food processor, add the walnuts and pulse into small crumbs the consistency of coarse gravel. Transfer to a medium bowl and add the sugar, raisins, cardamom, salt, vanilla, and egg whites; stir to combine. 3 When the dough is ready, preheat oven to 375°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the balls of dough to a lightly floured work surface; using a rolling pin, roll each into a very thin circle about 15 inches in diameter. Cut each round into 16 equal wedges (if dough is difficult to cut, rechill for 10 minutes). 4 Place 1 teaspoon of filling on the wide end of each wedge and spread evenly over the wedge, leaving about ¼ inch bare around the border. Roll up the dough croissant-style to cover the filling. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between

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5 Add 1 teaspoon water to the egg yolks and beat to combine. Brush the cookies with the egg wash and bake until golden and set, about 20 minutes. 6 Remove the cookies and transfer to a rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

SERVES 8; Photo pg. 54

Active: 1 hr. 20 min. • Total: 2 hr. 20 min. Like many rice pilafs from the region, this one is spattered with saffroninfused water to create patches of fragrant yellow rice. The whole pilaf is wrapped in butter-saturated lavash to create a crispy, golden-brown casing that’s cracker thin. Any shape of lavash will work—just trim the pieces as needed into strips, rectangles, or ovals to fit the pot. 2

¾ ½ 1 2 2 4 1 2

1 1

lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper cup (2½ oz.) slivered almonds cup (2½ oz.) shelled raw pistachios generous pinch saffron (10–15 strands) cups good-quality white basmati rice sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, melted large garlic cloves, thinly sliced medium yellow onion, chopped cups (1 lb.) mixed dried fruit, such as golden raisins, apricots, pitted prunes, and sour cherries, finely chopped cup finely chopped candied lemon or orange (from about 3 slices) tsp. black caraway (nigella) seeds lb. lavash (large pieces)

1 Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. In a medium pot of simmering water, carefully add the chicken and poach until slightly undercooked, about 8 minutes. Remove using tongs and let rest until cool enough to handle; tear or cut into small pieces. (Reserve the broth for another use if desired.)

2 Meanwhile, heat a large heavybottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the pistachios and almonds and cook, tossing the pan or stirring occasionally, until toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; set aside. 3 Combine the saffron and ¾ cup hot water in a small bowl or pot; set aside. 4 Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Season with 3 tablespoons kosher salt and add the rice. Cook until al dente, about 15 minutes; drain. Season the rice with more salt to taste and stir with two forks. 5 Meanwhile, in a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons of the melted butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted, 1–2 minutes. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the chicken and ¼ cup of the saffron water and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, 3 minutes more. 6 Combine the chicken mixture with the rice. Stir in the remaining saffron water, the dried fruit, candied lemon, and black caraway seeds. Set aside. 7 Preheat the oven to 375°. Brush the bottom and sides of a 12-inch Dutch oven or another squat, ovenproof pot generously with melted butter. 8 Working one piece at a time, lay the lavash across a baking sheet, then brush one side very generously with melted butter. Drape the lavash into the prepared pot with the buttered side facing the pot and one end of the lavash touching the center of the pot (the rest should reach up the sides with 2–3 inches of overhang around the outside rim). Brush the exposed side of the lavash generously with melted butter. Repeat with more lavash, overlapping the pieces slightly, until the whole pot is covered and all the lavash is buttered on both sides. 9 Add the rice mixture to the center of the lavash, then cover the rice with the overhang, trimming any extra. Place a final piece of butter-coated lavash over the top if any rice shows through. Cover the pot and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until the top is crispy and golden, about 10 minutes more. 10 Remove the pot. Place a large serving plate over the opening and carefully but quickly invert the pot to remove the lavash-covered pilaf. Let stand 10 minutes. Cut off the top and serve.

the perfect catch.

Meet your pusherman, Paul Murray, the American tea dealer behind White2Tea, which hawks boutique blends—and strong highs— to Western tea obsessives.

