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Archive for the ‘Venturing Beyond the Valley’ Category

Ok there is a reason my posting has been even more sporadic than usual: I’ve been in Africa for the past 2.5 weeks! My reason for going had nothing to do with food, but I figured while I was there I might as well document some of my fun African meals. We spent a week in Kenya first (the “we” being the Global Hope Network, the humanitarian group I volunteered with), and each night the wonderful local women would cook us dinner. It normally consisted of stewed goat, stewed carrots and potatoes, some kind of greens, sometimes a salad or bean dish, and this amaaazing flatbread called chapati, similar to naan, but in this case denser and chewier.

dinner in KenyaLocal, fresh bananas usually played a role in every one of my meals.  Now that I’m home again, eating bananas is such a let down as they aren’t half as flavorful as these wonderful African bananas were.

more dinner in Kenya
gambella-dinnerOur first night in the village of Gambella, the villagers made us dinner. Rice, potatoes and goat meat, eaten with our hands.

CarnivoreWe stopped at the famous restaurant Carnivore, an all-you-can-eat meat buffet in Nairobi. It was a fun experiment to see what I, a hungry vegetarian, would eat there. Luckily they had a whole separate vegetarian menu, as well as an extensive salad bar.

coconut veggiesI ordered coconut vegetables, but honestly the salad was better.  I loaded on every single one of the sauces and chutneys that were meant to be paired with the meat, which made for a crazy flavorful salad indeed.

Ethiopian foodFor our last night in Kenya, our local friends made us some traditional Ethiopian food, as Ethiopia was our next destination. Ethiopians pile stewed meat or veggies on top of a giant, sour crepe/pancake-like bread called injera, typically made from teff flour. They use their hands to tear off a piece of injera and scoop up the food (we did a lot of eating with our hands in Africa). It was so good – the sourness of the injera went great with the spiciness of the stew. I asked one of the women what spices they use, and she thought about it for a second then said “There’s too many to name!”

incense, popcorn and coffeeWe had dinner in an Ethiopian restaurant one night (as opposed to another night of nasty hotel food. bleh). Everything pictured above is traditional in Ethiopian cuisine: popcorn, coffee, and lots of incense burning. And that huge pan of bread off to the left was actually a birthday “cake” for our friend Dan.

injera, meat and cottage cheeseWe started with some flavored cottage cheeses, a big pile of meat, and some super spicy sauce with a random hard boiled egg in it.

aftermathA ton of meat ended up on our plate, which I picked around and around all night long. This meal was good, but it was just so meat-heavy that I felt like I barely ate anything by the end of the night!

Since I fell head over heels with Ethiopian food while in Africa, one of the first things I did when I got home was search yelp for best Ethiopian restaurant in NYC. I came across Zoma, located at 2084 Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem.

Fillo PastryWe ordered the Fillo Pastry appetizer, filled with spicy lentils. The cold chutney off to the side was a minty/cilantroy onion chutney I think. This appetizer didn’t blow me away, next time I wouldn’t bother with it. The REAL star of the meal was the Vegetarian Combination:

Veggie ComboFinally, vegetarian Ethiopian food! No picking necessary! This dish was seriously amazing. I chose the Gomen (sauteed collard greens), Misir Wett (red split lentils cooked with berbere, garlic, ginger, black cumin, plus a ton of other spices), Atakilt Wett (carrots, potatoes, cabbage and onions sautéed with garlic, ginger and tomatoes), and Shiro Wett (chickpeas, lentils and peas cooked with a “multitude of spices”). Everything was delicious, especially when I attempted to combine all four dishes into one bite. I had a chance to try the yellow split peas too, which were phenomenal. Next time I’d probably order those over the collard greens. My only qualm with the meal was the injera that was underneath our food tasted super old and stale. They gave us fresh injera on the side as well, but why bother putting practically inedible food on the plate to begin with?

yumWe also tried the honey wine – fruity and delicious! This meal was so freaking good. I’m craving it again right now. I guess I’ll be on a mission to find an Ethiopian spot a little closer though, as Harlem is a bit of a hike. I’ve been hearing about a restaurant in New Brunswick, but it looked really expensive. We’ll see, I might just need to make Harlem a regular stop off. For food this good, it would be worth the hassle.

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…but I was in another state so it doesn’t count.  I spent the weekend in Indianapolis visiting a friend, and a quick internet search pleasantly surprised me with Indian Buffets-a-plenty scattered throughout The Crossroads of America.  The first stop: Passage to India, a vegetarian buffet located in a random strip mall on Lafayette Road.

