Review: Jasmine Deli

The food at hole-in-the-wall restaurants is often good, and sometimes very good.  But it’s usually good in a specific way, with simple ingredients in a straightforward preparation, served in utilitarian rib-sticking portions.  The Jasmine Deli has all the earmarks of a classic hole-in-the-wall: a modest storefront location with scraggly houseplants in the sole window, rickety chairs, and a kids’ bike parked in the graffiti-covered restroom.  But as plates of food began piling up on our tiny table, it became clear that the Jasmine Deli serves up cuisine that far outstrips its humble surroundings.  The vegetables are crisp and plentiful, the sauces are house-made, and everything is flavored with a generous handful of fresh herbs.  Vegetarian options are available in every section of the menu, from spring rolls to banh mi.  Noodles make an appearance in soups, salads, and stir fries, and there are broken rice plates too–just choose your protein of choice.  The thick bubble teas are similar to smoothies, with flavors including coconut, plum, lychee, and mocha.

Jasmine Deli-Tofu Spring Rolls

Tofu Spring Rolls

The tofu spring rolls set the tone for a the rest of the meal: a visually appealing arrangement with a tiny bowl of peanut sauce, artfully drizzled with sriracha and sprinkled with peanuts.  The dominant flavors were fresh mint and the spicy peanut sauce, while the texture was balanced between crisp bean sprouts, slippery rice noodles, and spears of chewy tofu.

Jasmine Deli-Pork Basil Rolls

Pork Basil Rolls

The pork basil rolls featured the same crisp vegetables, but were flavored with basil and a vinaigrette dipping sauce.  Meat lovers may take issue with the slight slice of pork, but the vegetable-heavy focus makes for a delightfully crunchy, light appetizer.

Jasmine Deli-Vegetarian Soup

Vegetarian Soup with Rice Noodles and Fried Tofu

The vegetarian soup with rice noodles and fried tofu comes with a plateful of garnishes: fresh bean sprouts, a lime wedge, and slices of jalapeno.  The soup had a respectable vegetable quotient in the form of carrots and broccoli, in addition to the tangle of rice noodles.  Flavor-wise, the soup needs the lime juice and jalapeno garnishes to truly shine; give the jalapenos a chance to work their heat into the broth before digging in.

Jasmine Deli-Stir Fried Noodles

Stir Fried Egg Noodles with Beef

The beef stir fried egg noodles had an expectedly sweet sauce that paired well with the slices of beef.  The dish had the same fresh touches as the other menu items, with a salad’s worth of broccoli and carrots mixed into the stir fry and a generous cilantro garnish.

Jasmine Deli-Sesame Roll

The night’s dessert special was a sesame roll, a thin layer of chewy sesame dough with a small ball of coconut and red bean paste rattling around inside. Our waitress compared it to an Asian doughnut, but it was actually quite wholesome tasting, with a manageable sweetness level and delicate hint of coconut.

The Jasmine Deli will never win any points for its décor or ambiance.  But the food, bursting with the fresh vegetables and flavor profiles hipster places like to brag about, enough vegetarian and vegan options to satisfy the most discerning eater, and bargain prices?  Judged by that measure, the Jasmine Deli is top-notch.

★★★½ out of 4 (recommended)

Jasmine Deli
http://jasminedelimpls.com/
2532 Nicollet Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404
612-870-4700

Jasmine Deli on Urbanspoon

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Sometimes acquaintances label my food choices “interesting.”  In Minnesota, this can be a passive-aggressive putdown, a way of saying “You eat weird stuff that I wouldn’t touch with a proverbial ten-foot pole,” but I choose to view it as a compliment.  Life is short, so why order plain chocolate ice cream when you can opt for chocolate with sea salt and fudge, or settle for a cheese pizza over a pie topped with arugula and truffle oil?  If I never ventured beyond the familiar, I would be living a very different sort of life, one without a food blog or Ethiopian cuisine, a life that would lack many of very things that have come to define me.

However, I will admit there are drawbacks to my culinary approach: the occasional flavor combinations that don’t quite work and my tendency to overlook truly delicious, simple foods in favor of their fussy esoteric counterparts.  Take, for instance, coffee cake.  The humble combination of white cake and cinnamon sugar is not the kind of thing I seek out–I’m too busy pursuing French pastries or gourmet doughnuts.  But whenever I happen across coffee cake, usually in a church basement, the first bite makes me pause with appreciation.  Sometimes, basic foods are what people eat so often because they’re delicious.  Sometimes you don’t need a lemon and vanilla bean cupcake with cardamom-infused frosting; what you need is a down-to-earth coffee cake, moist and laden with cinnamon.

