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12.1.08

Ethnic Foods

Just because we’re on an Island where seafood is particularly tasty, doesn’t mean we don’t want to surprise our palates with some dishes that come from faraway lands.

The Vineyard has plenty of amenities to offer its inhabitants, but there’s one thing many would say is missing that would make life complete: a plentiful supply of ethnic food, preferably reasonably priced.

When off-Island, Vineyarders make a point to get our fill from ethnic restaurants in Boston or New York, or else pick up takeout on the Cape to enjoy on the boat ride home.

Once back on-Island, there is a growing number of places that offer foods from other cultures. When the Thai restaurant, Bangkok Cuisine MV, opened on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs a couple of years ago, there was much celebration for the “new” ethnic cuisine. But when it comes to a truly wide variety of world culinary choices, Vineyarders are left to their own devices to fill the void.

One group of friends holds an ethnic potluck each month. They pick a country or a cuisine – they’ve chosen Persian, Cajun, and Provencal, among others – and each family or couple contributes a dish.

Another couple discovered they could fly in takeout dinner from Pavilion Indian Cuisine in Hyannis, via Cape Air. “We’ve made some pretty entertaining evenings flying in Indian,” says Dawn Bellante, who lives in Vineyard Haven with her husband, Tony Holand. One night, however, she said there was some misunderstanding that resulted in the food going to the “other island” and making its way back to them seven hours later via Providence and Boston.

The Charter School in West Tisbury has tapped into the need for more choices of ethnic cuisine the past three years with a series of ethnic-dinner fundraisers – last spring, they held both Indian and Jamaican nights – and they expect to continue the series this year.

There are a couple of other ethnic-food resources on the Island that you may not know about. Kiran Chhibber, a New Delhi native who started cooking Indian food for friends and colleagues when she moved here twenty-plus years ago, now runs a side catering business, Kiran’s Kitchen in Oak Bluffs, which offers Indian takeout. And Fielder and Fielder Imports in Chilmark occasionally hosts an open house that features Turkish food; the cook is co-owner Evan Fielder, who grew up eating the cuisine when his family lived in Turkey. He started cooking the dishes he loved because he wanted to keep eating them.

Kiran’s Indian kitchen

Indian cooking relies on a variety of spices, and Kiran Chhibber keeps hers close by the stove. A round container is full of smaller, uncovered tins filled with the spices that create her curries: orange-gold turmeric, black-speckled cardamom, red pepper, and tan-colored cumin and coriander.

She pulls out a few other spice bags. “This is from India, special,” she says. One bag holds Indian oregano seeds, slightly lemony and salty with a faint hint of oregano. Another bag contains mango powder, ground from dried sweet-tart mango, that’s used in vegetable dishes featuring potatoes or okra.

There’s also garam marsala, a sweet curry mix with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and black pepper. Kiran says she likes to use a pinch of the garam marsala as a finishing touch that gives a “good smell” to her curry chicken and vegetable dishes.

Kiran and her husband, Ashok, left New Delhi in 1984 for New York City, where they ran a small grocery store. Three years later, they relocated with their two sons to Martha’s Vineyard, where Kiran’s brothers, mother, and uncle had settled. She took a job at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, working as a cashier in the cafeteria.

Kiran says she would draw a lot of attention whenever she heated her homemade lunches at the hospital. As the aromatic Indian curries wafted through the air, other employees took notice. They jokingly asked Kiran to bring in her leftovers.

A few tastes of the food led to some requests. “They started giving me orders, and it spread.” That was eight years ago. She no longer works at the hospital, but continues cooking to order for friends and friends of friends. She calls her business Kiran’s Kitchen.

Kiran says she learned many of the authentic vegetarian dishes by cooking with her mother, as most Indian girls do. One of her favorites is palek paneer, a curried spinach and cheese dish. There’s also aloo began, roasted eggplant with potatoes, and she makes many bean dishes from scratch: dhee bhela, featuring chickpeas in a spicy tomato sauce; also daal samber or lentil balls; and lobeya, black-eyed peas in a sauce with spices and cilantro. Along with grinding her own spices, and making her own curries, Kiran makes her own cheese, as soft and tender as a dumpling, and her own creamy yogurt for the side sauces designed to cool down spicy dishes. “It’s rich, not heavy,” she explains.

She also makes whole-wheat roti, known here as pita bread, hot off the pan, every day, for every meal. It puffs slightly and steam pours out as ghee (clarified butter) is brushed on. “When I cater, people love it when I make the pranta [roti with spices or vegetables] and roti, because they never see this.”

