Sunday, November 23, 2014

Two places you must visit on crazy Route 17 in Paramus

A delicious Harvest Salad at the Suburban Diner on Route 17 in Paramus is served with a small bowl of soup, below.

Manhattan Clam Chowder.

Editor's note: Traffic seems to be building as Thanksgiving approaches, but I managed to make four stops for lunch or food shopping on Friday and Saturday.


New Jersey specializes in highways lined with entrances and exits to restaurants, stores and malls, ensuring drivers several heart-stopping moments on every trip.

But two good reasons to venture out on Route 17 in northern New Jersey are the Suburban Diner and Trader Joe's -- in that order.

On Friday, I met a friend at the diner for a heart-healthy lunch before we drove up to Trader Joe's, which, like every food store, shouldn't be visited on an empty stomach.

At the diner, I ordered a special of Harvest Salad, which came with a cup of soup ($11.95).

Fresh spinach was the foundation for roasted butternut squash, pear sections, crumbled blue cheese and dried cranberries, with, at my request, a creamy pear vinaigrette dressing on the side.

Refreshing and delicious, though the pear could have been riper.

Suburban Diner, 172 Route 17 north, Paramus; 1-201-261-2605.

I roasted Brussels Sprouts from Trader Joe's with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt, adding grated Pecorino Romano Cheese, red-pepper flakes and black pepper after I removed the pan from the oven.

Shopping frenzy

We thought the diner was busy, but when we got to Trader Joe's, the crowd of shoppers seemed even bigger.

But I didn't have to wait to check out. 

According to my receipts, I drove to Trader Joe's, shopped and checked out in 16 minutes.

I bought a large stalk of Brussels Sprouts ($2.99); two 64-ounce bottles of low-sodium Garden Patch, which is 100% vegetable juice ($3.49 each); and two 2-pound bags of sweet potatoes ($1.69 each).

For the meat eaters in the family, I picked up two packages of antibiotic- and nitrite-free bacon ($5.49 each); uncured, antibiotic-free beef hot dogs and jumbo hot dogs ($4.99 each).

A 4-pack of Organic Apple Sauce with Cinnamon was $1.99.

Trader Joe's, 404 Route 17 north, Paramus; 1-201-265-9624.

A 3-liter tin of Corrado's Extra Virgin Olive Oil was $23.99 on Saturday -- $10 more than the same quantity of EVOO at Fattal's in Paterson.

Stocking up on EVOO

After hearing about the poor olive harvests in Spain and Italy, and possible higher prices for extra-virgin olive oil, I drove to Fattal's in Paterson on Saturday.

I picked up three 3-liter bottles of Al Defah Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $13.99 each, adding them to the two I had at home.

I also picked up Fattal's Mini Meat Pies ($8.99), and a package of crushed dried mint ($6.99 a pound).

The EVOO in the Al Defah bottles is said to be from Palestine, and I've been using it for months in salads and cooking.

After visiting Fatal's, I crossed the border into Clifton to shop at Corrado's, a big, ethnic supermarket that once was the low-price leader.

But the prices for most produce, imported whole-wheat pasta, dried cod from China and Canada, and extra-virgin olive oil were higher than at the other stores I patronize regularly.

The only real bargain I saw were bananas for 39 cents a pound.

I didn't buy anything, and I don't think that has ever happened before on my infrequent visits to Corrado's.

Fattal's, 975-79 Main St., Paterson; 1-973-742-7125. Open 7 days, parking lot.

Corrado's Family Affair, 1578 Main Ave., Clifton; 1-973-340-0628. Open 7 days, large parking lot.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Flavors from the Middle Eastern kitchen bring meals alive

Pomegranate seeds and non-fat Greek yogurt lend a Middle Eastern accent to organic Spanish brown rice with black beans, garlic cloves, organic diced tomatoes and saffron.


This onetime bread lover couldn't get enough of loaves spread with a fragrant mixture of za'atar (Arabic for "thyme") and olive oil.

Fresh bread covered with za'atar -- dried thyme, sumac, salt and sesame seeds -- was terrific, but I also loved toasting it and hearing the mixture sizzle when it got hot.

Za'atar and yogurt, filled with diced cucumbers and dusted with dried mint, are flavors I recall fondly from the Syrian cooking I enjoyed growing up in Brooklyn.

I discovered Aleppo pepper -- a simple, mildly spicy crushed red pepper that adds color and flavor -- in the Syrian groceries and restaurants in Paterson's Middle Eastern bazaar. 

I continue to enjoy those flavors today.

Now, I use za'atar to season eggs, rice, fresh tomato slices and other food, relishing the sour sumac and crunchy sesame seeds.

In an omelet stuffed with smoked wild salmon, the sourness of the za'atar contrasts nicely with the slightly salty fish.

At dinner tonight, I tried to recall the flavors of my mother's mujaddara -- a rice-and-lentil dish served with yogurt, diced cucumbers and dried mint -- using thick Greek yogurt and hothouse cucumbers from Costco Wholesale, dried mint from Fattal's in Paterson and pomegranate seeds from ShopRite.

Aleppo pepper and za'atar thyme mixture can be added in the last few minutes of cooking an egg-white omelet stuffed with reduced-fat Swiss cheese or used liberally inside and outside the omelet.

I sprinkled thyme mixture over organic Spanish brown rice before I reheated it in the microwave, and used a thick layer, such as you'd find on za'atar bread, with two organic eggs fried sunny side up.
Aleppo pepper added color and flavor to fresh wild Atlantic cod when I poached the skinless fillets in Roasted Salsa Verde from Whole Foods Market, and organic diced tomatoes and fresh lime juice, both from Costco. The fish was $7.99 a pound at Costco.