This is a classic coffee cake, perfect for a mid-morning coffee break or brunch.  The very thick cake batter is a bit difficult to work with, particularly when you’re spreading the second layer of batter while trying not to disturb the cinnamon sugar topping underneath.  But the resulting cake is worth it, with a fluffy moistness and a lovely ribbon of cinnamon sugar running through the middle.

Adapted from Gimme Some Oven

Ingredients:

Sour Cream Coffee Cake Ingredients

Cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened  to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces (by weight) reduced fat sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9×13 pan.

Using a hand mixer, cream butter and 1 cup granulated sugar in a large bowl until fluffy.  Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until combined.  Stir in the sour cream and vanilla.  Add the remaining flour mixture and mix until a stiff batter forms.

Mix 1/4 granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl until well combined.

Spread half of the batter into the prepared pan.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake Batter

Evenly sprinkle with half of the prepared sugar topping.  Repeat with remaining batter and sugar topping, spreading the second layer of batter very carefully to ensure the first layer of topping is not disturbed.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake Before Baking

Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Review: Blue Nile

If pad Thai doesn’t pique your interest and burritos seem blah, mix things up with an Ethiopian dinner at the Blue Nile.  Although Ethiopian cuisine isn’t as familiar to American palates as Thai or Mexican food, it should be–with enticing flavors, heat levels ranging from mild to spicy, and plentiful vegetarian options, there’s something for everyone.  The Twin Cities are home to several good Ethiopian restaurants, and my favorite is the Blue Nile.  Founded in 1989, their website claims that the restaurant was the first Ethiopian dining establishment in the Twin Cities and is now the longest-running African restaurant in the state.   In the summer, sit on the patio, and in the winter, settle into a booth and admire the exuberant interior’s murals.  Although I always peruse the well-worn menu, my order is a foregone conclusion: Gosa Gosa C, a sampling of stews served on a platter-sized piece of injera, an Ethiopian sourdough flatbread.  Ethiopian food is traditionally eaten without utensils; you use little bits of the piece of injera served on the side to pick up bites of stew and eventually, the sauce-soaked injera that served as a plate.

 

Blue Nile

Gosa Gosa C sampler platter

The economically-priced Gosa Gosa C generously serves two, and the even split between vegetarian and meat dishes makes it perfect for this vegetarian and her meat-loving partner.  My favorite items on the vegetarian side of the platter are kurumbaa, a mixture of crisp-tender cabbage, potatoes and carrots; kikkii, a yellow split pea stew with a delicate mingling of garlic and spices; and missiraa diimaa, red lentils cooked with the spicy berbere chili spice blend that is a signature flavor of Ethiopian cuisine.  The other vegetarian dishes included in the sampler are ooka, a ground chickpea dish with excellent flavor but not enough texture for my preferences; and foule (fava bean) and missiraa gurracha (green lentil) stews that are a bit on the bland side.  However, the tangy, spongy injera makes even my less-favorite dishes taste delicious.

On the meat side of the platter, a trio of meat stews ring the edge: maraka hoola, lamb seasoned with berbere; maraka sangaa hurdi, beef and potatoes in a curry sauce; and maraka sangaa, beef with berbere.  The crowing touch in the center of the platter is maraka lukku, a chicken drumstick cooked with butter and served with a hard boiled egg.  Although it’s impossible to neatly pluck bits of chicken off a drumstick with injera, and the boiled egg, slippery with sauce, tends to escape from your first few grabs, the maraka lukku is worth the effort and mess: the chicken is moist and flavorful, amply spicy without being overpowering.

Whether you’re a long-time lover of injera or trying the whole silverware-free dining thing for the first time, make the Blue Nile your destination for superb Ethiopian fare.

