A Taste of Northern Soul

Forget about math…food is the universal language.

As a child, I loved to eat. Food was everything to me. In fact, it’s been said that my first word was “bread.” It’s hard to find a picture of me as a toddler without a piece of bread in my hand or my mouth. My favorite toys were the pots and pans and wooden spoons in the kitchen. At age five, when most boys wanted a new Tonka truck, I asked for an Easy-Bake Oven. I received one and I used it to create my first masterpiece, a chocolate cake baked with the heat of a 100-watt lightbulb.

Courtesy of Justin Sutherland

From the beginning, the near-sacred importance of sitting down to a meal as a family was ingrained in me. My parents divorced when I was young. My mother, who was a flight attendant and often traveling, still always made sure we sat down at the dinner table and ate together. Even preparing for and cleaning up after the meal was a family affair: One brother set the table, one cleared the table, and one swept the floor, and everyone helped with the dishes (although not without the occasional pushback). Our meals were never fancy, and my mother’s signature dishes are still my three favorite meals of all time—but only when cooked by her: spaghetti with meat sauce, tater-tot hot-dish with chicken and broccoli, and her famous fried rice.

It wasn’t until I started eating at friends’ houses at sleepovers that I realized how special our mealtime really was. I come from a very diverse and multicultural family. On my mother’s side, my grandmother Masako came to this country from Japan during the Korean War speaking no English and at a time when the United States had poor relations, to say the least, with Japan. She wasn’t allowed to bring any of her culture to this country for fear of repercussions from the United States government. My grandfather on that side is a 6-foot, 5-inch Viking of Norwegian descent, a product of the Great Depression, from a family of farmers and carpenters.

On my father’s side, I am the descendant of slaves and sharecroppers. My grandfather, Harold, came up from Mississippi and settled in Waterloo, Iowa, with my Grandma Zona. Food was Zona’s love language and her food was the start of my love of soul food and barbecue.

It was the combined cultures of my family that gave me my first glimpse into the vast possibilities that foods brought to the world. The day I realized that not all family dinners consisted of Southern collard greens, Japanese sushi, and Norwegian lefse (a potato flatbread), all together on the same table, was the first time I realized we were different. I loved it and I wanted to learn and experience more.

With my Grandma Masako unable to truly share her culture, or even to teach her own children her language, her food was the gateway to her story. At a young age, I followed her around the kitchen, tasting everything from rice balls filled with pickled plums to somen—or, as we called them, “summer noodles”—pickled daikon and mochi, to tonkatsu and, my all-time favorite, sukiyaki, a one-pot family-style dish that filled my

brothers and me with so much joy every time she shared it. Whenever we could, we would invite our white American friends to her house to share our grandmother with them and let them experience this magic in a pot.

Burnell, my Norwegian grandfather, taught me the importance of respecting food. He taught me that no meal was ever complete without a slice of bread with butter and a glass of cold milk. As a product of a farming family during the Depression, he instilled in all of us the rule that we must never waste food, and, if food was prepared for you, you ate it all. Even when he became financially secure, he still would cut the mold off a block of cheese, because the rest of it was still good and not to be wasted. And you never left the table until your plate was clean.

Burnell gave me an appreciation for good, wholesome Midwest comfort food. He was all meat and potatoes. His wife, my Japanese grandmother, learned how to prepare pot roast, Swedish meatballs, spareribs with sauerkraut, and meatloaf. Burnell and I would make a weekly trip to the VFW post for the lutefisk dinner—the lye-soaked fish covered in a mystery white sauce alongside what had to be boxed white potatoes. But I always cleaned my plate, because that’s what you did when you ate with Grandpa. These foods were humble, but to this day, they always remind me of the importance of respecting food. Nothing must be wasted, and a meal is never complete without bread and butter.

Grandma Zona was the Big Mama to her neighborhood. She was a mother to so many neighborhood kids and, although she never had a lot of money, she always made sure that anyone and everyone who came to her table was fed. From church basement lunches (which were sorely needed after a five-hour Methodist service) to Saturday cookouts to every meal in between, she loved to cook, she loved to serve food, and she loved to protect.

It was something of a culture shock when we would travel from our suburban life in Apple Valley, Minnesota, to visit Grandma Zona in what, in my young mind, was “the hood.” There was clearly a disparity between what I had at home and what I experienced in her neighborhood. But I found a very tight-knit and connected community there. It gave me a chance to experience a different way of life—sitting on the front stoop shooting dice, foolishly playing chicken with oncoming trains, or riding bikes to the corner store to get my uncle a pack of cigarettes, knowing I would be able to keep the change to buy a couple Laffy Taffy candies or Lemonheads. With my brothers and cousins, I explored the many abandoned houses and we would take off running when we found a squatter. It was such a different life from where I lived, but I loved it.

All of the happiness and connection in this community was most visible in its food, and especially its soul food. In Grandma Zona’s kitchen, it seemed as if there was always a pot of collard greens on the stove, someone cleaning chitlins with a toothbrush, and a vat of hot oil just waiting for perfectly breaded chicken to be submerged.

Then there were the barbecues. Now, we aren’t talking about the weekend warriors with their Big Green Eggs or other trendy smokers or grills in the driveway. This was the whole neighborhood coming together at a local park to cook, commune, and throw down. It was the deacons from church alongside the neighborhood drug dealers, gang members of different affiliations, absent fathers, and baby mamas—and everyone was somehow your cousin. They all put everything aside to come together to grill and eat. My uncle Hawkeye always manned the grill with his 40-ounce beer in one hand and the barbecue didn’t stop until there were no more coals. This food spoke to me. It was something more than a meal. It had heart. It tasted like family. But what it really was all about, I believe, was that it had soul.

My life continued on this path, in which the love of food shared with my family was at the center of everything that mattered, for many years. As I matured, I became not just an observer of food but an active student of it. I ate everything I could, everywhere I could. I especially found myself wanting to learn more about the South, about soul food—the food that spoke to me most.

When I decided to turn food into a career, I moved to Atlanta. I had gone earlier to business school, but at the suggestion of my father, Kerry, and with a lot of encouragement from him and others, I decided to

pivot in a new direction and go to culinary school. I chose Atlanta because I wanted to be close to the foods of the South and the people who mastered them. I began to explore firsthand the dining and cooking of the South, from New Orleans to St. Louis, Mississippi to Georgia, Alabama to Texas. Spending time in these places filled my nose with the smells of soulful foods. It filled my stomach with their flavors. And it fed my soul.

When I moved back home to Minnesota and decided to open my first restaurant, Handsome Hog, the most important thing for me was to share those feelings and experiences. As my Grandma Zona had done for me, I wanted to welcome everyone to my table and help feed their souls. And I want to pay homage to the memories and the feelings of that soul food…the food that was smuggled into the United States by my ancestors—beans and seeds hidden in the hair of West African women in the slave trade who were stolen from their homes as labor to build this country.

This food encompasses the unwanted scraps that were discarded and left to our people, and that have now become soughtafter delicacies. This is food that was enjoyed in generations of Southern restaurants, with white owners in the front while the true culinary geniuses worked out of sight in the back. In the book Northern Soul, I tell these stories through the lens of all of my experiences, not just my origin and my family, but also through my training in classic French cuisine and fine dining, and my many years of national and international travel—for which I thank my flight-attendant mother. As a born Northerner, this is the food that resonates with me, that feeds my soul. The recipes in Northern Soul are the stories of my life. Here are three that celebrate the bounty of summer—not just in New Jersey, but wherever you happen to call “home.”


Watermelon Salad

with Bourbon Vinaigrette


Nothing signals the arrival of summer like watermelon! This salad is a fresh way to enjoy this amazing fruit and will definitely make you the star of the BBQ. Just remember: If you swallow a seed, a watermelon might grow in your stomach!

1 medium watermelon, seeded and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes

2 English cucumbers, seeded and cut into 1⁄2-inch (1 cm) slices

2 cups (40 g) baby arugula

1⁄4 cup (35 g) sliced pickled chiles

1 large shallot, cut horizontally into thin rings

1⁄4 cup (25 g) toasted pecans

1 tablespoon (18 g) smoked salt

  • Toss together the watermelon, cucumbers, arugula, chiles, shallot and pecans in a salad bowl.
  • Toss the salad ingredients with the vinaigrette (below), sprinkle smoked salt over the top and serve.

Bourbon Vinaigrette


A delicate part of this recipe is igniting the bourbon to cook off the alcohol and enhance the deep, smoky flavors that make it so distinctive. Cook the reduction in a well-ventilated space and over a low flame to prevent any loose clothing, or, in my case, substantial facial hair, from catching fire. That will ruin any party.

1 cup (235 ml) bourbon

1⁄2 cup (176 g) Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons (22 g) whole-grain mustard

1⁄2 cup (118 ml) apple cider vinegar

1⁄4 cup (40 g) minced shallots

2 tablespoons (26 g) sugar

1 tablespoon plus 3⁄4 teaspoon (7 g) freshly ground black pepper

1 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup (235 ml) extra virgin olive oil

  • Heat the bourbon in a saucepan over medium heat until the fumes ignite. Continue to cook over low heat, swirling constantly, until the flame dies out. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
  • Whisk together the bourbon, both mustards, vinegar, shallots, sugar, pepper, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl while whisking vigorously to emulsify.
  • Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Allow to come to room temperature before using.

Asha Belk

Shrimp Po’Boy

In my dreams, I walk into a perfectly manicured backyard garden surrounded by my friends. The magnolias are in full bloom. Someone places a tall bourbon cocktail in my hand. I can smell the smoke and caramelizing meat of a well-tended barbecue pit and there—on the buffet table—next to a mountain of shucked oysters on ice, acres of deviled eggs, and a bowl of hush puppies, is a pile of shrimp po’ boys stacked like cordwood. There’s one for everybody, and they’re still warm. I’m passing along this recipe because I want you to help make my dream come true.


Peanut oil for deep-frying

12 large (size 16/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup (140 g) finely ground cornmeal

1⁄2 cup (63 g) all-purpose flour

1⁄2 cup (50 g) Cajun Seasoning (page 13)

1⁄2 cup (118 ml) buttermilk

2 hoagie rolls

1⁄4 cup (63 g) Remoulade

1⁄2 cup (28 g) shredded iceberg lettuce

2 plum tomatoes, cut 1⁄4-inch (6 mm) thick

  • To make the shrimp, heat the peanut oil in a deep-fryer or Dutch oven to 350°F (177°C). Set out a wire rack for draining the fried shrimp.
  • Make a dredge for the shrimp by combining the cornmeal, all-purpose flour, and Cajun Seasoning in a bowl. Submerge the shrimp in the buttermilk. Remove them, let them dry briefly, then toss them to coat in the dredge.
  • Working in batches, fry the shrimp for 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Drain briefly on the wire rack.
  • To assemble the sandwiches, slather the insides of the hoagie rolls generously with the remoulade. Add the iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato, and finish with the breaded shrimp, fresh out of the deep-fryer. Serve immediately.

Asha Belk

Go-To Cajun Seasoning

All of the ingredients in this recipe should be stocked in your pantry for use individually from time to time, so picking up any you may be missing is doing yourself as great a favor. Keep this blend at the ready for all sorts of meat, vegetables and seafood that make their way into your kitchen.


1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (53 g) ground cayenne

1⁄4 cup (75 g) kosher salt

1⁄4 cup (36 g) garlic powder

1⁄4 cup (28 g) sweet paprika

2 tablespoons (14 g) onion powder

2 tablespoons (5 g) dried thyme

2 tablespoons (6 g) dried oregano

2 tablespoons (12 g) freshly ground black pepper

  • Mix together the cayenne, salt, garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, thyme, oregano and pepper in a bowl.
  • Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dark place for up to 4 weeks.

Asha Belk


Lobster Étoufée

Étouffée means stuffed or smothered. This dish is smothered in deliciousness, not to mention topped with a whole lobster tail. This ain’t your grandma’s étouffée.


6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter

2 cups (320 g) diced white onion

1 cup (150 g) diced green pepper

1 cup (120 g) diced celery

4 garlic cloves, minced

1⁄4 cup (31 g) all-purpose flour

2 cups (390 g) uncooked white rice

2 quarts (1.9 L) shellfish stock, seafood stock, or fish stock

1 (15.5 ounce / 439 g) can whole tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons (36 g) Cajun Seasoning (page 13)

1 tablespoon (15 g) habanero hot sauce

1 tablespoon (2 g) fresh thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons (28 ml) Worcestershire sauce

1⁄4 cup (59 ml) fresh lemon juice

8 ounces (225 g) lobster claw meat

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 small to medium lobster tails

4 lemon wedges

  • In a large skillet or Dutch oven, melt 4 tablespoons (55 g) of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Whisk in the flour until a roux just begins to form, 2 to 3 minutes more.
  • Cook the rice according to the package instructions and keep warm, if necessary, until it is needed.
  • Add the stock to the vegetable-roux mixture and stir thoroughly, taking care that there are no lumps in the roux. Add the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons (24 g) of the Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, thyme, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the lobster meat and cook for 5 minutes more. Add some additional stock if the sauce is too thick. Add salt and pepper to taste and keep the mixture warm over low heat.
  • With kitchen scissors, cut a slit in the top of each lobster tail from the front to the end of the tail. Using a fork or spoon, pull the tail meat out through the slit and let it rest on top of the shell.
  • Preheat the broiler to 500°F (250°C). Meanwhile, transfer the tails to a broiler-ready sheet pan. In a separate pan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons (28 g) of butter. Brush this butter onto the lobster tail meat and sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon (12 g) of Cajun seasoning on top. Broil the tails for 6 to 8 minutes, until the meat is cooked through.
  • Divide the rice among 4 plates. Pour the sauce over the rice and top each serving with a lobster tail. Serve with lemon wedges.

A dear friend of mine often says, “Everything good in my life started over a meal.” No words ever rang truer. Food is so much more than a means to an end. More than just the calories and nutrients that sustain our physical lives, food is a fuel that powers us spiritually and emotionally, too. Food tells a story, evokes memories, bridges gaps and connects humanity by a singular thread.


Courtesy of Justin Sutherland

Editor’s Note: Justin Sutherland is familiar to EDGE foodies for his appearance on Top Chef and his victory on Iron Chef America, as well as a hosting gig on Fast Foodies. He completed Northern Soul in 2022 while recovering from a near-fatal boating accident. He narrowly escaped the loss of an arm and an eye, but is back in the kitchen and on his way to a full recovery. Justin was recently featured in a segment by friend of EDGE Tamron Hall on her talk show…and his book has since taken off. It is available from The Harvard Common Press, an imprint of The Quatro Group.

Asha Belk’s food photography has been featured in several books and magazines. In 2021, her work documented the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd.




The Chef Recommends

EDGE takes you inside the area’s most creative kitchens.

Sonny’s Indian Kitchen Sonny’s Butter Chicken

225 Main Street • CHATHAM (973) 507-9462/9463 • sonnysindiankitchen.com

Sonny’s butter chicken is one of the best, delicious, smooth buttery and richest among Indian curries. It is made from chicken marinated overnight and baked in a clay oven then simmered in sauce made with tomatoes, butter and various spices.

— Chef Sonny


Krust Kitchen Philly Special

7 Cross Street • MADISON (908) 525-7878 • krustkitchen.com

A 12” x 18” Grandma style pizza with roast pork, bacon, sautéed broccoli rabe and our Midwest cheese blend. Chili flakes on request.




Common Lot Wagyu Beef Tartar

27 Main Street • MILLBURN (973) 467-0494 • commonlot.com

Our wagyu beef tartar is paired with a Singapore style pepper sauce, summer herbs and flowers and sea beans.

— Head Chef/Owner Ehren Ryan



Trattoria Gian Marco Calamari Toscano

301 Millburn Avenue • MILLBURN (973) 467-5818 • gianmarconj.com

Another delicious addition to our fabulous menu. Tender calamari fried and sauteed with cherry peppers, capers and kalamata olives in our plum tomato sauce.

