Believe me — there’s nothing wrong with coney dogs and paczkis. We’re pretty famous for them here in Detroit, and no other city makes them better. But, over the years, local chefs have proven that they can seriously do it all. Since brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks have popped up all over Detroit, there are cuisines here from all sides of the world — from Pakistani-style eats to vegan delights — and much more.
With the pandemic upending the restaurant biz, many local chefs are still getting creative in their kitchens. Like so many of us, they’re making do with what they have in their pantry and fridge. Unlike some of us, their on-the-fly creations are worth sharing.
We talked to five of our favorite Detroit chefs about their go-to dishes this season, from a decidedly non-wintry salad to a party appetizer for one. Their recipes are guaranteed to brighten up any dreary winter day — and you can whip them up pretty easily right at home.
Esteban Castro’s All City Chili (bottom-of-the-fridge method)
I remember the way my mother Doris could always make a dinner happen from whatever was in the bottom of the fridge. She would tell me, ” Boy, go get the bottom of that fridge out and let’s see what we’ve got for tonight.”
It was amazing to see how creativity could overcome poverty, and it is one of the many great lessons that I carry with me to this day.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of her passing, but the love, wisdom and food culture live on. If she were here, she would love it if all of you could dig down deep in your hearts (and fridges) to cook with greater passion during this excessive time we all have at home. I’m proud to share her method of creating delicious chaos with far too many pots, pans and skillets for just one meal. Trust me, it will be worth the trouble!
–Esteban Castro, chef and owner, Esto’s Garage. (Not currently open — brick-and-mortar coming soon).
All City Chili
You will need: A crockpot and multiple skillets for this recipe.
- Good olive oil
- 3 pounds ground sirloin
- 1 pound cooked shredded pork (smoked), to be added to crockpot
- 16 ounces black beans
- 16 ounces pinto beans
- 16 ounces northern white beans
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- 1 summer squash
- 2 yellow onions
- 2 shallots
- 1 red bell pepper
- 2 jalapeños
- 2 poblano peppers
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bundle fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon chili powder/paprika
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- Black pepper
- Balsamic vinegar (or can use Old Grand-Dad whiskey)
*You may substitute any of these ingredients with whatever is in the bottom of your fridge/freezer. However, the spices and sequence of preparation is sacred!
- Dice the vegetables, including jalapeños (save the garlic and cilantro for later), and sear the diced veggies in a skillet.
- In a large skillet, add a few tablespoons of oil and a big pinch of salt. You want them to be reduced and sticky in a pre-paste form. Turn off and allow it to rest. Save a little of each of these to add to the chili later during simmer mode for good texture variety.
- In another skillet, brown the ground sirloin with 3 tablespoons olive oil and lime juice. Break up the beef and make sure it gets browned well. Do not drain any rendered fat, as this is a leaner meat. Once browned, add cumin, smoked paprika/chili powder, garlic powder, black pepper and sea salt.
- Mix the above seasonings in with the beef fat, and add additional olive oil if needed. Douse with balsamic vinegar or a little Old Grand-Dad whiskey to deglaze the skillet. The flavors will burst forth from the spices at this point and become one with the meat.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and reserved chopped veggies from earlier.
- Simmer the ground sirloin for 10 minutes, then add all the good stuff (aka: sofrito) from the other skillet. This is also a good time to add the minced garlic to the mix.
- Add the three types of beans and bring to a medium simmer for another 15 minutes. (If the beans are canned, first rinse them partially.)
- Drop your cooking temperature to a low setting for a couple of hours as you transfer everything into your favorite crock pot, including pork. Stir occasionally and add spice as needed. Add a cup or two of heated water to the thickened sauce.
- You will notice true day-old flavor and a silky smooth texture from the caramelized vegetables. Garnish with cilantro, tortilla chips or cheese crackers — and enjoy!
Maryam Khan’s Tuna Nicoise Salad
As someone who was born in the heat of July and is constantly seeking refuge from the cold in these dreary winter months, I’ve found that a pseudo-spring fever has subconsciously crept its way into my home cooked meals, and I’m not mad about it. We’ve all heard that you should dress for the job you want. I suppose I’ve just started to cook for the weather I desire.
One of the most common staple items that I make a few times a month is my riff on a classic Tuna Nicoise Salad. This isn’t the typical winter favorite that I’d be all too quick to pass the recipe along to my group of cook friends. That would usually consist of a spicy lamb stew or coconut fish curry; something that would stick to your ribs. This is the dish I can make with my eyes closed when I have just had it with days of dinner delivery and rich foods that require a nap post-consumption. It tastes just as good for lunch as it does for dinner, as it does at midnight when I’m hungry enough for fourth meal.
