Jan 12, 2011

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way.

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that helps you answer the question: What to cook? OK, and, what to eat? Yes, and, what to drink? All right, I guess that's many questions. That's how we roll.

What's on your agenda today? We have Tim Carman's interesting analysis of the winter farmers markets (are some becoming too much like food courts?). And Steve Katz got some fantastic recipes for chaat (such as the Aloo Tikki below) from some of the area's best Indian chefs, including KN Vinod, who's here with us today. We also have Bill Booth's portrait of the fiery Diana Kennedy, whose new book chronicles the delicious, rich cuisine of Oaxaca.

And we'll have giveaway books: In honor of the Indian food all over our recipe page today, we have "At Home with Madhur Jaffrey" and "Anhum's New Indian" by Anjum Anand. But that doesn't mean you have to ask about Indian food to win one! We're open to anything.

OK, let's roll.

Is it worth it to make Angel Food Cake homemade? It just seems such a waste to get a dozen eggs just to use the whites, and I can't imagine what I'd do with a dozen yolks other than make too much hollandaise sauce. I'm just wondering, is anyone going to take a difference if I make it homemade versus just buying premade or the box mix.

You might just guess I'd say Yes! Making Your Own Is Better! But hear me out: AFC was my dad's favorite cake and as a teen baker I would make him cakes from a certain red-box mix. They turned out okay, but definitely sweet. Never ethereal. Then I made my first souffle, and saw the ingredients were awfully similar. I made an angel food cake from scratch (Maida Heatter's) and never looked back. Whip egg whites properly, gently fold in flour; these are techniques that will serve you well for many recipes.

You will have egg yolks left over. You can freeze them (lightly beaten) to make your own mayo, lemon curd, for egg washes on breads, etc.  Check out this handy list of other uses (by number of yolks!) by my colleague Jane Touzalin, who writes those lovely Chat Leftover answers for our blog on  Wednesday mornings. BTW, I've experimented individual AFCs like these Angel Food Cakes With Tangerines using the all-egg white liquid products in the dairy case, with some hits and misses. But maybe making individual ones that call for just 2 whites is something to consider?

Hello, I am from Sri Lanka and was delighted to see you serve string hoppers at Indiques Heights? Why did you discontinue it and will you bring it back? By the way, Thank you for all the wonderful dishes at Indique and Bombay Bistro.

Thank you so much for your comments. Yes it is true that we served string hoppers when we opened Indique Heights. For those of you who are not familiar with string hoppers (idiappam) are made with rice flour kneaded with hot boiling water and made into very thin noodles and steamed and are very popular in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. It can accompany any meat or veg dish - often it is served with coconut milk , cardamom powder and sugar for breakfast.

As you all know the food in India is extremeley varied from region to region. When we started serving "Idiappam" even customers who are from India but not from the southern part would question us as to why we were serving "noodles" with Indian food. This would break my heart: first of all it was not easy to make idiappam. In fact to make it in bulk, I had to source a vendor from Canada who could fabricate a machine to make this. After going through all this guests who were not familiar with it would look at us strangely, wondering why we were serving "noodles" in an Indian restaurant. So we decided to give it up.

thanks, can i recommend to everyone they get a crockpot, some meat and potatoes and soon, you have tremendous beef stew. Add wine as needed.

Yep, you can. Some of us have been slower to come around to slow cookers than others. I'm there -- for stews as you say (like this Lamb Stew Agrodolce below) but especially for beans!

I've never been to Eastern Market during the winter. Do they still have everything up? Anything good that I should watch out for this week?

The Eastern Market can be pretty spare during the winter. There are some outdoor vendors there, but it's best to call the market to find out who will be showing up. (Phone: 202-698-5253.) Also you should know this: A number of people criticize Eastern Market for being a wholesale market, meaning that some of the vendors purchase their produce from wholesalers, where the fruits and veggies could come from anywhere.

I've heard Jason Wilson make mention of winter drinks previously and today he presents the "Winter Daiquiri". I think I'm struggling a bit with the concept of what drinks are considered winter vs summer (or fall, spring, or year round for that matter). Is it the ingredients? If so, which are considered summer/winter? Is it the type of drink (sour vs fizz, for example)? Thank you for your input!

This is a very good question. In the case of the Winter Daiquiri, I was refering to the use of clementines, so it's more of a seasonal issuse, clementines being in season right now. Strawberries or pumpkin would be other times of the year. But more broadly, a winter drink is just one that feels right in the wintertime -- so it's incredibly subjective. For me, I think certain cocktails with brown spirits feel more like "fall" (apple brandy) or "winter" (bold, rich whiskey cocktails) as opposed to maybe certain aperitifs like Aperol or Lillet Blanc which feel like warm weather ingredients. Or yes, the type of drink, like a fizz or sour or something refreshing with tonic or ginger ale. Frankly, your winter drink is whatever you happen to enjoy from December 21 to March 21. If that happens to be a gin & tonic, have at it.

