Monday, December 10, 2012

Sweet and Sour Carrot Jelly

A great all purpose condiment for just about any spicy meal, but this shines with bolani.

Prep time: 1/2 cocktail

½ pound carrots
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2-1 jalapeño pepper, chopped (optional, if you want to add some heat)
½ tsp coriander,
¼ tsp dried, ground ginger
1 cup water
2 tsp cornstarch

Combine everything except corn starch in food processor. Puree well. Transfer to a small saucepan on medium heat and bring to boil. Once boiling, whisk the cornstarch with 1 TBSP water in a small dish with a fork until cornstarch is dissolved. Stir it into the saucepan. Continue boiling a few more minutes, or until you have reached the consistency of applesauce. Remove from heat and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Cilantro Chutney (Chutni Gashneez)

Cilantro chutney along with garlic-mint yogurt, is served with virtually every meal in Afghanistan. This condiment is served on top of just about everything from bolani to kebabs.

There are many variations, but here’s a really good, straightforward preparation.

1 big bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped 
3 garlic cloves 
1 jalepeno pepper, chopped 
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
3 TBSP lemon juice
3/4 tsp salt 
2 tsp sugar

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until you get a uniform consistency. Now the taste test: like any good pesto, you should be able to perfectly taste each flavor: lemon, walnuts, pepper/garlic, cilantro, salt, and a slight sweetness. In addition to each flavor having equal weight, they should blend harmoniously into one superb-tasting sauce. Because your salt, jalapenos, lemons, or other items may vary in strength or size from batch to batch, remember that the taste test is what tells you you’re done; not the instructions.

Once you have made any necessary flavor adjustments, chill before serving.

Ridiculously Delicious Kadu Bouranee

This is another of my favorite Afghan dishes. Served with challaw (Afghan spiced rice) and topped with garlic mint yogurt sauce, this sweet-savory dish is easy and stupid-delicious. If sugar pie pumpkins are available, they make a great alternative to butternut squash. Eat often and love life!

Prep time: 2 cocktails

6 TBSP butter or oil, divided
3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-2-inch cubes
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 TBSP tomato paste
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
3 TBSP white sugar
2 cups vegetable stock
1 batch Challaw 

Melt half the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the butternut squash cubes and sauté about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it becomes a browned—but not burned—on the outsides. Remove from heat and set aside.

Melt the other half of the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and sauté another 1 minute. Now stir in the tomato paste, turmeric, coriander, sugar, veggie stock and bring to a boil.

Once everything reaches a boil, add the squash and reduce to a simmer and let cook down, uncovered, until the squash is tender, but not mushy—about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, but be careful not to mash the squash. If all the liquid cooks off before the squash is done, add a bit more stock or water to prevent the squash from burning.

Serve over warm challaw and top with a good portion of yogurt sauce. You can garnish with minced fresh parsley, cilantro, or mint, if available. 

Brown Rice Challow

Challow, a spiced Afghan rice, is usually made with basmati. I prefer brown, but you can use pretty much anything. 

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail (not including baking time)  

1 cup brown rice
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP oil
2 tsp cardamom
2 tsp whole cumin seeds

Preheat oven to 350.

Put 3 1/2 cups water in a Dutch oven or other saucepan that's oven safe and has a snug lid. Bring to boil.

While you're waiting for the water to boil. Soak rice in a bowl full of cold water a minute and work it well with your fingers. Drain, rinse, and repeat a couple times.

Once the pot of water is boiling, add your strained rice. Bring to boil, uncovered and boil 10 minutes.

Stir in remaining ingredients and put lid on and put the pot into the oven. Bake about an hour until the water is all absorbed and the rice is tender.

After you remove it, let it rest for a few minutes and fluff with a fork before serving.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Afghani Garlic-Mint Yogurt

An all-purpose topping that goes great on any Afghani food or is good as a dip. If you want to try making Greek yogurt yourself, here's how you do it.

16 ounces plain Greek yogurt (full fat or lowfat only—no nonfat)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP dried mint
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Combine everything into a bowl and stir well. Let sit in refrigerator, covered, at least an hour before serving. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Walnut-Gorgonzola Ravioli with Sun-Dried Tomato Sage Pesto

We had my special ladyfriend's relatives over for dinner a few nights ago and made this little gem. They liked it so much, I thought they were going to move in. I share this recipe so that you too can get on the good side with your in-laws. Served with a Cesar salad, good bread, and excessive volumes of red wine, there's no way you can end the night not a hero.

While you don't need any special equipment, an inexpensive crank-powered pasta roller is a big help. Well worth the investment. A $5 ravioli cutter is also a great investment, but a pizza slicer or even a sharp knife will substitute just fine--you just won't have the fun crimped edges.

Note that this pesto is also really great on pasta in place of traditional basil pesto if you’re looking for something new. And the cheese filling goes really well in lasagna recipes.

Prep time: 3 cocktails

2 cups rehydrated, drained sun dried tomatoes
¾ cup walnuts
1 cup fresh sage leaves, lightly packed
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
1 tsp pepper
½ cup water
½ cup grated high-quality Parmesan Reggiano

¾ cup ricotta (part skim is fine)
½ cup grated mozzarella        
2/3 cup crumbled gorgonzola
½ cup grated Parmesan Reggiano 
2 eggs
1 cup walnuts
3/4 tsp salt
1 TBSP fresh basil or Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced (optional)
1 TBSP shallot, finely minced (optional)

2 large eggs
1 TBSP Water (a bit more if you're at altitude, like me)
Pinch salt
1 3/4 cup white flour
Additional flour for rolling

Combine all pesto ingredients in food processor and process until smooth. Add additional salt to adjust flavor and additional water if the consistency to too thick. Transfer to another container and set in refrigerator.

