It's the weekend. Let's have a ball.
[Paul McCartney voice] simply / making / some wonderful Friday food
Do you ever have a notion? Sometimes I have a notion. An idea manifests and I can’t tell if it’s stupid or genius, but it’s not going away until I see it through. Often times, this happens in the kitchen. Often times, it does not turn out well.
Anyways, the other day I had a notion. But let’s back up here.
I lived in New York City for the better part of a decade, and there are many things I do not miss about it, like constantly being stressed, sharing walls and floors with other people, and paying $HOLYCRAP for a shoebox apartment. I miss foods, though, and not the ones typically associated with New York City! Sure, pizza and bagels are terrific. Two terrible secrets, though: there are good pizzas and bagels elsewhere, and there are plenty of bad ones in New York, too.
No, the thing I miss most is the halal cart.
The shining beacon of street-side eating, the most reliable culinary relationship I have ever had. I give you roughly six dollars, you give me an overloaded styrofoam tray of chicken and lamb over rice, doused in glorious white and hot sauce.
My goodness, yes. The food of the gods. The last time I was back in New York, I had it three times in three days, and yes, I did die shortly thereafter. (I got better.)
Anyways, I got a notion. I would attempt to recreate this in my home kitchen. Now, I’ve done this several times in the past, with reasonable success, but this time I’d try a new presentation, a new form. I would save the environment from all that needless packaging. I would make it self-contained.
7) Deck The Halls With Balls of Halal
You’ve had arancini, I hope? The delightful Italian dish that consists of a breaded-and-fried ball of rice with some kind of filling? It’s magnificent on its own. But hey — why not expand our culinary horizons? Why not use a different kind of rice? Why not make the halal chicken and rice into a ball and fry it???
I told you, I get notions. See me through on this one. We’re makin’ halal balls.
Starting point: I used this Serious Eats copycat recipe to make halal cart-style chicken thighs and the accompanying yellow rice — with one critical change, which is that I used short-grain Arborio rice in lieu of the long-grain Basmati specified therein. We’ll need the starchy stickiness of Arborio to form the balls, as is traditional with arancini.
I spread the cooked rice in a baking dish and chilled it in the fridge for several hours, then spread it into about 4” wide circles on a silicone mat.
That chicken? Pulse it in a food processor. Mix in some of last week’s whipped feta recipe (highly recommended on its own) and a small handful of chopped parsley. Take the resulting very-delicious-chicken-salad and place golf ball-sized portions on the rice. Form the rice into balls around it, pressing firmly to shape.
Chill the balls in the freezer for 10-15 minutes, then do a three-step dredge in flour, beaten egg, and store-bought falafel mix.
Looking good so far, right?
Heat enough cooking oil to submerge the balls in a small pot to 350 degrees, then carefully fry them (one or two at a time) until deeply browned.
Drain on paper towels. Douse in white sauce (see the Serious Eats link above for a good approximation) and hot sauce (a harissa-based sauce is best; there is much debate about what the most famous halal carts put in their red sauce).
You’ve just broken the kitchen sound barrier. You’ve run the culinary four-minute-mile. You’ve landed on the food moon.
You’ve put halal in a ball, y’all.
My notions don’t always pan out, but you have to trust me when I say this was aggressively delicious and absolutely worth the time it took.
Thank you for going on this journey with me.
6) Some things never change, and that’s good
I was at Target the other day, as is my lot in life as a boring late-30s suburbanite, and at one point I noticed several goth teens in the makeup section. What struck me about this is how the goth teenagers of 2019 are virtually indistinguishable from the goth teens of my late-90s high school experience. So many things have changed, but aesthetically, that’s exactly the same.
You know what else, blissfully, has not changed? Poppy emo.
Long Island-based band Oso Oso — of which singer-songwriter Jade Lilitri is the only permanent member — offers a perfect measure of this perfect genre of music, singing catchy, upbeat, earworm-y songs about being bummed out. Sonically it’s hardly different than the Saves The Day or Jimmy Eat World or whathaveyou that I’d listen to in college [mumbles] years ago. I’m glad this hasn’t changed, and I’m glad this album exists.
