Monday, August 30, 2021

Half Door Brewing Company's Belgian Tripel

I recently spent several days in San Diego for work.  It is not the first time that I have spent a significant amount of time in "America's Finest City."  The last time that I did this trip, I found a small brew pub just outside the Gas Lamp District. It was Half Door Brewing Company.  It was also the place that I would go to get away from my work.

Fast forward a few years, and, I found myself back in San Diego. I was not able to get back to Half Door Brewing Company until the last day of my trip.  I went up to the bar and perused the beer list.  It seemed that hazy IPAs dominated that list, with the North East IPA, Diamond Dress, Swole City, and Hoban House IPA at the top of the list.  Then there were the lagers, with the Bat Flip to the Moon Black Lager, Media Puerta Mexican Lager and the Summer Bock bringing up the rear of the list. There were a couple of individual styles, such as a Dry Irish Stout and a Red Ale. But, one beer caught my eye. It was neither a hazy IPA nor a lager. It was one of my favorite styles, namely the Belgian Tripel.

I have done several reviews of Belgian Tripel beers; and, as I took a few sips from this beer, I decided that I should do another, albeit quick review. The reason is simple: Half Door Brewing Company's Tripel is a very good example of the style. 

The beer poured a solid golden color with decent clarity. The golden beer was topped with a white foam that receded to the edges.  The aromas of the beer greeted the nose with some of the traditional elements of the Belgian style, with some clove, banana and slight hint of the hops used to brew the beer. As for the taste, the Tripe was very smooth, a nice balance of both hops and malts that provided the foundation for some citrus fruits and some of that banana elements from the aroma. The beer also gave slight hints of the fact that it comes with a 10.8% ABV, which is at the high end of the alcohol content that one would expect from a Belgian Tripel. 

In the end, Half Door Brewing Company's Tripel was a good way to end a work trip.  If you happen to find yourself in San Diego for work (or for play or if you just live there), you may want to make your way to Half Door Brewing ... if only to try the Tripel.

ENJOY!

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Dominica

There is an old saying in the Caribbean, "nicknames are used in case the Devil comes asking for you." That may explain why many of the islands have nicknames. There is "Spice Island" (Grenada), "Helen of the West Indies" (St. Lucia), "Little England" (Barbados), and the "Island of Flowers" (Martinique). There is also "Nature Isle." This is the nickname for the Commonwealth of Dominica; or, as the indigenous Kalinago people refer to the island, Waitukubuli, which translates to "tall is her body." 

Both Waitukubuli and "Nature Isle" are apt descriptions for the little island, which have some of the tallest peaks -- like Morns Diablotins and Mount Trois Pitons -- in the Caribbean.  Those peaks rise out of and are covered by rainforests that are the homes for many rare species of animals, birds and plants.  The island also boasts of  365 rivers, such as the Indian River and the Rosalie River. And, then there are the beaches, the blue waters and the coral reefs. 

As much as I love nature, this post takes me to the towns and villages to learn more about the people, culture and their cuisine. Dominica has had a rather unique history, which has been shaped by resistance and colonialism. When the Spanish attempted to colonize the island, they met resistance from the indigenous Kalinago peoples. The French were more successful, establishing a permanent colony followed by sugar and coffee plantations.  The French also brought slaves from Africa, and, eventually, people of African descent were the majority of those living on the island.  The British ultimately seized control of the island and Dominica became a British colony.  The British enacted the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.  Almost five years later, Dominica was the first colony in the British West Indies to have a legislature comprised of a majority of citizens of African descent. Needless to say, the white plantation owners had issues with that situation, which led to a less representative government. It would not be until 1967 when Dominica was able to take full control of its internal affairs and until 1978 when it became an independent country. 

A view of Roseau, the capitol of Dominica (photo by Mike LaMonaca).

This history, as briefly outlined above, shapes the cultures and cuisine of the Dominican people.  There is a mix of African and indigenous influences, along with British, French and island Creole.  There are also influences from nearby islands, such as Trinidad and St. Lucia.  

MAIN COURSE

Dominica's (unofficial) national dish is known as Mountain Chicken. Despite the name, chicken is not an ingredient in that dish. "Mountain chicken" is the local moniker for the Caribbean's largest frog, which also goes by the names of Crapaud. Herpetologists -- that is, those who study reptiles and amphibians would refer to these frogs as Leptodactylus Fallax.  This frog can grow as large as seven inchs long and weigh over two pounds. That is a good size if one is a frog.