★★★½ out of 4 (recommended)

Blue Nile
http://www.bluenilempls.com
2027 Franklin Ave E
Minneapolis, MN 55404
612-338-3000

Blue Nile on Urbanspoon

Tortilla Cream Cheese Pinwheels

Tortilla cream cheese pinwheels are a simple little appetizer perfect for any sort of casual gathering: baby showers, church potlucks, backyard barbeques.  But for me, they’re graduation party food, evoking the May and June of my high school senior year when my boyfriend and I spent the weekends crisscrossing our hometown in his Oldsmobile.  The car was a hand-me-down from his grandparents, but the hacked-together stereo system was all his.  We always drove with the music blasting and windows rolled down, because the consolation prize of my incorrigibly straight hair is its imperviousness to wind tousling.  We navigated via MapQuest printouts to the weekend’s graduation party, usually held in a garage festooned with balloons and streamers in our high school’s blue-and-gold color scheme and maybe a poster board of baby pictures if the mom was particularly crafty.

The food was simple, the sort of thing you feed to crowds of relatives and hordes of teenagers: trays of cold cuts, freshly grilled hot dogs, bowls of potato chips.  There was usually a grocery store sheet cake, thick with a layer of sugary icing and “Class of 2005″ in loopy script.  One party memorably featured a candy bar, chopped apple, and Cool Whip concoction that could only be referred to as a “salad” in the upper Midwest.  And of course, there were tortilla cream cheese pinwheels.

These are typically made with slices of turkey or ham, but in my vegetarian version I’ve swapped in diced green onions and red pepper.  These take a bit of planning–you have to soften the cream cheese for a few hours beforehand, and then refrigerate assembled the tortilla rolls overnight–but the actual hands-on preparation time is minimal.  I prefer spinach tortillas for the extra color and flavor, but you can use plain flour tortillas as well.

Ingredients:

Tortilla Cream Cheese Pinwheels Ingredients

2 8-ounce packages garden vegetable cream cheese, softened at room temperature
white and light green parts of a bunch of green onions, diced (about 1/4 cup)
half a red bell pepper, diced (about 1/2 cup)
8 10-inch spinach flavored flour tortillas

Mix softened cream cheese, green onions, and red pepper in a medium bowl until well combined.

Tortilla Cream Cheese Pinwheels

Spread a thin layer of cream cheese mixture on the center of the tortillas, leaving a border of about 1 1/2 inches around the edges.  Tightly roll up tortillas.

Tortilla Cream Cheese Pinwheels

Wrap rolled tortillas tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Tortilla Cream Cheese Pinwheels

To serve, cut about 2 inches off both ends of the rolled tortillas.  Cut remaining roll into 1/2 inch slices and arrange on platter.

Tortilla Cream Cheese Pinwheels

Product Review: Ritter Sport Chocolate

RItter Sport

I have a minor obsession with Ritter Sport chocolate.  I think it has something to do with the colorful wrappers–I have a compulsive urge to collect every single one, stack them in my pantry, and gaze upon my personal chocolate rainbow.

Of course, Ritter Sport is also very good chocolate.  I was introduced to it on a study abroad trip to Germany, and since then it keeps serendipitously crossing my path.  One of the best flights of my life was a trip home from Portland seated next to Ritter Sport’s U.S. brand representative–he regaled us with jokes about chocolate business (“What’s the difference between male and female chocolate? Male chocolate has nuts.”) and gave us limited edition Christmas-themed Ritter Sport bars.  During our Baltic cruise, we happened across Ritter Sport Colorful Chocoworld on an excursion to Berlin, and my biggest regret of that trip is that it was too hot to stock up on chocolate bars.  In the Twin Cities, I’ve found that Kramarczuk’s has the best selection, with 16 of the 19 varieties available in the U.S.  For national retailers, Cost Plus World Market carries 12 varieties plus Ritter Sport minis, Target stocks several varieties, and I occasionally find a bar or two at Trader Joe’s.

Because I am the sort of person who reviews Peeps and compiles lists of pumpkin products, I have spent the past eight months systematically sampling Ritter Sport bars in an attempt to review all of the varieties currently available in the U.S. (it was a tough job, but someone had to do it).  I’ve rated each bar on as a GET IT, YOUR CALL, or SKIP IT.