— Chef Genero



PAR440 • Mahi Mahi

440 Parsonage Hill Road • SHORT HILLS (973) 467-8882 • par440.com

Pan seared Mahi Mahi with capers over broccoli rabe and fingerling potatoes.

— Chef Pascual Escalona Flores



Galloping Hill Caterers

Galloping Hill Road and Chestnut Street • UNION (908) 686-2683 • gallopinghillcaterers.com

Galloping Hill Caterers has been an incredible landmark for over 70 years. We pride ourselves in delivering “over the top” cuisine, impeccable service and outstanding attention to detail. That is the hallmark of our success! Simply, an unforgettable experience. Pictured here is one of our crepes flambé that really creates lots of excitement!

— George Thomas, Owner


Limani Seafood Grill • Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass Barigoule

235 North Avenue West • WESTFIELD (908) 233-0052 • limaniseafoodgrill.com

A Provencal dish of artichoke hearts, crimini mushrooms, chickpeas, sauté garlic, parsley, minced shallots, roasted lemon potatoes, wilted baby spinach with garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

— Chef/Owner George Vastardis



Welcome Back!

The restaurants featured in this section are open for business and are serving customers in compliance with state regulations. Many created special items ideal for take-out and delivery and have kept them on the menu—we encourage you to visit them online.

Do you have a story about a favorite restaurant going the extra mile during the pandemic? Post it on our Facebook page and we’ll make sure to share it with our readers!

EDGE is not responsible for any typos, misprints or information in regard to these listings. All information was supplied by the restaurants that participated and any questions or concerns should be directed to them.


The Chef Recommends

EDGE takes you inside the area’s most creative kitchens.


Sonny’s Indian Kitchen Sonny’s Butter Chicken

225 Main Street • CHATHAM (973) 507-9462/9463 • sonnysindiankitchen.com

Sonny’s butter chicken is one of the best, delicious, smooth buttery and richest among Indian curries. It is made from chicken marinated overnight and baked in a clay oven then simmered in sauce made with tomatoes, butter and various spices.

— Chef Sonny




Krust Kitchen Philly Special

7 Cross Street • MADISON (908) 525-7878 • krustkitchen.com

A 12” x 18” Grandma style pizza with roast pork, bacon, sautéed broccoli rabe and our Midwest cheese blend. Chili flakes on request.




Common Lot Wagyu Beef Tartar

27 Main Street • MILLBURN (973) 467-0494 • commonlot.com

Our wagyu beef tartar is paired with a Singapore style pepper sauce, summer herbs and flowers and sea beans.

— Head Chef/Owner Ehren Ryan




Trattoria Gian Marco Calamari Toscano

301 Millburn Avenue • MILLBURN (973) 467-5818 • gianmarconj.com

Another delicious addition to our fabulous menu. Tender calamari fried and sauteed with cherry peppers, capers and kalamata olives in our plum tomato sauce.

— Chef Genero




PAR440 • Mahi Mahi

440 Parsonage Hill Road • SHORT HILLS (973) 467-8882 • par440.com

Pan seared Mahi Mahi with capers over broccoli rabe and fingerling potatoes.

— Chef Pascual Escalona Flores




Galloping Hill Caterers

Galloping Hill Road and Chestnut Street • UNION (908) 686-2683 • gallopinghillcaterers.com

Galloping Hill Caterers has been an incredible landmark for over 70 years. We pride ourselves in delivering “over the top” cuisine, impeccable service and outstanding attention to detail. That is the hallmark of our success! Simply, an unforgettable experience. Pictured here is one of our crepes flambé that really creates lots of excitement!

— George Thomas, Owner



Limani Seafood Grill • Pan Seared Halibut with Sun Dried Tomato

235 North Avenue West • WESTFIELD (908) 233-0052 • limaniseafoodgrill.com

Extra virgin olive oil, roasted garlic, lemon juice, capers, white wine, parsley, served with roasted potato and garlicky green beans.

— Chef/Owner George Vastardis




Welcome Back!

The restaurants featured in this section are open for business and are serving customers in compliance with state regulations. Many created special items ideal for take-out and delivery and have kept them on the menu—we encourage you to visit them online.

Do you have a story about a favorite restaurant going the extra mile during the pandemic? Post it on our Facebook page and we’ll make sure to share it with our readers!

EDGE is not responsible for any typos, misprints or information in regard to these listings. All information was supplied by the restaurants that participated and any questions or concerns should be directed to them.

Refuel & Recover

A plant-based training table is the key to optimizing performance.



I remember the exact moment I understood the phrase “hitting the wall.” I signed up to run a half-marathon right before my thirtieth birthday, even though I had never run more than three consecutive miles. I figured it shouldn’t be too bad—I was healthy and, just like many new (and sometimes experienced) athletes, I thought good overall nutrition would carry me through the 13.1 miles. When I did the run, I felt terrible and I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t know I needed the extra carbs and sugar that are necessary for long-distance running, and I thought I’d consumed enough water throughout the day to stay properly hydrated. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Sports nutrition, I would come to understand, is different than general nutrition.

General nutrition is about eating the right nutrients for overall health. Sports nutrition? It has much more nuance, including nutrient timing, meal composition and hydration. Throw plant-based eating into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe (pun intended) for confusion. As a registered dietician, I admit I may be biased, but I believe that plant-based nutrition can play as important a role in performance as training. In fact, choosing the right foods at the right time can profoundly enhance your performance.

Something else I have learned is that those foods don’t have to be boring, complicated, or tasteless. Protein is the number-one concern among many plant-based athletes. If you are a tournament tennis player, an ocean swimmer, a long-distance cyclist, a serious runner like me, or just a workout monster, you may be wondering if you’re getting enough protein on a plant-based diet. Or perhaps you struggle to understand how much you need daily. Let me assure you that eating enough protein on a plant-based diet is feasible and easy.

There are a couple of calculations you need to grasp when it comes to protein, namely the relationship between portion size and protein source. Generally speaking, you may need to increase your portion sizes when cutting meat from your diet because plant-based foods tend to be lower in calories and protein than animal foods. For example, three ounces of tofu have about 10 grams of protein and 90 calories, whereas three ounces of chicken have about 20 grams of protein and 200 calories. Consequently, you need to eat double the amount of tofu to get the same nutrients as chicken. However, tofu isn’t the only source of protein on a plant-based diet. Beans and legumes, other soy products, nuts and seeds, and whole grains are also excellent sources.


Protein is one of three primary macronutrients that the body needs in significant amounts in order to provide calories and energy for basic daily functioning. The other two are carbohydrates and fat. Although foods are often categorized as “carbs” or “fats” or “proteins,” it is important to recognize that most foods contain a combination of at least two, if not all three. It’s also important to understand more about each macronutrient in order to maximize its benefits to your workout and training goals.

Another concern of athletes who fuel their performance through a plant-based diet is whether they are getting the proper amounts of micronutrients—the vitamins and minerals that come from food. There is a long list of essential vitamins and minerals, and some are less prevalent in plant-based foods. I like to refer to these as “micronutrients to watch.” The most critical are iron, calcium and vitamin B12. It requires a bit more effort to make sure you don’t end up with a deficiency in these areas, but it’s not difficult once you get into a habit of it.

The question I receive most often is, What should I eat before my workout? Which brings me to meal timing. If macronutrients are the “who” of fueling, meal timing is the “when, what, and why.” Having a solid understanding of what to eat before, during and after a workout can help you build a quick and simple meal when you don’t have time to cook. Trust me, a small tweak to your fueling routine can make a big difference. In putting together the book Planted Performance, I probably spent as much time addressing meal timing and meal plans for different types of training regimens— and how to incorporate recipes into your training day—as I did on the recipes themselves.

If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re either already on a plant-based diet or you’re looking to incorporate more plants into your diet and need a boost. Either way, you may suffer from the common misperception that it is difficult to put a delicious, hearty dinner on the table that fills you up without weighing you down—particularly if there are others at that table who haven’t fully embraced a plant-based diet. The fact is that you can absolutely make a well-balanced, delicious, plant-based dinner with a mixture of the three key macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat), as well as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

The filling meatless mains in the pages that follow will not only satisfy your taste buds, but also help you refuel and recover for tomorrow’s training.


Courtesy of Natalie Rizzo

Wild Rice and Mushroom Umami Burgers with Roasted Red Pepper Aioli

These burgers combine savory ingredients with a vibrant vegetable sauce. If you prefer to use an egg in place of the flax meal mixture, go right ahead!

For the patties:

2 tablespoons flax meal

6 tablespoons warm water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1⁄2 cup diced white onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup diced white mushrooms

1⁄4 cup raw unsalted walnuts, finely chopped

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cumin

11⁄2 cups cooked wild rice

1⁄2 cup panko bread crumbs

For the roasted red pepper aioli:

1⁄2 cup mayonnaise or vegan mayonnaise

1⁄4 cup roasted red bell peppers

1 clove garlic

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

4 hamburger buns, for serving

Lettuce, for serving

Sliced tomato, for serving

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

To make the patties, in a small bowl, make a flax egg by combining the flax meal and water. Let sit for at least 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens slightly.

Warm 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the mushrooms, walnuts, soy sauce, and cumin and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the soy sauce reduces. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, combine the flax egg with the vegetable mixture. Add the wild rice and bread crumbs. Mix until well combined.

Form four equal patties from the mixture and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to set.

While the burgers are setting, make the aioli. In a food processor, combine the mayonnaise, roasted red bell peppers, garlic, and salt and process until smooth.

Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in the same large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the burgers on the pan and cook for 4 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown.

To assemble, place the patties on buns, then top with aioli, lettuce, and tomatoes. Serve right away or store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes 4 servings Prep Time: 10 minutes, plus 1 hour to chill Cook Time: 15 minutes


Courtesy of Natalie Rizzo

Sweet Potato and Black Beans Enchiladas

Enchiladas may seem like a complicated dish but making them at home is easier than you think. Feel free to use vegan cheese or leave off the cheese entirely.

1 sweet potato, cut into large chunks

1 cup chopped cauliflower (about 1⁄2 small head)

1⁄3 cup diced red onion, plus more for serving

1 tablespoon diced jalapeño, plus slices for serving

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon chili powder

1⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1 can (15.5 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

6 (8- to 10-inch) soft flour tortillas

1⁄2 cup salsa verde

1⁄2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, Mexican cheese blend, or vegan cheddar

Diced red onion, for serving

Sliced jalapeño, for serving

Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the sweet potato and cook for 20 minutes, until fork tender. Drain the water and set the sweet potato aside. Remove the skins from the sweet potatoes and place the flesh in a large bowl. Mash the flesh with a fork.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the cauliflower, onion, jalapeño, garlic, vegetable oil, chili powder, cumin, and salt. Stir until well combined. Spread the cauliflower mixture on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until golden around the edges.

Transfer the roasted cauliflower back to the large bowl. Add the black beans and lime juice and stir well.

Lay each tortilla flat and fill the middle of each tortilla with the vegetable mixture before rolling them up.

Place half of the salsa to the bottom of a 9×13-inch casserole dish. Place each filled tortilla in the casserole dish with the rolled part facing down. Add the remaining half of salsa and the cheese on top. Bake for 20 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted.

Remove the enchiladas from the oven and garnish with red onion, jalapeños, and cilantro. Serve immediately or store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Makes 4 servings Prep Time: 10 minutes / Cook Time: 1 hour


Courtesy of Natalie Rizzo

Greens and Beans Soup

White beans are a standout ingredient in this soup due to their nutrition profile. Not only are they a good source of plant-based protein and fiber, they are also an excellent source of iron and folate, two nutrients necessary for blood and brain health.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 stalks celery, chopped (1/2 cup)

2 carrots, chopped (3⁄4 cup)

¼ white onion, diced (¼ cup)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup chopped artichoke hearts

1 teaspoon dried rosemary 3⁄4 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

2 (15.5 oz / 439 g) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 cup water0
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups packed packed chopped stemmed kale

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Warm the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, onion, garlic, and artichoke hearts and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until translucent. Add the rosemary, salt and thyme, and stir. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add the beans, broth, water, and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until it has reached a very chunky consistency; you should still be able to see full beans and vegetables. If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer half of the soup to a blender and blend, then put it back in the stockpot with the remaining soup.

Add the kale to the pot, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for another 10 minutes, until the kale is wilted. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Serve immediately or store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 7 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Heat before serving.

Makes 4 servings Prep Time: 10 minutes / Cook Time: 45 minutes

The benefits of plant-based diets, including vegetarian and vegan diets, have been well studied for their role in disease prevention and overall health. They are rich in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, soy, seeds and whole grains, and contain plenty of beneficial nutrients—including vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that Americans consume two-thirds of their dietary intake from vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. In the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, vegetarian diets are recommended as one of three healthy dietary patterns.

Vegetarian diets also improve several heart-disease risk factors, including abdominal obesity, blood pressure, blood lipids and blood glucose. What’s more, for those who suffer from risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, a vegetarian diet may reduce cholesterol levels, decrease markers of inflammation, protect against plaque formation in the arteries and improve heart health without the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Consequently, vegetarians have a reduced risk of developing (and dying from) heart disease. Researchers attribute these benefits to the abundance of fiber and the scarcity of saturated fat in vegetarian and vegan diets. Additionally, compared with meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cancer, especially gastrointestinal cancer. EDGE

Editor’s Note: Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, has been a vegetarian for more than a decade and a competitive runner for almost as long. Her new book Planted Performance: Easy Plant-Based Recipes, Meal Plans, and Nutrition for All Athletes (NewSeed Press, 2023) simplifies complex sports nutrition information and contains chapters on meal plans, pre-workout breakfasts and lunches, hearty dinners, side dishes and desserts. Portions of this story and all three recipes appear in her book. Natalie is the owner of Greenletes.com, a plant-based sports nutrition blog and podcast. She has written for numerous sports and fitness publications and frequently appears in television segments on health and wellness.


Genuine Mexican

It’s never just the destination. It’s always the journey.

As a child growing up in León, Mexico, I often imagined what life in the United States might be like—riding yellow school buses and eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, just like they did in the movies. My parents were college graduates. My mother had a degree in textile design and my father owned a company that made machinery for the leather manufacturing industry. We had never struggled, never had to move.

All photos courtesy of Andrea Pons and Princeton Architectural Press

A recession in Mexico in the early 2000s changed all of that. I sensed my parents were dealing with money troubles even though no one mentioned it. One day, debt collectors came and removed beautiful pieces of furniture from our home. I remember my nanny yelling at them to get a job that didn’t ruin people’s lives.

Soon after, we boarded a flight to the Pacific Northwest, where a family friend had put down roots five years earlier. And we began a new life. My mother worked as a house cleaner and my father labored in construction to support our family while they negotiated a path through an immigration process that was so long and so complicated that their visas expired, leaving them in legal limbo. When people asked about my legal status, I would lie and say I had a green card. At school, kids Fast-forward to 2018, three months after my twenty-fourth birthday, I found myself single, divorced, and living alone. That summer, I was sicker than I’d ever been, fighting illness after illness and stomach aches from constant stress. My body and self had diverged. I no longer wanted to feel disconnected, so I started cooking at home. The food I made offered a new identity, creating a path that led me back to myself as a Mexican immigrant. With no one to tell me what I could and couldn’t cook, I started to make the dishes that I missed from my childhood. It was a chance to rediscover my heritage and an opportunity to heal. Cooking these dishes was an act of self-love for the part of myself whose country said I was never enough and could never fit in.

The recipes in this story remind me of home. My childhood home and, now, my new home. They are among the many that I collected and published in a book entitled Mamacita: Recipes Celebrating Life as a Mexican Immigrant in America. From looking through the culinary articles and restaurant reviews in EDGE, I know that readers of this magazine have sophisticated and adventurous palates. They crave “authentic.” I believe an important component of authenticity in any cuisine that comes to America from another place is an appreciation of the journey of the people who bring it here.

In 2018, when I started the Mamacita project, I had an expired green card. I received an official letter from the government stating I had two years to apply for citizenship or an extension. My path to citizenship was both unique and common. The immigration system is a labyrinth, and while many of us find ourselves in the same maze, finding our way out is a personal puzzle that we are often left to figure out on our own.

