Daily Archives: April 1, 2007

I am an April fool

I’m wrapping up a visit with my oldest friend, Sari. She’s the kind of friend that understands me to my core without knowing even a quarter of my present life’s minutiae; we all have these friends. She can’t spell my married name correctly, but she knows when I’m getting hungry and how I like my oatmeal. If I have a button to press, she knows where it is. We’ve developed along vastly different paths since we met as, oh, toddlers, and even though we’ve spent a week living entirely out of sync (I take a nap, she wakes up, I wake up, she’s heading to bed, I heat lunch, she starts breakfast, I start working, she opens a bottle of wine), it’s amazing to spend time with someone with whom my past is so inextricably linked.

Tonight Sari (who I’ve mentioned before) woke up from a nap around 8 p.m., just as I was about to give up any hope of eating dinner with her. (Despite the fact that she’s kosher and almost vegetarian, we tend to have very similar food preferences.) She mentioned Indian take-out, and I was instantly on board. And since my husband’s plane hadn’t touched down yet, I figured it was a unique opportunity to give The Kabab House, the Indian place where we waited 90 minutes and left without our food last time, another try.

So I called. I waited two full minutes for the person on the other end to get organized, and ordered saag paneer without the cheese, garlic naan, chana daal, basmati rice, and one order of chicken biryani, which I hoped to save for my husband to eat late-night. They told me ten minutes. I told Sari fifteen. We took the dog, walked the long way, and arrived twenty minutes after I’d ordered.

Sari walked in and asked if our food was ready. I watched her get more and more exasperated, until finally she stormed out and asked me to deal with the owner, since I was the one who’d phoned in the order. Incredulous, I marched in. “We didn’t write down your order,” she said. “What was it you wanted again?”

I stared at her. I asked her if she was kidding. Then, in a fit of uncharacteristic rudeness, I asked her if she remembered me from the last time I’d been there, when we sat right there and had to leave after waiting an hour and a half for our main course to never arrive. But no, she wasn’t kidding.

I ordered again. Only this time, she seemed to listen. But when I got to the chicken, she refused, saying they only do biryanis on Friday and Saturday nights. I wondered if they habitually took phone orders for dishes they had no intention of preparing.

She told us ten minutes, so we walked for twenty. When I returned, there was no food in sight. A few minutes later, a server hustled it from the kitchen to the front counter, and after spending two or three full minutes sweeping invisible crumbs off an unused back counter while my food languished under my nose, she rang me up. For what I think is the first time in my life, I left no tip. (I always tip on take-out.)

When we got home, the food was lukewarm but delicious. The daal was deeply spiced and earthy, the saag came cheese-free, as requested, and the lamb seekh kebab we’d ordered in place of the chicken was tender and flavorful.

But oh how we simmered. Why the run-around? And how dare she slip their new take-out menu into the bag, knowing we’d had a bad experience?

As we were cleaning up, my phone rang. “Hello?”

A foreign voice responded. “Yes, ma’am, your Indian food is ready.”

I was floored. What, now they find the order? (Now) two hours after I called it in?

“Who is this?” I asked.

“This is Kalia Indian Cuisine, ma’am, on Greenwood and 85th.”

I looked down at the take-out menu. It read “Kabab House,” with an address on Greenwood and 83rd.

I had Googled “Indian-Pakistani seattle greenwood.” The first result had been Indian-Pakistani food on Greenwood and 80something, and I’d picked up the phone and called in the order without clicking on the link to make sure there weren’t (but in fact, there are) two Indian-Pakistani eateries within a block of each other in my neighborhood. I’d ordered from Kalia, marched into Kabab House, acted like a jerk when my unordered order wasn’t ready on time, then berated the owner for poor service and left without tipping her. Then I’d left another restaurant (which was admittedly also quite slow with my real order) completely high and dry.

I hung up the phone and looked at Sari in disbelief. I felt like the world’s biggest idiot.

Sari consoled me by telling the story of what had happened to her the previous night, when she and a friend had gotten lost driving to a wedding.

The friend pulled up outside a gas station so Sari could hop out and get directions, which she did. She rushed out of the building with the clerk’s instructions in her head and hopped into the car, babbling a series of lefts and rights to her friend while she buckled herself in and pointed out which turn they had to make.

Then she smelled cigarette smoke. “Hey,” she said to her friend, “why does it smell so funny in here?”