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T 4,000 FEET, the paved part of the road stops. It’s fall, the rainy

season in Yunnan, so the dirt trail that follows is more quicksand than pathway. Deep rivulets formed by rain creep along the 40-degree incline; get your leg caught in one and you’re liable to break an ankle on the fall. • Short of an army Jeep, nothing on four wheels will make it up quicksand hill, so we leave our truck in the village and hop on the

� P H O T O G R A P H S B Y PA L A N I M O H A N


backs of motorbikes driven by locals who’ve agreed to take us the rest of the way. The ascent is slow, the driver kicking at boulders and bushes with his flip-flopped feet to keep us upright. Me, I’m just hanging on for dear life, leaning hard into the mountain and this stranger’s hips because if I slump back, the bike’s engine stalls. There’s no guardrail in sight, and the uninterrupted view leaves me dumbstruck with its primeval beauty. Mist cloaks the mountains sprawled across the horizon; up close, all you see is reedy bamboo, gnarled trees, gemlike wildflowers, and a near total absence of human settlement. Left to its own devices, Xishuangbanna Prefecture in southern Yunnan is jungle territory, and the sheer biodiversity here is awesome in the classical sense of the word. At 5,500 feet, the road part of the road ends altogether. We walk, single file, along a trail I can just make out by following the footsteps of Paul Murray, the American tea dealer. The villager in the lead unhooks a machete from a bungee cord belt to hack his way through the bamboo overgrowth. A few slips, falls, and dead branches conking on heads later, we finally reach a clearing. Close your eyes and imagine what Eden looked like. Got it? Here it is: a grove of knobbly, ancient trees dotted with fragrant pure-white blossoms. Dragonflies the width of my palm race through the air over sun-dappled banana leaves as wide and floppy as green blankets. “Here,” says Paul, plucking a bud off the end of a tree. “Try this.” The taste is bitter and untamed—electrifying. This is naturally grown, high-altitude, old-arbor pu-erh. The Helen of Troy of teas that’s become synonymous with luxury and power but is only grown in this remote and moun-

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tainous corner of China. The precise location of which I’ve been sworn to secrecy about because Paul doesn’t want anyone to know where he procures the really good stuff for White2Tea, his online company. If you’re hardcore about pu-erh, soon enough you’ll hear about Paul. To some he’s an enigmatic ambassador for a community of Western tea enthusiasts that trade brews and bravura in chat rooms and forums. To others he’s a recalcitrant asshole who refuses to release enough details about his products and charges too much for them. In the world of pu-erh, such lacunae are more common than you’d think. Because while tea has drinkers, pu-erh has addicts. And here, in this magical grove on a mountain in Yunnan I’m not allowed to name, is a taste of the lengths those addicts will go to get their fix. On the southwestern border along Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar, Yunnan Province is not what you think of when you think of China. Culture and food blend seamlessly into the nations of Southeast Asia. The Hani and Lahu people, two of the 20-plus ethnic minorities that have called the mountains home for thousands of years, could pass for Burmese or Tibetan. Much of the architecture looks Thai. The food For centuries, puerh, pronounced wouldn’t be out of place in Hanoi. poo-err or poo-ahr For all the wealth China has (and also spelled accumulated over the years, Yunpuer or pu’er) has been pressed into nan has seen little of it. For decades dense cakes (above) that’s meant relatively modest for easy transport; urban expansion outside the cappressing also helps ital city of Kunming and crushing the aging process.

poverty in some rural areas where mining or cash crops of tobacco, rubber, bananas, and sugarcane can’t pay the bills. Tea has been in Yunnan forever, but it’s only in the past couple of decades that anyone’s wanted to pay anything for it. Scholars suspect Camellia sinensis—the bush all tea comes from—first originated in what’s now Yunnan over to modern-day Assam in eastern India. And for hundreds of years growing, selling, and drinking pu-erh has been a daily staple of Yunnan life—a cheap local product pressed into dense bricks for portability, wrapped in bamboo, and laden high onto the backs of mules and men to be traded along caravan routes to equally poor places. Hardly the stuff refined elites even wanted, let alone lusted after. Then something happened. Starting in the late 1990s, tea farmers noticed an influx of well-to-do buyers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou, willing to trek all the way to the mountains and pay unheard-of amounts for their pu-erh. In the mid ’80s, pu-erh sold for pennies a kilo. By 2006 prices had climbed high into the hundreds of dollars. Seemingly out of nowhere, this regional bittersweet brew became an object of Chinese national obsession, a modern luxury with a cult following and a horde of investors thirsty to cash in on a gold rush. Faraway speculators paid top dollar for production lots they never bothered to taste. Crafty smugglers schlepped tea to famous mountains so they could sell it for higher prices. And forgers started blatantly copying successful brands’ packaging to dupe unsuspecting consumers. The bubble burst in 2007, sending a rampant futures market spiraling downward out of control. Now prices are climbing again with no sign of falling. Pu-erh’s rise has turned many of Yunnan’s farmers and merchants into overnight millionaires. It draws tourists not just to the tea mountains, but to the entire province, and it’s helped spur a new era of development in tea-trading urban centers. Beyond Yunnan’s borders, pu-erh is a shibboleth of sophistication, a battlefield on which self-styled masters come to blows over tiny details of cultivation, terroir, and storage. But here in the mountains, for people long used to picking, processing, and selling the tea for pennies, its unlikely success is simply a green miracle.