Applying for citizenship as a Mexican immigrant requires a level of privilege greater than most have access to or can afford. I didn’t make enough money, and my family didn’t either. I had to ask a family friend, Vicente, who then worked for Boeing, to be my sponsor—which was not a small request. Essentially, he signed a contract stating that he would be financially responsible for me if I lost my job or declared bankruptcy. If Vicente had been unable to aid me financially, then the government could have sued him. Thanks to Vicente, I was able to start the application process and become a U.S. citizen. He has since passed, but I will never forget his kindness and the generosity he extended to our family.

People who believe immigration is quick and uncomplicated haven’t gone through the system. It’s intimidating and confusing for everyone, especially those who have to go through it. It’s almost impossible to start without being financially stable. Often, people assume we aren’t paying taxes. Even if we don’t have status, we still pay taxes. The process of obtaining status can take a very long time—ultimately, it took me 15 years. Immigration laws frequently change, adding higher costs and increased complexity.

Indeed, in June 2020, I was confronted by the reality of deportation, and I’ve never been more scared. In a panic, I called my immigration lawyer—a privilege not everyone has— and discovered I had to start the application process all over again. Ten years of previous immigration paperwork no longer applied to my case! When that happens, you have no choice but to start over. For the record, there are no refunds for the applications that no longer apply. Ten thousand dollars later, I found myself on a new path toward the same goal.

Uprooting my life taught me that the only thing we can expect is everything we didn’t plan to happen. Months after the initial call to my lawyer, I sat at the office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), waiting to see whether I had passed the test. After spending two hours answering a series of life-altering questions, I did it. I achieved my parents’ dream, my dream—the American dream. With a certificate in one hand and a dollar-store American flag gripped in the other, I could finally call myself a citizen of the United States.

I know it sounds dramatic, but cooking saved my life. Making these dishes helped me crawl out of a dark place of hiding and provided a space where I could finally show up as my whole self. By immortalizing the recipes that I grew up eating as a kid in Mexico, I reconnected with the part of myself I never meant to forget. My mother, like my grandmother, has yet to use a measuring spoon. Instead, she is guided by the palms of her hands, knowing by heart how much to add. I have written these recipes down, added measurements, and simplified the process so you can make my family’s recipes on your own or invite the people you love to share a meal together.

There is no greater pleasure than serving food to the people you love and seeing the delight on their faces when they taste something made just for them. When you make these recipes, I hope you feel more connected to the immigrant communities around you. I want us to keep striving to show up, help other immigrants to speak up, and listen to each other’s stories. Most of all, I hope my story reminds you to trust yourself. Wherever you are now, who you are meant to be is entirely up to you.


All photos courtesy of Andrea Pons and Princeton Architectural Press

Salsa Verde

Green Salsa | Makes about 3 cups

Growing up, we had various types of salsas in the fridge at all times. But there were two that never ran out: salsa verde and salsa roja. My mama would make a fresh batch every weekend for the week ahead. This salsa verde is incredibly versatile and can be used in many dishes; my favorite ones are chilaquiles verdes and pozole verde. You can additionally top a quesadilla with this salsa, mix it into your guacamole for a spicy dip, or simply eat it with tortilla chips. The options are limitless.



9 ounces tomatillos (about 6), divided

1 tablespoon avocado oil

1/2 cup chopped white onion

2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded

1 canned jalapeno pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1 teaspoon sea salt

Peel off the tomatillos’ paper husks and rinse under cold running water. In a large saucepan, combine half of the tomatillos and enough water to cover them and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 3 minutes to soften the tomatillos. Remove the tomatillos with a slotted spoon and reserve ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. Meanwhile, heat the oil over high heat. Sear the remaining tomatillos, flipping once, until brown, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat. In a blender, add all of the tomatillos and the reserved ¼ cup of liquid. Blend until smooth. To the blender, add the chopped white onion, all of the jalapenos, the lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Blend until combined. Be careful not to liquify the salsa; it should be smooth with some texture. Taste and adjust the salt or lime juice as needed. Transfer the salsa to a sealed container and refrigerate.


All photos courtesy of Andrea Pons and Princeton Architectural Press

Carne en Salsa Verde

con Papas

Pork in Green Sauce with Potatoes | Serves 4 to 6

El Dia del Padre in my household is always celebrated with a big plate of this Carne en Salsa Verde con Papas. My dad rarely likes to enchilarse (purposely eat spicy food to feel a burn), so he has always loved when my mama cooks dishes like this, which have all the flavor but very mild spiciness. I grew up to really love this dish, specially rolled up in a tortilla with a little bit of crema to make the salsa creamier. The green color comes from the tomatillos, but unlike their name suggests, tomatillos are not “little tomatoes,” or tomatoes at all, for that matter. Think of them rather as a cousin of the tomato. While tomatillos can turn yellow, red, or even purple with full maturity, they are only eaten unripe in Mexican dishes. When shopping for tomatillos look for ones that have dry and papery husks, avoiding those that feel moist, look shriveled, or feel damp. If buying tomatillos ahead of time, store them in a cool dry place and never place them inside the fridge.


1 pound boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes

Sea salt and ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups husked, rinsed, and halved tomatillos

¼ medium white onion

1 garlic clove, minced

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded

2 tablespoons chicken bouillon powder

2 cups halved baby potatoes

Cooked rice for serving

Warm tortillas for serving

Season the pork loin with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. In a deep, medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Sear the pork, flipping, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Do not cook the pork all the way through. Remove the pork from the pan and set aside. In a blender, combine the tomatillos, onion, garlic, jalapenos, chicken bouillon powder, and 4 cups of cold water. Blend well. In the same skillet, add the sauce, bring to a simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the pork and baby potatoes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Serve with a side of rice and warm tortillas.


All photos courtesy of Andrea Pons and Princeton Architectural Press

Crema de Elote

Cream of Corn Soup | Serves 4 to 6

This creamy corn soup comes together in less than an hour, and it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. If dairy is not your thing, I recommend using ghee for butter and cashew milk as an alternative. While most milk alternatives will work, cashew has the closest consistency and taste to dairy milk. If choosing alternative milk, stay away from coconut milk as the taste of coconut will be too strong for the soup and will overpower the true star of the dish, corn.



6 cups whole milk, divided

2 large ears corn, shucked

2 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Sea salt

2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and sliced into “rajas” (strips)

Queso panela, cubed

In a large soup pot, bring 5 cups of the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat. Continue simmering for 5 minutes. Using a sharp knife, cut the corn kernels off the cobs. In a blender, combine half of the corn kernels and the remaining 1 cup of milk and blend until smooth. Using a strainer, strain the corn mixture into the soup pot. Mix well. Add the remaining corn kernels, the chicken bouillon powder, and the butter. Simmer over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Do not overcook as the corn will make the soup too sweet. Season with salt. Serve hot, topped with the rajas and queso panela.


Albondigas en Chipotle

Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce | Serves 4 to 6

In Mexico, work hours are different than in the United States. Instead of working nine-to-five with a 30-minute or hour lunch break, Mexico—a country that revolves around the next meal—has a scheduled block of two hours around three o’clock in the afternoon when people go home for comida (a midday meal that is spent with family, and the equivalent of dinner), then head back to work for another few hours before returning home around eight o’clock in the evening. This was my papa’s schedule when I was a kid. On special nights, he would return home to surprise my sister and me with a rented VHS tape. I remember the night he brought home Lady and the Tramp. Not only did my sister Vanessa and I both love this movie, but it was also the first time we ever saw meatballs served with spaghetti instead of rice. Traditionally albondigas are served in soup, but my mama preferred to serve them dry over rice or potatoes, topped with salsa. Eating albondigas takes me back to a simpler time, sitting on the floor with Vanessa, watching two dogs kiss over a plate of meatballs and stringy noodles.

For the Meatballs…

¼ cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

1/2 pound ground beef

1/2 pound ground pork

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley leaves

2 teaspoons panko bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 large eggs

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons avocado oil

For the Salsa…

5 dried chipotle peppers, seeded

3 large tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon tomato puree

2 tablespoons avocado oil

Sea salt

Cooked rice for serving (optional)

Mashed potatoes for serving (optional)

Making the Meatballs…

Place the flour in a shallow bowl. In a large bowl, combine the remaining meatball ingredients, except the oil and mix, with your hands. Make chestnut-sized one-inch balls out of the meat mixture. Roll the meatballs in the flour and set aside. In a deep skillet, heat the 6 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Briefly sear the meatballs until they turn golden brown. Set aside. Making the Salsa…

In a dry skillet over medium heat, lightly roast the chipotle peppers. Transfer to a soup pot, add 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Cook the peppers until they soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the peppers, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Set aside. In a blender, combine the softened peppers, the reserved 1 cup of cooking liquid, the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and tomato puree. Blend until smooth. In a stockpot, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the blended sauce and fry for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the meatballs and 1 1/2 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil for 1 minute, then cover with a lid and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Season with salt. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.

All photos courtesy of Andrea Pons and Princeton Architectural Press


Serves 4 to 6

Ceviche or cebiche? The spelling depends on the zone of Mexico in which you are eating this dish. Because I grew up knowing it as cebiche, I decided to keep this spelling instead of ceviche, which is more commonly known in the United States. Like the variation in spelling, this dish has many modifications of ingredients depending on the region and who is making it. A lot of my mama’s recipes have a strong Spanish influence, which you can see in the addition of olives to many of her recipes, including this one. I like cutting my fish into cubes instead of strips. The cubes must be bite-sized—not too small and not too big—as traditionally, cebiche is served in a bowl and scooped up with tortilla chips to eat.


1/2 pound fresh halibut fillet (or swordfish)

1 lime, juiced

1 teaspoon sea salt

4 medium tomatoes

1/2 medium white onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped

10 green olives, pitted and halved

2 large jalapeno peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 medium Hass avocado, cubed

¼ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

All photos courtesy of Andrea Pons and Princeton Architectural Press

Rinse the halibut under cold running water and pat dry. Chop into 1/2-inch cubes. In a salad bowl, bathe the halibut in the lime juice, tossing so it doesn’t “cook” unevenly. Season with salt and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the fridge for 1 hour. In a medium saucepan, combine the tomatoes and enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the skins begin to split, about 1 minute. Drain and rinse the tomatoes under cold running water. Remove the skins with a paper towel. Chop the tomatoes into small cubes and set aside. Remove the halibut from the fridge, add the tomatoes, then add the onion, garlic, cilantro, olives, peppers, avocado, olive oil, and vinegar. Mix gently. Taste and season with salt as needed. Serve with crackers or tortilla chips.


Editor’s Note:

Andrea Pons is a senior production manager, food stylist, and author based in Seattle, Washington. A new, expanded edition of Mamacita: Recipes Celebrating Life as a Mexican Immigrant in America (Princeton Architectural Press • $29.95 at papress.com) was released in 2022.

Stirring Things Up

Stirring things up

Holiday entertaining is more meaningful when kids get in on the cooking.

Enjoying time and food with friends and family is one of the true pleasures of the holiday season. For young children, it offers a chance to get to know all the grown-ups better, and also to show off how “grown-up” they themselves have become since the last holiday gathering. Whether your family is hosting a party or attending as guests, some kind of food is bound to be involved, including main courses, side dishes, appetizers, salads and desserts. Oftentimes, parents discourage their kids from helping out with party-food production, especially the younger ones. As a mom who’s been cooking with her children for a long time, I completely understand—kids can be messy, require close supervision, and you’ll have to be cautious about what they are working on.

Photo by Brianne Grajkowski

But I also know that not including your children from this process is a major missed opportunity.

Cooking with your kids—or grand kids, if you have them and they are old enough—can be both fun and educational. It teaches them to be creative and explore new flavors. It teaches measurements, math, and science. It helps with reading, as kids learn new words from the recipes and lists of instructions. And when kids learn how to cook for themselves, they are also learning how to care for themselves, which is something all parents want for their children.

In addition, if they are put “in charge” of a party dish, the positive reinforcement they receive watching loved ones enjoy their creation is something that will last for a lifetime. Kids aren’t wired to be spectators; they are born participants.

With all this in mind, I gathered a handful of recipes that you can cook with your kids in the run-up to your next holiday gathering. The recipes are kid-friendly and approachable, but they aren’t “kid food.” They are small-dish appetizers that are meant to be special treats that should disappear quickly off the plate. They may even hear loud exclamations of delight and surprise: You made this? No way!…You did this by yourself? Impossible!…These are the best things at the party!

Safety First

Before we get to these party recipes, the most important thing you’ll need to keep in mind when cooking with kids is kitchen safety. I have found there are three components to cooking safely: Listening, Timing, and Supervision:

  • Listening. I’ve always told my kids that the first rule of cooking is listening. If they are having a hard time listening, then it isn’t the best time for them to cook or help out. I will ask them to sit down at the table until they are ready to move on. I find this to be the most helpful rule while cooking and learning together so that they remain safe.
  • Timing. Safe cooking is fun cooking so, as a parent, it’s your job to know when it’s a good time for you and your child to cook together. If you’re in a hurry or starving, save your cooking together for another time. You both want to be ready to learn and enjoy your time together.
  • Supervision. The third rule of safe cooking with your child is knowing how and when to supervise. The three areas of the kitchen that I think need the most supervision are when using A) a real knife, B) a stand mixer and C) anything that could burn them. In these areas, I am always with them at their current level of cooking. Once you’ve watched over them several times, use your best judgment for when you feel your child is ready to use these items with minimal supervision.

Getting Started – Practice makes perfect. Cooking together can have a learning curve, so it’s a good idea to test-drive a recipe with your children days or even weeks before the big party. Don’t be discouraged if the first few attempts don’t go exactly as planned. Keep trying until you find a rhythm together. Learning at the start will be the most challenging. Here are some tips and tricks for how to begin:

Start small. A good age to start teaching kids about cooking is when they are two to four years old, when they can help with easier tasks like pouring ingredients into a bowl and stirring. Even at that age, they can claim authorship of a dish even if you ended up doing the bulk of the work. When my kids were young, I encouraged them to cook with me all the time. One of their favorite cooking tasks was using the pastry brush to “paint” olive oil onto veggies or tomato sauce onto pizza dough.

Be patient. Kids will make a mess. Also, it will take longer to cook the dish than if you were cooking on your own. That’s okay because, as your child is learning, it is important to remember to have fun.

Start simple. The five recipes in this story are best suited for kids with a little experience in the kitchen, but you can help guide them. You’ll be interested to know that they are pulled from a book of 101 recipes that was published this fall, entitled Cooking with Kids. As a rule, easy recipes have few ingredients and don’t generally involve a lot of steps or complicated tasks. Some of the recipes in this story involve either a knife, high heat, or both. You can use a kids’ knife set or do that part yourself. If you sense any fear or potential for real danger, be sure to step in, but once you demonstrate how to do something safely, I think you’ll be surprised how quickly kids pick up the skill.

Pre-read the steps. As a kitchen supervisor, review all the steps of a chosen recipe with the kids before you start. Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients, equipment and to know what to expect.

The rule of one. If you are cooking with more than one child, start one child at a time on a task. Once each has a good understanding of the steps, you can all cook together.

Lay it all out. Gather all the ingredients, tools, dishes and equipment needed for the recipe and set them out on the counter. I walk through each step with my kids before following the instructions and adjust the recipes to my family’s tastes.

Photo by Brianne Grajkowski


Serves 12 • 20 minutes

Medium • This recipe involves a sharp knife and high heat

6 tbsps. olive oil

1 large baguette, cut into 1-inch slices

2 cups of cherry tomatoes

2 tbsps. garlic

1 tsp. salt

4 tbsps. basil, chopped

  1. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over baguette slices and toast in toaster oven or conventional oven at 350°F for 5 minutes.
  2. Dice cherry tomatoes into 1/4-inch pieces.
  3. Sautee tomatoes in 2 tablespoons olive oil and garlic for 3 minutes in a medium skillet on medium heat.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Add salt and basil and stir.
  6. Spoon oil, salt, and basil mixture onto each slice of baguette and serve.