  • Alpine Milk Chocolate (light blue wrapper): 30% cocoa milk chocolate made with milk from the Alps.  A high-quality chocolate, but with too much milkiness and not enough cocoa for my taste.  YOUR CALL.
  • Butter Biscuit (brown wrapper): milk chocolate wrapped around tiny squares of a shortbread cookie.  If you’ve always wished that chocolate dipped cookies had more chocolate and less cookie, this is the candy bar for you.  Since I found the cookie quality to be somewhat mediocre, this is YOUR CALL.
  • Cocoa Mousse (light brown wrapper): milk chocolate with a whipped cocoa cream filling, divided into 9 pieces instead of the usual 16.  Disappointingly, this bar just tasted like milk chocolate–the dark chocolate mousse has little to no flavor of its own.  SKIP IT.
  • Coconut (pale blue wrapper): milk chocolate with coconut flakes in a milk and coconut filling.  The pieces of coconut provide an interesting texture, but I think a bittersweet dark chocolate would have been a better pairing with this sweetened filling.  YOUR CALL.
  • Cornflakes (yellow wrapper): milk chocolate with bits of cornflakes.  The cornflakes provide a hint of crispiness, but no additional flavor, so I’d SKIP IT.
  • Dark Chocolate (burgundy wrapper): 50% cocoa dark chocolate.  A decent dark chocolate, but for the price I prefer a higher cocoa percentage.  YOUR CALL.
  • Dark Whole Hazelnuts (brown wrapper): dark chocolate with whole roasted hazelnuts.  This bar is packed so full of hazelnuts that it’s like eating a handful of high-quality chocolate covered nuts.  Definitely GET IT.
  • Espresso (dark brown wrapper): milk chocolate with a creamy coffee filling.  This bar packs a potent coffee punch–the chocolate plays a supporting roll.  Enjoy a square or two after dinner for an easy version of dessert with coffee.  GET IT.
  • Extra Fine Dark Chocolate (black wrapper): 73% cocoa dark chocolate, divided into 36 pieces instead of the usual 16.  An intense, slightly bitter, smooth dark chocolate, very reasonably priced for the superb quality–GET IT.
  • Extra Fine Milk Chocolate (royal blue wrapper): 35% cocoa milk chocolate.  I’m not typically a fan of milk chocolate, but Ritter Sport’s version has a deeper chocolate note and creamier texture than the average, making this a GET IT.
  • Marzipan (red wrapper): dark chocolate with a marzipan filling.  The almond flavor overwhelms the chocolate (which may be a plus or minus depending on how much you like marzipan), so this is YOUR CALL.
  • Milk Chocolate with Raisins and Hazelnuts (red-brown wrapper): milk chocolate with raisins and hazelnut pieces.  Although the raisins add minimal flavor, their chewy texture combine with the extra-creamy chocolate and appealingly crunchy bits of hazelnut to make this a GET IT.
  • Milk Whole Hazelnuts (brown wrapper): milk chocolate with whole roasted hazelnuts.  Packed full of hazelnuts, this bar is basically Nutella in chewable form.  Most definitely GET IT.
  • Peppermint (aqua wrapper): dark chocolate with a peppermint filling.  The creamy filling packs a breath-freshening minty punch–you’ll never want to go back to those weak foil-wrapped chocolate mints again.  GET IT.
  • Praline (indigo wrapper): milk chocolate with a creamy hazelnut paste filling.  I was expecting something similar to Nutella, but the hazelnut flavor is actually quite faint.  Since this bar mostly just tastes like milk chocolate, albeit high-quality milk chocolate, this one is YOUR CALL.
  • Strawberry Creme (pink wrapper): milk chocolate with a strawberry yogurt creme filling and crispy rice bits.  The combination of a dairy-based filling, strawberry, and chocolate is reminiscent of Neapolitan ice cream minus the fake fruit taste, while the crisp rice provides an interesting texture.  GET IT.
  • White Whole Hazelnuts (cream wrapper): white chocolate with whole roasted hazelnuts and crispy rice bits.  Unlike the dark and milk whole hazelnut bars, the white version includes crisp rice for a pleasantly lighter texture.  Since the white chocolate itself is fairly bland, this is YOUR CALL.
  • Whole Almonds (dark green wrapper): milk ch0colate with whole roasted almonds.  Like the hazelnut bars, this nut-dense bar is like a handful of chocolate covered almonds–GET IT.
  • Yogurt (white wrapper): milk chocolate with a yogurt filling.  This is Ritter Sport’s most unique bar, and the sweet milk chocolate is a pleasing contrast to the tangy yogurt.  If you’re in the mood to try something different, GET IT.