duction today,” Paul says as we clamber over ferns and errant roots. We’re joined by Dabu, whose family has owned the land for 200 years. By Dabu and Paul’s estimates, many of the tea trees are well over a century old. Dabu sports faded green highlights beneath a traditional pink Hani headscarf, and her pin-striped blouse and dark blue jumper would look at home on the streets of Shibuya or Soho. She comes from a family of tea farmers, but at the age of 23 she’s branched out in new directions, launching successful businesses selling honey, sugar, and modern variations on traditional Hani clothing. “I used to be afraid of this place when I was younger,” she says of their secret grove reachable only by treacherous hike. “But now it brings me to tears, it’s so beautiful.” On a standard tea plantation, row after row of verdant bushes sweep over hillsides with geometric precision. It makes for great photos but not necessarily great tea. Tea

planted as a dense monoculture saps soil fast, and the shallow root systems of young bushes can’t drink up the deeper layers of nutrients that older trees can access. Here the trees have room to breathe, to grow into hulking sinister things, their bark crusted over by lichen, their roots entrenched in the earth. Smaller plants sprout up between the trees, adding critical layers of biodiversity lacking on plantations. “It’s not just about the age of the trees,” Paul says. “It’s the whole environment, that nothing’s been interfered with.” All this wildness produces a tea with more energy and intensity than the plantation stuff, though at the cost of a much lower yield and a much higher price. But Paul doesn’t care. “I tell Dabu’s family, ‘It doesn’t matter what it costs me. Just keep selling your tea to me, not other people.’ Finding this place has taken years of searching and building relationships, and I don’t want anyone to know where it is.” It’s time to head back to the home of Dabu’s aunt and uncle below. By now they’re processing the day’s haul of leaves and we don’t want to miss it. On the way down the mountain we pass two women hoisting massive bamboo baskets on their backs. They’re on their way up to pick leaves from a nearby grove, then take them back to the village where the tea will be wok-fired, rolled, and dried, then sold either on-site to itinerant merchants like Paul or at larger markets. We saw these women before,


casually ambling down the mountain on foot while we struggled our way up by bike. Two hauls a day are typical for them, one of them tells us after taking a deep drag on her pipe. Dabu’s aunt Er Lu grabs a load of fresh leaves and uses her hands to toss them in a massive wood-fired wok. The tea sizzles and sputters, giving off aromas of wilted greens, caramel, and incense. “She’s cooking the leaves for longer than usual,” Dabu says, “to drive out some of the extra humidity. “This time of year, with this much rain, all bets are off,” Dabu goes on, explaining that too much rainfall means there’s no guarantee the tea will be any good, and too much moisture in the air means it takes extra skill to dry it properly. “You really have to know how to work with the leaves.” Getting this step right is crucial for good pu-erh. You have to cook the leaves enough to break them down and drive away moisture, but not so much that you completely shut off the enzymes that cause oxidation, as you would if you were


Dabu tends to the century-old trees in the grove her family has owned in Yunnan since the 1800s. Old-arbor bushes like these are the cream of the crop, prized for yielding leaves with exceptional depth of character.

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making green tea. Processed properly, the tea will slowly oxidize and ferment after it’s dried, transforming over the years and decades from a sprightly green into an earthy brown with layers of dried fruit, leather, and petrichor. Over time, the fresh top notes of the tea fade into something deeper, almost medicinal. Brackish bitterness becomes a mellow sweetness that lingers in your throat. The brew turns silky in the mouth and its warmth slinks through your body. It’s rib-sticking. It’s this capacity for aging that’s made pu-erh such an object of desire, that’s driven prices up a thousandfold over the past couple of decades. Some old-school drinkers in Hong Kong won’t even touch the stuff until it’s been aged for 10 to 30 years—anything younger is too green, they’ll say, too rough on the stomach. The weird thing is, in Yunnan, almost no one ages their tea. Until the pu-erh rush of the past few decades, most locals didn’t even know you could age pu-erh. Ask producers today if they have any interest in the stuff and they mostly respond with a shrug. “I prefer tea that’s bitter first, then hits you with sweetness later,” one tells me. “Aged pu-erh is only sweet.” Once Er Lu finishes cooking the leaves, she rolls and kneads them by hand to squeeze out even more moisture. Then she spreads them out onto mats to dry for hours in the tropical sun. The timing for all of this is critical: Wait too long to fire the leaves after picking and they may oxidize too much; knead them too little or too long and the taste won’t be right; dry them on a too-humid day and the day’s production may brew up cloudy or bland. Paul gives some of his farmers specifications for how he’d