I am making homemade enchilladas for a co-worker who wants to serve them for dinner Friday night. I would like to make them tonight or tomorrow night and then bring them to him. How best to do that? Would you recommend I cook them entirely and then just have him reheat the pan? Or should I have him add the top layer of sauce and cheese to cook at home? I've made this recipe before, it does heat up really nicely. Thanks for the advice!

Since you have good reheating experience with these, I'd go that route. Enchiladas are very forgiving, aren't they? Love that about them. I also think you could just assemble them, top sauce and cheese included, and cover and refrigerate, and he could just bake it. Can't imagine that'd cause any probs.

There aren't a lot of places that sell lamb meat cubed for stewing as is (at least near me). What cut should I get and have cut for me?

A boneless leg'll do. It'd be easy to bring that hunk o' meat home and cut it yourself -- that way you could control the amount of fat on the pieces.

I made a potato recipe from Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home" cook book which called for frying the potatoes in oil in a pan. He said to crush garlic with the side of a knife and add it to the pan without removing the skin. Why? Why would you leave the skin on the crushed bulb? Is that just a restaurant thing where cooks don't have the time to remove the peel or is there some extra flavor added?

Is it the Potato Pave? My guess is that the skin would help keep the garlic from burning, and that this is a clever way of getting us to crush the garlic so gently that the skin stays on. Not sure the garlic gets served in the end if that's the recipe you're talking about.

How can I do Tandoori chicken on my BBQ grill?

I would marinate the chicken pieces  with yogurt, ginger, garlic, salt, red chile powder and garam masala for a few hours or may be overnight in a refrigerator and grill as you would do any other chicken.

The only thing I might add is grilling the chicken on both sides over a charcoal/wood fire, then, still using direct fire, closing the lid and smoking for a while. Finish with a quick grill on both sides again. 

Chef, Aloo tikki looks good! My daughter is allergic to green peas. What do you recommend instead of peas?

At Indique and Indique Heights we stuff them with green peas, but you can definitely stuff them with anything you like, may be with chana dal (bengal gram dal) - you might have to cook with a little bit of water.

If you like you can stuff them with spice ground chicken, ground lamb or ground beef! It is going to taste Yum! cook the ground meat with some shallots, ginger, garlic, onions, and some garam masala.

Hey, Joe -- Have you seen this yet? It's a recipe celebrity chef Paula Deen posted on the Food Network site for "English peas." The recipe asks you to combine two cans of peas with a half-stick of melted butter. And that's it. The comments readers have posted are hilarious. Had me crying with laughter. Thought you and the other Rangers might enjoy.

Oh, my. That's a riot.

What a character! Maybe she was so huffy because she hadn't planned on one more person for lunch? Like if you show up at a sit-down dinner party with an unexpected guest, and there's only enough Veal Prince Orloff for the invited number, plus the extra person doesn't fit at the main table so has to sit at another one all by himself. And then one guest takes 3 portions of veal for himself. It happened to Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It could happen to Diana Kennedy, too. No? Loved the article. Jealous that you got to spend the afternoon with her and have her cook for you! I'm afraid, however, you won't be invited back if she reads what you wrote. I think the book sounds totally wonderful and brilliantly arranged. If I had it, I'd use it not only to cook, but to plan a visit to Oaxaca, region by region. Yum! Will you be sharing some recipes with us ... please?

Oh, my, I love that Veal Prince Orloff episode. Some friends and I had a Julia Child/MTAoFC party last year, and the host made the dish -- and guests brought that episode on DVD, so we watched while we ate. BTW, it feeds an army!

Now, onto Oaxaca and DK. Bill Booth's story is a good example of how the best journalistic profiles don't aim to please the source but instead aim to serve the reader by accurately depicting someone's personality, warts and all. We did share this recipe from the book: Oaxacan Pico de Gallo.

I know of 3 primary farmer's markets in DC proper: Dupont Circle on Sundays, Eastern Market on Sundays, and a smaller one in the Foggy Bottom area on Wednesday evenings. If I'm just looking for produce (as opposed to eggs or meat or baked goods) which is my best bet?

Far and away, Dupont Circle is the best market in D.C., winter or summer. A number of farmers there use greenhouses and high tunnels to keep the produce coming in the cold months. One of the farmers, Zachariah Lester from Tree & Leaf, has started to experiment with some Italian greens like puntarelle. As you can imagine, Lester is popular with chefs pushing Italian dishes, like Dean Gold from Dino.

Just FYI: There is another market, too. It's the USDA Winter Farmers Market on Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. More info here.

I can understand the prepared foods part of the deal (and, to some extent, even the soaps and lotions), but our summer market also includes jewelry, children's books, massage therapists, and pottery. While I have no objection to these vendors, how do they fit into the farmer's market philosophy?