From her father, who Kiran says was also a good cook but not a vegetarian, she learned to make many chicken and lamb curries and kabobs. Like many Indians, they do not eat beef.

When asked what she likes best about Indian food, Kiran replies: “I love everything. We have flavor in our food. It’s spicy, hot, and sour. Other kinds of food, there’s no flavor.”

Turkish delights

When Fielder and Fielder, a Turkish import business, has an open house to showcase the shop’s rugs and furniture, it’s usually accompanied by a spread of Turkish food. Typically laid out on tables under the large oak trees at the Captain Flanders House bed and breakfast in Chilmark, where the business is located, you might find grilled chicken and lamb kabobs, freshly made pilafs and cracked wheat salads, zucchini fritters, and an array of appetizers including a roasted eggplant purée, tomato-herb salsa, and a creamy feta dip.

Evan Fielder, who owns the import shop with his wife, Christine Flanders Fielder, loves to cook (and it shows), and Turkish food is his specialty – learned during his years spent in Turkey as a youth. His open houses are a culinary secret here.

Evan’s introduction to Turkish food began in 1961, when his father, a Central Intelligence Agency officer, was assigned to Ankara, the capital city in Turkey. The middle of five kids, Evan, then six, was placed in a Turkish school where only one other student spoke English. The family spent six years there, soaking up the language, culture, and food. They spent the next three years stationed in Taiwan, but when he was sixteen, they returned to Turkey to live from 1973 until 1978.

The family employed cooks who prepared the food of the region, and Evan recalls touring Turkish markets filled with all kinds of fresh vegetables – the hallmark of Turkish cuisine, along with olives and olive oils, feta cheeses, fresh herbs, beans, and grains. The food, he says, is similar to other Middle Eastern cuisines of Greece, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Evan’s parents, Bill and Ann Fielder, retired on Martha’s Vineyard (where several generations of Ann’s family have lived) and run the The House at New Lane, a bed and breakfast in West Tisbury. Evan and Chris also live in West Tisbury and have three boys, the oldest of whom started college this year. Evan works as a carpenter for an Island contractor; Chris works as a nurse at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and sells real estate through Flanders Up-Island Real Estate. Evan says his whole family still loves the cuisine to this day, and many of them prepare Turkish feasts for family gatherings. “We’re all Turkophiles.”

When he first came back to the United States, Evan says he really missed the food. “When you don’t have someone making it for you, you either have to not have it or make it yourself.” So he started cooking, making yogurt sauces to accompany lamb-filled dumplings; böreks, which are rolls or triangles of filo dough filled with vegetables, feta, spices, and meat; and a multitude of stuffed dishes called dolmas. He stuffs zucchini, eggplants, or tomatoes with a mixture of ground beef or lamb, rice, minced onion, garlic, olive oil, and fresh herbs like dill and mint. “Oh, they’re so good,” he says of the dolmas.

Many of the meats are either skewered or layered with vegetables and served with tomato or yogurt sauces. “Vegetables are really the main focus,” he says. “Meats are an accent.”

About six or seven years ago, Evan took Chris on a trip to Turkey. She fell in love with the country and suggested they open a Turkish import store so they could go back more often. Fielder and Fielder Imports was born in 2004, occupying a dormant antique shop at the sixty-acre Captain Flanders site on North Road.

Since then, the couple spends two to three weeks each spring traveling through Turkey, picking out the rugs, furniture, kitchenware, Turkish towels, and clothes they sell back here. “A third of the trip is enjoying the food,” Evan points out. “The people are so nice, they’re so hospitable. That’s their trademark.”

They’ve done well with the store, but he adds, “We haven’t given up our day jobs.”

The shop also carries a number of supplies for anyone inspired to try their own hand at Turkish cooking. There are olive oils, olives, spices, beautiful brass skewers for kabobs, and a few Turkish cookbooks.

To reach Kiran’s Kitchen, call 508-696-3125. Fielder and Fielder Imports is online at www.fielderimports.com and advertises open houses in the newspapers on-Island. For more Indian and Turkish recipes, see www.mvmagazine.com.

Indian recipes, courtesy of Kiran Chhibber

Roti

Kiran makes this bread in minutes, her experienced hands forming the dough from a simple mixture of flour and water that she kneads slightly. It might take a few tries for the inexperienced. For some help, there are several videos you can find online.

