two weeks ago,
when we went to colleen's
for her housewarming party,
i brought black sesame marshmallows,
the makings of a gorgonzola
and no present -
i had left it at home,
on the bed in the second bedroom.
i felt bad. really bad.
but, she gave me my holiday present anyway:
david chang's momofuku.
now, i'm not sure if she knows this,
(and i know he doesn't know it),
but i have a love-hate relationship
with david chang.
it started years ago,
with this article in
at first, it was that he posed
with a dead pig. just not for me.
but then, as i read the article,
i knew that i should be annoyed
at him for his attitude toward non-meat eaters,
basically mocking them by removing
all things meat-free from the menu after
a bad incident with a haughty vegetarian.
as someone who doesn't eat meat,
i've spent many nights in a restaurant,
choosing between the pasta primavera
and the roasted vegetable sandwich -
and i usually hate every minute of those meals.
but instead of turning my back,
i had a very strong urge
to go to his restaurant and order the
ginger scallion noodles, the only
vegetarian dish he left on his menu.
i loved the fact that he didn't care -
that he loved meat and he was not
going to change who he was to appeal
to the masses. i loved that he was
standing his ground. (can you tell
that at the time, i was feeling
very suppressed in my own life?)
but, i still haven't gone.
instead, last year for larry's birthday,
i decided to to prove i was crazy.
he was turning 30 and i wanted it
to be a great birthday. the birthday.
the one that he would remember
and talk about for a long time to come.
but, if you remember, larry's birthday
is on valentine's day and it is not easy
to plan anything that is simply a birthday
on february 14th - especially when this
particular one fell on a saturday.
so, after saying no to my initial ideas -
a wine expo,
a long weekend away in baltimore,
a barbecue festival weeks away -
i decided that i would get us reservations
at momofuku ko,
willing to go to a place that was,
again, very meat-happy, to give
larry a good birthday.
i'd heard all the stories
(in case you haven't, you can read
about this heart breaker of a restaurant
but, really i thought, stupidly,
it will be different for me.
reservations can only be made
online, one week before, at 10 am.
so about two weeks before
larry's birthday, i sat at the computer,
set the second hand and practiced
to make sure that my clock was
set to exactly the same time as ko's.
when it said 9:59 and my second hand
showed 8 seconds left until 10,
i clicked. the entire block was covered
in red Xs. i had been shut out
and it was 10:00:18.
i stared at the screen.
how in the....? how could...?
but it was ok, i could brush it off.
this was my first day on the job and
i just needed to get in the groove.
i wasn't worried.
now it was february 8th.
it was a sunday and i had spent
the whole week trying to get in,
only to see just two green checks
the entire time, both instances
ending when i was told
that i was too slow
in my clicking.
but this was the last day -
i hadn't gotten in the whole time
because i was meant to get reservations
for his actual birthday. i just knew it.
i closed the door to our second bedroom,
set the clock to the second hand, practiced
for 14 minutes - i was determined - and when
i hit the button seconds before 10, i saw
a sea of red Xs. i didn't realize it until after,
but i was shaking from the stress of it all.
and then, i burst out crying.
i had put all my eggs in ko's basket and now,
i was plan-less. larry walked in on me crying,
saw the second hand setting on the computer
and somehow, put two and two together.
he swore that it was impossible -
i still think it is not - and that there are computers
set up to crack the reservation system - chang
says this is not true.
in the end,
his birthday was ok
(even good, i hope he would say).
we started at perilla, with an amazing,
quiet brunch, strolled through the village,
frequented a couple of bars
with hard to find beers and ended up
at hill country.
but, i was angry again at chang:
how could he do this to people?
it hurt my brain.
but, it's been a year
and my feelings toward him
have been mellowing,
just as my interest in visiting
one of his restaurants is returning.
it was a perfect time to receive the book.
i opened it up,
flipped a few pages and landed
on the roasted cauliflower with fish sauce vinaigrette.
it had everything i love:
and an element of weird: rice krispies.
the next page was even better:
the same recipe, but with brussels sprouts.
the next evening, at home,
i read the entire book,
mentally remembering the recipes
that i wanted to make (there are quite
a few meatless options in there),
but deciding that the cauliflower would
be the first, and soon.
the next day,
pithy and cleaver wrote about
the cauliflower - all good things
and a confirmation that i could skip
the one step i was skeptical about,
i had already decided,
but that helped.
i went back to mitsuwa,
bought a tiny bottle of schichimi togarashi,
the japanese 7-seasoning spice that is
often used in sushi and that i once
enjoyed sprinkled over vanilla ice cream
in a restaurant. i picked up a head of cauliflower,
some cilantro, mint and when i couldn't
find a bird's eye chile, a serrano.
otherwise, everything was in the house.
