Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving leftovers, Chinese style

After all the shopping, preparation and cooking, Thanksgiving is over and everything has returned to normal (except, perhaps, our waistlines). If you hosted or even attended the holiday meal, it's a pretty sure bet that you've got some leftover turkey in your fridge at this very moment. Not to fear: at this time of year, food publications all over the country are printing recipe after recipe designed to make use of the excess bird: some more traditional, some less so. The recipe I'm sharing today definitely falls into the latter camp. Now don't get me wrong: my favorite Thanksgiving leftovers are, most certainly, of the traditional ilk. My personal choice has always been, and always will be, a sandwich of turkey and cranberry sauce on rye (the only appropriate bread for a Jewish Thanksgiving gathering). But I have to admit that after eating one, two or three of these beauties and still being left with turkey to use up, my tastebuds start to crave something a little less familiar and a little more exciting.

Such was the position I found myself in earlier today. With stomach grumbling, I opened the fridge door and noticed two items: a Ziploc bag of sliced turkey meat generously gifted to me by my grandmother, and a small container of white rice that I had prepared earlier in the week before going out of town for the holiday. Instantly I had it: fried rice. Leftovers, basically, were created for fried rice: I've talked about it on here before, and I'm sure I will again. That's because once you've got a standing supporting cast of Asian condiments like soy sauce, sesame oil and chili paste on hand, the glory of fried rice can be yours at almost any moment: nearly any kind of protein, no matter how it was originally seasoned, or any kind of cooked vegetable, can be cut up and thrown into fried rice, and it will taste good. Take my word for it. Or go a step further and try this recipe yourself.

Turkey Fried Rice

Makes 1 serving

1. Cut a small portion of leftover cooked turkey meat into a small dice. Set aside.
2. Defrost a generous handful of frozen peas or frozen mixed vegetables by placing them in a bowl and covering with hot water.
3. Mince 1 - 2 garlic cloves and cook in vegetable oil in a large wide skillet or wok set over a medium flame.
4. After 2 minutes, add a serving of leftover cooked rice. Heat through, adding soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha or chili paste and Chinese preserved vegetables, if available, to taste (about 1 teaspoon each).
5. Drain the peas and add them to the pan. Add the turkey meat to the pan. Stir frequently to heat everything through.
6. In a small bowl, beat 1 egg. Add it to the pan, stirring constantly, to break up and cook the egg. Taste the rice for seasoning and serve with a handful of chopped fresh cilantro.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eating Club: Staten Island Ferry to Little Sri Lanka

Anatomy of a Sri Lankan buffet plate (clockwise from the papadum): leeks, dhal, eggplant, chicken curry, potato, bitter gourd, coconut sambol, goat curry, and kingfish curry; mango and pineapple chutney, yellow rice (center).


For many, the Staten Island ferry is not so much a form of transportation but rather a free, fail-safe way to entertain out-of-town guests: hop aboard, point out the Statue of Liberty, and wait in the Staten Island ferry terminal for the next boat back to Manhattan.
But Staten Island is not merely a turn-around point nor an imagined place--a netherland--where Hans van den Broek plays cricket in Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. In fact, among other groups, Staten Island is home to more than 1/3 of New York's Sri Lankan population. Interesting note: while there are ethnic clashes in the mother country, Tamils and Sinhalese are at peace in Staten Island's Sri Lankan enclave (at least according to a somewhat dated City Limits article).

This month, the MTA Dining Car--a monthly eating club devoted to outer borough trekking--headed to Staten Island. The destination: Sanrasa's $11 Sunday buffet in Tompkinsville (aka Little Sri Lanka), just a 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal on Staten Island.

We gazed out of the rain-slickened ferry window, searching for the Manhattan skyline. It was the kind of gloomy afternoon in which one realizes: winter is nearly upon us once more. And yet, we knew the meal to come would warm our hearts and sinuses with hot chilis and fiery curries, chasing away the onslaught of seasonal despair.

The view from the ferry's bow: in the distance, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge; in the foreground, what appears to be the kind of kiddy gate that one might use on a staircase.

Bay Street en route to Tompkinsville.

There's something vaguely Soviet about Staten Island.

On the exterior of the Cargo Cafe, thanks to the handywork of the local Budos Band, a pirate fights a fire-breathing dragon beneath a "Starry Night"-inspired sky. Previously, paintjobs by artist Scott LoBaido have included scenes of King Kong and giant parakeets with humans dangling out of their mouths. For the Cargo Cafe's interior, self-described "Creative Patriot" LoBaido once painted a portrait of Rudy Giuliani as a Roman soldier atop a rearing stallion, raising a billowing American flag with the flagpole doing double duty as a spear--which Giuliani uses to slay a demon/terrorist in the wreckage of what appears to be the Twin Towers.

Just up the street: a more conceptual painting, which the Cargo Cafe's manager thought to be a LoBaido as well.

One house still featured Halloween decorations. (Yes, that's a toy puppy with a knife in its skull.)

At long last! The Sanrasa buffet spread. Earthenware pots are to Sri Lankan food what the slow cooker is to flyover state American food: a sign of home cooking.

For the dhal, the lentils are simmered in coconut milk along with turmeric, cumin seed, red chili, and clove. Sanrasa owner Sanjay Handapangoda pan-roasts the spices himself.

Bitter gourd ("karvilla" in Sinhalese) is sliced, fried, and tossed with raw red onion, vinegar, mustard seed, and green chilis for a multilayered sweet and tangy flavor. If you assume Sri Lankan food to be a variant of Indian food, this dish will convince you otherwise.

The implicit question of the buffet is: how to stop? Returning to the buffet line "just for dessert" (see mango mousse in lower-right corner), one might then look down to see a full plate of chicken curry, yellow rice, dhal, pineapple chutney, bitter gourd, and coconut sambol (an all-purpose sweet and spicy condiment of grated coconut, chili, and lemon juice).

And yet: somehow we stopped eating, boarded the ferry, and watched Staten Island grow distant from the aft-end of the boat.

In the end, the sun came out just in time for it to set. Even if you live in New York, in moments like these, you're allowed to take photos with a tourist's unselfconscious sense of awe.

-Kiera Feldman