Montréal seemed so full of promise. Look! (said we) cheap tickets! We'll fly for the New Year's holiday! There will be fun! There will be bistros! There will be cafés! They will love the food just as much as we do!
Alas... in late December all the cute places in Montréal close up and goes south for the holidays. Gone to Martinique. Gone to Florida. Gone to Guadeloupe. Who could blame them? Shards of frozen water fell from the sky, cutting wee wounds into the dry, flaking skin of our wind-burnt cheeks.
We spent bitterly chilly days pressing irritated noses into the cold windowpanes of shuttered restaurants while we wandered in a hopeless search for flavorful food. At last resort there were greasy diners and Canadian restaurant chains. These were, sadly, no better than their American counterparts. Our disappointment grew more and more humorous until we were overtaken by fits of giggles.
On the brighter side, our B&B was clean and friendly (thank you, Geraldine!) and the city was inexpensive (hooray for favorable exchange rates!). We found a couple of open bookstores and saw a vast array of fantastically weird beetles, spiders, termites, scorpions, butterflies and bees at the Insectarium. This stop turned out to be my personal highlight. Montréal gives great bug.
And the beer and cheese... also good. But one cannot live on beer and cheese, books and bugs.
Abandoning the quest for freshness and flavor, we pleaded for a smidgeon of savory spice from the chipper Scot who served us at the Bombay Palace on St. Catherine St.
Our man recommended a round of crisp Cheetah beer to wash down a basket of tandoor-fresh naan, a delightfully tender lamb vindaloo and a homey eggplant masala. We left our anxious bellies in his hands. I should note that Indian restaurants present a particularly nerve-wracking risk for me. I love subcontinental cuisine so much, and having cooked in an Indian-style restaurant, I'm particularly aware of how good every dish can and should be. The food was, thankfully, just fine.
The meal warmed our bones (momentarily) and made me hunger for a journey out to Patel Brothers back in Flushing, Queens.
Serving up spice since 1974, Patel is apparently a national chain. The Flushing shop contains aisles and aisles of spices, rices, peppers, pots, pans, sweets and snacks, and (as promised on their website) the spacious store provides a charming "range of authentic Indian groceries and bring joy and celebration of the taste of motherland India right at your doorstep. To bring those warm indian memories we have a wide range of Spices, Pickles, Chutnes, Pules, Lentils, Basmati Rice, to name a few. Helping you create the countries varied culinary magic right in your home."
Mmm... warm Indian memories.
And what's to be done with all the treasures you plum from Patel? I'll reproduce a recipe I recently posted in the comments field on I(heart)bacon.
Here's a simplified version of a bhel puri used as an app. The trick with Indian cooking (and with most cooking for that matter) is this: you have to taste it to get the seasoning right. It's supposed to be a tasty balance of tangy, sweet, spicy and salty. Brands vary in seasoning, so your tamarind chutney may be sweeter than mine. It's difficult, therefore, to recommend an exact quantity.
Pick up the sev (noodley things), puffed rice, tamarind chutney and mint chutney at an Indian food shop, online or at an enlightened supermarket.
(I like the Patak's brand for store-bought chutneys and pickles. Their lime pickle is fantabulous.)
Bhel Puri (makes approx 24-30 apps, served in cucumber cups*)
1 small onion, minced
2 green chilies (anaheims work well), deseeded and minced
1/2 cup hothouse cucumber (diced)
1/2 cup tart apple or mango (diced)
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chiffonade or chop finely
1/2 cup chopped mint leaves, chiffonade or chop finely
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp chaat masala
tamarind chutney (about 1.5 Tbsp or to taste)
mint chutney (about 1.5 Tbsp or to taste)
salt/sugar/cayenne pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup puffed rice (to mix in at the very last moment before serving)
Sev (sprinkle on top for garnish)
1. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together except rice and sev.
2. Taste for balance and adjust flavor with chutneys and seasonings.
3. Add puffed rice just before serving (otherwise, it'll get soggy).
4. Scoop by teaspoon into cucumber cups*. Sprinkle with sev.
5. Serve immediately with a hoppy ale.
*Slice hothouse cucumbers into 3/4" rounds. Scoop out a little cup in the middle of each slice with a teaspoon or melon-baller.
42-92 Main St
Flushing, NY 11355