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like them to process their tea; for other sources he buys the loose tea as is. From there, he tastes and tastes and tastes, brewing fresh tea well into the night, as he composes blends of material from multiple sources for each of his productions. Once he’s settled on a blend, he’ll take his haul of maocha—“rough” loose tea—to one of Xishuangbanna’s many factories where workers in hot, hazy rooms portion out leaves, steam them for a few seconds until soft and pliable, and press them into dense disks called cakes for easy transport and, ultimately, long-term aging. After working through a few rounds of tea, Er Lu sits down with us and the rest of the family for a lunch of wild herbs dipped in prickly chile sauce, a deeply satisfying chicken and rice porridge, and refreshing pork and winter melon soup. And moonshine, of course: the preferred drink of tea farmers everywhere, cheaper than water and as good for killing stowaway ticks as for toasting every five minutes, as you do in Yunnan.



about himself. But you already know him. You went to high school together, where his uniform was band T-shirts, baggy jeans, and giant headphones. There was that one party senior year when you spent hours getting blazed while he spoke at length about Titian and Nirvana— then you graduated and never heard from him again. After getting his degree in fine arts, Paul moved to China to study Chinese in 2005. He wasn’t a tea drinker then—a brief stint as marketing director for an Italian wine company and an obsession with poker kept his attention elsewhere—

and later he only adopted a tea habit as a source of cafeine to keep him up during hours-long online gaming sessions. But as he drank his way through the world of tea, he noticed how he kept getting sucked into pu-erh’s gravity well. “The first time someone introduced me to really highquality old-tree material was when I saw that other teas just couldn’t hang,” he says. Eventually he amassed more than he could drink in a lifetime and in 2011 started selling some of his stash to buy even more. In 2014, White2Tea became his full-time business. In 2015 he moved from Beijing to Guangzhou in part because he prefers the latter’s climate for storing and aging pu-erh. Twice a year, in spring and fall, Paul swaps home in Guangzhou for a flophouse in Menghai, a small city of 63,000 in Xishuangbanna that thanks to its proximity to a number of tea mountains has become one of Yunnan’s major pu-erh trading centers. It’s a big but concentrated business: Pu-erh only comes from Yunnan, and only from the big-leaf assamica variety of the tea plant processed in a particular way. While you can buy cakes of pu-erh all over China and across the internet, you never really know if you’re getting what you think you’re getting unless you buy the maocha yourself and watch over its production. And even then, farmers and middlemen may swap one lot for another right under your nose. And like many dealers of intrigue, Paul prefers not to show his face on camera. He only agreed to take me around Yunnan on the condition that we keep him under wraps. Why the secrecy? “Maybe it’s a Wisconsin thing,” he says. “But I feel like my face isn’t the point. It’s a conscious decision to keep me out of the brand.”

That choice reflects his broader frustration with the tea industry—both Chinese and Western—that privileges self-described experts, origin statements, and Orientalist exoticism over raw product quality, especially considering how many of those experts exaggerate the rareness of a tea or the age of the trees, or flat-out lie about where it really From le�t: Er Lu rolls, comes from. kneads, and shakes “There are statements some wok-fired tea leaves before laying them companies make about their tea out to dry on bamboo that if you spend any time here you mats; stones comknow can’t be true.” Paul’s norpress steamed leaves into dense cakes; mally a pretty chill guy, but here Dabu’s family digs into his gentle Midwestern cadence a restorative meal. turns to rancor. “They say these leaves are from 800-year-old trees or from that super-rare area. If you know the market prices for that material, it’s obvious there’s no way. But I can’t say anything about it, because if you try to be truthful, there’s a thousand vested interests rooting for you to fail.” So where most tea descriptions are choked with tasting notes and questionable histories, Paul’s are maddeningly spare. This year he hit peak obscurantism with a production he calls the Treachery of Storytelling Pt. 2, which costs $369 for just 200 grams and features a label scrawled with purple text shouting, Magritte style, this is not old arbor puer. Published in 2013, Dr. Jinghong Zhang’s book Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic is the definitive English-language text on the subject. Zhang’s chief metaphor for describing the tea’s complexities, controversies, and contradictions is jianghu, which translates literally as “rivers and


Picking tea is tough work even on flat land. This picker makes the 1,500-foot climb up the mountain twice a day during tea season, hoisting a bamboo basket full of leaves on a wooden shoulder yoke.

