I don’t think of us as “fancy” people. To be sure, our pantry is chock-full of ingredients from various parts of the world, but that’s more about variety than any attempt to impress. That being said, I do have a culinary philosophy: if I’m going to take the time to make something, I’m going to try to make it well. With childhood favorites, that’s even more important because they can so easily not live up to our memories of them. Meatloaf, that all-American classic, is no exception — and making a really good one requires a little thinking outside of the box.
This Thai-influenced dish delivers big flavor for very little work. Tender oven-baked chicken or turkey meatballs, simmered in a delicious coconut milk-based red curry sauce. Packed with ginger and garlic and showered with fresh herbs, this is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
It’s been made clear to us that we don’t talk enough about balls on this blog. This must be rectified. Because there’s nothing quite like the culinary experience of shaping a firm ball, baking it to meaty perfection and then slathering it with lashings of hot creamy sauce. And if you think we started with that sentence just to titillate and excite you, as well as improve our search engine rankings, you couldn’t be further from the truth, although those are two very good reasons. The fact is, we’ve only assembled four meatball recipes in the last six years of Nerds with Knives, and we felt that it was time to give those balls another gentle squeeze and/or spin. So here we go.
Growing up in New York City, you learn a few very useful things. One, never get into the empty carriage of an otherwise packed train. Two, don’t even try to find a yellow cab between 4:30 and 5:30pm. And three, the very best food is usually the cheapest. For example, back in the day, you could get a roast pork bun from Hop Shing for less than $1. A big bowl of curried vegetables with roti from Punjabi Grocery & Deli went for a whopping $4. And at Pio Pio, a quarter of a golden-skinned Pollo a la Brasa, with aji verde sauce and a few maduro (sweet fried plantains), was about $7 (I’m sure it’s more now, but probably not much).
But the one bad thing about living in a cute Hudson Valley town is there are no funky little Peruvian chicken joints nearby (although we hope soon to get over to Machu Picchu, a Peruvian restaurant over the river in Newburgh). So when we get a craving for these flavors, the only thing left to do is make our own version.
We’ve never claimed to be on the cutting edge of any particular food trends. In fact, the trendier something is, the more we tend to side-eye it, like a goth kid at a unicorn-themed prom. But you know what? Sometimes dishes we love just happen to also be eminently hashtaggable, as is the case with this bowl of charred broccoli and spicy baked tofu – topped with a vegan miso-kimchi dressing so luscious, we want to drizzle it on just about everything we make from this day forward. So go ahead and call this a Buddha Bowl, a Grain Bowl or a Rice Bowl; it doesn’t matter when dinner is this delicious.
Silky smooth and packed with flavor, Tahini Sauce with Lemon and Garlic is absolutely essential on falafel but delicious on so much else. It’s bright and tangy and as creamy as sauce with no cream (or any dairy) can be.
Pretty much now considered an essential recipe, our Tahini Sauce is based on the version in Michael Solomonov’s wonderful cookbook, Zahav. Don’t be alarmed by the whole head of garlic used in the sauce; like some kind of magic trick, blending the whole, unpeeled cloves with lemon juice neutralizes the formation of allicin, which is the chemical responsible for garlic’s harsher flavors. The resulting sauce is delicately garlicky, with almost no pungency.
Crispy on the outside, pillowy and creamy in the middle, Arepas make the best sandwich ever, with easy BBQ Chicken, shredded Cheddar cheese, pickled Red Onions and Avocado.
In 1994, I had just graduated college and was living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. During the day I worked my first job in the film industry. I was interning in the editing room of a film called Surviving the Game (starring Rutger Hauer, F. Murray Abraham, Gary Busey and Ice T. Yes, you read that list correctly.) At night and on the weekends, when I wasn’t bartending, I was attempting to make a living as a custom hand-bound book artist. This is the long way of saying I was ridiculously flat-out broke.
My friend, Adriana
My partner in book-binding, loft-living and cooking on a budget was my best friend from college, a beautiful and talented artist from Colombia named Adriana, who sadly passed away in 2004. She and I spent countless hours in her loft (a former fish-canning factory which, worryingly, always smelled a little like anchovies when it rained). We laughed at a million stupid jokes, bound hundreds of books, and watched many episodes of the X-Files. We also ate a gazillion Colombian-style arepas, slathered with butter and salt (or sharp cheese and guava paste, Adriana’s favorite).
Not to get too emo on you but looking back, I realize what a formative and precious time those years were. It taught me that I can make anything, including furniture. I learned that film editing is basically magic. And most importantly, I learned that when you cook with people, what you learn from them stays with you forever, so they’re with you forever.
Whenever I miss her I make arepas. I make arepas often.