The Mountain Chicken
(source: Natural Museum of History)
The mountain chicken has an important place in the culture of the indigenous peoples of Dominica. Local folklore, songs, poems and even jokes have been written about the frog.  

Some of those works of art tell the story of the mountain chicken, especially what confronts the species.  For example, poet Delroy N. Williams wrote The Crapaud Story, which begins as follows: 

De sey de Crapaud smoked my pipe

but me doh hear no Crapaud last night

An long I doh eat no Crapaud in a stew.

I doh even hear anybody talking about that frog.

Something must definitely be wrong.

To be sure, there is definitely something wrong.  Years of hunting the frog -- with anywhere from 18,000 to 36,000 be caught per year on Dominica -- combined with natural factors, such as a fungus that causes chytridiomycosis, caused a steep decline in the populations of the mountain chicken.  The fungus and its disease is believed to have caused a decline of nearly 80% in 18 months. The situation became so dire, that mountain chicken were no longer seen in the wild. By 2008, people believed the species may have went extinct. Returning to the poem: 

It was once our national emblem

Now reduced to the crannies of de "Station."

If somebody doh talk den nobody go listen

So I glad dat Machel an dem doing something

Cuz de Crapaud is Domincia's blessing.

Dat fungus come out from nowhere

An got us forgetting Crapaud is our heritage. 

We cyah just give up, dat would leave Crapaud in a sad state.

De Chyrid ting is very dangerous

Been around for just a decade

Got Crapaiud in decadence.

Fortunately, people did step up to save the mountain chicken. There has been a study in which the frogs were treated with an anti-fungal drug, which showed some promise. There have also been efforts by the Dominican government and non-profit organizations to protect the species.  These efforts have had some mixed success, but still provide promise to restoring the mountain chicken populations.  As the poem closes: 

From our forests an even our minds

Look we even searching for a new national dish

Want to remove Crapaud from its podium of pride

An reduce it to jus hindsight

But Crapaud stronger dan we think

An wit a likle help fromForestry

Dat frog go leap back unto its pedetal

We go hear Crapaud sing again

We go hear Crapaud after a shower of rain

An den we go really understand.

Cuz de Crapaud is Domincia's blessing.

Dat fungus come out from nowhere

An got us forgetting Crapaud is our heritage. 

The hope in this poem is important.  While some may have to make sacrifices by foregoing their (unofficial) national dish, that effort, combined with scientists and researchers, may provide the basis for that hope to become a reality. 

Turning to my personal culinary challenge, I obviously did not use mountain chicken to make this dish.  Instead, I purchased some frog legs from a local grocery store. That was the easiest part of the preparation.  I had a little more difficulty getting my hands on the "provisions," because not every grocery store has true yams and none of the stores around me had dasheen root. After searching for a while, I decided to make "provisions" with what I could get at the store.  I ultimately used sweet potatoes (which are not yams) and name root. 

The actual preparation of this dish is very easy. It is a simple sauté of the frog legs, a basic gravy, and a simple boil of the provisions.  These processes made me question whether the dish will have any taste. (I have to admit that I am not a big fan of root vegetables, especially if all that is done to them is to boil them.) Nevertheless, I forged ahead and completed the main dish. 

MOUNTAIN CHICKEN WITH PROVISIONS

Recipe from National Foods

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 12-16 frogs' legs
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 lime, sliced in half
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 dasheen roots (cut into 4 pieces)
  • 2 yams (cut into 4 pieces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Directions:
1. Prepare the frogs' legs.  Rinse the frogs' legs with water and then wash them in lime juice. Rinse the frogs' legs again in cold water.  Dry the frogs' legs and then place them in a bowl.  Season the frogs' legs with the thyme, vinegar, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Let the frogs' legs rest for two hours. 

2. Fry the frogs' legs. Put the flour in a shallow dish and coat each leg in the flour.  Heat the oil on high in a skillet.  Fry the coated frogs' legs until golden brown and set aside.

3.  Prepare the gravy.  Sauté the onion in a mixture of melted butter and one tablespoon of oil.  Add a cup of water, bring to a boil and then add flour to thicken the gravy.  Simmer the gravy for 5 minutes on medium heat.  Add the frog legs to the gravy, cook for a minute and turn off the heat. 

4. Prepare the provisions. Boil the yams and dasheen root in salted water with the green pepper. When the provisions are fork tender, turn off the heat and drain. 

5. Finish the dish. Serve the Mountain Chicken with the provisions, rice and peas. 

*    *    *

In the end, I successfully completed this challenge.  I was quite surprised by the end result.  The gravy provided enough additional flavor to work with not only the frog legs, but also the provisions.  It is a reminder that sometimes the most simplest elements can contribute the most. 