That's a good question. Which summer market are you talking about?

Great, so I've been fooling myself with rice cakes -- See Rice cakes and Clif Bars are full of empty promises. (HuffPo) in today's All We Can Eat. Please tell me what food I can eat in pretty large quantities while I try to lose weight. I am very oral and don't want to take up cigarettes, for obvious reasons. Carrots have great crunch but also lots of sugar. Radishes are good but cause flatulence. Are they the best choices, or is there something else? Not chicken broth 'cause that's either sodium-heavy or tasteless. And not chewy. Popcorn? Thanks for your suggestions.

As someone who's in the sloooow process of losing weight (like maybe for the last time, I'm hoping), may I suggest a bit of a mindset? Maybe the thing to think about is no longer eating mass quantities of anything you can snack on. Dietitians have long promoted nutrient-dense foods -- mostly vegetables -- so I guess I'd say instead of trying to find one thing you can go to town on, think about diversifying. Sometimes a big crunchy apple is just the ticket, while other times a pureed vegetable soup will fill you up. That said, have you tried Popghum, which I think is sold at Whole Foods? It eats like popcorn but it's organic sorghum. No hulls in your teeth, and comes in flavors.

I'm sure chatters can weigh in on this one....

Two questions for Jason. I have to write a poem about cocktails for a friend (it's a long story), but I have never really been a cocktail drinker so this is going to be a bit of a stretch. I usually drink wine (including port, brandies, and sherries). I like a gin and tonic in the summer, and years ago I had a Rob Roy (which I remember liking). I once had a martini and absolutely hated it. So, I think I need to do some research. Question 1: which basic cocktails (say, three) would you recommend I try? And Question 2, what is the essence of a good cocktail? Thanks very much.

I would like to see a copy of that poem when it's finished! Do you work in free verse, or do you write poems that rhyme? Perhaps that be could an issue when it comes to choosing which cocktail to write about. There are so so many cocktails to try. My personal favorites are the Manhattan and the Negroni. If you like port, brandies, and sherry, then there are tons of cocktails you might like. With sherry, you might try the Sargasso (rhum agricole and sherry) or the Duke of Marlborough (sherry and vermouth) -- though I guess the Duke of Marlborough might mess up the meter of the poem? Or with brandy, you could, alliteratively, try the Stinger, Saratoga, or Phoebe Snow. In fact, sometimes when I look at cocktail guides, the cocktail names themselves suggest a sort of poetry. H.L. Mencken famously called the martini, "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet." But since you hate martinis, maybe you hate sonnets, and Mencken, too? As for the essence of a good cocktail? It should have balance. It should have symmetry. It should taste of strong, sweet, bitter, sour, and perhaps even a little savory. It should be delicious. It should, in short, be very much like a lyric poem.

...and now I have iced tea all over my keyboard. Thanks a lot.

Please ask Chef Vinod what he believes that American culinary schools and their students can learn by teaching about Indian food and cooking.

Indian cooking will introduce american culinarians to a whole range of ingredients, technique and spices not used in western cooking. They will enable them to expand their skill set. For example vegetarian foods, specially extensive use of legumes( dals such as moong, urad) etc , proteins such as paneer, and making gravies and stews using ingredients such as onions, tomatoes, with spices and gravy, use of yogurt , coconut milk in stews and curries. It also opens them to a whole range of chutneys, pickles and sauces ( not used in classical french cuisine)

My friend's birthday is coming up, and when I asked her what her favorite "treat" was, she said anything white chocolate macadamia. I'd like to be more creative than just the typical cookie. Is there anything fun I could make with this classic combo? She doesn't like cheesecake, which unfortunately was my first thought. Love the chats!

I have a high opinion of cookies built with white chocolate and macadamia nuts -- especially when dried cranberries are added. But if you're feeling adventuresome, this Southern Living coffee cake looks like it might be just the ticket (I haven't tried it).

I am hoping you can help me track down a recipe for my mom. Years and years ago she cut out a recipe from the Food section for winter root vegetable stew with lamb (longer than your archives go back online - maybe going on 20 years?) and this winter she misplaced her copy. Is there any chance you can find the recipe for her? It's been a long time since I've had it, but I remember turnips and parsnips specifically, if that helps... If you have any ideas, I'd really appreciate it.

Was it  this one, from 1990? If so, we'll get it into the database.


6 servings

This earthy stew of lamb and root vegetables makes an excellent winter couscous. To make a vegetarian version of the dish, omit the lamb and use more root vegetables.

