Sunday, February 25, 2018

Salsa Oaxaqueño

So this is a great all purpose, quick salsa that's good with anything from chips to smothering enchiladas. The only thing unique about it, other than it being really amazing, is that the woman who taught me the recipe--a native Oaxacan--said that it's a traditional salsa from the area because it doesn't use lime. Instead, it relies on a hefty dose of charred tomatoes and peppers to produce the acidic bite that limes usually provide. And to be sure, she was right. It's big, fresh, and bright.

One word of note, however, is that you really don't want to try to save 90 seconds by using a food processor. This salsa--like many in mexico--is meant to be ground by hand in a molcajete, though any mortar and pestle will work. However, a food processor or blender totally rips the ingredients to shreds, which imparts some funky flavors. Channel your inner abuela and prepare this the traditional way. Your tastebuds will thank you!

One ingredient note is that here in Oaxaca, the recipe calls for chiles de agua. They're a local heirloom that isn't commercially cultivated outside our little valley. So instead, I recommend a couple Anaheim chilies and a jalapeno as a totally suitable replacement. That said, you should totally use 2-4 fresh chiles de agua if you happen to see them at your local Mexican market.

Prep time: 1/2 mezcal-based cocktail

6 Roma tomatoes
2 Anaheim chilies
1-2 jalepenos
4 cloves garlic, coarsely minced
1/4 cup chopped onion
2-4 sprigs cilantro, leaves plucked off and stems discarded
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to broil or fire up your outdoor grill. Once hot, place tomatoes and peppers on the grill (or the top rack of your oven, with a foil-lined pan underneath to catch drippings) and char everything until well blistered/charred and the skin of the tomatoes falls away, rotating every few minutes so all sides are equally roasted. Don't overthink this, as it's impossible to overcook these, and a long as things are well-blistered, they're not undercooked. It will take your peppers about 10 minutes and your tomatoes about 15, but mileage will vary. Your tomato skins will probably fall off and stick to the rack. Don't worry about it.

Transfer peppers to a paper bag or sealed tupperware and place tomatoes in a bowl to cool. Do something fun for about 15 minutes or until everything has cooled enough to handle.

After you return, in your molcajete or mortar and pestle, first grind your garlic and onion into a paste. Then peel, stem, and seed peppers (doing this under a stream of cold water is easiest). Put your pepper flesh into the onion/garlic mixture and pulverize well. Now peel and quarter each tomato lengthwise and transfer all the tomatoes to the onion/garlic/pepper mixture. Grind until you've reached the desired level of chunkiness for your salsa.

Transfer to a serving bowl and stir in cilantro (don't grind it like you did the other ingredients!) and salt.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Moroccan "Meatballs" with Saffron-Lemon Tomato Sauce - A Recipe That Saved My Marriage

Ordinarily, I shy away from the processed fake meat crumbles at the grocery store. I've never really found much that they're good in. Then a few weeks ago, as part of a failed and traumatic "Hamburger Helper" experiment, I was left with an extra package of the sad, gritty crumbles in the back of my refrigerator. Desperate not to repeat my traumatic experiment that both led to two days of indigestion and a near collapse of my fledgling 6-month marriage, I decided to try making north African meatballs. And you know what? They were amazing! Since this recipe basically restored my marriage, I'll definitely be back at the store next week buying more of these once heretical faux-beef crumbles!

Prep time 3 cocktails

(I use bulgur instead of couscous, and really any grain will work - just adjust liquid and cooking time accordingly)
1/4 cup dried dates, chopped up to raisin-size if not already that small (or you can substitute raisins)
3/4 cup veggie stock
3/4 cup water
1 cup bulgur
2 TBSP butter (substitute faux butter to make this vegan)
Pinch of ground cinnamon

A few TBSP olive oil
1/2 medium/large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic
1/2 of a cinnamon stick
A pinch of saffron threads, crumbled up
1/3 cup veggie stock (store-bought or homemade)
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 TBSP finely grated lemon rind (using the finest side of a box grater or a microplane)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped coarsely

1/4 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
Pinch of ground cinnamon
2 pinches of ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
1 TBSP grated or minced ginger
1 12-ounce package faux hamburger crumbles
2 TBSP tomato paste
4 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup white flour
1/4 cup oats, ground into a flour using a spice/coffee grinder or food processor
3 TBSP finely chopped Italian parsley
3 TBSP finely chopped cilantro
3 TBSP chopped green onions
5 TBSP olive oil
Additional white flour for dusting