Now, I need to turn to my next challenges.  There is definitely more to come.  Until then, 

ENJOY!

Friday, August 6, 2021

Brown Lentil Seraz

This post is part of my Beyond Borders project.  This project focuses on the history, culture and cuisine of peoples who lack their own country or who are minorities in countries.  Each post discusses an aspect of those peoples, as well as a recipe from their cuisine. This is the second post is about the Chagossian people. 

I have previously posted about the history of the Chagos Islands, as well as the Chagossian people (also known as the Ilois).  They lived on the islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean for centuries. They developed their own language, music, traditions and, yes, they even created their own cuisine. 

Still, life on those small islands was hard, especially those who worked on the coconut plantations.  Workers labored for food, rum and housing.  None of the  Chagossians owned their homes.  They lived in company housing. And. as far back as 1883, it was one company that owned all of the land.  It was a French-backed, Mauritian company known as Societe Huilere de Diego et Peros. That company continued to operate the plantations until 1962, when it sold everything to a Seychellois company, Chagos-Agalega Company.  The new owners began to bring in contract employees to work the plantations, which started an exodus of Chagossians from their home islands. Within two years, nearly eighty percent of the islands' populations were Seychellois.

Meanwhile, world events soon changed everything.  The United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (U.K.) decide that, because of the Cold War, they needed a base in the Indian Ocean. The U.S. did not have any territorial possessions; however, its partner had a bunch of islands dotting the ocean. All eyes turned to the Chagos Islands.  The U.K. established the British Indian Ocean Territory on November 8, 1965, which basically consisted of the Chagos Islands. The British then purchased all of the land from Chagos-Agalega Company, and, leased it back to the company to continue operating the coconut plantations.  The company continued to do so until 1967.

That was the same year that the U.S. and the U.K. entered into a formal agreement to establish a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands.  Not only did the two allies decide to build that base, but they decided to expel all of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands.  That decision was embodied in what is known as BIOT Ordinance Number Two. The decision was wrapped in overtly racist tones.  The British Colonial Office head, Dennis Greenhill wrote the following to the British delegation at the United Nations: 

The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours, there will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have yet got a committee (the status of women committee does not cover the rights of birds).  Unfortunately, along with the Birds, go some few Tarzans or Men Friday whose origins are obscure, and who are being hopefully wished on to Mauritius etc.

Thus, a white imperialist power made the decision to evict men and women of brown and black skin color from the islands where they (and many of their ancestors) lived so that there could be a military base from which the pre-eminent democracies could fight communism around the world. 

Yet, these democracies were keen on ensuring that those principles did get in the way of their military plans. In another correspondence from the British Colonial Office, 

The Colonial Office is at present considering the line to be taken in dealing with the existing inhabitants of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). They wish to avoid the phrase "permanent inhabitants" in relation to any of the islands of the territory because to recognise that there are any permanent inhabitants will imply that there is a population whose democratic rights will have to be safeguarded and which will therefore be deemed by the UN to come within its purlieu. The solution proposed is to issue them with documents making it clear that they are belongers to Mauritius and the Seychelles and only temporary residents of the BIOT. This device, although rather transparent, would at least give us a defensible position to take up at the UN.

It was a position the British took and, by 1973, all of the inhabitants of the BIOT (that is, those who lived on the Chagos Islands) had been relocated to Mauritius, the Seychelles and elsewhere.

For decades thereafter, the injustice remained.  It is estimated that nearly 426 Ilois familes, consisting of more than 1,000 people, had left the islands between 1965 and 1973.  That number is now more than 4,000 when taking into account their descendants.  

With any injustice, there is the fight to end it.  The fight in this case led to a decision of the British High Court ruling that the Ilois had a right to return to the Chagos Islands. The wheels of justice grind slowly and, sometimes, in reverse. The U.K. appealed the ruling and, when it could not get it overturned, the government went to the House of Lords, which overturned the High Court's ruling and which reinstated the ban on anyone returning to the Islands. 

The fight continues to the present day because no one has been allowed to return.

Despite the struggle, the Chagossian people have maintained their identity, their culture and their food.  I have previously made Serrage Poulet (Chicken in Coconut Milk), a main dish of the Chagossian people.  At the time, I wanted to find a side dish that the island's inhabitants could have served with this chicken dish.  