lakes” but refers to a storied literary and cultural concept of a “non-governmental space…[with] its own chaos, full of dangers and contests” where martial artists and rogue knights converge and “bandits…declare their tough resistance to authority.” Those bandits are literal as well as metaphorical. In 2015, Chinese officials arrested five people for counterfeiting eight metric tons of tea under the famous Dayi brand, which they would have been able to sell for almost a million dollars, a roughly 40-fold profit margin. But for every fraudulent

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tea shipment caught by authorities, countless others slip through the cracks. Compared with most teas, sold anonymously through layers of middlemen, it’d seem that understanding puerh—which has established brands and recognizable labels—should be more objective. If two people brew two sepa rate pu-erh cakes from the same production, they should, in theory, be drinking the same thing. But it’s that very presumption of authenticity that makes pu-erh so

very definition of pu-erh wasn’t clear to most people in Yunnan.” Even now, she said, “the so-called art of making pu-erh is still on the road of being invented.” Paul’s not interested in helping anyone understand what pu-erh is or what it really means. “I’d be thrilled for someone else to take that up,” he says. The innate vitality of the tea matters to him far more than the fluttering factual details we’re trained to focus on as consumers. Drill too far down into that stuff, and soon “you’re carrying around so much baggage that you’re more focused on what something should be than what it actually is. “I think people think about this stuff too much,” Paul goes on. “It’s like trying to think about sex while you’re having sex—can’t you just enjoy the sex? If you ever try to describe a high to someone, the words always fall short.”



Paul’s office, a buddy’s no-frills white-walled tea shop in Menghai. The word shop suggests a place where you can actually buy tea, which is a bit of a misnomer in this case, as Paul’s friend Ge already sold his entire season’s harvest before it was finished being picked. Ge is from Lao Banzhang, a remote village on Bulang mountain in southern Xishuangbanna that produces some of the most soughtafter—and counterfeited—pu-erh in Yunnan. So, while you can’t buy tea at this Menghai storefront, it makes a nice place for friends and family to hang out and drink. Ge can spare the rent. Paul suspects his tea brings in half a million dollars a year.


confounding and ambiguous. Separating a pu-erh from the stories built around it comes down to each and every drinker. Who do you believe, what can you believe, and how much can you trust your own senses about what’s true? It’s strange to think that for all of pu-erh’s history—its primordial heritage in Yunnan, the centuries of human life built around it—these modern cultural constructs and obsessions are only a few decades old. When I talked to Dr. Zhang by phone she told me, “Before the 2000s, the

Pu-erh from Lao Banzhang is prized less for its taste than for its strength of somatic character, what Paul calls “body feel” and some tea people refer to as qi, literally “breath” or “energy flow.” When it comes to Chinese tea, especially high-end puerh, taste is only the beginning. A tea’s qi hits you deeper than any flavor. It flows to your shoulders, your chest, your belly. It can creep between tight joints and turn your muscles into jelly and make your skull feel like it’s being caressed under your skin. There’s pleasant qi and unpleasant qi; this Lao Banzhang we’re drinking delivers bombastic qi. A few sips in and I’m already sweating. A few more and my chest feels like a furnace. My knee pits are drenched—did you know knee pits could sweat?—which I only register by reaching down and


HOW PU-ERH BECOMES PU-ERH Depending on how you look at it, processing pu-erh from fresh leaves to finished tea takes as little as a day or as long as decades. Here’s a cheat sheet to understanding the life of pu-erh, from tree to cup.


All tea is made from Camellia sinensis, but to be pu-erh, the leaves must be from the large-leaf C. sinensis var. assamica, grown in Yunnan Province, and processed to encourage oxidation and microbial fermentation.

First, the leaves are picked by hand, then laid out on long beds indoors to wither.

The withered leaves are then tossed in massive woks by hand. This “kill green” step drives out moisture from the leaves and moderates enzymes that would cause excessive oxidation.

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touching them, because I can’t feel my legs anymore. I have to turn a fan on my face because the high is getting too intense. Everything is sunlight and the world tastes ecstatic and someone in the distance is saying something fascinating and I want to write it down but the pen keeps slipping out of my fingers. Paul and his buddies are used to this kind of juice. I’m not. Very little genuine Lao Banzhang makes its way to the Western market. Even in China, most of the good stuff is scooped up fast by plutocrats with money to burn. Fortunately a street vendor is passing by with rods of bamboo stuffed with sticky rice that he grills over a portable charcoal stove. We take a breather and eat for a while. The rush slows, but half an hour later the tea is still dancing in my throat. We move to another tea and carry on drinking time. The hours taste like minutes. I know how all this sounds. There’s a lot of dreamy language that makes its way into tea culture, but good pu-erh really is drugs. You do have to


You’ll find pu-erh bushes densely packed on plantations, but many obsessives go after tea made from old-arbor trees in wild, spreadout forest groves. Ancient trees—some centuries old—draw more complex nutrients from the soil for a tea with richer character.