Macaroni and Cheese

This is a vintage Stacy and Mike recipe, from the days when a handful of handwritten recipes from my mother, Mike’s tofu stir technique, and the Betty Crocker Cookbook comprised our entire culinary knowledge.  In food writing, there is a well-worn trope about learning how to cook from a wise elder, the grandparent or parent who imparts decades of wisdom about roasting a chicken or canning pickles.  That is not my story, since I was spoiled–I have a mother who made homemade dinners for us nearly every night.  Since I didn’t need to, I lacked the motivation to learn how to cook, and I was content to subsist on spaghetti noodles topped with shredded cheddar cheese on the rare occasions when I had to fend for myself.

You can criticize the Betty Crocker Cookbook for hawking the company’s baking mixes and condensed soups, featuring some dubious “ethnic” recipes, and tending towards meat and carbohydrate heavy-dishes in lieu of more vegetable-centric cuisine.  But when I left home at age 21 and finally started cooking in earnest, I needed Betty Crocker’s helpful pictorial tutorial on page 221 about how to properly scramble eggs and the handy chart on page 375 giving water amounts and cooking times for various types of rice.  Learning to cook is a process, and Betty Crocker gave me the basics, like this from-scratch macaroni and cheese recipe that started me on my journey to the quinoa, kale, and Ethiopian split pea stew ahead.

This isn’t an overly decadent macaroni and cheese: I’ve reduced the amount of butter and cheese from the original recipe, and I prefer the heartiness of whole-wheat pasta.  However, this isn’t a “diet” meal either, since it still contains a respectable amount of full-fat cheese.  Usually we opt for sharp Cheddar, but this time around I wanted to use up a block of Swiss.  It was tasty, but I prefer the extra zip of sharp Cheddar.  Note that Worcestershire sauce contains fish, so omit it for a strictly vegetarian dish.

Adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese Ingredients

2 cups dry whole-wheat macaroni
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese, preferably sharp Cheddar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.  Add the flour, salt, pepper, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce, if using, and stir to form a thick paste.  Add the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly and breaking up lumps as needed.  Continue to stir and cook at a boil for a minute.

Remove from heat and stir in cheese.  Fold in prepared pasta and pour into an ungreased 2 quart casserole dish.

Macaroni and Cheese Before Baking

Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

Review: Khyber Pass Cafe

If you’re the kind of person who likes bucket lists, a visit to Khyber Pass Café for an Afghani dinner checks off one of the 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die (the restaurant is specifically recommended).  On the other hand, reducing an entire country’s cuisine to a single list item in the pursuit of racking up frantically-paced life experiences kind of misses the point.  Don’t just scarf down your meal at Khyber Pass Café and depart, having experienced Afghani cuisine once and for all.  Instead, return again and again: the café is a cozy place to spend a Friday evening, you can customize your meal with an assortment of house-made chutneys, and everything down to the side order of spinach is prepared with care.

Khyber Pass Cafe

Chutney Sampler with ginger-jalapeno, cranberry, and cilantro walnut chutneys

The menu encourages you to accompany your meal with one of the house-made chutneys–since I couldn’t settle on one, I skipped the entrée and ordered the chutney sampler, which includes three chutneys of your choosing and a basket of pillowy-soft Afghani bread.   I tried the ginger-jalapeno, cranberry, and cilantro-walnut chutneys.  The ginger-jalapeno chutney was the spiciest, and the strident ginger note made it too overwhelming to enjoy on bread.  However, it was a welcome addition to my side of spinach and would also pair well with rice or chicken.  The cranberry chutney was identified on the menu as “slightly spicy”, but I just detected a pleasant balance between tartness and sweetness.  My favorite chutney was the cilantro-walnut, shimmering with cilantro and a generous helping of salt.

Khyber Pass Cafe

Sabzee (spinach cooked with leeks and spices)

As mentioned above, the spinach was best when paired with the ginger-jalapeno chutney, and I appreciated the generous serving size for a side dish.  On its own, the spinach was nicely cooked but minimally seasoned, so definitely order a chutney to accompany it.