1 pound lamb (leg or shoulder)
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
1 inch fresh ginger root
1/2 pound celeriac
1/2 pound turnips
1/2 pound carrots
1/2 pound Jerusalem artichokes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon saffron
4 cups chicken stock, veal stock, or water
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup cooked chick peas
1 small jar harissa* for serving (optional)

Trim the fat and sinew off the lamb and cut the meat into 1-inch pieces. Finely chop the onion. Mince the garlic and ginger. Peel the celeriac, turnips, carrots and Jerusalem artichokes and cut each into 1/2-inch dice.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute' pan. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper and brown it on all sides over high heat, working in several batches to keep from crowding the pan. Transfer the lamb to a platter with a slotted spoon. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger, and cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until soft but not brown.

Return the lamb to pan and add the spices and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and gently simmer the lamb for 20 minutes. Add the root vegetables, raisins and chick peas and continue cooking for 20 minutes, or until the lamb and vegetables are tender. Correct the seasoning. The stew can be prepared up to 48 hours ahead to this stage and reheated.

To serve, mound the couscous on a platter or plates and spoon the hot stew on top. If you like your food spicy, dissolve a teaspoon or so of harissa* in a ladleful of broth and spoon it over the couscous.

*Harissa is a fiery chili paste available in gourmet shops and Middle Eastern grocery stores. If unavailable, substitute sambal ulek (Indonesian chili paste) or Vietnamese chili paste.

In today's article about Diana Kennedy (and I've often heard she's fairly grouchy), it says something along the lines of shoot yourself if you own a garlic press. Isn't that a bit harsh? It's my understanding that some dishes (maybe not Mexican) benefit from crushed garlic as opposed to chopped and that the different techniques do different things to the garlic. Can you clarify? Sometimes I chop, sometimes I press/crush, sometimes I slice. Am I falling down on the garlic job?

I think you're doing just fine. I think DK was talking about people with a less sophisticated understanding of the various uses of garlic than you...

Years ago, I was a guest at a banquet in Oaxaca. Heaping plates of local delicacies were served one after another so the hostess could watch us furriners taste each one and then tell us about it. The most memorable was something that I understood to be some sort of cheese -- I was at the far end of the table, but it sounded like "queso de"-something, "queso" meaning "cheese." Except it wasn't "queso," which is pronounced KAY-so, it was "seso," which is pronounced SAY-so. Brains. And not just any brains ... After we each had swallowed (or surreptitiously hidden in our napkins) one of the taste treats, our hostess proudly said, "Aren't they delicious? Pig brains -- and they're raw! It's a special local delicacy that you won't find anyplace else!" Yeah, I wonder why not ... No wonder it tasted so strange... As far as I know, none of us got sick. But lemme tell you, beef brains cooked with jalapenos and garlic sounds a lot safer.

Wow. I've had brains -- beautifully fried by a great Italian chef outside Boston. I loved em. Raw? I'd have a tough time with that, too.

Looking at the 4-tamale recepie, I want to try it but lack the steamer. What's a good way to improvise one?

Hmm. Do you have a colander that would fit inside a pot and could be covered (if not with a lid, then with foil)? That might work. Even a little steamer basket -- which if you don't have I suggest you get -- would suffice. Just lean the tamales up against the side of the pot. The idea is to not stack them if at all possible.

I absolutely LOVE Indian food but every time I try my hand at making a curry, the flavors don't seem right (I find I usually get the spice but not the flavor right). What are the basics that I should keep in my house i.e. tumeric, coconut milk, etc. and what's the secret to get that wonderful bouquet of flavors?

Some of the basic spices that I would carry in my pantry are red chile powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, whole spices like cardamom, cinnamon, clove, bayleaves etc

Internet is a wonderful resource for Indian cooking. Youtube specifically can give you access to thousands of demonstrations which is a good way to get a feel for it. 

Jim, What's a good basic smoker, brand or type, for a beginner?

"Good" is always the question. A lot of folks start on a relatively inexpensive (about $200 or less) offset smoker, such as the Brinkmann Smoke'n'Pit and the CharGriller 1224 Smokin'Pro. Both are excellent. But they leak smoke like top unnamed government officials. Still, if you are patient, they turn out great food and teach you a lot about fire. 

If you want something with a little less hassle, the Weber Smokey Mountain (around $300) is terrific. Seals are tight, made well. But it's not offset. It is a "bullet smoker," looks a little like R2D2. That said, you can do wonderful smoked meats on it. 

Finally, there is always the standard Weber kettle (around $150). Smoking a little more of a challenge, but it can be done. 

Tim, that flyer doesn't have the address - is it the building in SW?

Sorry! Here's a better page with an address.

See Dorothy Parker: "I like to have a martini, two at the very most. Three I'm under the table. Four I'm under the host."

Haha, a good one!

MTAoFC? "Some friends and I had a Julia Child/MTAoFC party last year"

I'll give you a hint: her blockbuster first book, the one that made her a household name!