The best part about this recipe, however, is that it never fails to leave me just the right amount of satiated but not too full, and that balancing act is one I’ve found to be difficult to execute. I hope that this coupling of dressed-up tuna, hearty potatoes, a perfectly cooked egg or two and the vinegary-sweet greens and veggies gives you the same warm feeling it gives me — and the illusion of springtime sun.
Tuna Nicoise Salad
For the Tuna:
- 2 cans solid white tuna (I prefer the brands Ortiz or Cento packed in olive oil)
- 1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 lemon
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons pickle juice
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- Handful of chopped cilantro
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Red wine vinegar
- Dijon mustard
- Honey mustard dressing (Briannas is my all-time favorite)
- Red pepper flakes
- 2 Russet potatoes
- A heaping handful of green beans, ends trimmed, cut in half
- 2 eggs
- 2 shallots, sliced
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ red onion
- Heap of greens of your choice. (I prefer Tuscan kale, cut into bite-size pieces)
- 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
- Paprika, salt and pepper to taste
- Optional if you’re extra hungry: Add an avocado, sliced
*All measurements are suggestions — go by taste
- Preheat your oven to 350 F. Cut the potato into 1-inch cubes, toss in olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika and half the garlic. Bake until the potatoes are golden brown and cooked through, flipping them halfway, about 20 minutes total.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil and blanch the green beans by boiling them until they’re just cooked, about 4-5 minutes, then immediately putting them in ice cold water to stop the cooking. Place the drained green beans in a sauté pan with a drizzle of olive oil, add more salt, pepper, paprika, and the remaining garlic. Sauté on medium-high heat until the skin is slightly blistered. Set aside.
- In a small pot, bring your eggs to a boil for 7 minutes to get a nice jammy yolk and run them under cold water after the 7 minutes. Peel when cooled.
- Slice your halved red onion. In a bowl, add on top of it a pinch of salt and sugar in equal parts, then cover the onions halfway with red wine vinegar and give them a good mix. Leave it in the fridge while you work to produce a quick-pickled red onion.
- If your tuna is packed in water, be sure to drain it well. If it’s packed in oil, leave a bit in the tuna. That’s good stuff. Combine all the ingredients for the tuna, adjust your seasonings and set aside.
- Combine all ingredients for the vinaigrette in a small bowl, whisk together and adjust according to your taste. Toss with your greens and sliced shallot, reserving a small amount of vinaigrette for plating.
- To plate, start with a bed of the dressed greens and shallot, add sliced cherry tomatoes, avocado if you opted for it, the pickled red onion, potatoes and green beans. On top of that, add the dressed tuna, cut your peeled boiled eggs into halves or quarters and place them along the edges. Finish the salad with a small drizzle of the remaining vinaigrette. Enjoy.
*Variations: In the summer months when produce is vibrant and abundant, pretty much anything makes a wonderful addition to this salad. Don’t be afraid to swap out or add in watermelon, radish, fresh cucumber, parsley, etc., etc. The limit to experimentation with this recipe does not exist.
Kate Williams’ Potted Crab with Pimento
This is a nod to all the potted fish in my life — but it also feels waaaaayyyy fancier than it is and we need that during COVID times… It’s the little things. Like when I put on lipstick and curl my hair in the middle of the day just to feel more glamorous than my normal PJs and top bun (although my top bun is a lifestyle and would certainly even make an appearance at the Oscars, as soon as Leo realizes our destiny and invites me as his date).
Guys, we’re in a pandemic! Let’s take the wins where we can find ’em. Do the things that make you feel fancy.
So, I took the idea of traditional potted fish (Irish, English, etc.) and combined it with one of my mom’s favorite appetizers to make when we’d have company. Since we can’t have company right now, this is just for you. It’s perfectly trashy in that 1960s American way, where the dish wasn’t much more than crab and cream cheese served on crackers. I’ve lightened it up just a bit, but it’s still creamy and perfectly utilitarian — you can store it covered in the clarified butter for a pretty long time, then eat it cold with toast or crackers.
Crab has a sweetness to it that works really well here, but I would also substitute cooked or canned whitefish or salmon. I wouldn’t use canned tuna in this, although I am a tuna fish enthusiast. It’s best enjoyed in your COVID best with a glass of bubbles. You deserve it.
–Kate Williams, chef/owner at Lady of the House. Open for curbside pick-up.