Khyber Pass Cafe

Kofta and aloo (meatballs and potatoes)

In a city strongly influenced by Scandinavian immigrants, it seems a bit lame to go to an Afghani restaurant and order one of the most familiar items on the menu: kofta and aloo, or beef meatballs with potatoes.  However, Khyber Pass’s version is a welcome detour from the Ikea-style Minnesota classic, with curry-flavored potatoes and lean meatballs drizzled with cilantro-walnut chutney.  The meal is rounded out with a side salad and a serving of rice.

Other items on the menu include several preparations of organic New Zealand lamb, a build-your-own vegetarian combo plate, and chicken kebabs.  Thursdays feature live music at 9 pm (check the website for details), and there’s a rotating dinner special on Friday and Saturday evenings. Service is attentive without being rushed, and the textiles hanging from the ceiling provide lovely décor and acoustics conducive to conversation.

Regardless of your stance on culinary bucket lists, a meal at Khyber Pass Café with a side of cilantro-walnut chutney is an experience worth having.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

Khyber Pass Café
http://khyberpasscafe.com/
1571 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105
(651) 690-0505

Khyber Pass Cafe on Urbanspoon

Green Shakshuka

Usually this is the time of year when I post my annual gripe about springtime in Minnesota, a season that is more likely to feature blizzards than blossoming tulips (Mike: “Did you have Easter egg hunts when you were a kid?” Me: “No, because there was always snow on the ground.”)  In contrast, this spring has been unusually spring-like.  Warmer-than-average temperatures melted all of the snow in March, and there weren’t any late-season snowstorms to replenish it.  April has been an idyllic picture-book vision of springtime renewal, with green grass, budding trees, and breezy days in the 60s and 70s.  Honestly, it’s a little weird–I keep looking over my shoulder, convinced that a blast of Arctic air is going to swoop down from the north and spoil everything.

But if a lifetime of dealing with Minnesota weather has taught me anything, it’s that you roll with whatever Mother Nature throws your way.  In the winter, you bundle up in a down parka and hand-knit wool accessories, keep a snow shovel in the car trunk, and eat a lot of soup.  In the summer, you savor dinner on the patio every evening and go to Sebastian Joe’s for ice cream.  And if you are blessed with the rare Minnesota spring, you spend your lunch breaks in Loring Park, watching the ducks paddle around the lake as you relish the sun on your face, and when you go home you cook up a spicy combination of leeks, spinach, and eggs for dinner, which you then eat on the patio.

Shakshuka is a North African egg dish typically made with a tomato-based sauce, but this version substitutes sautéed spinach.  I seasoned the dish with a diced habanero pepper, which was a bit much; I’d recommend using half a pepper, or leaving it out completely if you don’t like spicy food.  Be sure to use an oven-proof skillet–after cooking the vegetables on the stovetop, you add the cheese and eggs and finish the dish in the oven.  We served this with toast, but it would also be good with a side of wheat berries or bulgur.

Adapted from the Kitchn recipe by Karen Biton-Cohen

Ingredients:

Green Shakshuka Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, halved and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 habanero pepper, finely diced (optional)
5 ounce package baby spinach (about 2 cups tightly packed)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup feta cheese
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat.  Add oil and tilt to evenly coat.  Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and pepper, if using, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is golden, about 3 minutes.  Add the spinach, oregano, and cumin and stir until spinach is wilted.

Cooked spinach mixture

Remove skillet from heat.  Sprinkle the feta over the cooked spinach mixture.  Crack the eggs over the spinach mixture, evenly spacing them around the edge of the skillet.

Green Shakshuka Before Baking

Transfer skillet to oven and bake for 14 minutes, or until edges of eggs are set.

Green Shakshuka

Review: Everest on Grand

Everest on Grand’s lofty slogan–“The Tallest Taste”–seems at odds with the restaurant’s location in nondescript one-story brick building.  But the brightly-hued interior is more promising, with the delectable aromas of Nepali, Tibetan, and Indian cuisine wafting off the buffet table.  The daily lunch buffet is offered from 11:30 to 3:00, with a rotating selection of soups, bread, rice, and meat and vegetable curries.  Otherwise, you can order from the regular menu, which includes momo (steamed dumplings), noodles, roasted tandoor dishes, and an array of vegetarian, chicken, lamb, goat, yak, and fish curries.