Thank you, Jason. That's a big help. I was thinking of cocktails in terms of balance and symmetry, so it's good to know that I'm on the right track. I write free verse; I have been published in several journals and have done a number of readings. I have a whole series of poems about fruits and vegetables--I love writing those. I will send you a copy of the poem when I'm done--do you have an email address? Thanks again.

You can always email me at jason@jasonwilson.com - I look forward to it!

We are having a contest in our office for "best cocktail" and I am in charge of prizes. I'd love to give a gift card to a restaurant that serves great cocktails, as well as a cookbook for drink basics. I was also thinking something along the line of Sur La Table or Williams Sonoma. I'd love to get your input!

I know a good drinks book that was just published a few months ago...it's called Boozehound. :) As for restaurants that serve interesting cocktails, Proof and Estadio are always nice.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking!

Ding ding ding ding ding!

Unless I am showing off or using garlic slivers or some other variation I jsut use my garlic press. Skin on and in it goes to chile, ragus etc. And I will challenge Ms Kennedy to a garlic mincing contest anyday. Used to do it for a living. Mincing garlic is showing off and a foo foo status simple. Come on we all know that real foodies actually go out and to farm and neuter the ram lambs the old fashion way like the old sheperds did. We use your teeth to bite through the tendon holding the package and then spit them into a pan for mountain oysters for lunch. And you keep the razor blade in your mouth as you work.

Take it from me: Don't challenge DK to anything!

Don't forget the White House one! Not actually sponsored by the WH, that's just the location, but it's a great, small market to pick up some necessities on a Thursday. Plus, it's open until 7 and one of the cheese sellers has feta that is to die for!

Well, don't go there now! Because it's closed for the season. See FreshFarm's page.

I lost 25 lbs a few years back (over the course of a couple of years) and you really do have to develop a different mindset. Eat every few hours, small amounts. Your body will get used to it and it will be hard to eat massive amounts at once after a while. Eat something filling for breakfast (e.g., oatmeal or high fiber cereal with skim milk). For lunch, eat lean protein and vegetables (e.g., salad with tofu, soup with beans). For a snack, eat nonfat Greek yogurt sprinkled with high-fiber cereal and a little honey. For dinner, again focus on lean protein and vegetables. I am a vegetarian, but if you're not, you have even wider options (chicken and fish, primarily). If you do that and make sure you are not eating large portions, you really shouldn't have a problem. Oh yes, and exercise! Now I pretty much eat what I want, but I have gotten used to my weekday routine of oatmeal for breakfast, protein/veg for lunch (no carbs), and the yogurt snack. I eat what I want for dinner, just making sure it's not too much in quantity. And I do some form of intense aerobic exercise four times a week, no excuses (think of me tomorrow morning at 6:30, when it's 19 degrees and I will be going for my run...) Good luck!!

All good advice. I'm on a weight-loss regimen myself, and share many of your same approaches. Thanks much!

What favorite drinks do Indians select to accompany chaats when bought as street food in India? What do you recommend is best in a restaurant?

In India we normally have "Nimboo Paani" which is basically fresh lemon juice either with sugar or salt or sometimes with both with a dash of "kala namak" - black salt.

Other drinks would be to have lassis - sweet or Mango. At Indique and Indique Heights you must try the tamarind margarita or a magotini which will also go well.


My husband is going to the Dehli area on business in early February and I want him to bring back some spices for us that he might not be able to get here. Do you have recommendations for what spices he should bring back and what recipes we might make with them? As a bit of background, we are novice (but enthusiastic) Indian cooks and with a toddler, we tend to make dishes that require less time on the preparation end. Thanks!

Twenty five years ago, when I came to this country all the spices were not available and we would bring stuff from India. Now a days everything is available and there is no need whatsoever to cart the spices from India.

To begin with I would recommend get a  good cookbook preferbaly by a US based author. Two names that come to my mind are  cookbook authors Raghavan Iyer or Monica Bhide. 

From time to time our executive chefs S.Balamurugan , Abraham Varghese and I conduct cooking classes. we normally post them on our website - www.indiqueheighs.com or on my blog : www.chefvinod.typepad.com.

For the person who's looking to lose weight and snack, I've been having some success doing weekend pre-planning of, and packing every day, bento-like lunches that are very veggie-heavy with a little bit of protein and carb as a treat. The key is to pack just a little bit of everything, and not relying on one thing--so a few carrots, a few radishes, (raw or pickled form) some steamed eggplant, some blanched kale or spinach... you can either eat these in one go or spread them through the day by nibbling on bits of each. The resource I'm using is the website www.justbento.com (the author also came out with a Just Bento cookbook recently, too, that has been getting accolades). She provides meal planning tips, especially what can be made ahead and stored in the freezer for a quick pack-up in the morning. On the sister site, Just Hungry, there's also an article about zero-carb, low-calorie but filling noodle-like Japanese foods, konnyaku and shirataki, the latter of which is pasta-like. (The questioner probably won't like konnyaku since it's chewy, though.) http://www.justhungry.com/2007/01/konnyaku_and_shirataki_ojftmhy.html I'm not affiliated with the websites, but since it is a great resource, and since I am losing weight after a bit of time using the sites to pack more veggie-heavy food for my lunch, I thought it might work for others, too.