The leaves are then rolled and kneaded to develop flavor and aroma while driving off additional moisture. Finally, they’re sun-dried.

Most pu-erh is then compressed into dense cakes with heavy stones or hydraulic presses. People originally pressed the tea to make it easier to transport over long distances. Now they continue the practice to facilitate better storage and aging. An alternative to this “raw”-style pu-erh is “ripe” pu-erh, made from leaves that compost in big, humid piles for a few months, which accelerates the aging process to mimic the taste of vintage tea. It’s generally less expensive than raw but also less complex.


Some of Yunnan’s tea factories focus on smaller boutique clients, like Paul. On the other end of the spectrum is this enormous tea factory in Xishuangbanna, which can handle multiton pressings.

mushroom = jin cha

cake = cha bing

brick = cha zhuan

bowl = tuo cha

The tea can be pressed into a number of shapes, and the degree of compression also impacts how the tea will age. The tighter a cake is compressed, the slower it ages.

practice the high, though. Pay close attention to what’s happening to your body. The effect is different for everyone, because you need to meet the tea halfway, open yourself up to what it’s telling you. But when it hits you, you know. I’ve drunk pu-erh as soft and warm as a down comforter on a winter morning; another as exhilarating as that first deep breath of mountain air on a hike through the woods. One bad trip sent me spiraling into a panic so severe I had to pop a Xanax to calm down.



Menghai. Business has been slow this week, so he’s agreed to drive Paul and me around to eat noodles and shop for water buffalo meat while pointing out all the edible fruits, plants, and bark you can find along the road. Today we’re making a trip to visit his girlfriend’s family in Ya Kou Lao Zhai on Nannuo mountain.

Now the tea is ready for its journey across the world for drinking or aging. A pu-erh’s storage climate influences how it ages: A cake stored for 10 years in Hong Kong will taste different from one in Seattle. Naturally, pu-erh nerds obsess about where and how their tea was stored as much as how it was grown.


WHAT’S IN A LABEL? Pu-erh labels often offer frustratingly little information, and what they do share is often inaccurate. There’s no regulation about origins, age statements, even what brand produced a tea. You might see a sequence of four numbers on a cake, like 7542. Pu-erh people call these codes recipes, which refer to specific factory blends. The first two digits correspond to the year the blend was introduced (not the year the cake was pressed)—in this case, 1975. The third digit corresponds to the size of the leaves (graded 1–9). The fourth refers to the factory; 2 is the Menghai Tea Factory, and 7542 is their most prestigious recipe. But a recipe is far from a guarantee. Quality varies by year and season; it even depends on where the tea is aged. So the best way to read a label? Ignore it and taste the tea on its own terms.

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Tea has been good to Nannuo. An hour away from Menghai with decent roadways, it’s one of the more accessible mountains in Xishuangbanna. The pu-erh grown here commands only a fraction of the price of Lao Banzhang’s, but in Ya Kou Lao Zhai, the second highest village on Nannuo, the street is lined with solar-powered lamps and McMansions all built within the last decade. Xiao Chen’s girlfriend Wang Hong Ying greets us by the door of one. In the past, Hong Ying’s family grew more corn than tea, but as the pu-erh boom took off, they, like many families, changed their priorities. Hong Ying is just 21 years old, but she brews tea with studied grace and precision. She, her brother, and her father are all practiced tea producers; the tea we’re drinking now was processed by her brother, Hong Cai, who’s all of 24 but already making impressive tea with a deep sweetness and calming energy. “What do you think of your brother’s tea?” I ask. She smiles, demure. “It’s...a little more aggressive than the way I make it. More masculine.” Hong Cai breaks a sheepish grin to take another sip. He’s the tea maker who likes his pu-erh bitter first, then sweet; Hong Ying is after more softness and elegance. “We’re each other’s teacher,” he says. For lunch, we move from the patio to a small wooden shelter on stilts connected to but dwarfed by the giant modern house. Up until a year ago, this creaking one-room dwelling was what three generations of Hong Ying’s family called home. Five decades of soot and smoke are baked into the walls from the bonfire in the center of the floor. Hong Ying is cooking with her mother, Li A Zhen, a feast of greens from the mountain, sour preserved bamboo, and some especially delicious grubs fried as crisp as potato chips. I ask Mom what she thinks of her kids getting into pu-erh. “I want them to make their own choices and do whatever makes them happy,” she says. Hong Cai admits he’s young and that he doesn’t know what the future holds for him yet. But even in his lifetime he’s seen how much his village has to gain from the tea—as well as what it might lose. “We worry about the pollution from the cars,” he explains. Just a few generations ago, mules were still the dominant mode of transportation around here. Now there’s a car in every driveway and more on the road from tourists looking to buy tea and hike through the forest. “The more money people here make, the more they drive.” We return to the patio after lunch to drink more tea and snack on cucumbers as fat as grapefruits and as sweet as melons. Then we spot Quezi, a relative of the family who’s also in the tea business, ambling down the street with a bundle of greens under his arm. Quezi doesn’t like pu-erh that much, he says. He’d rather drink hot water. “And I like to have a smoke and some alcohol every day,” adds the 74-year-old. I ask him what’s changed in the village since pu-erh took off. “Look around you,” he says, laughing and gesturing toward the road and the basketball hoop in the neighbor’s driveway. “Everything. They repaired the roads and we make more money. But now we feel like what we have isn’t enough, that we need to do better. The next generation can do better.” On the other side of the table, Hong Ying is rinsing out