Potted Crab with Pimento
Serves 6 to 8 (times that you want to snack on it)
- 1 pound fresh or canned crab meat
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted, plus more for serving
- ½ cup finely chopped pimento peppers
- ½ cup finely chopped chives
- ¼ cup medium dry sherry
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Salt to taste
In a large bowl, whip together all of the ingredients until well combined. Divide the mixture between ramekins and top each off with a drizzle of melted butter. Chill for at least two hours and eat with crackers.
Jennifer Jackson and Justin Tootla’s Xinjiang Cumin Pork
When we were living in Chicago and running Thank You Chinese, we’d go to Chinatown as frequently as our schedules would allow and try anything and everything we could. One restaurant (the name escapes us) specializes in all things lamb noodles, breads, etc. We saw this on the menu and had never seen or heard of it, so naturally we ordered it! It was amazing.
It wasn’t until about a year ago that we saw it again at 168 Asian Mart in Madison Heights and we recently happened upon a recipe in Carolyn Phillips’ “All Under Heaven,” which we adapted our version from. So, with the context we found from the cookbook, we decided to put it on the menu. It comes from Xinjiang and tells the story of trade and immigration through its proximity to the Silk Road.
-Jennifer Jackson and Justin Tootla, owners/chefs at Bunny Bunny. Open for delivery and carry-out.
Xinjiang Cumin Pork
- 8 ounces thin-cut pork chop (or you could substitute beef, chicken or lamb as long as it’s a tender cut and can be cooked quickly)
- 1 small onion, julienned (strips)
- 1 green pepper, julienned (strips)
- 1 tsp toasted cumin seed
- 1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 jalapeño (optional)
- 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup black vinegar (can be purchased at an Asian market)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or thinly cut
- 1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce (we make our own, but it can be purchased at an Asian market)
- 4 pieces flatbread — store bought or see recipe below
- Cut the pork chop into thin strips. Marinate the strips in the soy, black vinegar, 1/2 cup water, garlic and a little jalapeño, if using. Let that sit about 10 minutes.
- Get a cast iron or your favorite pan ripping hot, add the pork first and brown, then add onion, green pepper, jalapeño and the toasted cumin. Cook for a couple more minutes. You still want some crunch to the vegetables. Finish with a squeeze of lemon.
- Warm your flatbread and top with pork and vegetables, a little hoisin and cilantro. Enjoy!
Yields 10 at 90 grams each
- 3 and 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/3 cup lard or crisco
- 1 and 1/3 cups hot water
- In a mixer with dough attachment (or by hand!), add flour, baking powder and lard. Slowly add in the hot water. Knead until a ball forms. Wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
- After it has rested, portion into 90-gram dough balls. Roll out as thin as you can (it’s okay if they aren’t perfect circles). If you are making several, put flour between each tortilla and cover with a damp towel until you are ready to cook them.
- Get a pan (preferably large cast iron) smoking hot and add a tiny bit of oil. Move the oil around the pan and add your tortilla, it should start browning, blistering and puffing in spots, once that starts to happen flip over — BE CAREFUL! Same thing on that side, and keep making them until you have what you need. Keep them on a tray covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
Que’s Roasted Lentil and Vegetable Soup
This is an amazing leafy green and yummy soup, perfect for winter days to warm you up with amazing flavor.
Roasted Lentil and Vegetable Soup
- 1 butternut squash, small
- 2 carrots
- 1/4 teaspoon chilies, dried
- 4 cloves garlic, skin on
- 4 bunches kale (stems optional)
- 1 onion
- 1 cup of dried red or green lentils
- 1 teaspoon thyme, dried
- 6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon pepper blend
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 450 F.
- Add carrots, squash and garlic to a large baking sheet and drizzle with half of the olive oil, then season with a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. Transfer to the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
- When the vegetables are almost done cooking, start the rest of the soup. In a large pot, heat remaining oil on medium-high heat. Add onion, sprinkle with sea salt and cook for 3-4 minutes until tender.
- Pour in lentils, thyme and chilies, stir to combine, and cook for an additional 30 seconds until you’re literally overwhelmed by the aroma!
- Once the vegetables are done roasting, remove pan from the oven and remove skins from garlic cloves. Then transfer the vegetables to the pot with the onion mixture.
- Cover with broth, just enough to cover all of the vegetables, and simmer on low for 20 minutes. (It’s best to start with less broth and add more at the end as needed).
- Add chopped kale, adjust broth level as needed to keep veggies covered, stir to combine and simmer on low for an additional 10 minutes.
- If you find the soup too liquidy, simply use the back of a fork to squash a few pieces of squash to thicken the soup.
- Season with additional pepper blend to taste.
- Guessss whatttt!!! It’s time to eat!!!! I hope you love it as much as I do!!