Interesting -- thanks!

I'm trying to branch out into new foods, and get creative with healthy ideas. Do you have any good, basic (and healthy) recipes for celery root? Does it take like celery? I've also seen dragonfruit at Safeway. Anything fun I could use those for?

Good for you. Celery root, aka celeriac, doesn't exactly taste like celery although an unpeeled bulb certainly smells like it. You can use it raw in salads such as this one with apple or puree it as a lovely side dish or soup. It's pretty awesome in this Tangy Chicken Salad With Celery 3 Ways.

Dragonfruit is pretty cool. I've only eaten it fresh; it has crunchy seeds encased in what I perceived as not overly sweet fruity matter. Maybe it's so visual, the thing to do is serve as?

Please help! The link isn't working, and it sounds like something delicious I would love to make this weekend!

Sorry about that! We're trying to fix, but the system is WAY SLOW. Here's the direct link.

Hi Free Range, I wanted to let you know that the link to the pico de gallo recipe on the main Food page doesn't work, says there's an error or recipe can't be found. When you search pico de gallo in the recipe finder the link works though.

How cruel of us. Fixed now. Here's the direct link.

Joe, I was fascinated by the advice to heat corn tortillas directly on the flame. Thank you - I've been looking for years for a good way to re-heat tortillas, as the microwave method really does not please me and the oil method does result in extra grease in the dish. Tell me, do you know a good local place to get fresh tortillas? The closest I know are in Baltimore, and that's a bit far to go on a regular basis. Maybe I just need to get a tortilla press. Indian - I love Indian snacks, so I'll be making chaats now that you have given me terrible cravings. But my other favorite Indian snack is one that a college friend used to bring back when she visited her parents. (She was a Gujarati woman from east Africa). It was chickpeas, boiled, smashed flat, fried, and spiced. It was so good. I have found similar but not identical things in the Indian Stores here. Any advice on making this, or finding it?

Glad you liked -- I never do it any other way since I first tried that. The flame does more than just reheat them; it honestly brings them back to life, seemingly no matter how stale they are!

As for where to get good ones, I have started making my own sometimes after the great Pati Jinich gave me a series of lessons. (Allow me a shameless plug: The recipe is in my book, out in March.) But I also sometimes buy them -- see this piece on our corn tortilla taste test. The Trader Joe's ones were tops.

I'll let chef Vinod handle the second part of your question.

 If you go to gujarati owned Indian grocery store like Patel Brothers in Rockville or Silver Spring, you should be able to find it.

I loved Steven Katz's article on Indian's chaats! Indian food is one of my favorites since there are so many options for vegetarians. I've been to a restaurant in Columbia, The Mango Grove, that offers a Tikki Channa Chaat that is lovely. I've been searching high and low for a recipe to recreate this delightful appetizer. Any ideas where I could get it?

I think Steve has done a wonderful job by explaining chaats.The tikki channa chaat that you are referring to is close to the Aloo tikki recipe that we have in the paper today. So go ahead and try it.

Would using a container of all egg whites (rather than separating the egg myself) be disasterous to making buttercream, meringues or souffles? Are there any add-ins in the product that might affect the fluffiness of the egg whites?

You'll have to check the individual brands; some do have additives and others don't. I'd say a lot of lift would be challenging (like for that angel food cake i spoke of earlier). For meringues and the buttercream you should be okay.

Local vendors. Handmade. ...

I guess those massages are hand-made, too, in their own way!

If I could just provide a rebuttal to the person recommending that everyone get a slow cooker: I recommend that you and everyone get a pressure cooker. You'll get a stew thats even more tasty and much, much quicker... like in about an hour from start to finish. I used to love my slow cooker and then I got a pressure cooker (actually the 3-in-1 Fagor which is also a slow cooker and rice cooker) and I never looked back.

Yes, we've run odes to pressure, too! I swing both ways.

I'm reading "The Taste of Country Cooking," by Edna Lewis, in advance for Black History Month (now that I'm an adult, I always read a couple of history books to mark the month). "Taste" is utterly delightful, and makes me want to read other food-oriented memoirs. What are some of your staff favorites? I've enjoyed Beard, Pepin, Reichl, Child, and Bourdain, myself.

MFK Fisher's "The Gastronomical Me" and Calvin Trillin's "Tummy Trilogy"

Some of my favorite authors include Jeffrey Steingarten ("The Man Who Ate Everything"), Michael Pollan ("Omnivore's Dilemma," and the amazing "Botany of Desire"), Patric Kuh ("The Last Days of Haute Cuisine"), Elizabeth David ("Italian Food"), and R.W. Apple ("Far Flung and Well Fed"). I second Reichl and Pepin and Bourdain.