The side dish is Brown Lentil Seraz. I could find very little about the provenance of this dish, but, it is appears to be based upon a rougaille, which is a tomato-based dish from Mauritius. A rougaille is basically a combination of spices with those tomatoes to make a sauce.  This dish seemed appropriate given the close history of the Chagos Islands and Mauritius (which were governed together by the British empire for decades), as well as the fact that many Chagossians were forced to leave their homes for Mauritius. Given the foregoing, the ingredients, cooking techniques and, indeed, entire dishes from Mauritian cuisine would have made their way into Chagossian cuisine over time.

The particular spice mix for this rougaille is rather simple, beginning with onions, garlic and ginger, along with the use of bay leaves and fresh thyme. Once the base is prepared, then one can add protein. While they were living on the islands, they may have used chicken, fish, or even lentils, which Chagossians cultivated on the islands.

While I am not the biggest fan of lentils, I have to say that this dish turned out better than I expected.  My previous experience with lentils has been in the context of Indian cuisine, which usually involves the use of more substantive spice mixtures.  However, I had to keep reminding myself that the richness of ingredients that may be found on the subcontinent was most likely not present in the Chagos Islands.  The islanders had to make the best of what they had.  With that perspective, this recipe hits the mark.  


 BROWN LENTIL SERAZ
Recipe from Travel by Stove
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound of brown lentils
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, finely diced
  • 3 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 spring fresh thyme, crumbled
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Salt to taste
Directions:
1.  Cook the base.  Cook the onions in hot oil until they are soft, then add the ginger and garlic and keep cooking for one or two minutes.  Add the tomatoes, thyme and bay leaves and continue to cook, stirring, until the tomatoes are soft.

2. Add the lentils.  Add the lentils and enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover.  Simmer for one hour to one and one half hours, topping up with water as necessary.  The finished dish should be more of a thick stew than a soup.  Add salt to taste. 

One final note, an option is to add coconut milk to the seraz.  The author who provided this recipe declined to do so given the amount of coconut milk used to make the Serrage Poulet.  I also decided that it was a good idea to leave the coconut milk out of the recipe.  

ENJOY!

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Owamni by the Sioux Chef

I traveled a lot for business before the coronavirus pandemic. In anticipation of every trip, I researched the local food scene, to find interesting restaurants, brewpubs or wine bars.  The time and effort served a purpose: a good meal is one way in which I could relax after a stressful day from work. 

Most of the restaurants, as well as most of the meals, were good.  Some were even great. However, every once in a while, I found a restaurant -- and a meal -- that defies being reduced to words. In those very rare instances, I accept the challenge and try to write a review of the restaurant and the meal for this blog. 

Needless to say, such experiences are quite rare.  There are only four restaurant reviews on this blog. The last one that I wrote was back in 2012. 

Nine years later, I felt compelled to write a review about both a restaurant and a meal. The restaurant is Owmani. The meal is definitely the one of the best that I have had in a restaurant in years.

The entire experience was part happenstance, part luck. I was getting ready for my first business trip since the start of the pandemic. The destination was also a first for me: Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

As I was searching for restaurants in downtown Minneapolis, I was reminded of a cookbook that my parents bought me for my birthday. It is the James Beard award winning cookbook, The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen. The book was written by chef Sean Sherman, an Oglala Lakota, who is dedicated to revitalizing Native American Cuisine, especially indigenous cuisine in Minnesota and the upper Midwest. I have been following Chef Sherman's work because the elements of indigenous food systems -- such as the ingredients, cooking processes, and, of course, the dishes -- have always interested me. 

I knew that Chef Sherman was opening a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. I did a search for the restaurant, Owamni, and I found that it was not only open, but it was just blocks from my hotel.  I sought out a reservation and got waitlisted. It was short notice, I wasn't sure that I would get a table.  To my surprise (and, luck), I got a table. 

Before I get to the dishes, a few things about Chef Sherman's vision and the restaurant. First, Owmni's menu is designed around indigenous ingredients, such as game, fish, birds and wild plants. It also prioritizes indigenous food producers when it comes to obtaining ingredients. Second, the menu reflects a decolonization with respect to the food. In other words, ingredients that have been introduced into the cuisine of North America -- such as dairy, wheat flour, cane sugar, beef, chicken and pork -- are studiously avoided.  This approach intrigued me, because it provides an opportunity to experience a meal when Minneapolis was Bdeóta Othúŋwe (as translated in Dakhóta) or Gakaabikaang (as translated in Anishinaabe), with some modern culinary twists.  It also surprised me at the range of dishes that one could present even when excluding ingredients such as wheat flour, cane sugar, beef and pork.