Wang Hong Ying savors a pu-erh processed by her brother, Hong Cai. Paul sells their tea in a Sister Brother set, so customers can compare the siblings’ processing styles.

her gaiwan—a 4-ounce lidded bowl—for the next batch of leaves. The idea is to brew the tea briefly with a lot of leaves, then re-brew the leaves again and again. The flavor and character evolves from the first to the fifth to the 10th brew. It’s all part of an unceremonial but meticulous process that’s not at all native to Yunnan. When buyers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and elsewhere on the mainland came to the province to buy tea, they brought the style of brewing with them; now it’s ubiquitous. Quezi remembers a time when everyone was more casual about the whole thing. “We’d set a big kettle over the stove and throw in some tea leaves and let it all boil,” he says. “You didn’t need to measure or anything. And after we drank

the tea we’d add more water and boil it again, and do that at least five times. The more you do it, the sweeter the tea gets.” Hong Ying pours water into the gaiwan, then decants the brew into a pitcher, then pours into thimble-size cups. At this point we’ve been drinking for well over an hour and I’m a little high again. Paul’s sipping silently, looking out onto the road, and I’m chewing on the central contradiction of drinking pu-erh at its source: that as much as it is central to life here, the one thing you won’t hear is any kind of dogma about what tea is or how it should be consumed. One idea does persist. As Dr. Zhang, chronicler of puerh’s allure and culture, puts it: “There’s a sense that once you drink pu-erh, all other tea is useless.” n









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TEA HUNTER’S BREAKFAST In Yunnan, this savory soup with myriad mix-ins is a common way to fuel up for the day


f you’re gearing up for a day of tea hunting, you’re going to need a big breakfast. In ’Banna—shorthand for Xishuangbanna Prefecture in southern Yunnan—that almost always means a bowl of noodle soup called mi xian or mi gan, depending on the kind of noodle you order. In big cities and small towns, locals pack bare-bones noodle shops by midmorning, hunching over knee-high tables to slurp tender rice noodles and a rich pork broth fortified with ground pork. An order of soup arrives with some assembly required: It’s up to each customer to season his own bowl to his liking with the dozen-plus condiments at a nearby table. At the best shops, these include homemade roasted chile pastes, local mountain herbs, and an array of pickled vegetables. Because those condiments take the lead, the broth is intentionally simple; resist the urge to complicate it. Instead, simmer the broth in giant batches, then customize individual bowls with these toppings.

1. PICKLED CHILES: Pickled Thai bird chiles add tanginess to what would otherwise be straight heat.

7. SCALLIONS: Thinly sliced raw scallions add bite and a burst of color.

2. CHILE OIL: Store-

Sprinkle on top for texture and a subtle nutty flavor.

bought is good; homemade is better (see page 22 for recipe). 3. GARLIC CHIVES: Also

called Chinese chives, these lend oniony flavor and crunch. 4. MSG: Monosodium glutamate is as common as table salt in Yunnan, and a little punches up the complexity of the broth.


5. MINT: Loads and loads of mint add a welcome astringency and note of freshness. 6. PORK: Boiling

ground pork results in meat that is tender and not at all greasy.