Garnishes (all optional):
Additional finely chopped cilantro, parsley, and green onion
A dollop or two of plain yogurt

First, get your bulgur or couscous started. Place the dates (or raisins) in a bowl and pour hot water over to soften. Let sit a few minutes before draining water. Meanwhile, combine the stock and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the bulgur and reduce to a low boil, cover, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 12-16 minutes. When liquid is fully absorbed and the grain is tender, remove from heat and stir in drained dates, butter, and cinnamon until butter is melted. Adjust salt, if needed. Set aside with the lid on.

While your bulgur is simmering, start the sauce: In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until fully translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Add the cinnamon stick and saffron and saute yet another minute. Now stir in the stock, tomatoes, wine, lemon rind, and salt. Reduce to simmer and let it reduce into a nice, somewhat thick pasta sauce consistency, about 10-25 minutes. After you've reached the desired consistency, stir in the olives and adjust salt to taste. Remove from heat.

Now make the meatballs. Combine the cloves, coriander, and cumin in a spice grinder and process into a powder. Now combine this with all the other meatball ingredients EXCEPT for the dusting flour and oil in a mixing bowl and stir until everything is incorporated. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat with the olive oil. Once the oil shimmers, you're ready to start adding meatballs. Make each meatball small--an inch in diamater and dust or dredge with flour. Then add it gently to the hot oil. Cook each side until it is fully browned, then carefully turn with a tongs. Repeat until the meatballs are deeply browned (but not burned) on all sides. Remove from the frying pan and blot dry with a paper towel.

Now take your frying pan off the burner and replace it with the tomato sauce, keeping the heat at medium. Gently stir the meatballs into the tomato sauce and let it heat up for just a minute.

Now serve the meatballs over a bed of bulgur/couscous, garnish, and serve.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Vegetarian bibimbap - the best recipe ever?

I regularly slave over meals for whole afternoons. It's not at all uncommon for me to ferment vegetables, nuts, or condiments for weeks in preparation of a particular dinner. My Thanksgiving menu planning starts in mid-June in a typical year. In addition to being a kitchen slut, I'm an over-analytical type-A scientist with OCD and too much spare time.... What I'm trying to say is that I tend to overdo things in the kitchen. So it came as a bit of a pleasant shock today when the love of my life told me no less than 7 times that the dinner I made last night was the best meal I've ever made. And it was a breeze to whip up. So gone are my days of sleuthing through a dozen spice stores to find the freshest ajowan seeds in order to make some obscure Pakistani dish. In the future, I'll just whip up a quick bibimbap and spend the rest of my newfound free time soaking up lavish praise and compliments.

So what the fuck is bibimbap? In addition to a wildly popular 1997 hit song by teenage heartthrob brother band Hansen, it's a wonderfully vibrant, flavorful, and satisfying Korean medley of rice, vegetables, eggs, and hot sauce. Optional are beef, if you're of the carnivorous persuasion or tofu, if you're a fellow Chaco-wearing, leg-shaving vegetarian such as myself. Either way, you simply not go wrong with this meal. Just ask the love of my life!

Prep time: 2 cocktails

1 cup forbidden black rice
1 TBSP rice vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

3 TBSP gochujang (a Korean chili paste available at Asian grocers or in the Asian aisle of many supermarkets)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp agave nectar
1 TBSP rice vinegar
1 tsp ginger, minced or very finely grated (optional)

1/2 cucumber, sliced into the thinnest wheels you can possibly make (a mandolin is helpful if you have one)
2 TBSP rice vinegar
Several TBSP neutral oil with high smoke point (canola or avocado oil are great options), divided
1 large carrot, julienned 
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced into 1/2-inch strips
4 cloves garlic
12 ounces (about one bunch) spinach, stems removed and chopped up a bit
1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP mirin cooking wine (available in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets)
4 scallions
4 eggs
4 ounces bean sprouts
1 sheet nori (sushi wrapper) or similar Korean seaweed, chopped up coarsely with a knife or scissors
Several generous pinches sesame seeds

First, get the rice started. Combine all the rice ingredients, along with 1 3/4 cup water in a rice cooker or saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Keep warm.