Photo by Brianne Grajkowski

Roasted Garlic Hummus

Serves 12 • 40 minutes

Medium • This recipe involves a knife and high heat

2 heads of garlic

6 tbsps. olive oil

2 tsps. + sprinkle salt

2 lemon

Two 15-oz. cans of garbanzo beans

4-6 tbsps. water

  1. Preheat toaster oven to 350°F.
  2. Peel outer layer of garlic off. Slice tips off.
  3. Place garlic on toaster oven tray. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add a sprinkle of salt.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes.
  5. Let garlic cool, then squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins, pushing from the bottom up. Set a few pieces of garlic aside for garnish.
  6. Slice lemon in half and use a lemon squeezer to pour juice into the blender.
  7. Pour garbanzo beans and remaining olive oil, salt, and garlic, then the water, into blender.
  8. Pulse until smooth. Scrape into a dish using a spatula or wooden spoon.


Push your thumbs from the bottom of the garlic up to get all of the cloves out.

Elote Deviled Eggs

Serves 12 • 30 minutes

Hard • This recipe involves a knife and high heat

24 eggs

2/3 cup mayo

2 tbsps. mustard

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup frozen mixed corn

4 tsps. elote seasoning or 2 tbsp. chili powder

  1. Add eggs to pot and fill with water until it reaches 1 inch above eggs.
  2. Let water boil, then remove the pot of eggs from heat and let stand for 13 minutes.
  3. Drain eggs and run cool water over them.
  4. Peel eggs and slice in half.
  5. Mix egg yolks, mayo, mustard, and salt in a bowl or directly in a ziplock bag.
  6. Cut the tip of the bag and pipe the filling into the egg halves.
  7. Defrost corn in the microwave, then toast for 1 to 2 minutes in the toaster oven or skillet.
  8. Sprinkle eggs with corn and elote seasoning and serve.


Using a ziplock bag makes it easy to pipe the filling into the eggs!

Photo by Brianne Grajkowski

Philly Rolls

Serves 8 • 15 minutes

Hard • This recipe involves a knife

1 large English cucumber

8 sheets seaweed

2 cups cooked rice

8 oz. cream cheese

8 oz. smoked salmon

  1. Slice cucumber into sticks. Cut lengthwise in half until you have 1/4-inch sticks.
  2. Lay out a sheet of seaweed on bamboo sushi mat or cutting board. Press 1/4 cup of rice into sheet.
  3. Add cream cheese, salmon, and cucumber to the middle of the rice-topped seaweed. Make sure ingredients are evenly laid out in the middle, from left to right.
  4. Roll from the bottom up with your bamboo sushi mat, or use your fingers to tightly roll until edges of the seaweed meet.
  5. Slice into 1/2-inch pieces.
  6. Repeat for remaining rolls.


Roll the seaweed sheets from the bottom up and squeeze tight!

Photo by Brianne Grajkowski

Shrimp Skewers

Serves 8 • 30 minutes

Medium • This recipe involves high heat

Two 32-oz. bags of frozen shrimp

2 tsps. granulated garlic

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. chili powder

2 pinches of salt

1/2 cup butter, melted

  1. Defrost shrimp in a strainer set in a bowl of cold water.
  2. Add all seasoning into a large bowl.
  3. Pour in melted butter and stir.
  4. Add in defrosted shrimp and stir.
  5. Add 4 to 6 shrimps onto a bamboo skewer, so they lay flat.
  6. Grill at 300°F for 2 to 3 minutes per side.


Use a strainer to defrost the shrimp. That way, the shrimp can be pulled right out of the water and poured into the seasonings.

A final thought: Having a hand in making food for a big group of family and friends is a great way to get picky eaters to try foods they might otherwise not. Normally, if a recipe has an item my child doesn’t typically like, I give it a try anyway. Sometimes, they will enjoy a particular food cooked a different way. You can also substitute ingredients if needed. But feel free to do what works and make it fun.

Editor’s Note: Brianne Grajkowski is a popular food and lifestyle blogger, and author of just-released Cooking with Kids (Fox Chapel Publishing), which features 101 easy recipes. A mother of two known for

The Chef Recommends

EDGE takes you inside the area’s most creative kitchens.

Sonny’s Indian Kitchen Sonny’s Butter Chicken

225 Main Street • CHATHAM (973) 507-9462/9463 • sonnysindiankitchen.com

“Sonny’s butter chicken is one of the best, delicious, smooth buttery and richest among Indian curries. It is made from chicken marinated overnight and baked in a clay oven then simmered in sauce made with tomatoes, butter and various spices.” — Chef Sonny

The Thirsty Turtle Pork Tenderloin Special

1-7 South Avenue W. • CRANFORD (908) 324-4140 • thirstyturtle.com

“Our food specials amaze! I work tirelessly to bring you the best weekly meat, fish and pasta specials. Follow us on social media to get all of the most current updates!” — Chef Rich Crisonio

Common Lot Wagyu Beef Tartar

27 Main Street • MILLBURN (973) 467-0494 • commonlot.com

“Our wagyu beef tartar is paired with a Singapore style pepper sauce, summer herbs and flowers and sea beans.” — Head Chef/Owner Ehren Ryan


Trattoria Gian Marco • Famous Stuffed Artichoke

301 Millburn Avenue • MILLBURN
(973) 467-5818 • gianmarconj.com
“A Gian Marco favorite steamed and stuffed with breadcrumbs, seasonings and parmesan cheese.” — Chef Genero


The Famished Frog • Mango Guac

18 Washington Street • MORRISTOWN (973) 540-9601 • famishedfrog.com

“Our refreshing Mango Guac is sure to bring the taste of the Southwest to Morristown.” — Chef Ken Raymond


PAR440 • Chilean Sea Bass

440 Parsonage Hill Road • SHORT HILLS (973) 467-8882 • par440.com

“Our Chicken Savoy is cut up chicken rubbed down with handfuls of garlic, hard cheeses and herbs, then roasted in a “screaming hot oven” and splashed with vinegar
is a definite winner.” — Chef Pascual Escalona Flores

Galloping Hill Caterers

Galloping Hill Road and Chestnut Street • UNION (908) 686-2683 • gallopinghillcaterers.com

“Galloping Hill Caterers has been an incredible landmark for over 70 years. We pride ourselves in delivering “over the top” cuisine, impeccable service and outstanding attention to detail. That is the hallmark of our success! Simply, an unforgettable experience. Pictured here is one of our crepes flambé that really creates lots of excitement”! — George Thomas, Owner


Welcome Back!
The restaurants featured in this section are open for business and are serving customers in compliance with state regulations. Many created special items ideal for take-out and delivery and have kept them on the menu—we encourage you to visit them online.
Do you have a story about a favorite restaurant going the extra mile during the pandemic? Post it on our Facebook page and we’ll make sure to share it with our readers!


The Chef Recommends

EDGE takes you inside the area’s most creative kitchens.


Sonny’s Indian Kitchen Sonny’s Butter Chicken

225 Main Street • CHATHAM (973) 507-9462/9463 • sonnysindiankitchen.com

Sonny’s butter chicken is one of the best, delicious, smooth buttery and richest among Indian curries. It is made from chicken marinated overnight and baked in a clay oven then simmered in sauce made with tomatoes, butter and various spices.

— Chef Sonny


The Thirsty Turtle Pork Tenderloin Special

1-7 South Avenue W. • CRANFORD (908) 324-4140 • thirstyturtle.com

Our food specials amaze! I work tirelessly to bring you the best weekly meat, fish and pasta specials. Follow us on social media to get all of the most current updates!

— Chef Rich Crisonio


The Thirsty Turtle Brownie Sundae

186 Columbia Turnpike • FLORHAM PARK (973) 845-6300 • thirstyturtle.com

Check out our awesome desserts brought to you by our committed staff. The variety amazes as does the taste!

— Chef Dennis Peralta


Common Lot Wagyu Beef Tartar

27 Main Street • MILLBURN (973) 467-0494 • commonlot.com

Our wagyu beef tartar is paired with a Singapore style pepper sauce, summer herbs and flowers and sea beans.

— Head Chef/Owner Ehren Ryan


The Famished Frog • Mango Guac

18 Washington Street • MORRISTOWN (973) 540-9601 • famishedfrog.com

Our refreshing Mango Guac is sure to bring the taste of the Southwest to Morristown.

— Chef Ken Raymond


PAR440 • Chilean Sea Bass

440 Parsonage Hill Road • SHORT HILLS (973) 467-8882 • par440.com

It’s pan seared and served over corn, black beans, peppers, celery and pineapple, with a corn coulis sauce.

— Chef Pascual Escalona Flores


Galloping Hill Caterers

Galloping Hill Road and Chestnut Street • UNION (908) 686-2683 • gallopinghillcaterers.com

Galloping Hill Caterers has been an incredible landmark for over 70 years. We pride ourselves in delivering “over the top” cuisine, impeccable service and outstanding attention to detail. That is the hallmark of our success! Simply, an unforgettable experience. Pictured here is one of our crepes flambé that really creates lots of excitement!

— George Thomas, Owner

Welcome Back!

The restaurants featured in this section are open for business and are serving customers in compliance with state regulations. Many created special items ideal for take-out and delivery and have kept them on the menu—we encourage you to visit them online.

Do you have a story about a favorite restaurant going the extra mile during the pandemic? Post it on our Facebook page and we’ll make sure to share it with our readers!

Flavor Profile

There’s a lot going on in Indian curry dishes… but maybe not as much as you think.

Indian food is difficult to cook unless you own an Indian restaurant. In places like New Jersey, where this cuisine has become increasingly popular, even the most intrepid diners still operate under this assumption. Home chefs who have mastered the intricacies of Vietnamese Pho, Thai stir fry, Jamaican jerk chicken and Brazilian barbecue not only tend to be intimidated by the thought of diving into Indian curry, they find the thought of navigating their way through the aisles of places like Patel Brothers utterly terrifying.


Granted, if you’re new to cooking Indian curries at home, you might feel a little overwhelmed. Curry is all about subtlety and complexity, after all. But once you stop to take it all in and begin to learn the differences in the food of the wonderful country of India, things will start to fall into place. Your journey into Indian cuisine will be easy and enjoyable, and change any preconceived ideas that Indian food is difficult to cook.

With 29 states and seven union territories, it is said that the language and food of India changes every 50 miles as you travel the subcontinent. Each state has its own regional specialties, and then there are sub-cuisines that reflect religion, caste, the climate and availability of local ingredients. For example, a lentil stew called sambar—known throughout the country’s southern states—will be made slightly differently wherever you visit.

Not surprisingly, everyone claims that their version is the best. Sound familiar?

It would be impossible to put all the curries of India in a single book. Great tomes have been written, and still none can be considered truly comprehensive; such is the nature of a cuisine that caters to almost 1.4 billion people—and where the ingredients used in a dish can change from village to village and even household to household (all without recipes to guide them!). It is testament to Indians’ love of food that a recipe will be refined and perfected over time to suit personal tastes: a little more spice here, a different vegetable there, and then passed down through the generations to create family favorites.

Despite these subtle differences, there are, of course, popular dishes that everyone cooks and for which India is famous, and last year I collected 50 of the best (and easiest) vegan, vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes to make from scratch in 50 Easy Indian Curries. I also included simple instructions for pastes, rice and breads to complete an Indian meal. With a few essential Indian pantry staples and fresh ingredients—all of which can be found at any decent supermarket—each curry can be made in an hour or less, or thrown into a saucepan and left to slow cook on the stove while you get on with something else. The keys are ease and speed (plus some fun shopping adventures).

Make A List


On your next trip down the GSP to Patel’s (or another of New Jersey’s growing number of South Asian supermarkets), bring this list along. It’s what you’ll need to stock your “Indian Pantry” and execute every curry recipe in this article.

Asafoetida • Pure asafoetida (or heeng) has a strong, almost off-putting smell that dissipates when cooked and is used as a substitute for garlic and onions by Indians who avoid these ingredients. Just a pinch of asafoetida is enough to flavor a dish. You will find it in small plastic containers, diluted with rice or wheat flour to dull down the pungent smell.

Cardamom • Cardamom is a perfumed spice that is much loved throughout India. It is equally at home in baked treats and confections as in curries. You’ll notice the recipes in this story and in my book use both green and black cardamom pods, so buy both.

Chillies • Indian food is almost incomplete without chillies yet, ironically, the chilli plant is foreign to India—arriving with the Portuguese in the 15th century. Indian cuisine uses green and red fresh chillies, along with chilli powder, the most famous of which comes from Kashmir.

Cinnamon • Whereas cinnamon is often reserved for baking in the U.S., in India it is part of a collection of whole spices that are added to curries. Often confused with cassia—which comes from China and has a slight amount of heat—real cinnamon only grows in Sri Lanka.

Cloves • Cloves, which are not native to India, have a strong, astringent flavor profile and should be used sparingly in dishes.

Coriander • Coriander seeds are used extensively in Indian cuisine for their warm, nutty flavor. Lightly toasted, they become even more fragrant and, when powdered, they tone down other strong flavors, such as chilli. Coriander leaves (aka cilantro) are commonly added as a garnish and never cooked in order to retain their vibrant green color.

Fenugreek • The whole seeds are used as a tempering in dals, as well as being added to Indian pickles. Fresh fenugreek leaves are used extensively in cooking and their dried form—known as kasuri methi—is sprinkled on top of cooked dishes for its aromatic quality. It’s a true wonder spice.

Garam Masala • A powdery blend that roughly translates to “hot spice,” it actually doesn’t contain much heat. It is made by dry-roasting different types and quantities of spices and then blending them together. Garam masala is typically added at the end of cooking, the purpose being to add aroma and flavor, without overpowering the final dish.

Turmeric • Indian kitchens would be colorless without this wonderful spice. Known not just for its culinary use but also for medicinal and antiseptic qualities, turmeric is also the only spice that Hindus use for devotional purposes. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is known for its healing properties. Once you gain confidence, you may even find yourself adding your own twists and flourishes. Indian food, after all, is more than an explosion of flavors, colors and spices. Like all the great world cuisines, it is a form of personal expression. Here are a half-dozen relatively simple curry dishes—each serving four—that you can make in your own kitchen and, ultimately, make your own…

Eggplant Masala

Eggplant is a popular ingredient in Indian cuisine. Roasted, grilled or fried, it adds a “meatiness” to vegetarian curries. This eggplant masala is simple and quick to make and goes perfectly with other curries. The yogurt adds a delightful fresh touch.

You’ll need…

2 large (about 2 lb.) eggplants (aubergines), cut into (3/4”) chunks

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

3 Asian shallots, sliced

2 (3/4”) pieces of ginger, finely grated

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 long red chilli, chopped

14 oz. canned crushed tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

pinch of ground cloves

1/4 cup of natural yogurt

Cilantro and papadam (Papadam is a deep-fried crunchy dough that can be purchased pre-packaged or made at home.)

Place the eggplant in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Toss to combine and set aside for 30 minutes. Rinse well and pat dry with paper towel. Heat a large heavy-based non-stick frying pan over high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add the eggplant to the dry pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes per batch, until lightly browned all over. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Heat the ghee or oil in the same frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and sizzle for a few seconds. When the seeds start to crackle, add the shallot, ginger, garlic and chilli. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and 125 ml (1/2 cup) of water and return the eggplant to the pan.

Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until the eggplant is very tender and the sauce has thickened slightly. Season with a little salt, if necessary. Spoon the yogurt over the curry, garnish with coriander leaves and serve with papadams on the side.

Goan-Style Vegetable Curry

The state of Goa on the southwestern coast of India is known for its delicious fish curries, beer and a very chilled-out approach to life. But Goa also has many vegetarian dishes in its culinary repertoire, and this vegetable curry is one of the best. Coconut grows abundantly in the region, and here it adds a subtle, creamy flavor that elevates the dish.

