Collection of Favorite Experimental Recipes – Food Stories From New York & Beyond

Ratatouille

By Gary Schoichet

Everything I do in the kitchen is mostly an experiment. I like to make is ratatouille. And if I see anything in the refrigerator that looks like it needs to be thrown out tomorrow, it goes in. Once the ratatouille is cooked; it’s in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes  I take the monkfish or other white fish and add it to the ratatouille, letting it steam in the oven for about 10 minutes. 

It’s different every single time because I throw in a lot of spices too. Sometimes we get a little tentative about spices. You know, “Don’t throw in too much, don’t throw in too much.”

I’ve learned to put more and more spices and herbs because the flavor really sings in your mouth. I think one of the things about getting older is your taste buds kind of deteriorate and you need more flavors in your food so that you can actually taste them.


Cauliflower Steak

By Gary Schoichet

When it comes to cooking, it  used to be that nothing was in my comfort zone and now I don’t have a comfort zone. I don’t care, I just do it. We had cauliflower in the refrigerator for so long that it got moldy. So I scraped the mold or whatever it is off, and instead of slicing it, I cut it into chunks and I boiled it in salted water so it would soften up. It didn’t have to spend forever in the oven. It took five minutes until it was ready to eat, which was, to me, incredible. Then I put it on a grill to brown with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and–of course–some butter. I can’t not have enough butter: the secret to French cooking. 

And what did I put on it? Trader Joe’s has an everyday spice that I put all over it. Then, I cut up some cilantro, fresh cilantro. That’s how we ate it, it was delicious. The recipe came from nowhere. I didn’t know what I was doing.

I use balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses on many different things, particularly in salad dressings. There’s something about molasses. Blackstrap molasses. Whoever invented it should be given a Nobel Prize for culinary production.

Over the course of a couple of weeks I’ll use the same seasonings and stuff for different proteins. And for some reason, it all works. I know it does because my audience tells me that. Or else she just doesn’t want to do any more cooking, so she just keeps me in the kitchen doing it. I’m not quite sure which.

With my method of cooking, I can recreate recipes but it might not be the same each time. They’re always a little different. I might use cardamom one day, coriander the next, and both together the next. On the fourth day it’s ‘let’s eat out.’ 

My new favorite spice mix is Egyptian: Berbere. It’s so many things (paprika, garam masala, salt, cirtic acid, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, hot curry, onion, black pepper, allspice, ground anise, garlic, white anise, cayenne pepper, coriander, and toasted cumin seeds).

Berbere is good on everything I’ve put it on. Soon I’ll try it on ice cream or make ice cream with it.

It’s all curiosity. That’s why I like to buy kitchen gadgets. They, my household and neighbors, think that I just want to buy things, but I’m just curious how things work. 


Eggplant and Chopped Lamb

By Rainey Conguista

When I was in my twenties and living in Brooklyn, my friends and I used to go to this Middle Eastern restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. I have no idea if it’s still there, but this is before Atlantic Avenue was gentrified. It was kind of no man’s land in those days. But they had this little Middle Eastern restaurant and they had this one dish made with eggplant and chopped lamb. And I have tried for many years to look it up and to try to find a recipe and I never could, but one day I decided to make it on my own and it tasted pretty close to theirs and it’s really quite delicious.

You cut up the eggplant into circular slices, and you layer it with the chopped lamb. You can use beef as well, and if you want to add some garlic or whatever. The key to the recipe is that they put cardamom, cardamom seed, or cardamom powder in it, as well as cumin and coriander. You then put a plain, unseasoned tomato sauce over it, drizzle olive oil over all of it, and you mix that whole thing and bake it in the oven. It is really delicious.

I managed to recreate this recipe completely by taste. I just experimented with different things and I tried to figure out what was the spice that was really prevalent, and I realized it was cardamom. And cardamom went well with the cumin and the coriander. It’s not unlike an Italian eggplant dish, but it’s also completely different because the spices are different. You probably could make it without the meat if you’re vegetarian, it would just be a nice way to make eggplant.

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