After the rice gets going, toss the cucumbers with several generous pinches of salt and place them in a colander or strainer to let excess water drip out. After 20-30 minutes, transfer cucumbers to a bowl and toss with the 2 TBSP of rice vinegar.

As the cucumbers are sitting in the colander, prepare the sauce by whisking together all the sauce ingredients. Set aside.

Now, heat a TBSP or so of your neutral cooking oil on medium heat in a frying pan or wok. Toss in the carrots and saute until they've turned golden are are a bit blistered, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Return your pan or wok to stovetop, reduce heat to medium (or a little less) and heat up a couple more TBSP of the neutral cooking oil. Add mushrooms and cook about 8 minutes, until they turn a bit golden. Add garlic and stir for  about 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook until it's well-wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, and scallions and remove from heat and transfer to a covered bowl to keep warm. 

Now use a large frying pan (you can use the same one from the vegetables if it's big enough) and add 1-2 more TBSP of your neutral cooking oil. When pan and oil are totally hot, add eggs and cook sunny-side-up. 

As eggs are finishing, build your bibimbap bowls. Start with a big mound of rice in the bottom. Add a small heap of cucumbers, carrots, mushroom/spinach combo, and bean sprouts. Top with eggs and garnish with pieces of seaweed and sesame seeds. Serve with generous drizzles of the hot sauce. Then drink massive amounts of soju and bask in the compliments of your dinner companions!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Porkless Dandan Mian

Dandan noodles are Schezuanese street noodles that are rich, spicy, and filling. Definitely my latest culinary obsession! The name comes from the stick called a dan dan that vendors walk down the street with carried over the shoulder. From the end of the stick hangs a pair of baskets: one with the noodles and the other with the sauce.  Though there's no stick involved here, there's enough big, amazing, rich Schezuan flavor here to make you think that you've magically been transported to Chengdu if you take a bite and close your eyes. I'm especially proud of the tofu/mushroom pork substitute in this recipe that will literally fool any carnivore you serve this dish to. If anybody bitches to you that they think tofu is gross, feed them this dish and tell them to shut the hell up!

Normally served fiery hot, my recipe is a bit more tame, but you can dial up the heat with chili flakes when you serve it (like I do!). Anything in the ingredient list that you don't already have in the pantry can be acquired at any Asian grocer and most ingredients will even be at a standard supermarket.

Prep time: 3 cocktails

8 ounces dry noodles

Tofu/mushroom "pork":
1 package extra firm tofu
2 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP fish sauce
2 TBSP brown sugar
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 TBSP Sambal Oelek (NOT Siracha--Sambal Oelek is much better!)
2 1/2 TBSP Chinese black vinegar (Chinkiang vinegar) - available at any Asian grocer
6 TBSP hong you (Szechuan chili oil), recipe here, divided
~12 shiitake or crimini mushrooms, washed
3 scallions, chopped
8 cloves garlic
1 TBSP ginger, grated

1/3 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock, store-bought or homemade
2 TBSP mirin cooking wine
1-2 TBSP oyster sauce
1-2 TBSP soy sauce
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil


2 tsp Schezuan peppercorns
Bean sprouts or steamed bok choi (optional)
Red chili flakes or the red chilies from the bottom of your Hong You (Szechuan chili oil)
3 scallions, chopped

Drain and rinse the block of tofu. Wrap it in a dish towel and place a weighted plate on top to press out excess moisture, at least 30 minutes. This step is critical if you want the right "pork" consistency for your tofu.

As tofu is getting pressed, make the broth by combining all the broth ingredients except the sesame oil in food processor and process until combined. Transfer to a pan on the stovetop, add toasted sesame oil, and keep warm it up to serving temperature and maintain at that temperature until you're ready to serve.

Prep the noodles according to their directions, rinse and set aside.

Place a small, dry frying pan on the stovetop and heat on medium heat. Add the Schezuan peppercorns and toast until they darken a little bit and become s bit smoky and fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder and process into a powder. Set aside.