5) This cocktail is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
I discovered an ingredient recently that I immediately became excited to employ in a cocktail: beer syrup. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a syrup made from sugar and beer reduced down. I bought from the Louisville-based company The Beer Syrup Company [not sponsored, but I’ll take a check if they offer], but as this article helpfully notes, one could easily make such a syrup at home if so inclined.
I picked up a bottle of their Pecan Nut Brown syrup, and another notion formed. You see, the signature dessert of my adopted hometown of Louisville is a chocolate-pecan pie, known to some as “Derby Pie”, though, as we’ll get to in a minute, one should be very careful in employing that name.
We’re making a riff on a Manhattan inspired by said pie.
2 ounces bourbon
3/4 ounce beer syrup, in this case, Pecan Nut Brown beer syrup
several dashes chocolate bitters
Shake with ice, garnish with cherry.
It’s chocolate pecan pie in a glass, or as we’ll call it, the Cease & Desist.
4) Please elaborate on the name.
I’d be happy to! One of the interesting oddities about this dessert is that it’s one of the most notably litigated foods around. Kentucky-based baker Kern’s Kitchen owns the copyright to the term “Derby Pie”, and they will famously sue anyone who uses the name, even a mom-and-pop restaurant.
It’s an extreme example of preserving a copyright through aggressive defense of it, and you can learn more about this on this podcast episode from The Southern Foodways Alliance.
3) Wow! Suing over pie, that’s dystopian!
Not really, but I needed a segue to the book of the week. It’s my belief that sociopolitical parables work best when they build out a world so rich in thought and detail that you forget there’s a lesson being imparted and you fall into it like it’s Star Wars or The Avengers. Naomi Alderman’s superlative 2016 novel The Power succeeds wonderfully in this regard.
It’s an intriguing premise — suddenly, one day, women around the world develop the power to deliver debilitating electric shocks. The gender-power balance shifts immediately, with huge, global political ramifications. It’s an excellent meditation on gender dynamics and power, but it’s not a heavy-handed lecture — it’s a really gripping story, too.
2) Hey, speaking of stories. Why can’t prestige television be, y’know… fun?
I think we may finally be hitting a tipping point on this, and I couldn’t be happier. Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved a Breaking Bad, a Mad Men. Like any 30-something white man, I have advised numerous people that they should watch The Wire. But man, a lot of these shows are dour. After a long day at work, plopping down on the couch to watch television —
— what’s wrong with wanting to watch something that’s well-made, heavily researched, star-studded, but also fun?
Amazon’s original The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel understands this. Extremely in the identifiable style of its creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls, Bunheads), it’s got unrealistically-zippy dialogue, but it’s also a thoughtfully-rendered look at a world of characters at a specific point in history. It hits all the fun anachronisms and period notes that a show like Mad Men would, but doesn’t leave you all angsty and depressed afterwards. Also, it gives Tony Shalhoub and Kevin Pollak ample scenery-chewing moments, and we should applaud that.
1) You know what else is fun to come home to? Dogs.
As with every Friday edition of The Action Cookbook Newsletter, we’re wrapping up with the dogs of you, the readers. I got a lot of dog submissions on Twitter this week, so I’m going to share them all with you now:
Yes. Very good dog.
That’s a good dog.
Sideways dog? Still good.
Weird how a lot of people who follow me have corgis. I wonder what sort of vibe I’ve given off. Anyways, good dog.
Extremely good dog who shares many of my unfortunate sports rooting interests.
Multiple good dogs!
Good dog with good ideas! I’d subscribe to this dog’s newsletter.
A very studious dog. They’re all good dogs, folks, and thank you for sharing them with me so that I could share them back with you.
Thanks for reading and supporting The Action Cookbook Newsletter. Hey, I wrote a thing on parenthood the other day that seemed to resonate with a lot of people. If you haven’t read that yet, I think you should.
If you’re enjoying this newsletter, please share! If you’re not subscribed yet, please do so! We’re continuing to build together and the bigger this gets, the more I can do.
I hope you have a great weekend. Make some halal balls.
— Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)