You’ll need…

2 tablespoons coconut oil or vegetable oil

10 oz. cauliflower florets

1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/2” pieces

1 onion, chopped

1 tomato, finely chopped

1 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste

2 small green chillies, sliced

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

8 fl. oz. coconut milk

1 large carrot, chopped

5-6 oz. green beans, trimmed and sliced

1/4 cup freshly grated coconut, plus extra to serve (You can also use frozen grated coconut, which can be purchased at most NJ grocery stores.)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

A handful of cilantro, chopped, plus extra to serve

1-2 teaspoons tamarind purée, to taste

Steamed basmati rice

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add half the oil. Add the cauliflower and potato and sauté for 4-5 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add the remaining oil to the pan along with the onion and sauté for 5-6 minutes, until softened. Add the tomato and cook for 2 minutes or until softened, then add the ginger and garlic paste and cook until fragrant. Add the chilli and spices and cook, stirring, for a further 2 minutes or until fragrant.

Add the coconut milk, along with 1 cup of water, all the vegetables and the grated coconut, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, season with the salt and cook (covered) for 10-12 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the chopped coriander and tamarind, to taste. Garnish with extra coriander and/or extra coconut and serve with steamed basmati rice.









Goan-Style Prawn Curry

Goans are particularly proud of their prawn curries and when you make this you’ll see why. The key to this dish is to ensure that the prawns are not overcooked. Served with lime wedges for extra zing. Like all of the dishes in this story, it serves four but be warned: Everyone will probably be going back for seconds.

You’ll need…

1 tablespoon peanut oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 small tomato, finely chopped

1 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

10 fl oz. coconut milk

2 lbs. raw prawns, peeled and deveined, with tails left intact

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1-2 teaspoons tamarind purée, to taste

Cilantro for garnish

Steamed basmati rice

Lime wedges

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes, until softened and starting to brown. Add the tomato and cook for 2 minutes, or until softened. Add the ginger and garlic paste and cook until fragrant.

Add the spices and cook, stirring, for a further 2 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and add the prawns, salt and tamarind purée. Stir and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the prawns are just cooked through. Scatter with coriander leaves and serve with steamed basmati rice and squeeze the lime over the entire dish.









Tandoori Chicken

A tandoor is a clay oven set into the earth and fired with wood or charcoal. It can reach eye-watering temperatures of up to 900°F, allowing marinated meat to cook very quickly. Alas, not many of us have a tandoor in the backyard, but you can still rustle up a reasonable facsimile of this dish using a domestic oven. The trick is to spatchcock (aka butterfly) the chicken— a technique that will change your culinary life if you don’t know it already, even if you never cook a single Indian meal.

You’ll need…

Whole chicken, about 3 1/2 lb.

3/4 cup natural yogurt

1/2 cup Tandoori curry paste (see below)


Lemon wedges

1 package/4 pc. of naan

First, butterfly the chicken. Using kitchen scissors, cut along both sides of the backbone and remove. Turn the chicken over and place on a clean work surface. Using the heel of your hand, press down firmly on the breastbone to flatten. Score the chicken about 1/2 in. deep through the thickest parts of the breast, thighs and legs. Combine the yogurt and tandoori curry paste in a bowl, then rub all over the chicken, rubbing well into the scored areas. Transfer to a baking tray lined with baking paper, then cover and marinate in the fridge for 2-4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 465°F, using the convection option if you have it. Roast the chicken for 30 minutes or until it starts to char in spots. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and continue to roast the chicken for 5-10 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest, covered loosely with foil, for 10 minutes. Scatter the coriander over the chicken and serve with lemon wedges and naan on the side.









Malai Kofta

Everyone in New Jersey seems to have their own family recipe for meatballs. Well, since kofta is basically an Indian meatball, this may be your initial comfort zone. Malai kofta is an excellent dish to make when entertaining because it never fails to wow everyone. You can either serve the koftas on their own with the sauce on the side for dipping or stir the koftas through the curry at the end of cooking and serve with rice.

You’ll need…

14 oz. floury potatoes (low in moisture, high in starch)

Sea salt

1 cup grated paneer cheese (you can substitute tofu for vegans)

1 tablespoon finely chopped cashew nuts

1 tablespoon finely chopped raisins

3 tablespoons corn starch

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)

Vegetable oil for deep-frying

1/4 cup of cream

Steamed basmati rice

Malai kofta sauce…

1/3 cup of vegetable oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste

2 cups puréed tomatoes

2 tablespoons cashew nuts, finely ground

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 fresh or dried bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick

4 cloves

3 green cardamom pods, bruised

1/2 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves, crushed

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

Peel the potatoes, then transfer to a saucepan, cover with cold water and add a good pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until tender. Drain, then mash and set aside to cool. Combine the potato, paneer, cashews, raisins, corn starch, garam masala, chilli powder (if using) and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a bowl. Knead the mixture into a soft dough, then divide into 12 portions and roll into smooth balls. Set aside.

To make the sauce, heat three-quarters of the oil in a frying pan over low heat. Add the onion and ginger and garlic paste and cook for 10 minutes. Add the tomato purée, ground cashews and 1 cup of water and simmer for 5-7 minutes, until slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt. Transfer this mixture to a food processor and blitz to a smooth sauce. Wipe the pan clean. Heat the remaining oil in the pan over medium heat and add the cumin seeds, ground coriander, turmeric, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom pods and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, until fragrant. Pour the sauce back into the pan and add the fenugreek leaves and garam masala. Gently warm through.

Back to the kofta…Heat enough oil for deep-frying in a saucepan to 375°F. Working in batches, deep-fry the kofta for 2-3 minutes, until well browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to drain, then gently stir through the sauce. Transfer the malai kofta to a serving dish and drizzle the cream over the top. Serve with the steamed basmati rice on the side.

Lamb Rogan Josh

A famed dish from the beautiful state of Kashmir, the fiery red color of rogan josh comes from the chillies that are added in generous quantities. Rogan josh is usually cooked with tomatoes, but they are omitted here to allow the flavor of the lamb to shine through even more.

You’ll need…

2-plus lb. boneless lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1” pieces

1 1/2 cups natural yogurt

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 oz. ghee (Indian clarified butter)

1 cinnamon stick

2 teaspoons green cardamom pods, bruised

4 brown or black cardamom pods, bruised

1/2 teaspoon cloves

3 onions, chopped

2 tablespoons ginger and garlic paste

1 tablespoon Kashmiri chilli powder

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

Large handful of chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon garam masala

4 pc. Paratha (Indian flatbread)

Combine the lamb, yogurt and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a large bowl. Cover and set aside to marinate. Heat the ghee in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the cinnamon, cardamom pods and cloves and cook, stirring for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the onion and remaining salt, reduce the heat to medium–low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20–25 minutes, until golden brown.

Add the ginger and garlic paste and cook, stirring for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the lamb mixture, chilli powder, paprika and turmeric to the pan. Mix well and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 80 to 90 minutes, until the lamb is tender. Stir in the coriander and garam masala and season to taste. Serve with paratha on the side.


Editor’s Note: In her 50 Easy Indian Curries (Smith Street Books, $29.95), Penny Chawla covers restaurant classics—such as dal makhani, pork vindaloo and saag paneer—and lesser-known regional gems, including beef Madras and Bengali fish curry. “There is a curry here for everyone.” After watching Bend It Like Beckham, many wondered what was so special about making a “full Punjabi dinner.” Find this story at edgemagonline.com and look for bonus content that clears it all up!

Common Lot

“Waygu beef tartare is, in its elegant simplicity and focus on flavor, divine.”

Two curries, a carbonara and a cassoulet, plus plancha’d fluke, pastrami’d salmon and a pudding of sticky dates are on Ehren Ryan’s always-evolving menu on this night at Common Lot, world tour and tour de force colliding at the two-storied epicenter beloved by fellow chefs and home cooks.

I break into the light crust of breaded paneer, swiping the milky cheese in its curry, a wash of sienna and olive green with dots of tangerine and lime. The colors are retro 1970s, but the tastes are fashion-forward. Ryan’s singularly clear-eyed abracadabra refreshes the roles of ginger, mustard seeds, cinnamon, turmeric and their comrades, allowing them to add warmth and depth and a mysterious range of emotions to a dish gone stale. Fried paneer, the mozzarella sticks of South Asia, is no longer the equivalent of bar food; it simply raises the bar on what to do with a staple whose frequent modifier is bland.

Its tangle of greens, leaves of emerald, forest and hunter veining rich cordovan, tango with a chiffonade of pale, crunchy cabbage and puffed rice kernels. You’ll want to make the effort to get some of everything on your forkful—paneer, curry, leaves, crisped things—so you can understand what Ryan has orchestrated: peak culinary confluence.

In the six years since Ryan, who hails from Australia, and his wife Nadine, born in Austria, opened Common Lot in Millburn, they have been influencing those open to exploration of new foods as well as forever-there foods in need of a re-set. More than any other Garden State restaurant serving forth in this century, Common Lot has presented the next big thing. And when it’s done with it, typically well before it’s run its course, it’s gone. To be replaced, we soon learn, by chef’s sorcery, a combination of whimsy, whim and, always, wisdom.

I may miss the dish I always thought of as bo ssam lamb, but I’ll never believe I’m settling for an also-ran in the meat department with Waygu beef tartare, showered with salty parmesan that rather looks like flakes of sea salt, near-translucent wisps of pickled onion and capers, fried until beautifully bloated and pricked open so they, too, can add their rush of salinity to the plush beef. It’s all encircled by a puree of arugula that brings more than a spot of pepperiness to the dish. If Ryan wanted to play cute, he could call this Salt & Pepper Beef. But he needs no gimmicks, not in title, not in concept. His Waygu beef tartare is, in its elegant simplicity and focus on flavor, divine. Similarly, he’ll cure salmon with pastrami seasonings and present it with carved petals of ginger, a subtle crème fraiche and dabs of salmon roe. The result: equal parts restraint and reverie.

There are occasional missteps. Risotto is brushed up with crab bisque, but its sauce is out-of-whack acidic. I’m guessing the lemon employed was the culprit, either inherently lacking acid-to-fruit balance or too liberally applied. I love the idea of creamy crab with sturdy Italian rice and ate up every shred of lump crab and micro-leaves of celery garnishing the dish. Maybe use Meyer lemons here?

They’ll figure it out, I think to myself as I bust open a fillet of plancha-seared fluke. I’m skeptical about this dish, not because I haven’t had expertly cooked fish here many times before, but because it’s billed to come with a truffled brown butter as well as a celeriac-truffle puree. Pretty much anything with truffle oil obscures the taste of what it comes in contact with. Yet no aggravated assault on an innocent ingredient here, but rather a minuet between the mash of oniony-celery-sweet-garlicky root vegetable and its controlled musky-nutty partner—and a nifty pas-de-deux of lightly briny, faintly sweet fish and woodsy truffle. Learning is good, isn’t it?

Speaking of woodsy and musky, the star of duck leg confit cassoulet is the refined duck jus, which penetrates the preserved leg, the white beans, the slivers of sausage, nibs of carrot and what appeared to be a few teeny cubes of an ivory root vegetable so smitten with the duck juice that it went Zelig. Quite the entertaining mimic.

A pale green curry, with coconut milk as its base and Thai basil as its muse, is invigorated with chili oil and, in turn, invigorates a stew of shellfish and finfish. I don’t want to ruin the Pollock-like speckles and drips of oil that give the plate the kind of eye-candy appeal I personally shun, but once I swish the chili oil into its honeydew-hued broth, I know it’s all meant to be. A lemon cake that was to be soaked with vanilla was too dry to mean much to its plate mates of yuzu curd and mascarpone, let alone crumbles and grains of pistachio. But a sticky date pudding given the surround-sound treatment of a sleek caramel made from prunes and brandy was topped by a blot of clotted cream that seemed too generous until I demolished it all and wanted more, please. Ryan and his kitchen crew may seem all over the map, but when they go cheeky with an old-school dessert like this, I’m glad to be gobsmacked.  Is that the carbonara? Passing right by me is something I’ve not ordered on this night at Common Lot. My, it looks fine. I smell smoky and I feel my gastric juices start to flow again. That’s what Ehren Ryan, the maestro of this worldly-yet-welcoming kitchen in staid, sedate Millburn, will do to you. If you’ve been to Common Lot before and thought you’d seen it all, go back, now. See what a visionary can do, pandemic in play, but in all ways that matter to his mission, a never-no-mind. Taste today what others may attempt not tomorrow, but in a decade. Or longer.


Editor’s Note: Andy Clurfeld is the founder and editor of The Peasant Wife, an online culinary journal all about and only about the Garden State’s foodways. Find more of her stories, as well as those from other leading culinary journalists, at www.thepeasantwife.com.


The Chef Recommends

Grain & Cane Bar and Table • Grilled Chocolate Cake

250 Connell Drive • BERKELEY HEIGHTS
(908) 897-1920 • grainandcane.com

A chocolate lovers dream – our Grilled Chocolate Cake is made with moist devils food cake, layered with chocolate fudge and iced with chocolate buttercream. Grilled to order, this process creates a crunchy caramelization that adds a unique texture to this crowd favorite.




The Thirsty Turtle • Pork Tenderloin Special

1-7 South Avenue W. • CRANFORD
(908) 324-4140 • thirstyturtle.com

Our food specials amaze! I work tirelessly to bring you the best weekly meat, fish and pasta specials. Follow us on social media to get all of the most current updates!




The Famished Frog • Mango Guac

18 Washington Street • MORRISTOWN
(973) 540-9601 • famishedfrog.com

Our refreshing Mango Guac is sure to bring the taste of the Southwest to Morristown. — Chef Ken Raymond




Arirang Hibachi Steakhouse • Wasabi Crusted Filet Mignon

1230 Route 22 West • MOUNTAINSIDE
(908) 518-9733 • partyonthegrill.com
8 oz. filet mignon served with gingered spinach, shitake mushrooms and tempura onion ring.





Arirang Hibachi Steakhouse • Japanese Tacos

986 Route 9 South • PARLIN
(732) 525-3551 • partyonthegrill.com
Crispy wonton taco shell, Asian slaw, topped with spicy mayo, togarashi and our famous teriyaki sauce.





PAR440 • Chilean Sea Bass

440 Parsonage Hill Road • SHORT HILLS
(973) 467-8882 • par440.com
It’s pan seared and served over corn, black beans, peppers, celery, pineapple, with a corn coulis sauce.





Ursino Steakhouse & Tavern • House Carved 16oz New York Strip Steak

1075 Morris Avenue • UNION
(908) 977-9699 • ursinosteakhouse.com

Be it a sizzling filet in the steakhouse or our signature burger in the tavern upstairs, Ursino is sure to please the most selective palates. Our carefully composed menus feature fresh, seasonal ingredients and reflect the passion we put into each and every meal we serve.





Welcome Back!

The restaurants featured in this section are open for business and are serving customers in compliance with state regulations. Many created special items ideal for take-out and delivery and have kept them on the menu—we encourage you to visit them online.

Do you have a story about a favorite restaurant going the extra mile during the pandemic? Post it on our Facebook page and we’ll make sure to share it with our readers!



EDGE is not responsible for any typos, misprints or information in regard to these listings. All information was supplied by the restaurants that participated and any questions or concerns should be directed to them.

Skins Game

Turns out you can judge a wine by its color.

Although wines have myriad and complex properties, perhaps the most obvious can be attributed directly to the skins of their grapes. The basics of wine-making are well known…grapes are picked, then crushed, and the skins either stay in contact with the crush or have little to no contact. Wines can be grouped into three primary categories relative to the skin of the grape: white wines, red wines, and rosés wines.

WHITE WINES are wines that contain little or no red pigmentation. These wines have had little or no interaction with the skins of their grapes as they are processed. White wines are almost always made from white grapes, but they can be made from black grapes as well, because the juice of most black grapes is actually clear. White wines can be sweet or dry, or somewhere in between. Popular white wines include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc.