Now make the tofu/mushroom pork:
In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, toasted sesame oil, vinegar, and Sambal Oelek. Set aside. After the tofu has been pressed for at least 30 minutes, crumble it up by hand into fairly small crumbles. Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add 3 TBSP hong you. Once the oil shimmers, add the crumbled tofu. Continue to stir and break up the tofu with a metal spatula until it is lightly browned and a bit crisped--but not totally fried! Remove from heat and transfer tofu to a plate. Now, take a food processor and pulse the mushrooms until the pieces are no larger than about 1/4" -- about 8 good pulses. Put the frying pan from the tofu right back on that medium-high burner and add the other 3 TBSP hong you. Then add the mushrooms. Saute until they turn a deeper brown, shrink down to about half of their original volume, and break down into a semi-paste. Then add the 3 TBSP scallions, garlic, and ginger. Saute another 1-2 minutes. Now incorporate the soy and fish sauce combination you made at the beginning of this step, as well as the tofu that you've set aside. Stir just until everything has been incorporated and remove from heat.

Now dish up by laying a bed of noodles in the bottom of the bowl. Add bean sprouts, tofu/mushroom pork, and ladle broth over the top. Garnish with a pinch of Schezuan peppercorn powder and as much red chili flakes or the red chilies from the bottom of your hong you as you can handle!! EAT! 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Gete's perfect tikil gomen recipe

When I first moved to Ethiopia, I lived with a host family for about 3 months. That's where my host mom, Gete, taught me to make tikil gomen. It was so odd to her that any man wanted to learn how to cook that she was actually nervous to have me around when she prepared injeera or firfir. But eventually we got to be great kitchen pals and I had a blast as her sous chef who could speak only about 8 words of Amharic. Anyhow, this is exactly how she makes her tikil gomen, which is just mild, sautéed cabbage (tikil gomen literally is just 'cabbage' in Amharic). It's a nice, lighter and milder option to serve with the more flavorful wots (stews) for a meal. It can be served hot or cold.

Gete's backyard kitchen. It's humble, but it gets the job done.

Inside the kitchen/pantry (you can just see the edge of the wood stove on the left). This is where I learned how to make the best dishes Ethiopia has to offer from the one and only Gete!

My host fam!

Prep time: 1 cocktail

4 TBSP oil
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, sliced on the diagonal into 1/2-inch ovals
1/2 head cabbage, core removed and sliced into 3/4-1 inch strips
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp tumeric
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalepeno, chopped

In a large pan that has a lid, heat the oil on medium. When hot, add onions and cover. Let the onions cook for 5 minutes, removing the lid once to stir.

Add carrots, and keep the pot covered for 5 more minutes, opening it once again halfway through to stir.

Add cabbage and keep covered another 5 minutes, opening once again halfway through to stir.

Add salt, ginger, tumeric, garlic, and jalepeno. Cover it all up again and cook until cabbage has softened fully and the moisture in the bottom of the pan has all cooked off, about 15-20 minutes, removing the lid only about every 3 minutes or so to stir. Viola! Gete's tikil gomen is ready!


A perfect condiment that goes great with grilled vegetables, on sandwiches, or as a side with just about any type of fish, meat, or egg dish.

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

1 cup finely minced Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 TBSP water
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
Red chili flakes to taste

Combine all in a small bowl and allow flavors to mingle at least a half hour before serving.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Arugula pesto... Because I'm a cheap bastard

So last weekend, some friends came to visit. We were going to make a big arugula salad, but alas, we had too much food so we never got around to assembling the salad. So a sad bag of arugula languished in the back of the refrigerator for several days until I finally pulled it out last night. I was going to toss it since I'm actually not a lover of salads that are heavy on arugula. But that shit is expensive. So rather than toss it, I decided to try to do something with it. Because I'm afrugula.

Yep. That was a whole paragraph of buildup for a joke that your overly cheesy uncle Ray would be ashamed to tell. But rest assured, the pesto is much better than the humor around here.

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

2 cups packed fresh arugula
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan (no canned or pre-shredded shit)
1/2 cup raw, unsalted walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, minced
Pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in food processor puree until smooth. Serve on top of pasta with your own terrible jokes. Excess pesto freezes well.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Achiote Recado Tacos... As good as Stanley Tucci eating kumquats while listening to the Pixies.