9. SPICY PORK: The best-outfitted noodle shops in Yunnan will also slide some chilespiced fatty pork into your bowl. 10. BLACK VINEGAR:

Sour ingredients are essential to Yunnan cuisine, represented here with mild—and mildly sweet—Chinese black vinegar. 11. CHILE PASTE: Use

one with a short ingredient list like sambal oelek, made with chiles, salt, and vinegar for the cleanest flavor.

Yunnan-Style Breakfast Noodle Soup SERVES 4

Active: 35 min. • Total: 3 hr. 35 min. This popular breakfast in China’s Yunnan Province starts with fresh rice noodles and ground meat in a bare-bones pork broth, then gets customized with as many as a dozen condiments. Yunnan mi xian noodles (round and spaghettilike) or mi gan (flat and wide) are traditional, but any size rice noodle works, and dried varieties are fine in a pinch. Find fresh rice noodles in the refrigerated section at most Asian markets. For the broth: 5 lb. pork bones ½ tsp. kosher salt For the meat and noodles: Kosher salt 3½ oz. pork shoulder, thinly sliced Fermented chile bean paste (doubanjiang), to taste ½ lb. ground pork 16 oz. fresh rice noodles To serve: Black vinegar Chile oil Chile paste, such as sambal oelek Fresh mint leaves Garlic chives (Chinese chives), chopped Pickled mustard greens, chopped Pickled red chiles, thinly sliced Scallions, thinly sliced Sesame seeds Kosher salt MSG

1 Make the broth: Fill a large stockpot halfway with water and bring to a rapid boil over high heat. Carefully add the pork bones and cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes. Remove the bones using a slotted spoon and

reserve. Discard the liquid. Clean out the pot and place back on the stove. Add the bones and fill with enough water to cover (about 18 cups). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, undisturbed, until the broth is flavorful and reduced, 3 hours. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids (you should have 8 cups broth). Use broth immediately, or let cool, then chill up to 2 days. 2 When ready to serve, reheat the broth over medium-high heat until any fat has been melted. Add ½ tsp. kosher salt and up to 1 cup water to dilute and stretch the broth slightly. 3 Make the pork: Meanwhile, fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches water and bring to a boil. Season with 2 pinches of salt and add the pork shoulder. Cook until tender and no longer pink, 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork to a bowl (reserve the cooking water). Stir in the fermented chile bean paste, and cover the bowl with foil. 4 Bring the cooking water back to a boil and add the ground pork. Cook, breaking it into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove the ground pork to a separate small bowl and cover with foil. 5 Make the noodles: Add enough additional warm water to the pot to cook the noodles in. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then add the rice noodles and cook until tender, about 30 seconds. 6 Using tongs, divide the noodles between 4 soup bowls. Divide the broth between the bowls to cover the noodles. Garnish with mint. 7 Serve with the chopped and ground pork, black vinegar, chile oil, chile paste, mint, garlic chives, pickled mustard greens, pickled chiles, scallions, sesame seeds, salt, and MSG for topping.


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A Wedding Feast for 4,000 Charail, Bangladesh, February 21, 2015 Story and photograph by TA N V EER BA DA L

t was a balmy Saturday, and red and green twinkle lights were strung up on my cousin Shawon’s house and all along the length of his block. For a week, my uncle, a prominent political figure in this village in central Bangladesh, had been throwing a wedding for Shawon, his only son, and today was the biggest celebration of them all. Nearly 4,000 guests were expected. Bangladeshi weddings are traditionally huge, weeklong affairs. The seventh day is always the grandest with nearly the whole village partaking in festivities. Drivers were hired to transport family and friends in luxury vans to the reception. A team of men, known in Bengali as baburchis, prepared the gigantic meal over the course of several days. The dry, warm weather at this time of year means three or four such celebrations might take place every week—and that’s just in the village of Charail. Every day, all season long, these cooks and servers expertly execute enormous


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feasts, some helpers even sleeping at the venue overnight in between frantic, daylong sessions of dicing onions. The feast began with richly spiced curries, chicken, and piles of rice flooding the tables. This was only the beginning. The baburchis are quick with turnaround, serving food and clearing plates in shifts so that everyone gets a chance to sit and eat—even those few interlopers who feign a connection to the bride and groom so they can be admitted. When my cousin and his bride, Anika, finally arrived, the immediate family sat for an even more extravagant feast: fried fish, colossal prawns, and whole roasted goats served alongside salads, biryani, and sweet fried gulab jamun for dessert. It can all seem a bit excessive—the endless food, the elaborate decorations, the teams of baburchis—but it’s a point of tremendous pride to hold a celebration that the community will remember for generations to come. And for that, there’s no expense too great.


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