Gettin' Saucy at Kuma Inn

I am trying very hard not to sound like one of those Sonic Drive Inn commercials: SUPER VALUE FLAVOR EXPLOSION! SPICY, SWEET, MELTY GOODNESS! But my inner dialogue about Kuma Inn sounds embarrassingly similar to them.

Asian Fusion has been done everywhere from here to Kalamazoo. So what does Kuma Inn do differently? Pretty much everything. Every familiar element of their menu is given a unique spin with their inventive and explosive sauces, marinades and condiments. Typically presented, steamed edamame comes drizzled with an invisible, yet addictive thai basil-lime oil. It has forever changed how I want my edamame: lime wedges have permanently replaced kosher salt. And my blood pressure thanks Kuma for it.

Chinese sausage is caramelized and sweet, almost like the breakfast sausage that went for a swim in your pancake's syrup. And to my delight - served with a similiar thai lime/basil concoction, and thankfully a generous helping of sticky rice to unabashedly mop up the remains. A yellowfin tuna tartare is bright and citrusy and its served with a cheesy, crispy rice noodle 'chip' that should be immediately mass produced and sold at the front door.

And speaking of the entry way, it can be found at the top of a sketchy staircase...on the second floor...in a dirty building...in the Lower East Side. Their decor is not worth mentioning, but their BYOB policy is, and it helps to keep the whining to a minimum during your hour long wait for a table.

Because its not just good. Its Sonic good.

Kuma Inn
113 Ludlow Street, 2nd floor
New York, NY


A Passion for Pesto

On a recent trip to the Union Square Greenmarket, I was introduced to the wild world of basil. Pretty crazy, I know. But at one of the kiosks, there were a half dozen different types of basil available for sale. Needless to say I was overwhelmed. I decided to start small and walked away with two of the more familiar types: lemon basil and sweet basil - as well as a burning curiosity about the four others I had left behind - thai, mexican, cinnamon and genovese. All of which I plan to tackle before the summer's end...but for now, three variations of my own:

As my first experience with lemon basil, I decided to start basic by making a traditional pesto of garlic, pine nuts, parmesean cheese and olive oil. It gave off a surprisingly strong citrusy aroma, so I thought it best to pair it with some fish. I spread it over some baked salmon, finishing it with a sprinkle of parmesean and second under the broiler, which provided it with a great little crust. Served with a lemon wedge and a glass of white wine, the fish and lemon pesto complimented each other quite well.

For my next attempt, I played around with the traditional ingredients - particularly the garlic, which I mellowed out by roasting and the pine nuts, which I toasted to add some nuttiness. I blended with olive oil, sweet basil and loads of Parmesan cheese. Mixed with some whole wheat farfalle to accentuate the nuttiness of the concoction, it was mild, creamy and smooth -and thanks to the roasted garlic, I was still kissable at the end of the night.

And with the last remaining lemon basil, I made a sweet pea pesto - pureeing fresh petite peas, sweet basil, a few sprigs of mint, and some raw almonds, I created a mild, sweet spread - one almost too delicate to pair with a piece of meat or a hearty pasta. So channeling a bruschetta I had shared at 'ino recently, I decided to dollop it onto a warm baguette, sprinkled it with pecorino cheese and just had at it. It tasted as fresh as Spring. And thanks to my freezer and an ice cube tray - a taste I will be enjoying again sometime this winter when I need a little green.


My New Obsession: Stuffed Squash Blossoms

I knew I had a problem when I ordered them again for dessert: stuffed squash blossoms at Bacaro in the Lower East Side of NYC. Think high class mozzarella sticks, minus the freezerburn. Hot, melty ricotta cheese just barely contained by the delicate leaves of a flower that was kissed by a frying pan. But at $12 a pop, it was quite an expensive habit. And this was my second trip. I had to learn to make them myself. When I stumbled across the blossoms at the Union Square Green Market, I knew it was time. Below is my take:

Stuffed Squash Blossoms
A dozen blossoms
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1/4 cup fresh herbs, chopped (I used chives and parsley)
1tsp honey
1/4 tsp lemon zest
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of flour
1 cup milk
vegtable oil for frying

To prepare the cheese filling: combine ricotta cheese with fresh herbs, honey, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste. To taste being the important part: make sure you like your filling enough on its own, as that is where the majority of the flavor comes from. Feel free to experiment with filling choices: add goat or feta cheese, try different herb combinations. I will!

To wash and prepare the squash blossoms: I found the easiest way to clean and fill the blossoms is to slit one side of the blossoms with a paring knife, that way you can remove the stamen inside (the yellow phalic part inside the bloom) and gently soak away any dirt.

To fill the blossoms I used a teaspoon to spoon in the cheese filling, however an even easier method is to use a pastry filler to squeeze the cheese in accurately. Once filled, draw the blossoms together and gently twist them together at the top and secure with a toothpick.

Once all the blossoms are filled, I placed them in the freezer for a few hours to firm up and prevent the ricotta cheese from oozing out. This is optional, but I found them easier to fry this way.

Set up your fry station: Coat the bottom of your fry pan with a half inch or so of oil and bring to high heat. Pour milk and flour into two separate bowls. Have a drying rack ready for fried blossoms to drain. A paper towel on plate will suffice.

Dip your blossom into the milk (or a few beaten eggs will work as glue for the flour too). Lightly coat in flour. I chose to do this twice to sufficiently coat the blossoms, but it is entirely up to you. Place in the frying pan for about 2 minutes a side or until lightly golden on each side and place aside to drain. Can be served immediately.

Note: unfried blossoms can be frozen for a later date. A nice treat when they're out of season!

Rather leave it to a professional?

136 Division StNew York, NY 10002
(212) 941-5060