I have to admit I've never thought much about annatto, other than I got a pretty photo of it (above) on a spice plantation in Zanzibar a few years ago. Like the Omaha music scene or American soccer, while it's probably great, annatto isn't something any of us spend much time thinking about. Underrated is the word I'm looking for. Then, just like other underrated things--from kumquats to the subtle power of Stanley Tucci's acting, once you give it a try, you're totally hooked. You swoon at the thought of annatto-infused oil. You're that guy at a dinner party extolling the virtues of Indonesian annatto versus Brazilian (which, frankly, tastes like sawdust) to a captive stranger at the snack table as he desperately tries to escape your spice drivel. Which, is exactly why, my friend, you should give it a try. Become part of the underground culture who have fallen in love with this smooth, delicate spice the way way we quietly and hopelessly fell in love with the Pixies the first time we heard them. Welcome to the club.

So what is achiote recado? Well, I'm glad you asked. It's a spice blend from the Yucatan. It's a mix of annatto with other spices and sour orange juice. As I learned while living down there, it's both delicious and super popular. You can use it as a rub for any type of meat that you want to enjoy, but it goes great in tofu-based tacos too. Every time I make this, it brings me right back to eating 5 of these tacos for a couple bucks in an open air stall at the town market for lunch!

Prep time: 3 cocktails

Achiote recado:
1/4 cup annatto seeds
6 allspice berries
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp peppercorns
5 whole cloves
1 TBSP oregano
1/4 of a nutmeg pod, grated on a microplane or the finest side of a box grater
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice

3 TBSP canola or peanut oil
1 brick of extra-firm tofu, cut into 3/4 inch cubes

Roasted carrot refried black beans:
2 TBSP oil
1 very large carrot, cut into matchsticks
3/4 cup veggie stock, store-bought or homemade
1 14-oz can black beans, drained
Thyme (optional)

For the tacos:
Mexican style pickled onions
La Costena pickled jalepenos (available in the Mexican aisle of any grocery store), sliced
Cilantro, chopped
Tortillas, fresh or homemade

Additional optional toppings:
Avacado slices
Salsa macha

Combine all the first 5 ingredients of the achiote recado in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind into a powder. Transfer to a small, dry frying pan that's over medium heat and add oregano and grated nutmeg. Dry toast the spices until aromatic and just beginning to smoke a tiny bit, about 3-3 minutes. Transfer immediately to a food processor. Also, add garlic, salt and both juices to the spices in the food processor and process it.

For the tofu: in a large frying pan heat the 3 TBSP over medium-high heat. hen hot, add tofu and sauté, stirring with a spatula almost constantly, until the tofu is nicely golden brown but not burned. It may take some care to prevent the tofu from falling apart. When tofu is golden brown, add the achiote recado and stir it all together well.

While you're working on the tofu, make the beans. First in a medium saucepan, heat the 2 TBAP oil over medium heat. When hot, add the carrots and sauté until the carrots are nicely caramelized, but not burned, stirring frequently. Add veggie stock, beans, and thyme, if using. Bring to simmer for 3-5 minutes, then transfer to food processor and puree until it's smooth. Return to the saucepan and keep it warmed over super low heat.

Now assemble your tacos: throw down some beans and tofu on a tortilla and add a smattering of onions, jalepenos, and cilantro. Perfect!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Creamy cashew chutney!

This bad boy is from the south of India and goes great with literally just about any Indian dish as a cooling to medium-heat chutney.

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

1 cup raw, unsalted cashews, chopped up a bit
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2-inch piece ginger, chopped (no more!)
1-2 small hot chilies, chopped
1/2 cup water
2 TBSP cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Combine all ingredients EXCEPT cilantro in food processor and process until totally smooth (this will take a few minutes). Taste and adjust salt or lemon juice, if necessary. It should be a nice, spreadable chutney. If it's too thick, puree in a bit more water. Stir in cilantro and serve!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fireball Chutney!

Okay, so it's not actually that hot, but with a deep red color, this toasty, spicy chutney looks like the devil's favorite condiment. Goes great with any type of Indian dish that calls for a little added flavor and heat.

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

1/4 cup chana dal (a type of split chickpea that's available at an Indian grocer or online)
8 dried red chilies (you can dial this up or down depending on personal preference)
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 1/2 tsp tamarind concentrate (I use Tamicon brand, others brands may vary in potency, so be careful!)
1/4 cup onion, chopped
2/3 tsp salt

Over medium-low to medium heat, warm up the dal in a frying pan. Stirring constantly for about 5 minutes, fully toast (but don't burn!) the seeds.

Transfer the seeds to a coffee grinder and process into a smooth powder.

Transfer the chana dal powder and the other ingredients to a food processor and process until it's a smooth paste.