I'll second (and third, as the case may be) all those and add one I'm hungry for after reading what some others are saying (including Bourdain): Gabrielle Hamilton's "Blood, Bones and Butter," out March 1. Look out!

The Montgomery County library has access to an online database of the Washington Post going back to 1898 or so. I've had great luck searching for very old food section recipes there. I've even found stuff that the excellent section staff was stumped by.

How bout we make a deal? Every Wednesday you camp out there with a laptop, and you can be our backup librarian! Seriously. That would be fantastic.

Last week Jason recommended a cocktail for me for the almond liqueur some friends got me (delicious by the way, thanks so much). The recipe called for agave nectar, which I didn't have at the time, so I subbed simple syrup, but yesterday I finally managed to find some of the nectar. Now I'm curious what else it would be good in (margaritas seems like an obvious choice).

You can experiment subbing the agave nectar for any cocktail recipe that calls for simple syrup and see how it works -- often it does, sometimes it doesn't. There's no need for it in a margarita -- only three ingredients there: tequila, fresh lime juice, Cointreau. But here's a variation, called a Paloma, with grapefruit juice, where agave syrup works well. Another tequila recipe where agave syrup works best is the Santa Maria punch.

Coming from Ithaca, NY, which has a GREAT (make that SUPERLATIVE) farmer's market, in which both farm and value-added products are sold, I'm not sure why this has to be an either/or issue. Folks in and around Ithaca love the market BECAUSE it has so many different products. The kicker is, they ALL have to be made/grown within a 30-mile or so radius of Ithaca. So, we not only have organic farmers of vegies and fruits, but also those raising beef, pork, chickens, plus the stands with ready-to-eat food, as well as wineries, house plants, carpenters, yarn/wool, etc. Everyone benefits, because it's like going to the grocery store--you might go there for only milk and bread, but you end up coming home with lots more!

Just out of curiosty: Does the Ithaca market have breads and pastries for sale too? And do the bakers have a source for wheat within 30 miles? (Not trying to be snide, just wondering if the market has a local wheat source.)

Do you have a good, short recipe for a barbecue sauce or seasoning for salmon or whitefish? My brother-in-law is retired and keeps me in constant fish supply, but I'm running out of ideas.

Try these sauces. The one that might work best with the fish is the Big Bob Gibson White Sauce.

Classic, thickish red bbq sauce.

Eastern North Carolina sauce.

Big Bob Gibson's White Sauce (and others).

You don't have to go to the library to use the databases - they're on the library's electronic resource page and available 24/7 to anybody with a Maryland consortium library card. I love my library.

Love it!

As we're talking about Indian food, does anyone have an opinion of Aarti Party, the new program on the Food Network with the Next Food Network Star winner Aarti Seguira? I love it--she's adorable and lots of fun. There's also a show on the sister network Cooking Channel called Spice Goddess, which I haven't seen but mean to.

I haven't seen the show, but during the NFNS I kept getting stuck on the fact that with her accent, it sounded like she was saying "potty"! Couldn't concentrate after that.

The novelist, who published two books of culinary essays before her untimely death.

Absolutely. Love her.

Any time anywhere. Loser makes a substantial 5 figure donation to the winners favorite charity

OK, feel free to suggest that to her, and see how it goes...

Those Indian recipes look amazingly wonderful. I'd have tried them for breakfast if I had the ingredients on-hand. Which brings me to my question: Where are the Indian markets in this area that sell the special ingredients mentioned in the recipes? (I don't drive, so if you know of any near a Metro stop, that'd be great; if you don't notice things like that 'cause you drive, not to worry, everyone reading this is on-line so we all can look up the specifics.) Thank you so much!

The ingredients mentioned in the recipe should be availabe at almost all Indian grocery stores in the area. My recommendation always is to go a store which is busy - so that you don't end up with stuff sitting on the shelves for months together.

Loved my summer CSA and I'm looking around for a spring one (preferably with pickups in the Columbia/Baltimore area). Anyone have any recommendations?

We're working on a list for winter that should carry through spring. Check back in a few weeks.

I've been seeing more and more meats or chicken being put on chaat--I don't remember that from my childhood chaats. Do you feel like this is a great new innovation? If so, what meats/chicken go well on what chaat ingredients?

I would think so. While growing up in India, I too do not remember having chicken or meat as chaats. One of the primary reasons, I would think was the lack of refrigeration.

In my opinion chicken and shrimps go well.

I'm having a bunch of my bf's friends come into town this weekend as a surprise. They're coming in Friday night. I'd like to make breakfast on Saturday for everyone, and need something quick and easy, but the catch is that I can't get any of the ingredients until Saturday morning, since my bf would be suspicious of two dozen eggs or anything else in the fridge. I was thinking scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, maybe pancakes? I would do potatoes but I don't want them to take too long to cook. Thank you!