“Honey,” said a low, slow, scratchy voice. She turned to see a 70-year-old man looking at her sadly. “I think you got in the wrong car.”

We tried to call the Kabab House back, hoping to promise to return with a tip, but they were closed. How does one make up for such a gaffe?

During moments like these, when I feel utterly stupid and ashamed, I wish I had a tail to put between my legs. But I don’t; I just have a tale, which I’ve now told, to atone for my sin.

My apologies, Kabab House and Kalia. Here’s to hoping the third time’s a charm.

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Filed under Indian, review

Sting Operation

Steamed Nettles

The first time I came across stinging nettles was in Woods Hole. Some Italian friends of ours, Fiamma and Rosalba, had a little plot at WHOI‘s community garden, and every year at about this time the nettles would come shooting up. Yes, the nettles that sting you when you’re on a walk in the woods are the same kind you can eat – and they’re delicious.

One time when Fiamma and Rosalba invited us over for dinner, we walked in to find Fiamma steaming nettles and sorrel in a big pot. She explained how heat deactivates nettles’ stinging hairs, but insisted that one can actually eat nettles raw, as long as the outside of the leaf is folded over the inside, where the stinging parts are. (A little “research” reveals that the chemical sting can be disabled not only by cooking, but also by chopping, so she was right; note to self: must try raw nettle pesto.) I asked her what the nettles were for.

“We’re just making pasta,” said Fiamma, and although I knew she meant homemade, I couldn’t have predicted how satisfying it would be to sit outdoors at that rickety metal table, cold in the cool April air but too happy to complain, rolling and cutting and forming smooth, flat semolina dough over the rich green nettle and sorrel filling to make agnolotti, ravioli, or whatever shape we felt inspired to try. I’d made pasta many times before, but it was always a project, never relaxed into a task as quotidien as it was there, out on their porch.

When Melissa made handkerchief pasta with ricotta and nettle sauce at the Beard House last week (with seared scallops, YUM), I thought of Fiamma and Rosalba, and was so excited to find big bags of stinging nettles packed into pretty baskets at the Ballard market. I bought a half-pound bag, and started experimenting with the nettles and the patch of sorrel I’ve discovered in our back yard.

I wanted a pasta dish bursting with green color and flavor, and I got it: my husband called it The Green Monster. Inspired by the photo of Heidi’s recipe for Broken Lasagna with Walnut Pesto, I made it with broken lasagna noodles, but I’m not sure I’d do it the same way the next time. I didn’t feel like the flat slabs of pasta were right for holding the sauce; I’d prefer something with more texture, like rotini or cavatappi.

Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon

Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon
Recipe 91 of 365

Stinging nettles taste a little like spinach. Since cleaning them without stinging yourself presents a challenge, I cook them by boiling them in a big pot of water, stirring frequently when I first put them in and hoping that whatever dirt isn’t meant to end up in my body sinks to the bottom of the pot. Look for nettles at farmer’s markets and gourmet food stores in the spring.

This is not your typical pasta dish; it’s light, more like a hot pasta salad, with bright, herby flavors. If you want something a little more substantial, by all means, add butter or cream. Goat cheese or feta would also work well here.

TIME: 40 minutes
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings

1/4 pound fresh stinging nettles
1/2 pound (8 ounces) pasta, such as broken lasagna noodles, cavatappi, or rotini
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound fresh ricotta cheese, plus some for garnishing the pasta
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon each chopped fresh mint, parsley, and chives (or some combination)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 small handful fresh sorrel leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces and washed
1/2 cup toasted walnuts

Bring two large pots of salted water to a boil, one for the nettles and one for the pasta.

When the water boils in one of the pots, carefully add the nettles, stirring as you add them to rid them of any unwanted particles, and cook for 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a colander (so that any dirt stays in the pot), and let them drain for a few minutes over the sink.

Add the pasta to the pot of clean water, and cook according to package directions, until al dente.

Meanwhile, gently press most of the water out of the hot nettles, transfer them to a food processor, and puree. Add the olive oil, and process until completely smooth. Add the ricotta, lemon zest and juice, and herbs, and process briefly, just so the ingredients are blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Scoop out about a cup of the pasta-cooking water and set it aside. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss it with the nettle-ricotta mixture and the fresh sorrel, adding the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce, if necessary. Stir in the walnuts, and serve immediately, topped with the extra ricotta.

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Filed under farmer's market, Italian, kitchen adventure, Pasta, recipe, vegetables