Joshua Ploeg is a food genius, and I'm so glad I got the treat of having him cook in my home because, according to this website, this is his last tour of this kind. We started out the day with Joshua at two. We hit the Food Source on Stockton first. I really don't shop at that store as much as I should. The produce section is giant, and it's much cheaper than other stores. Joshua picked up tons of stuff for the dinner, from kobocha to chard. Then, we went in search of a middle eastern market for my Iranian-themed dinner and after a false start, smiller hit on the idea of visiting the strip mall that's by the secret thrift store. This strip mall has both an Indian and Middle Eastern grocery in it (two separate stores, obvs). We were able to get everything at the Middle Eastern market so I still haven't checked out the other, but I will. This store was very exciting, with close-packed aisles filled to the brim with exotic spices, canned goods that ranged from fava beans to dolmas, pickles, olives, a full butcher counter that boasted of fresh merguez in that day (that's a tasty lamb sausage that I would definitely like to buy another time) and a dairy case stocked with treats like labneh. I got a wooden mortar and pestle to grind spices for under five bucks and we picked up some rose water for the desserts, among other things.
OK, OK long story short, on to the cooking. Joshua was chomping at the bit to get started so I showed him where everything was in the kitchen and sat back. He was a focused whirlwind for hours on end and I regret that in my anxiety about how I was going to seat everyone in our small apartment I didn't really watch him at work or question him. I hope to take more advantage of his expertise at Neon's mediterranean feast tonight. The salad and starter were ready right on time and somehow we squeezed everyone in and started to eat. The salad was romaine, arugula, oranges, red pepper and dates with a lemon-fenugreek dressing. The starter was roasted and fried kobocha with a spicy, oily dill-yogurt sauce. Joshua also made a spiced flatbread to soak up the sauce that had some interesting grains in it (that he told me the name of and I forgot). The combo of the flatbread and the sauce was one of my faves of the evening. Then we had a lentil and broadbean soup that a trillion different exciting flavors. The main dish was a fake chicken stew with onions, roasted tomatoes, roasted butternet squash, yogurt sauce and the most delicious rice I have ever eaten. He served this all with rosewater lemonade, which would be simple to make and was soooo good. I bet it would be even better with some kind of booze in it. He just used frozen lemonade, rose water and squeezed some fresh lemons in.
The dessert was so fucking good it disappeared quickly. It was a variation on a mamoul, which is a popular Syrian and Lebanese date-filled cookie. I'm telling you, the Lebanese have a way with desserts. This and that one they have at Maaloufs are like my two favorite desserts. He made a shortbread-like cookie with a strong rosewater flavor and stuffed it with a date/orange jam that he made. These were served warm out of the oven and dusted with powdered sugar.
And all this for twelve bucks a person and with the pleasure of Joshua's company! Amazing. His food made me realize how timid I am with spices in my own cooking and how I need to branch out and learn more. Most of the spices he used I have either never heard of or certainly never used. I want to get one of his cookbooks. You can buy his cookbooks here. They have funny titles. He also writes a column in this magazine. And that first website tells you everything else he has going, which is a lot. He tours the world cooking like eight months out of the year. He's an inspiration, for sure.