RED WINES are made from black grapes and have a red or blue tint. Since most grapes have colorless juice, red wine needs its grape skins, which contain nearly all of the grapes’ pigmentation, to remain intact along with the juice during all or part of the fermentation process. Tannins, also found in the grape skins, are transferred into the wine while the skins are in contact with the juice. Besides the difference in color, the primary difference between red and white wines has to do with their respective tannins.

Found mainly in red wines, tannins provide a dry, puckery sensation in the mouth and in the back of the throat. They also help preserve wine, allowing most (but not all) red wines to be aged longer than white wines. Popular red wines include Beaujolais, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.

ROSÉ WINES are pinkish in color, so they are often referred to as pink or blush wines. Rosés are made from black grapes, but they do not fully turn red because the grape skins are removed from the juice mere hours after initial contact. This brief exposure to the skins gives the wine its signature color through the slight transference of red pigments. Rosés can also be produced by blending white and red wines. This technique also involves brief skin contact, which ensures that a minimal amount of tannins enters the blush wine. Many rosés are sweet, with White Merlot and White Zinfandel serving as typical examples.

The best and most traditional vintages, however, are the European rosés, which tend to be bone dry. Given today’s high-tech instant information resources, grape skin and its extracts have been getting a lot of attention in terms of potential health benefits. Antioxidants, called pycogenols, are present in grape skins. The darker the grapes, the greater concentration of pycogenols, hence the media’s infatuation with the healthful properties of red wine. In the 1950s, these compounds were isolated from grapes and used in the treatment of cirrohosis, varicose veins, and retinopathy (an eye disease attributed to diabetes). As scientific discovery progressed, the researchers were able to isolate reservatrol, the most hyped compound on the market associated with grape skins. Studies have shown reservatrol’s benefits to include: • High potency anti-inflamatory properties • Blood thinning capabilities as good or better than aspirin • May interfere with the development of cancer • Natural anti-fungal agent • Helps to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) • Can increase good cholesterol (HDL) • Reduces blood pressure.

Now before we all go out and drink massive quantities of red wine to saturate ourselves with reserves of reservatrol, there are some offsetting side effects. In order to enjoy most of reservatrol’s positive health benefits through red wine consumption, we would have to drink red wine practically all day long, every day. Perhaps not a bad idea to some, but our livers would undoubtedly have something to say about this. A further, consideration is that reservatrol is a plant estrogen, which has received much attention as contributing to the proliferation of certain breast cancer cells. Grapes, once an innocent treat we all enjoyed as youngsters, now provide us as grown-ups with the fruit of the vine in its fi nest form—wine, complete with all its trappings, some good, some bad. We can now appreciate that wine is more than just grapes and their juices. It’s got some real skin, too.

Mike Cohen owns the Wine Concierge (www.gourmetwc. com). He specializes in locating hard-to-find wines for customers in New York and New Jersey.


Rack ’Em Up

Four Cornerstones Make a Great Wine Collection

A solid foundation relies on its cornerstones. Webster defines cornerstone as a physical stone, often ceremonial in nature. According to Wikipedia (which, as we know, is infallible) a cornerstone can also be “a concept which provides the basic tools for understanding or manipulating a larger intellectual edifice.” The edifice here is your wine cellar, and its cornerstones are the basic elements that provide a fi rm foundation upon which to build—or extend—a great collection. Making cornerstone selections for your wine cellar can present a formidable challenge, since the choices are many and the costs can be considerable. But fear not, brave oenophile. Get squared away on these four building blocks and the heavy lifting can begin: A well-rounded white that does not need to age, but stands ready to deliver outstanding taste right now and for the entire year ’round.

An age-worthy red that does need some years to soften its tannins and firm the structure indigenous to the grape and the region.

A delightful boutique wine, whether red or white, which is a special personal discovery and will enhance your status among your cellar’s guests.

A prestigious trophy wine, one that commands respect both for itself and for you, and which endows you with extensive bragging rights among your peers. Feel free to bask away in such a venerable wine’s reflected glory. While these cornerstones are only guidelines, they certainly give you lots of room to indulge in personal preferences while expanding your collection. Your cellar is limited only by your own investment of time and money…and, of course, by the size of the cellar itself.

White Wines for Now The choices here are huge and include grape varietals such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and chenin blanc. Focusing on reliable regions such as Napa, Burgundy, Stellenbosch, and Vouvray can help to optimize your search. I personally find the white Burgundies the most versatile and satisfying in this cornerstone category. These wines are a chardonnay grape, which particularly in the subzone of the Côte de Beaune, have made wine connoisseurs sit up and take notice. The soil and the climate—predominately clay and benignly temperate—work together to bring a steeliness to the wine without compromising its unctuousness or creaminess. One particular producer in the Côte de Beaune region, Sylvan Bzikot, produces some of the most amazing white Burgundies at several different sites. Bzikot’s wines can range some in price. Since this is a wine to be enjoyed right now, I would definitely choose his Bourgogne Blanc, a stunning stainless steel vinified juice punctuated by stone fruit and lively acidity.

Red Wines for Later This category probably evokes the most controversy among serious wine enthusiasts. The battle rages over whether the best are Italian, French, Australian, or our own domestic reds. In all cases, the grapes of these wines (for example, the cabernet sauvignon, nebbiolo, syrah, and malbec) have thicker skins and possess innate properties that lend themselves to the aging process. By laying down the wine, time allows a new set of aromas and tastes to develop that differs from the wine’s inauguration. A velvety soft structure and complex fruit flavors evolve within age-worthy wines, hence the fatal attraction for red wine lovers. My favorite among the age worthiest is a really big red, Dal Forno Amarone. This is a wine comprised of several grapes indigenous to the Veneto region of Italy that are known for their power, structure and tannins. After a decade or more of aging, the other irresistible qualities of this wine are the amazing taste and aroma that spring forth from each glass to caress your senses. This beauty may be hard to come by, but it is certainly worth the effort.

Boutique Wines Whenever Boutique wines by definition are small production, hard to get and typically not very well known or popular… at least not at the time of your purchase. In fact, that is most of their charm. Wines in this category can tickle your fancy and sing to you like no others. The romance begins with the chase and blossoms with the wine’s delightful character and taste. My recommendation here has been one of my favorites for years. It is from the Brogan Cellars, a winery run by Margi Wierenga in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma, CA. Margi is the daughter of Burt Williams of William Seylem fame. By virtue of her father’s contacts, Margi has secured grapes from some of the most exalted vineyards in the U.S., recognized for their pinot noir production. Each year, she makes perhaps 25 cases from each of several different locales, the best of which I believe is the Russian River Valley, an area famous for the incredible strawberry and raspberry notes of its pinot noirs.

The Trophy Wines Forever Herein lie the Monsters, the Bad Boys, the true Princes of your wine cellar! A trophy wine will cost you, but if you choose wisely it will always be worth the price. After fl aunting your pride of ownership and you are finally sitting in front of a glass of this divine nectar, you will understand why it is called a trophy. Although such a wine might technically qualify in some ways as a boutique wine, most boutiques will never command the ratings and recognition of these masterpieces. A true trophy wine is a pride-filled selection, one that should be reserved to celebrate only the most auspicious occasions… perhaps a wedding, a birth, a market rally or even a hard-earned bonus (no matter how diminished in these trying times). My unrivaled selection here may surprise many, since it is not on the popular wine buyers’ radar. I nominate Chateau d’Yquem, the ultimate dessert wine produced by French wine-making masters. The wine is made only in spectacular years and consequently garners accolades from the moment it is mis en bouteille. The price is commensurate with the quality. Having had the privilege of imbibing this delicately sweet perfection after an especially memorable dinner, I can still recall my reaction to the very first sip: There was a pregnant pause and then I slowly lifted my glass to the heavens in heartfelt thanks. Nothing could have been more perfect. The trophy wine, whatever your selection, will always be the ultimate cornerstone and the crowning glory of your collection.

Mike Cohen owns the Wine Concierge (www. gourmetwc.com). He specializes in locating hard-to-find wines for customers in New York and New Jersey.


The Ryland Inn

“The menu divined by Bucco is a coming together of contemporary cooking. He trends seasonal, adds a little local, and comes up with American Med as a core.”

It’s the late 1970s and there’s a small crowd at the bar of the venerable Ryland Inn, tucked back off the whoosh of cars on Route 22 in the Whitehouse Station section of Readington, in suddenly populated eastern Hunterdon County. There are fellows just in from jobs in New York, the long commute to their new five-bedroom homes on two acres over for the day, there’s a smattering of casual dinner-seekers finishing burgers, there are journalists like me, in between night meetings, stopping in to catch the local gossip in a homey, low-key setting. That Ryland’s a roadhouse, a pitstop on the outskirts of suburbia. By the time it was purchased and re-imagined as a fine-dining destination, with Dennis Foy briefly installed as the name chef—a front man for then-little-known Craig Shelton—Readington and eastern Hunterdon had sprawled confidently into suburbia and many of the denizens in the immediate ‘hood (not to mention surrounding hunt country) were well-heeled and world-wise, ready for haute cuisine in an atmosphere to match, right in their backyards. The 1990s Ryland Inn delivered it all. Soon Shelton was on the cover of Gourmet magazine and the recipient of the food world’s equivalent of an Oscar, a James Beard Award. Ryland catered to the food cognoscente and captains of industry in a seamless operation that defied anything New Jersey had seen. Though its last years were rocky—and the flood that six years ago forced the inn to close was tragic—Ryland had made restaurant history in a state once better known for red sauce joints and boardwalk grub. The rebirth of the Ryland Inn a year ago, a vision realized by new owners Jeanne and Frank Cretella, with chef Anthony Bucco, gives us a very shiny new dining toy.

Today’s Ryland is posh, suave and ready for parties. The outdoor entryway that leads to the indoor entryway just about shouts “Have your wedding here!” Once inside, vaulted ceilings, chandeliers that look like they were recycled from Liz Taylor’s diamond booty, fabrics and appointments hardly from the off-the-rack collections, and an air of mission accomplished set the scene for rarefied dining. Rather than a pretty charger plate that will be swept away shortly after you’re seated, there’s a framed picture at your place setting. Something old to add to all the new, I suspect. The Cretellas clearly wanted to bring every aspect of Ryland’s past to its high-toned present, and so there’s a sense of history in the artwork as well as in the Old-World graciousness of the well-orchestrated service. Come to Ryland to be pampered, once again.

The menu divined by Bucco is a coming together of contemporary cooking. He trends seasonal, adds a little local, and comes up with American Med as a core. You can expect pears and pumpkin in fall, Jersey staples such as birds from Griggstown Farm and fish from Barnegat, and also luxe ingredients the revived Ryland wants attached to its name: foie gras, Berkshire pork, uni. The cavalcade of chi-chi ingredients punctuates the menu, some of them a tad out-of-date (squid ink, white anchovies), some of them more current (red quinoa, shishito peppers). You can go a la carte, you can go tasting menu; you will spend. All entrees are in the $30s, the least expensive starter a salad at $12. Indeed, the wine list struggles at the value end of the spectrum and could stand to be updated at the three-figure range as well with a smarter selection of artisan bottles. But we enjoy our splurge, cosseted as we are in the grand Polo Room, and dispatch a complimentary uni-custard with smiles. I’m feeling quite at home with the Jersey’d version of pasta carbonara, a tangle of squid ink chitarra with ultra-smoky Mangalitsa bacon, spirited Fresno chilies and a dot or five of uni.

It’s mod and classic at the same time and, most importantly, it’s delicious. So is the stately torchon of foie gras, swaddled with pears braised in vanilla and an onion jam I’d be happy to have for dessert. There’s even a dusting of chocolate crumbs to make my case for this starter as a most grand finale. The octopus done Spanish style is terrific, an assemblage of tender meat with crumbles of warming chorizo, those vivacious shishitos, real-deal black potatoes and a kick of zesty chimichurri. Bring it on, anytime. By contrast, the mild purée of fall vegetables is a bland option, but that isn’t to say this take on a stylish soup is uninteresting: with twirls of fennel fronds, a smack of fig jam and a sprinkling of pumpkin seed oil, it’s both comforting and appropriately warming. Our server tosses in an extra, a black olive cavatelli that strikes me as pure Sicily with its dressing of golden raisin puree kept in check by good, salty capers and buttery pine nuts. Just when I think Bucco is too reliant on sweet, he proves his mettle with a shot of the right balancing agent. The harissa-stoked tomato jam is as fine a friend as grilled swordfish can have, the sweet-hot condiment giving a needed tickle to the rich fish steak. I don’t think the red quinoa or eggplant on the dish did as spirited a two-step with the meaty sword, however.

But I love the way the chickpea panisse and riffs of white anchovies play off the steamed red snapper, and thought the spark of lemon basil and snap of skinny string beans kept pace with the plate. Pork belly, especially Hudson Valley Berkshire, took a liking to the cheerful crumb-like topping the folks here dub “granola,” and the tart apple and mild butternut squash accompaniments were just-right sides. Desserts trip the globe, but need reining in at times. The yuzu curd “truffle,” with astringent Asian pear, a sultry black sesame cake and green tea ice cream works a Far East theme nicely. But flavors warred in the frozen cranberry parfait, with pecan streusel, toasted marshmallow meringue and cloying pumpkin pie ice cream proving too much that’s too sweet isn’t a good thing. The central taste of cranberry was lost. Tamarind, however, was a uniting element in the peanut butter mousse ensemble that allowed specks of banana and dabs of Nutella to compliment, not cover up. Ryland, rebooted for an era that knows both unbridled luxury and forced restraint. Wow, I think as I leave the space I first set foot in 36 years ago. Lots of bucks have been put into this ol’ gal, and she’s looking mighty fine. Over the top? Maybe. But not out of sight.


“I am definitely stealing that pancetta vinaigrette for a dozen different dishes I cook at home.”

Ursino’s executive chef, Peter Turso

Back there,” my friend said, pointing to his left as we walked across an expansive parking lot at Kean University to Ursino, a restaurant set in a science building amid classrooms and common spaces. “That’s where the farm is. Four acres. You don’t expect it, but it’s there.” He continued to describe the produce he saw growing during a summertime tour—how the farm was laid out, and the enthusiasm for the percolating crops displayed by Ursino’s executive chef, Peter Turso, and the farmer-in-residence, Henry Dreyer. Four lush, green acres are cloistered in crammed-full Union that are mined to the max by the farm-to-table team of Turso and Dreyer. As he detailed the operation, I envisioned similar campus farms sprouting at any one of New Jersey’s institutions of higher learning. I’m glad for the overview my friend provided because, once inside Ursino’s thoroughly modern, multilevel dining areas, that was the only mention of the mere-yards-away, oncampus farm I heard. Not one member of the service staff took a moment to tell us of the unique relationship between Kean and Ursino, the reasons for its existence and how Turso’s menu reflects what’s grown by Dreyer and his farm crew. The menu descriptions, while referring to the origins of ingredients such as Barnegat scallops and “local” oysters, all but ignored this extraordinary plus. For instance, Liberty Hall beet salad, with its richly colored baby carrots, nibs of honeyed walnuts and sparks of sharp Valley Shepherd cheese, was a rousing harbinger of autumn on this latesummer night. Yet nowhere is it explained that Liberty Hall is both the name of one of Kean’s campuses and a history museum, originally the elegant home of New Jersey’s first governor. (You’d think an education would be part of the dining package.) We had to ask about almost everything, and waits between questions and answers often were long. On the other hand, Turso’s focused, uncomplicated food doesn’t need a promotional boost. Slice into the smoked swordfish, smartly partnered with shavings of crunchy fennel and perky pea tendrils, and you’ll quickly be distracted from service flaws by flavor rhythms of the rich fish as it intersects with a smack of anise from the fennel and the engaging rawness of the shoots.

