Plus: lucky lightning strikes, kids who give a s*it, and the best shrimp with coconut milk ever
Happy Wednesday; happy Food with Mark Bittman day. Our guest today is just okay.
I’m kidding. Kate and I loved him. He’s Dan Ahdoot, and he’s a standup comedian, actor (currently on Netflix’s Cobra Kai), from all appearances an excellent cook, and author of a smart and poignant (and yes very funny) new essay collection — but really, a memoir — called Undercooked: How I Let Food Become My Life Navigator and How Maybe That’s a Dumb Way to Live.
IS it a dumb way to live, though? We asked him that, and the results are decidedly mixed. I’ll tell you this, though — Dan loves food, maybe more than anyone I’ve met in a long time, and he’s really fun to talk to about it — and about everything else.
So: I know I say this a lot, but, seriously, friends, I can’t imagine that you won’t be charmed by Dan, too.
Weekly Marksisms are below. Thanks for reading, and listening, and being great.
“I grew up pretty kosher, and I still remember my first foray into treif — non-kosher food — and it was the worst thing that someone who grew up kosher could have. My dumb friend Dan and his family took me to some restaurant in Chinatown and we had a raw giant clam. OOF. For a beginner, it should be calamari, fried shrimp, something easy. I still have a hard time with raw clams. But this thing was — it was like the size of a football.”
— Dan Ahdoot
This Week’s Marksisms
From the Bittman Project Natural Sciences Desk
DID YOU SEE THIS? Incredible.
I won’t say that was the high point of my week, but in one dominated by meetings, medical issues, and comfort cooking, I’m going to focus on the last. The meetings were not unexciting (neither were the medical issues), but the cooking made every day end well. But wait, before we get to that …
From the Bittman Project Sports Desk
A. Have you seen baseball with the pitch clock? It’s a new game. It’s amazing. It’s almost watchable.
B. I don’t watch much basketball; usually, I tune into the NBA playoffs when (if) things get interesting. (I can probably name three of the last five champions, which gives you some idea of my level of involvement.)
College, to me, is even less appealing. When I was a kid, my dad took me to some NYU and St. Johns games, but the last NCAA I remember featured Michael Jordan.
This year’s tournament, though, seemed somehow different. (I’m writing this on Monday, so we don’t quite know the winner, but we’re assuming it will be/was UConn.) My friend Charlie texted: “Watch it. Better than the NBA.”
And he’s kind of right. In the best games, both on the men’s and women’s sides, there’s a sense of urgency and devotion, of real passion. Many of these kids (some are teenagers) know they aren’t going to make a living playing basketball; they’re too short or otherwise not big enough, there simply aren’t enough paying jobs in professional basketball for all but the best, and so on. That makes it even more special: They’re playing because they really care, and that sense brings back some of the joy of sports. That San Diego State/Florida Atlantic U game (who ever heard of FAU?) was why I watch – not for “my team” but for “the game.”
Having said all of that, I’m kind of psyched for the NBA playoffs now: Watching sports breeds watching sports. For me, anyway.
From the Bittman Project Kitchen
It was a week of oldies but goodies, as I also made a decent bouillabaisse, the arroz con cosas which people make fun of me about, but which I continue to insist is one of the nine fundamental dishes of humanity (this one with squid, Jerusalem artichokes, and cooked red beans), and possibly the best shrimp with coconut milk I’ve ever had.
Julie Sahni taught me how to make coconut milk back in the late eighties, and I’ve only rarely bought a can since.
And with a base of well-cooked onions (the foundation of so many “curries”) and in this case carrots (a last-minute inspiration, but, again, I’m trying to use them, and they are so good), this becomes among the most stunningly flavorful simple dishes you can make.
Cook a bunch of sliced onions and carrots in oil, adding some combination of spices that you like, along with a bit of chile. (Make rice meanwhile.) Carefully blitz at least a cup of dried coconut with about two cups of boiling water in a blender. (I have really come to believe that one-to-one is about the right ratio, or even more coconut than water.) When the onions are really soft and starting to brown, press the coconut milk through a strainer into the pot and cook that until it’s reduced and brown-ish. (This is a key step; don’t skip it.) Add shrimp or scallops or tofu or chicken or pretty much anything – could be potatoes or cauliflower or a mixture of several things. Taste and adjust seasoning, but really. And serve over rice. Provide your own exclamations.
See ya next week!