(also purchased: beautiful brussels sprouts.
when i saw them, it dawned on me -
i'd have the vinaigrette made,
i could make extra crunchies -
the next night would be the perfect night to
remake the recipe, using the sprouts.)
i made the fish sauce vinaigrette early
in the day - chopped garlic, sliced
the serrano and whisked everything together.
a few hours later,
i busied myself, cutting cilantro stems,
slivering mint, turning a head of cauliflower
into florets and toasting the puffed rice.
i resisted the urge to salt the cauliflower
before, during or after roasting,
figuring that david chang had his reasons,
(yes, i assumed one of them was fish sauce),
but still it went against my roasting beliefs.
when the cauliflower was ready,
i looked toward the vinaigrette.
it was way too much. the recipe didn't
actually specify an amount; i tossed
less than half into the bowl,
added the cauliflower and shook it all together -
there was a lot of vinaigrette left
on the bottom. it was too late to worry.
instead, i sprinkled the roasted florets
with chopped cilantro, added the spicy
puffed rice and took pictures.
and then, i remembered something about
puffed rice. regardless of toasting,
regardless of adding spices,
the little morsels were still just cereal.
cereal that gets just a bit soggy
when doused with milk, or um,
fish sauce vinaigrette.
it's my fault for taking a bunch of
pictures. eaten immediately, probably,
there would have been a much
lower number of casualties.
but, still, it was a solid,
flavor-packed side that we easily
finished between the two of us.
(the fact that i put so much energy
into the cauliflower and very little
thought into a main dish,
didn't hurt either.)
the next night,
i followed chang's instructions
for brussels sprouts,
browning them in a skillet
and then finishing them in the oven.
the vinaigrette was even better after
sitting for the day, the herbs were chopped
and the topping browned, so the second
try was even simpler.
on night two, i was smarter, only sprinkling
on a few for the picture (and dumber:
i was in such a hurry to not soften the cereal
that i did not get a passable shot - sorry),
but saved the rest to sprinkle on the sprouts
just as they were served.
we both loved this version -
the brussels sprouts soaked up the
fish sauce mixture and the
crunchy, spicy cereal did wonders
for the texture of the dish.
overall opinion of the book?
everything looks unbelievably good and
i cannot wait to make the next recipe.
i really shouldn't be surprised -
david chang always wins.
roasted cauliflower with fish sauce vinaigrette and spicy puffed rice
adapted from momofuku
as i mentioned above, i did not fry the cilantro. the recipe called for heating 1/2 cup grapeseed oil (something else i didn't have) and frying 1/2 cup of the leaves. i just did not want to fry or waste the oil (but if you do and think its worth it, tell me). i'm giving you the full version for the vinaigrette, but keep in mind that we still had some left over after making one recipe and using it twice - chang says leftovers are great on meat or tossed with noodles. when i made the mixture, i reduced the sugar and upped the garlic, which i've written below. last thing, these spicy rice krispies are delicious - i'm actively trying to decide what else i can do with it.
i've included the brussels sprouts version in this recipe. chang called for 32 ounces, but i used 20. smallish brussels sprouts are best.
1/3 cup (or more) fish sauce vinaigrette (recipe below)
2 tablespoons very thinly sliced cilantro stems
3 tablespoons thinly sliced mint
1 head cauliflower OR 2 containers (10 ounces each) brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons, plus 1/2 teaspoon canola or grapeseed oil, divided
1/2 cup puffed rice
1/2 teaspoon shichimi togarashi
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
heat oven to 400˚f.
for cauliflower: core cauliflower; cut into florets. in bowl, combine cauliflower and 2 tablespoons oil. divide cauliflower evenly among two foil-lined baking sheets, spreading to separate (this will ensure that they roast, not steam).
for brussels sprouts: trim and halve brussels sprouts. in large ovenproof skillet over medium, heat 2 tablespoons oil 1 minute. add brussels sprouts, halved side down; cook 2 minutes, or until they begin to brown. transfer skillet to the oven and cook 10-15 minutes, or until tender, but not not soft.
meanwhile, in small bowl, whisk together fish sauce vinaigrette, cilantro stems and mint; set aside.
in small bowl, combine puffed rice, remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil and shichimi togarashi. warm small skillet over medium-high heat; add puffed rice mixture and toast 2-4 minutes, or until you can smell the mixture and it has turned a slightly darker shade, shaking occasionally.
in bowl, combine hot cauliflower (or hot brussels sprouts) and vinaigrette mixture; transfer to serving bowl or plates. sprinke with chopped cilantro and puffed rice mixture.
fish sauce vinaigrette
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 lime, juiced
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced (or 1 to 3 bird's eye chiles)
in small bowl, whisk together all ingredients. store in tightly covered container for up to one week.