With the grilled octopus, also a starter, a taut, charred crust yields to a softer center as harmonious riffs of accents enhance the fundamentally bland but meaty sea creature. There’s the silky puree of Marcona almonds, the sweetness of roasted red peppers and the spirited heat of chimichurri. All prod more from the octopus than typical treatments with lemon and garlic. We asked for spoons to help us get all we could out of the coconut-curry mussel pot. It’s a bountiful cauldron of large mussels in a rousing sauce that resonates with curry’s warming mix of spices tempered by the cooling sweetness of coconut milk. A bonus on the side: crunchy, spunky, slightly salty shrimp toast, the perfect sop-up agent. During the waits for wine and food, my dining companion offered the background the staff didn’t—on Turso (experienced chef, stints at Nicholas in Middletown and David Drake, now shuttered, in Rahway) and Dreyer (veteran farmer, renowned and beloved in the region), and why Kean U. wanted both a farm and an upscale restaurant (farm-to-table is on-trend and attractive to potential students, their parents, alumni and donors). In my mind, I added an introduction to the menu that said, “Your vegetables are grown on this campus. Please take a short walk and visit our farm.”

Those Barnegat scallops do have a ball, tossing tastes back and forth with Dreyer’s roly-poly turnips and bitter, but braised-to-sweet radicchio. As I swiped a scallop speared with a slice of turnip, a leaf of radicchio and a sliver of sweet apple through a wash of citrus-licked butter sauce, I tasted exactly why this farm-to-table thing has taken root: Fresher is better. But I did want to know where the “local pork” and its hen-of-the-woods mushrooms that star in one of Turso’s signature dishes come from. So even if the captains don’t care to connect, a little menu rewriting could serve as a bridge. Ursino’s expertly cooked, top-quality halibut has no problems connecting to an accompanying stew of leeks, red onions, fennel and potatoes. Uniting it all is a vivacious vinaigrette, punctuated by smoky-sweet pancetta that underscore for me why dining out and experiencing strong new voices in food is a joy. I am definitely stealing that pancetta vinaigrette for a dozen different dishes I cook at home. Terrific, and then some. Less than terrific was the cheese plate. I’d asked if any of the cheeses were from the revered Valley Shepherd, of Long Valley, and was told “maybe one,” without specifics, by a plate runner. He returned to say “all the cheeses” were Valley Shepherd’s, though still without much in the way of details. We gambled, and though my favorite nettle-streaked cheese made it to the plate, we were served just six paper-thin, inchlong slivers of cheese that looked lonely and wan on the large plate. And for $15. No price-to-portion quibble with the lemon ricotta ice cream sandwich, with almond sponge cake forming the bookends and raspberry, lavender and teensy sprigs of basil reminding us of that very nearby farm. I wasn’t impressed, though, by the heavy-textured banana bread pudding, laden as it was with too many layers of caramel, chocolate and hazelnut. As we walked out of Ursino and back across the parking lot, my friend says, “Food’s great here, but how would you know there’s a farm behind it? Shouldn’t that be all over the menu and the first thing the servers say?” Yes to both.

Ursino, as envisioned by its chef and its farmer, hits the mark with fresh-faced food that routinely tips its hat to its origins through inherent simplicity. It follows Rule No. 1 in cooking—don’t mess too much with fine ingredients—to the letter. But it’s incongruous, particularly in a university setting, that the educational component of farm-to-table is lacking. But this is an easy fix; basic menu-editing and staff instruction. By the time you read this, the team of chef Peter Turso and farmer Henry Dreyer will almost certainly have aced the test. 

Editor’s Note: Andy Clurfeld has been an advocate of “buying local” in the Garden State since the late 1970s, so the burgeoning farm-to-table movement is hardly new to her. She writes the syndicated food-wine pairing column Match Point and has been covering everything New Jersey—from politics to crime to tax issues (and of course food!)—as a newspaper and magazine journalist for more than three decades. She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2010.  


“Cucharamama is the image of its chef-owner: visionary, scholarly, driven to educate.”

Photo credit: Joseph Corrado

Before there were more chefs than size-2 starlets on TV, there was Maricel E. Presilla, doctor of medieval Spanish history, making her students at Rutgers late to their next classes by feeding them irresistible snippets from the Latin world’s diverse culinary cultures. Dr. Presilla’s lectures were like tapas: bites that whet the appetite for more. She’d pluck them from her vast pantry of knowledge and drop them into the topics of the day, effectively setting the table for the bounty of Latin cuisines soon to come in New Jersey. Her students circa the 1980s and ‘90s are her “students” now. But Dr. Presilla’s classroom today is a restaurant kitchen—two, specifically, and both in Hoboken: the Pan Latin Zafra, born in 2000, and the high-style South American Cucharamama, 2004. (There’s also an atelier-cum-store exploring and selling Latin American provisions, Ultramarinos, opened in 2010.)

The professor is a chef, but still a scholar, still a visionary, still a teacher at heart. She is, arguably, the most respected Latin chef in America, the winner of the 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic for her work at Cucharamama. Just as her body of work transcended her classroom at Rutgers, so has her culinary expertise transcended her restaurants’ kitchens by way of critically acclaimed cookery books, articles in magazines and keynotes at conferences where all manner of intelligentsia convene. Maricel Presilla even has cooked at the White House. On this night, Presilla’s Cucharamama is the center of the culinary universe for me. I first was here in the spring of 2004, a week before Cucharamama officially opened its doors, to see the wood-fired oven Presilla was using to cook chicken, suckling pig, lamb, breads, peppers and arepas, the massive jars of marinating olives and escabeche of eggplant, and the rustic tools such as the batan, a grinding stone from the Andes her crew employed to muddle spices.

The corner storefront in Hoboken had been transformed into another world, one where respect for South America’s as-yet-unheralded cuisines reigned. That’s still the way at Cucharamama—which means “mother spoon”—and I find decades worth of periodic conversations with Presilla, as professor, as author, as chef, weaving through my mind as I dig into dishes I’ve both had before and am trying for the first time. There’s octopus, more tender than a strong sea creature deserves to be, awash in a smoky, rather fruity panca pepper sauce balanced by the salinity of black olives. There’s calamari done Peruvian style, its crunchy crust giving way to silky squid sprayed with a tangy, faintly heat-licked tamarind-rocoto chile sauce.

There are nuggets of chicken, coated in nutty, crackling quinoa, mouthfuls that would be pleasing to any child who tries them. Cucharamama’s soups are legend, and I’m reminded why as the Ecuadorian creamy corn soup blended with plantains and studded with shrimp rolls over my tongue. Ah! And there are little plantain-filled empanadas on the side! Reverie. The white bean and tomato soup, pureed to an ultra-thick creaminess and served with my all-time favorite cabrales-onion empanadas, re-focuses and soothes as those wood-fired savory pastries set me on a mission: I need to figure out the exact proportion of that Spanish blue cheese to sweet onion confit in time for my next dinner party. However, Presilla’s arepas, those addictive South American corn cakes that here are blistered beautifully in the wood-fired oven, are menu items I never could hope to duplicate. These days, they’re given dollops of salmon roe and Venezuelan crème fraiche, a true step above the Mexican crema I score every time I stop in at my favorite bodega. That smoky-fruity flavor of panca chilies comes through loud and clear in another dish cooked in the wood-driven oven—shrimp, deftly roasted in the sultry panca sauce.

Don’t miss whatever ceviche Presilla has on tap. On this night, there’s a veritable aquarium of shellfish and finfish sitting in a soupy broth of tomato and citrus, a tribute to Ecuador sprinkled with chopped peanuts and crisp plantain chips. I like this better than the somewhat wan shrimp and palmito salad, which lacks the personality and passion of much of the rest of the menu. But the tamals? Always soulful, particularly so with thick shreds of longbraised duck hop-scotching with skinny, apricot-y mirasol peppers atop that grainy, gutsy corn tamal. Ever since Presilla described for me the lengths she went to procure just the right ingredients to make a bitter orange mojo for her wood-oven-roasted chicken, I’ve not been able to leave Cucharamama without ordering it. Perfection—it’s perfection, this young, juicy half-a-bird,half-a-bird, basted with the garlicky, sour-orange glaze and served  with a high-octane, spiced-up potato puree that leaves all those butter-dominated incarnations of spud in the dust.

There are more potatoes to love, including those plied with a musky cheese-tomato sauce and accompanying the Argentinean chimichurri’d skirt steak. Once upon another time at Cucharamama, I wasn’t all that keen on the cannelloni filled with creamy spinach and walnuts, topped with a pair of intersecting sauces—a white number sporting riffs of manchego and parmigianoreggiano and a red of tomatoes warmed with, I suspect, a pinch of baking spices. This time, I was charmed, because the filling, not the sauces, took center stage. The grand dame of desserts here is the Argentinean millefeuille, a many, many, many layered confection of super thin puff pastry with dulce de leche, walnuts and a meringue spiked with malbec. It’s almost frightening when it’s presented, this elegant, yet seriously over-sized wedge, but it’s also intrinsically light. Order it alongside the wispy apple crepe or the Amazonian sorbet sundae ripe with tropical fruits, acai and, in season, suriname cherries, and share, definitely share. The only quibble I have with Cucharamama 2012 is the wine list. While it’s admirably and correctly focused on South America and Spain, it’s short and outdated. There’s more variety and many more quality producers available in the American market than when the restaurant opened in 2004. The list doesn’t reflect that, and it should. But in every other way, Cucharamama is the image of its chef-owner: visionary, scholarly, driven to educate. As Presilla once happily told me, “My former (Rutgers) students are coming here! I feel like I’m living history now.” And making it, as well.

Editor’s Note: Andy Clurfield is a former editor of Zagat New Jersey. The longtime food critic for the Asbury Park Press also has been published in Gourmet, Saveur and Town & Country, and on epicurious.com.


Pass Perfect

A Warm Reception Begins with a Cool Caterer

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Call me biased but I think great, memorable food is the key ingredient in a great, memorable wedding reception. It’s not just me. I know people who were married decades ago who can’t name half their wedding guests, but they can tell you to this day in excruciating detail what they thought of the food. Pick the right caterer for the right reasons and you’ll be golden. Choose the wrong one and, well, let’s not go there. Most people know me as a restaurateur or “celebrity chef” so they are surprised when they’re doing that first bit of wedding research and my name suddenly pops up as someone who caters receptions. So are people from this area who approach me at David Burke Kitchen in New York, or at Fromagerie in Rumson, looking for a catering recommendation.

I like to do weddings and other big events outside of my restaurants. I’ve got an entire staff devoted to catering now, and it’s becoming an increasingly important part of my business. Think about it. If I am pulling out all the stops for 150 people and creating a totally unique wedding experience, maybe only a fraction of those guests have been to one of my places. So when we do a great job, it’s a powerful advertisement for the restaurants—and, of course, for future weddings and other events, like fundraising galas. By the same token I do have an advantage in this business in that the couple that contacts me has almost certainly experienced my menu before and liked it.

Consequently, that first conversation isn’t so much a selling opportunity as an opportunity to ask them what they love about my food and how they envision incorporating it into their event. That being said, I also know that those same folks may also be considering two or three other competing options, so I still have to make them go Wow! In fact, I think when you go shopping for a wedding caterer you should set the bar high—make them make you go Wow! For me, the wow factor is all about coming up with really cool ideas, ideas that go beyond what any other caterer might think of. I hate handing out a menu and saying, “Here, pick one of these.” I want to create a unique wedding. I’m not afraid to take chances, and if the couple thinks the same way then we can do some fun stuff.

That’s why I think it’s crucial to get a read on their personalities and their shared experiences, and use that as a springboard. I like to know where they met and what was their first meal together. You never know where that first bit of inspiration will come from. But once you’ve got that, you build it out to include the food, the cake, the table settings and the gift bags. One thing I try to encourage clients to do is think about elements of interactivity and craftsmanship. It might be an artist carving an ice sculpture during the reception. It might be meringue floating on balloons. It might be a kitchen tour—people are so curious about food and what chefs are doing. The wedding cake is always an interactive experience, but why not take that to the next level? Everyone assumes a cake has to be made days in advance.

That’s not necessarily the case. We can bring in a master baker to create the cake during the wedding, and guests can actually have a hand in the finishing touches. And who doesn’t like to lick the bowls? We can set it up so everyone “licks the bowl” at their tables. Of course, fewer and fewer weddings these days are what I’d call traditional sit-down affairs. A lot of conversations I have begin with, “I want something different than a fully plated meal.” They don’t want people to feel stuck to the table. However, the fact is that there is almost always some sort of sit-down component—and the main course choices do need to be somewhat traditional, because your goal there is to please as many people as possible. You can’t put skate or bluefish or sweetbreads on the menu. But that doesn’t mean you play it safe, either. On the contrary, we can do some eye-opening things within the confines of chicken-salmon-filet-vegetarian. If someone says let’s do prime rib and baked potato, fine, we’ll sex it up and make it modern. It’ll be the best they ever had. By the same token, if someone wants burgers or meat loaf or some other comfort food at a wedding, we’ll do it. That’s what we’re all about. I was thinking that I’d love to do a breakfast wedding. Has anyone ever tried that before? I wonder. This shifting focus on creating a series of extraordinary hors d’oeuvres I think is fantastic. Anyone who knows me knows that I love that kind of challenge. Ideally, I like to do eight to ten at a reception. It gives us a chance to show off.

Making the Call The ideal time to pick your wedding caterer is six to nine months before the big day. The three pieces of information you’ll need are the venue you’ve selected for the reception, the number of guests you are expecting and a rough idea of your budget. It’s not crucial to have nailed down the exact date, but a range of dates is helpful. The items you can expect to cover in your initial meeting include the type of reception you envision and how the event will flow. Do you want to lean toward the traditional, or make it fun and interactive? Is there a theme or trend that you’re interested in exploring? What don’t you like? Have you seen pictures in a magazine or on the web of a reception that sparks your imagination? If so, bring them to the meeting. Needless to say, there will be a lot of discussion about food choices. Don’t expect to make any decisions at this first encounter. A caterer may make suggestions to get a feel for your preferences, but nothing is set in stone. After that initial meeting, there will be a lot of follow-up to solidify as many details as possible. From there, the caterer will propose a menu crafted to fit your tastes, your reception theme and your budget. It’s a good idea to arrange a tasting if anything is undecided, especially as you get a little closer to the date. We’re fortunate in that most of our wedding clients have eaten in my restaurants or are familiar with my food from other catered events.

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Photo courtesy of David Burke

Building a menu that pushes the envelope is the fun part of planning a wedding. The tricky part is making sure that your caterer can actually pull it off. We tend to end up working in venues with a lot of character but also a lot of quirks. It might be a museum in the city or a private estate in the country or a historic venue like Water Witch. Understanding the limits and the possibilities of these unique spaces is really important. It determines what equipment we truck in and how we staff an event. Don’t let caterers get away with saying, “No sweat, we got it covered”—especially in a space they haven’t worked in before. The devil is always in the details. Here are some rules of thumb. You’ll want one waiter for every 20 guests. You’ll want to make sure that there is a hierarchy in place. There should be a captain, a head bartender and someone in charge of the busing staff. That’s the front of the house.

Behind the scenes are the cooking and cleaning crews. For a wedding of 200 we typically bring at least six cooks and two or three people to keep the kitchen and prep areas clean and uncluttered. Don’t use a company you suspect is skimping on manpower. We usually err on the side of over-staffing events—we want to do such a good job, and that’s tough to do if you’re shorthanded. What else is reasonable to ask a wedding caterer to do? A caterer is not a party planner, but they can be helpful with details like flowers and audio/visual. I’d say we get involved in those areas—or at least make recommendations—about 15 percent of the time. We do work with party planners, probably at least 50 percent of the time. But nowadays a lot of people take on the wedding planning themselves. If they have opted not to go with a banquet hall, then they have already started down that path.

Sometimes in the eleventh hour the bride realizes she can’t handle it and she reaches out to us. We can usually see it coming, and we’re happy to help. So what should a catered reception cost? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? If you care about food, obviously you want to devote as much of your budget as you can to making that part of your wedding memorable. If you want to transcend the basic beef-chicken-fish menu and make the food itself a series of unforgettable experiences, it comes with a price tag. But it’s not as much as you’d think. Depending on the venue you’ve booked, you’re probably going to end up between $150 and $300 a head. That number includes staff, rentals, etc. For this caliber of event—essentially the same party we’d do for the Whitney in New York—that is very competitive.  