Everest on Grand

Vegetable Momo

Although the lunch buffet is tempting, try the momo, Nepali/Tibetan steamed dumplings filled with vegetables (spinach, cabbage, and onion), meat (ground turkey and pork), chicken, or yak.  Carefully pleated and plump with filling, the momo have a soothing doughy texture, and the tasty spinach-heavy filling of the vegetable momo provides the smug satisfaction of actually enjoying food with some redeeming nutritional value.  But the highlight is the momo achaar, a spicy house-made tomato-based sauce with cilantro and a uniquely delicious combination of spices–I found myself scraping the last bits of sauce up with my fork after I ran out of dumplings.

Everest on Grand

Daal

Everest on Grand

Roti, minus my first bites

A half order of momo makes for a satisfying lunch, especially when paired with a bowl of daal or piece of roti.  The daal is a brothy lentil soup, with a warming gingery flavor profile.  The roti, a platter-sized round of bread, has papery-crisp exterior and a thin, wholesomely wheaty chewy interior.  It’s a perfect for sopping up daal, and I should have thought to try it with my leftover momo sauce.

The restaurant’s only drawback was the sluggish lunchtime service, possibly due to a focus on the buffet.  So settle in, admire the framed poster of the Himalayas, and eagerly anticipate your order of St. Paul’s tallest taste, served in a convenient dumpling form with a sauce of sky-high deliciousness.

★★★ out of 4 (recommended)

Everest on Grand
http://www.everestongrand.com/
1278 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105
(651) 696-1666

Everest on Grand on Urbanspoon

Favorite Twin Cities Coffee and Tea Shops

My love of coffee shops far outstrips my need for coffee–I never really picked up the habit, and sleep issues have led me to dial way back on my caffeine consumption.  But the appeal of coffee shops transcends the actual coffee: the whirring of blenders, the bulletin board of flyers promoting local bands, the smell of fresh grounds and baked goods.  And when it comes to writing, I am far more productive in a coffee shop, where I’m paying good money for the privilege of sitting there, compared to at home, with the distractions of laundry and random Internet browsing.  Here are my favorite spots in the Twin Cities for grabbing a cappuccino or herbal tea and a snack and getting some writing done.

Favorite Coffee and Tea Shops

Clockwise from upper left: Nina’s Coffee Cafe; desserts at Truffles & Tortes Dessert Cafe; herbal tisane at the Tea Garden

  • Nina’s Coffee Cafe, St. Paul.  Ambiance-wise, this is my favorite–it’s located in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood, in a historic building with high ceilings, exposed brickwork, a bookstore in the basement, and for some reason, a six-foot replica Statue of Liberty.  The cappuccinos are frothier than you can can imagine, and best when paired with one of the incredibly dense, big-enough-to-share brownies (I’ve never attempted to eat one solo).  Other good beverage bets are the chai latte and Montana Gold herbal tea.  Nina’s always seems to be bustling, so be prepared to circle around a bit to find a spot.
  • Truffles and Tortes Dessert Cafe, Anoka.  In the fall, the pumpkin lattes are a must-try: in contrast to the chain coffee shop versions, they’re light on sweetness but strong on the spice.  In the summer, try a mocha or caramel frappe.  However, as the name suggests, the best thing about Truffles and Tortes is the desserts.  They’re a bit on the pricey side, but one dessert easily serves two.  Favorites include the Bailey’s rhumba, which is a light, creamy mousse laced with Bailey’s atop a thin layer of chocolate cake and coated with a chocolate ganache; the Andes mint rhumba, which features a refreshing minty mousse; and the red velvet cake, sold by the slice.  They also serve a small selection of soups, salads, and sandwiches.  The major drawback is that the WiFi is turned off between 10 am and 3 pm.
  • The Tea Garden, various locations.  Since I am primarily a tea drinker, the Tea Garden is my favorite beverage stop.  According to their website, there are over 2.3 million drink combinations, ranging from ice tea lattes and shakes to pots of loose leaf tea.  One of my favorite cold drinks is iced green tea with pomegranate or raspberry flavoring and tri-colored jellies.  My favorite hot loose leaf tisanes (aka herbal teas) are Eve’s Temptation, with a tart apple flavor, and Par Amour, a blend of strawberry and hibiscus.  As added bonus, there is a buy-one-get-one-half-priced discount if you’re an MPR member.  Unfortunately, as of late the food options have been limited to packaged snacks.

Any other Twin Cities coffee or teas shops I should check out?