Serves 4 to 6

• 1/2 cup white flour, plus extra for rolling

• 1 cup whole wheat or spelt flour

• 3/4 cup water

• 2 teaspoons olive oil

• Ghee or butter, to taste

1. In a bowl, mix together flours. Combine the water and olive oil, and add just enough to the flour to form a slightly wet dough. Knead for 1 to 2 minutes. The dough should be slightly moist, but not too sticky to handle. Let the dough rest for 15 to 30 minutes.

2. Heat a skillet or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Pull off a piece of the dough and form into a flattened ball. Dip both sides of the dough in some flour, and with a rolling pin, roll into a 5- or 6-inch round, the thickness of pie dough. Place on the ungreased, heated pan. After a few seconds, flip the dough over and let cook until all the raw spots are gone on that side. Flip again. Take a paper towel and ball it up. Use this to gently press down on the roti, around the perimeter, to help it puff up.

3. Spread roti with ghee or butter and serve hot.

Kiran’s Indian chicken

Serve this saucy, spicy chicken dish with basmati rice.

Serves 4 to 6

• 1 cup plain yogurt

• 1/4 cup finely ground almonds

• 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder

• 2 bay leaves

• 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

• 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1 tablespoon garam marsala

• 4 green cardamom pods, ground in a coffee grinder

• 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

• 1 tablespoon minced garlic

• 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, cubed

• 5 tablespoons butter

• 1 tablespoon corn oil

• 1 onion, finely minced

• 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

• 4 tablespoons cream

1. In a medium bowl, place the yogurt, ground almonds, all the dry spices, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, and salt, and blend together thoroughly. Put the chicken into a large mixing bowl and pour the yogurt mixture over the top. Set aside.

2. In a medium wok or frying pan, melt the butter with the oil. Add the onion and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the chicken mixture and stir-fry for approximately 7 to 10 minutes.

3. Stir in about half the cilantro and mix well. Add the cream and stir well. Bring to a boil.

4. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and serve.

Turkish recipes, courtesy of Evan Fielder

Lamb shish kebabs

These lamb kebabs are first marinated and then grilled. You can choose whether or not you want to intersperse vegetables (onions, peppers, and/or tomatoes) onto the skewer as well.

Serves 6

• 1/2 cup olive oil

• Juice of one lemon

• 1/4 cup red wine

• 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped and mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt (use the flat of a large knife)

• 1 small onion, coarsely grated (if you use a large onion, take the outside layers off to cut into pieces for the skewers)

• 1/2 teaspoon cumin

• 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

• 5 mint leaves, finely chopped

• 3 bay leaves, broken in half

• 2 to 3 pounds lamb (beef can be substituted), cut into one-inch cubes

• 1 onion for grilling (optional)

• 1 to 2 green or red peppers for grilling (optional)

• 1 pint cherry tomatoes for grilling (optional)

1. Put all the ingredients except grilling vegetables into a Ziploc bag to marinate, and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

2. Remove the lamb from the marinade bag. When skewering, use a flat skewer and intersperse with pieces of onion, peppers, and cherry tomatoes, as desired. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side, 8 to 10 minutes altogether. The lamb should be pink inside.

Zucchini fritters

Adapted from The Sultan’s Kitchen by Ozcan Ozan (Periplus Editions, 2001), these zucchini fritters make a nice appetizer, first course, or side dish. Sheep’s-milk feta cheese that comes in a block is preferable, but any feta will work. Serve with a yogurt sauce (such as the one in the September-October 2008 edition of Martha’s Vineyard Magazine; you can access the recipe online at www.mvmagazine.com).

Serves 6

• 1 1/2 pounds zucchini, grated (use big holes), about 4 to 5 cups

• 2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt

• 1 bunch scallions, chopped well (use both white and green parts)

• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

• 1 cup flour

• 3 eggs

• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

• 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

• 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• Freshly ground black pepper to taste

• Olive oil for frying

• Fresh parsley, lemon slices, and an assortment of olives for garnish

1. Grate zucchini into a bowl and stir in kosher salt. Place in a fine mesh sieve and let stand for 30 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Using your hands, squeeze the excess water from the grated zucchini and add to the large bowl.

3. Coat a hot skillet with olive oil. Spoon out zucchini mixture to form patties. Cook the fritters until they are golden brown, approximately 4 to 5 minutes per side.

4. As you cook the fritters in batches, transfer the ones that are done to a warm platter in the oven. Serve with yogurt sauce.