  Editor’s Note: David owns David Burke Kitchen, David Burke Townhouse, Fishtail by David Burke and David Burke at Bloomingdales in New York, David Burke Fromagerie in Rumson, David Burke Prime in Connecticut and David Burke’s Primehouse in Chicago. www.davidburke.com



On this night, the roasted chicken was infused with tarragon, snuggled under the skin during its time in the high-temperature oven.

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If there’s a single dish more satisfying than a properly roasted chicken, I’ve not found it. Skin crisped by intense heat and tinged with the taste of an herb, maybe subtle, maybe bold. Breast meat juiced by a little oil, a little butter, and hinting of the same thyme or tarragon that streaks through the skin. Dark meat starting to fall from bones, bones that have shared their soul, deepening and enriching what clings to them. Cavities from which you can pull extremes of flavor, perhaps strands of meat, moist to the point of almost drenched, perhaps a sliver of lemon attached to an out-of-the-way part of the bird. A roasted chicken is a contemplative dish, right for a Sunday when obligations either have been escaped or accomplished and supper can be a quiet affair that starts with all good intentions (a fork) and ends with a bit of rascally table behavior (hands) apropos for the food in front of you. Chicken soup has nothing on roasted chicken for me. I prefer chomping to sipping. Roasted chicken also brings to mind three vivid food memories, one actually experienced, one watched from a distance, one merely read about in a magazine.

The magazine account validated the culinary instincts of then-food writer, now-movie maker Nora Ephron as she traveled with friends in Europe. Passing the entrance to a small restaurant, I think it was in Italy, Ephron had the car stopped, stepped out, took a look and a sniff and said something to the effect of, “I bet they do a good roasted chicken here.” Upon which she and her party decamped and learned that indeed the restaurant did a splendid roasted chicken. The chicken-from-a-distance unfolded in a series, as I gawked again and again almost 20 years ago at the spit-roasted birds twirling about open-air markets throughout Provence. This was well before American supermarkets figured out selling already-roasted chickens would lure customers, and I was drop-jawed with awe at the spectacle. Never bought one in Provence, though, preferring to tinker around with raw ingredients. Stupid of me.

The actual experience came during a birthday trip to San Francisco a couple years ago, when all I wanted to do was lunge at chef Judy Rodgers’s roasted chicken bread salad at her Zuni Café. I did. Make whatever reservations you need – plane, train, blimp – to experience Rodgers’s perfect balance of chicken, bread cubes, greens and juices. Until Zuni, there is Verjus, in Maplewood, where roasted chicken has been on the menu since 2001, when the French restaurant opened for business, and where it might be taken more seriously than at any other restaurant in New Jersey. This is serious praise. The chef-owner Charles Tutino knows his birds. He not only roasts chickens every day Verjus is open, he roasts duck. Both often come in half-bird portions, which may seem an extreme amount of food to anyone who is not an aficionado of expertly roasted birds. The only reason I’ve ever found to stop eating once a roasted chicken (or duck) is set before me is to save something for the next day’s lunch. This requires belief in the benefits and joys of delayed gratification. When the bird is properly roasted, that is not always possible. It was not possible at Verjus. Let’s back up a bit, and give you some background as well as appetizers. Tutino is a classically trained chef who worked at French restaurants in New York before coming to New Jersey and setting up shop with his wife Jane Witkin in an understated space they decorated in a style that would mirror the food. There are cloth-covered tables, dark blond wood chairs, silver and stemmed glasses. There are, perhaps, a couple dozen tables. The scene is hushed, adult. You can converse.

Escargot, to start, are textbook, in the Burgundian manner: white wine, butter, a little garlic, parsley and anise. I adore the braised endive, a pert gratin of elegant spears bathed in lemon and sprinkled with a mix of romano and parmesan cheeses, because the vague bitterness cleanses for something richer. Like the duck liver terrine. Talk about a way with bird dishes: Tutino’s compact layering is cut deftly by his accompaniments—cornichons, cranberry compote, a slash of Dijon mustard. Though I wouldn’t restrict my starter to a mere toss of baby greens, even with Verjus’s signature barely-there vinaigrette, I admire the in-season salads here. Dandelion or morels and mache in the spring, frisée and roasted beets in the fall. Soups, too: Count on spinach in the spring, pumpkin in the fall. But roasted birds, always.

On this night, the roasted chicken was infused with tarragon, snuggled under the skin during its time in the high-temperature oven, and served with carrots glazed by ginger-charged honey and garlicky mashed potatoes. The roasted Pekin duck is positively high-toned, compared to the chicken’s simplicity, skin lacquered but not blackened by silly sweet stuff, as is too much the fashion elsewhere, and plated with black rice and braised red cabbage. There’s a flourish of saucy cranberries, a tart note expertly played. Sure there’s meat and there’s fish (beef Bourguignonne with a soothingly tame mushroom sauce; lightly crusted salmon with lentils), but what you most need to remember is there’s rosé here, from Bandol. A nice Rhone Valley red wine always does right by roasted chicken for me, but there’s something restaurant-special about real-deal pink vino with birds. I wasn’t so impressed with the desserts at Verjus—we tried a serviceable ice cream terrine anchored by fig ice cream and quince sorbet and an apple tarte tatin that, frankly, needed more apples—but I figured anyone who knows chickens as well as Tutino also might know eggs, so I came back for Sunday brunch.

Why not eggs Benedict, poached, set atop English toasts in a pool of Hollandaise? Or an omelette, with poached salmon and a pile of twice-cooked potatoes? There’s even a dessert reward at this time of day and week of very eggy crème brulée, with a suggestion of lavender. As I paid the bill for brunch, I thought about when I could return for another of Verjus’s properly roasted chickens and ducks. I thanked the server and said I’d enjoyed the eggs almost as much as the roasted birds at dinner. A gentleman at the next table leaned over and whispered a tip: “If you like the chicken here,” he said, “you’ll love the chicken salad they do at lunch. With tarragon mayonnaise and a ciabatta roll.” My eyes widened. I’d need to pick up a chicken on the way home. Couldn’t make it through the day without chicken salad.

Why Did the Game Bird Cross the Road?

Why Did the Game Bird Cross the Road?

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The longer I live in New Jersey, the more I am struck that it is a state of contrasts. As I drive by the belching smoke and stench of Linden’s refineries, I can’t help noticing that I am surrounded by license plates trumpeting the fact that I am in The Garden State. Wishful thinking? Not for those who venture beyond the toll roads to discover acre upon acre of corn, tomatoes, eggplant and squash, orchards of apple, pear and peach trees. To be sure, much of New Jersey may not be a fresh produce Eden. Yet to the epicurious, there are wonderful pockets of natural and sustainable farms worth investigating and patronizing. Among the state’s most praiseworthy resources are its naturally raised poultry farms, chief among them the idyllic Griggstown Quail Farm. If the ubiquitous, bland and rubbery-to-the-touch national chicken brands don’t excite you, it’s time to head out to Griggstown. Not only do they raise young succulent chicken and tasty marinated poussin, they also offer seasonal treats: Capons and Red Bourbon and natural turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas, pheasants and quail in the fall and winter, not to mention Mallard and Muscovy ducks.

Griggstown’s game birds are so good that at least three times a year, I drive 90 minutes to the Princeton area—a sort of culinary hadj—to stock up on pheasants, butterflied and marinated poussin, quail eggs, chicken pot pies and homemade soups. I know I’m almost there when a runaway pheasant skitters across Bunker Hill Road like a Park Avenue matron in spiked heels tearing toward a pre-sale at Bergdorf’s. Sometimes these free-range birds fly the coop and make a fast getaway, relocating into suburbia. However, it’s a sad, but delicious, fact that the majority of unlucky quail, poussin and pheasants—raised in acres of fenced-in, open-air habitats—are headed to Zagat-rated restaurants, gourmet butchers and trendy dinner parties, pleasing foodie palates around the Tri-state and beyond.

The story behind their unlucky fate stretches back over 40 years. It’s an inspiring tale plucked from entrepreneurs’ annals of vision and success. It started with a teenage lawn boy with a dream named George Rude and the farm owner, Peter Josten, who also happened to be in the restaurant business. On returning from Vietnam a few years later, Rude, then in his twenties and a game hunter since childhood, approached Josten with the idea to raise game birds as a business. Josten supplied two acres, his contacts with high-end New York restaurants and, voila, Griggstown Quail Farm was born. Today, the farm has grown to 70 acres and Rude has not rested a day since raising his first quail. His business has grown selling his produce—poussin, chicken, quail, pheasant, turkey and capons—both retail and directly to customers at farm markets. In 2002, he built a small market on the farm and in 2004 hired Matt Systema, a young chef, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Café Boulud in New York and the Ryland Inn in New Jersey. Chef Matt creates a range of prepared products including chicken salads, a variety of chicken sausages, turkey burgers, turkey and chicken potpies, quiches, fruit pies and homemade soups.

In addition, farm-laid chicken and quail eggs are also sold. Stay tuned, as they are building a 4,000-square-foot kitchen with bigger plans for the farm vegetable produce and someday perhaps an eat-in area. A separate off-shoot company (Rudy’s, which is owned by Rude’s brother Peter), delivers game birds nightly to gourmet restaurants that stress high quality and locavore trends. Griggstown chicken, quail and pheasants have been sighted on menus of New Jersey dining spots ranging from Eno Terra in Princeton, Nicolas in Red Bank, and Hamilton Grill Room in New Hope to The Blue Bottle Cafe in Hopewell and the Bernardsville Inn. In a rush? Today you also can find some Griggstown products such as chicken sausages, chicken pot-pies at farmers’ markets as well as at your local fine-food purveyor. Bob Sickles of Sickles Market in Little Silver has carried Griggstown products for five years. “You can’t beat the quality of their pot pies,” he says. Sickles also orders from Griggstown his family’s Thanksgiving Red Bourbon turkey, which can be purchased “oven-ready” and is a revelation in juiciness.

If you are one of the many daunted by the mere thought of cooking game birds, some—like the marinated poussin—come in air-tight bags with cooking instructions so easy that my husband, a self-professed grill-o-phobe, barbequed them with confidence and great results. (I did take five minutes off the cooking time because our grill’s heat is more intense than the norm.) Even our dinner guest, a hunter and picky gourmet famed for returning nearly every meat entrée he orders at restaurants to the kitchen, was pleased and impressed. The cook felt like crowing!

Cooking with Fire

How I learned to love the Habañero

When I was a sous-chef at the River Café in New York in the early 1980s, there was a creative punishment awaiting kitchen staff that showed up late for work. The chef would slice off the top of a bell pepper and thread a string through it like a party hat. You would have to wear that hat throughout your shift, and endure taunts of “pepper-head” until it was time to go home. You knew there was bad traffic coming into the city if three or four guys were wearing pepper hats. Three decades later a couple of things have changed in the food business. First, that would probably be considered workplace harassment today. Second, and more important, the use of peppers in the kitchen has definitely evolved. I use a variety of peppers on every menu in every one of my restaurants, and I try to be as imaginative and creative with my choices as I can. Some I use for seasoning, some for flavor, some for heat.

And although I am far from an expert on peppers, I can’t imagine cooking without them. That’s a far cry from my early days in the business. Thirty years ago, Southeast Asian cooking was practically unknown and chefs like Dean Fearing, Mark Miller and Bobby Flay were just starting to bring Southwestern cuisine into the mainstream. I had worked in French restaurants my whole life, so when it came to peppers I was a complete neophyte. I’ll never forget my introduction. One day at the River Café, someone tricked me into chomping into a scotch bonnet. I almost jumped in the river. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get rid of the heat. It was a hot day to begin with and I really thought I was going to keel over. I was pissed! For years after that, I couldn’t eat Thai food. I remember once at a friend’s restaurant in Chicago, he served me a dish that was so hot that I got really mad at him. It ruined the whole meal. I couldn’t taste the wine we ordered. He pointed out that I’d bitten into a chili that was there for color and flavoring. It wasn’t meant to be eaten.

Later, when I first started working with different types of peppers, I still didn’t fully understand or respect their power.

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One time, we were working with a particularly potent pepper. I was sweating a lot that day and I inadvertently used the same hand that was handling the pepper to wipe my brow. Well, about 20 minutes later it felt like someone had stuck a screwdriver in my eye. Again, I was very new to working with peppers, so I didn’t realize what I’d done. Overnight, it spread across my nose into my other eye. I couldn’t see! I ended up going to the hospital thinking I had some disease that was making me go blind. The doctor asked me what I’d been doing and worked out what the problem was. The next day I had a business meeting with Phil Suarez, who is Jean Georges’s partner. It looked like someone had worked me over with a baseball bat—both of my eyes were purple-red. He still gives me a hard time about that when I see him.

Even today, I make a pastramied salmon that involves boiling molasses with cayenne pepper. We paint the mixture on the fish, and then smoke it. Your hands get sticky with the molasses and it can work its way into your skin and under your fingernails. If you go to bed—or, worse, to the bathroom—without completely scrubbing off the cayenne mix, you’ll be in bad shape, believe me. And during my days working in Hong Kong, I learned another important lesson: never eat Chinese food in the dark. The peppers used in cooking belong to the Capsicum family. They include a lot of familiar names, like jalapeño, cayenne, chipotle, poblano, habañero, scotch bonnet, serrano and, of course, bell peppers of various colors. Most sources credit Christopher Columbus with giving peppers their name. He brought them back from the New World and named them after black pepper, which was the only hot spice Europeans were using at the time. Black pepper was incredibly expensive in the 1400s—in some places it was used instead of money—so the “discovery” of a new way to spice up food was big news. Spanish and Portuguese explorers and traders spread peppers to Africa, India, and Asia. Paprika got to Hungary through Asia, not through Europe, which is interesting. Not for nothing, but paprika is one of the trickier peppers to cook with. You really have to open it up and let it bloom.

Today I am a big proponent of peppers. Cayenne is my friend. I always have serranos and jalapeños on hand. We use serrano peppers in our firecracker applesauce. It’s great how the heat and sweet mixes together. First you get the sweet, and then the heat kicks in. I didn’t like jalapeños at first, but now I think they are a great way to get exactly the amount of heat you want in a dish. I am a huge fan of the peppadew, a sweet, piquant pepper that’s grown in South Africa. We put them on sandwiches and in salads. We make wonderful use of chipotles in our ranch dressing and our aioli. It’s extraordinary on our tuna tartare tacos. Of course, with all of the different pepper options out there, people tend to look down upon the old reliable bell pepper. For my money, it gives you the greatest depth of flavor. And that flavor experience changes depending on how you cook it. I think that among the bells, the green pepper gets overlooked. It has a little bitterness and a more unique flavor than red or yellow. Still, to bring out some heat and wake up the palate, it’s fun to work with the hot stuff.

I like a little bit of heat now and then, I have to admit. If you’re feeling adventurous, I recommend experimenting with habañeros. Make a habañero butter and put in on a steak or a pork chop or a burger. Keep some in the fridge and on weekend mornings spread it on some toast with eggs. Think of it as the gateway pepper—you can go up or down the Scoville scale from there according to taste. Some final thoughts on peppers. When you bite into a hot pepper, no matter how convinced you are that you’ve singed the taste buds off your tongue, that’s not what’s happening. It may be uncomfortable, but you’ll survive. Peppers activate the pain receptors on your tongue and in your throat, so it sends a pretty strong message to your brain at first. In football, the first time you get tackled you feel like you’ve been in a car wreck. But you get used to the pain and even get to like it a little. For most people, the same is true when it comes to cooking with peppers. As long as you remember to wash up before rubbing your eyes (or visiting the restroom), the discomfort will be contained to a place where you are also experiencing some incredible flavors and textures. It’s a trade-off I’d make any day. Besides, who doesn’t like a little pain with their pleasure from time to time?   

Editor’s Note: David Burke owns Fromagerie in Rumson, Primehouse in Chicago, Prime in Connecticut, and Fishtail, David Burke Townhouse, and David Burke Kitchen it the James Hotel in Manhattan.