Taking a break from eggs at breakfast, I plated the last piece of leftover cod with sweet potatoes and whole garlic cloves mashed with extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with sea salt, cinnamon, curry powder and other seasonings.

Za'atar thyme mixture, Aleppo pepper, dried mint and many other spices are available at Fattal's, 975-77 Main St., Paterson; 1-973-742-7125.

Fattal's is open 7 days a week and has a large parking lot.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How sweet this comfort food is -- baked, mashed or boiled

I sliced a large sweet potato, boiled the disks until they were tender and added them to a 10-inch whole-egg and egg-white frittata with chopped scallions and garlic; grated cheese and a little low-fat milk. A few slices of reduced-fat Swiss cheese went on top of the potatoes, as did black pepper and no-salt seasoning.

Editor's note: Costco Wholesale sells many foods in packages easily consumed by a family of four, but sweet potatoes come in 10-pound bags. Here are a few ways to use them.


At Costco Wholesale, you can buy 1 pound of organic salad mix, 2 pounds of tomatoes or three large hothouse cucumbers, all easily consumed by a family of four.

But sweet potatoes come in 10-pound bags ($8.49), meaning you'll have to get busy, if you want to use them all before they spoil.

Several years ago, my trainer at the gym suggested I go on a no-bread, no-pizza diet to lose weight, but added I could eat my fill of sweet potatoes.

I'm still on that diet and I still love sweet potatoes -- mashed with extra-virgin olive oil, sliced and boiled for use in frittatas or simply baked until the sugar oozes out of where you vent the skin with a fork.

At ShopRite in Paramus, 3-pound of bags of smaller sweet potatoes, washed and sized, are $2.99.

But the store also sells starchier yams, so make sure you get sweet potatoes.

If you Google the nutritional value of sweet potatoes v. yams, you will find contradictory entries.

A post on The Globe and Mail newspaper Web site says sweet potatoes have fewer calories and far more of an antioxidant called beta-carotene. 

"Sweet potatoes also have a lower glycemic index number than yams, meaning their carbohydrate is released more slowly into the bloodstream."

See: Which one's healthier?

I start the frittata on the stove and finish it under the broiler, above.

A filling breakfast of sweet-potato frittata and baked sweet potato, both accented with Valentina Mexican Hot Sauce (Black Label), which is available at Hackensack Market on Passaic Street.

I boil sweet potatoes with the skin and whole peeled garlic cloves in a loosely covered pot until tender, about 45 minutes; drain them, return them to the pot and add extra-virgin olive oil and almost anything I have in my spice cabinet -- black pepper, red-pepper flakes, sea salt, curry powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and more -- before mashing them. At breakfast, mashed sweet potatoes are great with eggs, omelets and frittatas. 
Fresh Atlantic cod, long-line caught in Iceland, is only $7.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. The skinless-and-boneless fillets, cut into serving pieces, poach in only 7 minutes in hot Roasted Salsa Verde from Whole Foods Market with Costco's organic diced tomatoes and fresh lime juice. At dinner tonight, the perfect side dish was mashed sweet potatoes, above.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Great Thai food in a familiar -- but worn -- setting close to home

At Wondee's in Hackensack, Pla Ning is a steamed whole fish smothered in mushrooms, ginger, celery, onion and pickled mustard greens, all served on a hot plate ($18).


The dining room at Wondee's in Hackensack got a little fresh paint this summer, but other problems with the dated decor remain at what I consider the best Thai restaurant in North Jersey.

Chef Wandee Suwangbutra is still at the top of her game, as the great food shows, and her prices can't be beat. 

Wondee's charges $18 for a whole fish that would cost well north of $20 anywhere else.

Down the street at Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant, a whole fish is listed online for $28.95. 

Wondee's is a BYO, Bangkok Thai has a liquor license. 

My favorite seafood dish at Wondee's is Ocean of Garlic ($18). The beautifully fried shrimp, squid, scallops and mussels are tender, grease-less and studded with garlic. Cutting the richness of the dish is a crunchy salad of pickled cabbage and carrots, and there is lettuce for wrapping the seafood, if that's how you want to eat it.

Torn carpet, uneven floor

On Saturday night, we were seated at a table on the raised floor, which apparently covers pipes, near the kitchen doors.

I had to be careful in placing my chair's rear legs away from a ramp that meets the floor in the front part of the dining room.

The dining room is clean, but the carpet is torn in places and patched with tape, and I noticed that one of the seats at a table across the way was stained.

Loyal customers who use the rear parking lot know enough to step up onto the raised floor when they enter and down when they leave.

Wandee rents the space she calls Wondee's (she spells her name with an "a").

Then food arrived

But when the food began to arrive, I stopped thinking about the decor, poured the Guinness Draught I brought with me and dug in.

First, I enjoyed a bracing soup with chili paste, lemon juice, mushrooms and crunchy shrimp called Thome Yum Koong.

My entree was Ocean of Garlic, which has become my favorite seafood dish at Wondee's.

Other members of the family had wonton soup, and shared a whole sea bass and Pineapple Fried Rice.

Pineapple Fried Rice includes shrimp, chicken and Thai sausage ($11).

I used a spoon to bring up shrimp and mushrooms from Thome Yum Koong, a spicy soup made with lemon juice, chili paste, kaffir lime leaves, galanga and lemongrass ($4 for a small bowl).

The meat eaters in the family always order Geuw Nam or wonton soup with roasted pork and vegetables ($3.50).

Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 201-883-1700. BYO, parking lot in rear. Closed Mondays, no delivery.