Is he the kind of guy who would peek into foil-covered casserole or strata? If so,  you could get away from eggville and try these chilaquiles. Easy and good for a crowd.

Potatoes won't take long...you can make a hash in advance and maybe stash it in the freezer?

Chef Vinod: I have heard the term "gunpowder," used to describe a powder or chutney served with Dosas or Idlis - what is this? why this term? Bharath

"Gunpowder" is also called "mulagapodi" - it is basically a blend of different type of toasted lentils and spices with red chili which are ground into a powder. It is usually mixed with hot ghee ( clarified butter) and served with "Idli" ( steamed lentil and rice cakes) or all types of dosas.  I have no clue as to  how it got the name gun powder, but I guess it is due to the intensity of heat in this mixture.

I made waffles this weekend and the recipe called for both baking soda and baking powder. They didn't rise at all. Tasted great, but flat as pancakes. Which one makes the waffles rise? I suspect one of these items needs to be replaced, and I suspect the baking soda, but I'm not sure...

You know how to test baking soda, right? Mix 1/4 teaspoon with 2 teaspoons of distilled white vinegar. If the mixture does not bubble immediately, the baking soda's not working. Also, did you use the batter right away?

Is it possible to deconstruct chicken pot pie? The gravy is my favorite part. How can it be made to pour over chicken and vegetables?

Not sure why, but I thought of Chicken a la King right away.

Mr. Vinod, What a great pleasure eating at your restaurant! I'm new to the area - any suggestions for good Indian markets?

Thank you for the kind words. My standard answer has always been to go to an Indian market, which is busy. Patel Brothers , Amma Indian groceries, India Bazar etc come to mind.

It's the Old Town Fairfax market (Saturday mornings). Again, I don't personally object to these vendors as I see it as an avenue for a small business to get some exposure, but, if people are up in arms about the prepared foods, how do they feel about complete non-food items? Also, I didn't realize there are rules about who can and cannot be at a farmer's market, so I was curious as to how these fit in.

My hunch is most shoppers don't mind the value-added vendors. But I do think it can get to a point where you start to wonder where the farmers market ends and the outdoor food court begins. Most people, I suspect, go to farmers market with an eye toward cooking something themselves, not eating what's already prepared. Smith Meadows Farm does it both ways: They have fresh, farm-raised meats but also prepared ready-to-eat items from the Smith Meadows Grill. Those sausage wraps are unbelievably tasty!

Do lentils require different treatment in recipes depending on their color, or can I just use whatever I have on hand? Do the different colors also taste different from each other, or is it mostly a visual difference? Thank you.

Lentils definitely requires different treatment in recipes. The cooking time, taste etc vary from lentil to lentils. For example black dal - urad whole takes a whole lot longer to cook than a Moong dal .

What does chaat actually mean? I see different foods called chaat so I am wondering if there are different types of chaat or if has a meaning that can be used to describe various Indian snacks.

Chaat - literally means to lick

Has to be carefully watched. Slow cooker? I can leave it for 10 hours without worry. No contest for this busy lady.

My go-to Indian store is Shah and Patel in Rockville. 808 Hungerford Drive.

Definitely popcorn is the go-to "all you can eat" diet food, but I would also recommend foods with very high water content, i.e. watermelon, cucumbers, etc. You can make them more interesting by making your own greek yogurt dip or hummus.

Egg whites freeze well (better than yolks, I think), so you could do it the other way around: every time you use only a yolk, freeze the white and, when you have enough, make AFC. That's what my mom used to do. Also, FWIW, AFC is just as good made with potato starch as with wheat flour, so it's a great option for the gluten-intolerant.

Hello, Food staff. Do you have a favorite chicken soup recipe? (FWIW, I tried searching the recipe database and got everything with "soup" in the title.) Ideally, it would freeze and travel well, because I'm planning to bring some ready-to-heat dishes to a friend who just had knee replacement surgery. Other suggestions for reheatable foods would be welcome. Thanks!

I  love starting with this broth from Domenica Marchetti. I'll add roasted chicken chunks and vermicelli noodles and dill. This  Chicken Rice Soup With Avocado's a winner, too, although you'd have package the fixings separately. Worth it, though!

Well, you've drizzled us with mint chutney and date-tamarind chutney, then you've sprinkled us with red chili powder and roasted cumin powder, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today -- hope you enjoyed our a's. And thanks to special guest Chef KN Vinod for help answering the slew of Indian-cooking questions.

Now for the book giveaways: "At Home With Madhur Jaffrey" goes to the chatter who asked the chef about String Hoppers (because it resulted in such a great story). And "Anjum's New Indian" goes to the chatter who asked why it's called gunpowder. Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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