Passage to India/Udupi CafeI believe it used to be called the Udupi Cafe, named after a town in Southern India (Udupi cuisine is one of the popular cuisines of South India)

mmm... food

I just love trying out new Indian restaurants everywhere I go. This place definitely had it’s own unique overall taste going on. Everything was exceptionally flavorful, a little spicier than most buffets I’ve been to. Some of the dishes had a pungent, almost minty flavor. The food was interesting and very, very delicious. This buffet is exclusively Southern-Indian, featuring dishes like Sambar, Pulao, idlis and dosas. The Mattar Paneer and the Sesame Potatoes were so good they required a second (and third, I won’t lie) helping.

the dosasThey even brought us fresh dosas (and some of the best Naan I’ve ever had)

the parking lot hair clipthe little white flower-shaped hair clip my friend found in the parking lot deserves a mention too.  Unsanitary?  Noooo.  Slightly fearless, yes.

India PalaceThe next day we tried India Palace Restaurant located in the same strip mall as Passage to India.  India Palace is (obviously!) far more visible from the street, but less delicious than it’s elusive vegetarian neighbor. The food here was way less spicy, and the Naan, featured as a buffet element as opposed to made fresh, was quite stale.  But hey, I still left happy.

Round 1Round 1: more yummy Mattar Paneer, Saag, tomato chickpeas, Masoor Dal, stale naan, semi-stale poori, and a tasty fried potato thing.

Round 2Round 2: more of the above-mentioned yummies, plus a bowlful of chutneys and, hidden away on the right side of the plate, a veggie pakora. The chutneys (mango, tamarind, mint and tomato) did plenty to liven up the slightly bland food.  India Palace did have the most extensive dessert bar I’ve yet to see at a buffet, which made me happy.  Overall a delicious experience.

Though I discovered at least 5 other Indian restaurants I’d like to try next time I visit Indianapolis, the uniqueness of Passage to India will definitely have me coming back.  I won’t forget those Sesame Potatoes any time soon.

But just to be clear, my heart will always belong to one buffet only <3

-Carolyn

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I finally tried the Blue Sage Vegetarian Grille Friday night after much hype and internet buzz.  This certainly doesn’t qualify as a Lehigh Valley restaurant (it’s in Southampton; 772 2nd Street Pike to be exact) but it’s well worth the hike, especially if you’re a vegetarian.  My meal at Blue Sage probably ranks up there in my top 10 meals of all time.  Well… for this month anyway :)  What can I say, I get excited about food!

Blue Corn & Asparagus TacosAppetizer #1: Blue Corn & Asparagus Tacos. Griddled blue corn tacos filled with grilled asparagus, jack cheese & sun dried tomato pesto. Served with black eyed pea and corn salsa.  These tacos, which were really more like quesadillas, were outstanding.  I only ate one of the wedges, since they were quite cheesy and I try to avoid cheese and all other dairy products at all costs.  So my carnivorous friend finished off the Asparagus Tacos and I went to town on the other (vegan) appetizer:

Green Curry BBQ Summer Rolls

Green Curry BBQ Summer Rolls. Rice paper rolls filled with baby spinach, mango, Thai barbeque glazed vegetables, smoked red onion, fresh ginger & basil. Served with soy syrup, dipping oils, and side of jicama slaw.  These were SO GOOD.  The Thai barbeque glaze was smoky and tangy, and there was some serious flavor going on in these little spring rolls.  I wasn’t crazy about the side salad – the salad/salsa accompanying the Blue Corns Tacos was way better, and luckily I was able to polish that off after I finished these spring rolls.  Why is it everyone I go out to eat with is such a light weight?

Blue Plate

My friend’s entree was the Blue Plate, which consisted of pine nut crusted, roasted garlic glazed portobello skewers, smoked sweet potato mash and a grilled avocado succotash salad.  I debated ordering this, but I’m glad I didn’t because the Blue Plate is a very meaty meal, great for someone who was wishing they could have ordered ribs instead.  In fact my friend said the mushroom skewers tasted just like “really good ribs” and that they were the best mushrooms he has ever had.

Cubano Supper

Now this entree was more my style: the Cubano Supper. Flaky plantain pastries stuffed with sunflower seed-smoked red pepper pesto, with a tower of yellow tomatoes & avocado corn salsa in the middle. Chipotle jicama slaw & mango-papaya relish surrounded the tomato mountain.  All I can say is wow.   There were so many different flavors and textures going on, each flavor complimenting the next so perfectly.  The plantain pastries (crispy on the outside, tender on the inside) were the perfect vehicles on which to pile the multiple sauces, relishes and salsas.  I wouldn’t change a single thing about this dish. 

My meal was so perfect I didn’t even bother with dessert, enticing as it may have been (Chocolate Panini?  um, yum).  Maybe next time.  And there will be a next time!

-Carolyn

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