Finally, the restaurant operates on a "sustainable basis."  This mission statement is particularly importan to me, because I have dedicated my career to representing working people.  Owamni pays a living wage, provides health insurance to employees who work more than 30 hours per week.  These wages and benefits extend to everyone, from the dishwashers to the waitresses. The restaurant charges a service fee to help fund these benefits.  That fee is not a problem for me. 

Now, to the food ...

APPETIZERS (WAMAKHASKAN)

As I reviewed the menu, I could have ordered all of the dishes.  However, I had neither the time nor the budget to do so.  I did have the opportunity to try two appetizers.  

The first appetizer was the Smoked Red Cliff Lake Trout and White Bean Spread. This dish featured freshly prepared tostadas, which were served with pureed tepary beans topped with smoked lake trout and microgreens.  The last element of the dish is wojape, a sauce made from berries that typically accompanies meat, game or is used as a dressing.

The fish was smoked perfectly, the tepary beans were pureed to a consistency that worked well for the dish.  Break off a piece of the crispy tostada, top with with a little bit of that puree and a bit of the salmon.  The bite was almost perfect. Drizzle a little bit of the wojape over the beans and the fish and the result was perfect. The combination of earthy elements from the smoked fish and the pureed beans, along with the slightly sweet taste of the wojape, it is a delicious start to a dinner. (As an aside, I have already started paging through the The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen  to find the recipes or similar recipes so that I can make this dish and the others at home.)  

The second appetizer was indigenous game sausage, served with root vegetables and watercress puree. This appetizer was the one that I was most anxious to try.  The menu was coy about what game is used to make the sausage. As noted above, there were dishes of bison, duck, rabbit and turkey on the menu, all of which could be used to make sausage. I initially found myself trying to figure out what was in the sausage, but, I relented because the sausage tasted so good. 

The watercress puree provided a deep green base upon which the sausage rested. Watercress usually has a peppery taste, which makes it (in my opinion) an element that complements the sausage. The root vegetables also worked well, like a small salad whose crunch provided another layer of texture and taste to the dish.  

MAIN COURSES  (HTAWOPATI)

I also had the opportunity to try two of the main courses. Both of which exceeded the appetizers.

The first dish was the fish of the day, which was from Lake Superior. I thought the waitress said the fish was lake trout, but the menu online says it is walleye.  In any event, a nice-sized portion of the fish was perched, with its crispy skin greeting the guests, upon a small mound of wild rice. The fish was garnished with crispy root vegetables. A vibrant, red plum sauce surrounded these components. 

The dish was executed perfectly.  The fish flaked easily with a fork, providing bite-sized pieces of the relatively mild fish. The root vegetables and wild rice provided an earthy contrast and texture to the fish. 

As with the smoked fish and white bean puree appetizer, I thought that the sauce helped to bring this dish together. The plum sauce was (in my humble opinion) somewhat sweeter than the wojape. This sweetness worked well, not only with the fish, but also with the wild rice. (As another aside, I have never been a big fan of wild rice. I have always preferred Basmati rice, primarily due to my love of Indian cuisine. However, this dish has me rethinking my views of wild rice, especially if it could be served with this plum sauce or wojape.)  

The final dish -- Bison hangar steak served with hazelnut crusted carrot, sunchoke puree and a mustard green sauce -- was the best dish of the night.  The bison  was cooked perfectly. The char on the outside and the medium-rare inside ensured that every bit was juicy and delicious. Quite frankly, this is the best bison dish that I have ever been served in a restaurant.  

As much as the bison speaks to the carnivore in me, the other components of the dish played their part.  The hazelnut crusted carrots provided a colorful crunch that was perfect.  The texture of the sunchoke puree gave faint hints of a potato like texture, but the taste of the puree played a perfect complementary role with the bison.  The mustard green sauce appeared to play the role of a peppery chimichurri, which -- as anyone who has had chimichurri knows -- works extremely well with grilled meats. (Just look to Argentinian and Uruguayan cuisine). 

As it should  be evident by now, my meal at Owamni was one of the best that I have had in a restaurant in a long time. If I lived in Minneapolis, I would be back on a regular basis to try other dishes on the menu. Dishes such as Bison Tartare, the nixtamalized corn tacos (particularly the pulled duck), preserved duck, and the stuffed green chile. If you happen to find yourself in Minneapolis, you should definitely check out this restaurant. It is well worth the experience. 

Until I make my way back to Bdeóta Othúŋwe or Gakaabikaang, I will have to settle with my best efforts to cook dishes from Chef Sherman's cookbook.  Until then,  

ENJOY!

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