Wash and dry food processor. Add all the filling ingredients, except for basil or parsley and shallot and process until it makes a totally smooth cheesy filling. Stir in the herbs and shallot and set aside.

In large mixing bowl, mix all dough ingredients except flour. Then, as you continue to mix, gradually add flour. You want a cohesive ball that isn't sticky. If you're not there, add water or flour as needed. Remove dough from bowl and roll as thinly as possible on a floured surface without making holes with rolling pin or pasta roller. Thickness of 1/8 inch or less is ideal. If you don’t have a lot of counter space you’ll probably have to break the dough into a few smaller batches for rolling.

Now you’re ready to assemble the raviolis. Cut rolled dough into 4-by-3-inch rectangles (a pizza slicer works great for this, if you’ve got one handy). Brush edges with a little bit of water. Place a heaping tablespoon (or so) of filling in middle. Fold the ravioli over long-ways and tightly pinch it shut with your fingers. The raviolis should close well unless there’s too much filling—adjust ravioli size or filling amount, if necessary. As you set aside the prepared raviolis, note that they’re pretty sticky, so it’s a good idea to set them on a floured surface and, if you stack them, to separate layers with wax paper.

(Note that if you use a pasta roller and have pretty uniform-shaped pasta sheets, it's faster to just take 1 full pasta sheet, put dollops of filling a few inches apart, brush the spaces in between with water, then put another sheet on top, seal each with your fingertips, and cut.)

To cook, boil the raviolis for 5-7 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. Note that after cooking, leftover  raviolis will stick together in the fridge, so only cook as many as you need. Any uncooked raviolis will be just fine in the refrigerator for several days (separated with wax paper) until you cook them.

Serve topped with pesto and additional fresh-grated Parmesan! Eat!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Artichoke, Goat Cheese, and Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Let's face it: most artichoke dips are pretty shitty. They tend to lack any flavor or personality besides maybe salt. But this version has a great combination of fresh herbs, cheesiness, artichoke tang and sweetness provided by the roasted peppers. It's pretty rad, if I say so myself. It'll make you, along with the spiked eggnog, the hit of the holiday party.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

2 medium bell peppers
10 ounces cherve goat cheese
2 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts, drained (don’t use marinated type)
½ cup dry white wine
½ tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 small cloves garlic
2 TBSP white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
Scant 1 tsp dried thyme
Several good grinds of black pepper (or more to taste)
½ cup parsley, finely minced

Preheat oven to broil.

Put the peppers in or over a foil-lined pan and roast until the tops get nice and blackened—about 15-20 minutes. Flip and repeat. When nice and blackened, remove the peppers from the oven and place in a paper or plastic bag. Seal tightly and set aside until the peppers have cooled enough to handle. Remove stem, seeds, and skin and discard (this is easier under running cold water). Chop up a bit.

Combine peppers and all other ingredients, except parsley in food processor. Process well, until you have a nice smooth consistency. Transfer to a saucepan and stir in parsley. Over medium heat, stir constantly until the dip reaches a boil. Serve warm with pita chips or crackers.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Quanta Firfir

After being a vegetarian blog for 2 1/2 years, this is the first-ever meat recipe.

Why? Because no single food is more uniquely, awesomely, authentically Ethiopian than quanta firfir. Not only that, but it's really uncommon here--even among Ethiopian restaurants.

When I first moved to Ethiopia, I hated this dish. Injera topped with injera, I used to call it. My logic was that it was like having a burrito stuffed with old tortilla bits. But as the months passed, I came to to love this big, scrappy mess of a meal. I eventually found myself manically craving quanta firfir when I was forced the indignity of going a couple days without. This dish, usually eaten at breakfast, is a particularly potent hangover cure.

Note that we're not fucking around here. This meal isn't for amateurs. It's easy to make, but you need to plan ahead, and you have to love, love, LOVE injera.

Before you can even make this recipe, you need to have some old injera on hand. Take that injera and tear it into bite-size pieces (roughly 1-2 inch squares). Set it all out on a cooling rack or some other place where it can dry completely. You'll also need to make a batch of the stuff fresh for this meal. It's a lot of legwork, but you can also pick the stuff up easily enough if you live near an Ethiopian restaurant or grocer. (Tell the proprietor you're making quanta firfir and you'll probably get invited to their house for the next holiday. Like I said, this isn't amateur shit.)

Prep time: 1 cup of coffee, preferably Ethiopian Yirgachefe

2 medium onions, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic
2 TBSP berbere
2 cups water
2-3 ounces beef jerky, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (use only plain jerky; not anything flavored, like teriyaki)
1 tsp salt
3 big handfuls fully-dried injera that has been torn up into bite-size pieces
A couple hard-boiled eggs, peeled (optional)
Fresh injera for serving

Heat a dry saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and sweat them, without any oil, until they become translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add oil and saute another couple minutes. Add half the garlic and saute yet another couple minutes.

Add berbere and continue to saute. The mixture will start to stick. When it does, add a couple TBSP of the water. Repeat this process until you only have 3/4 of a cup of water left. Then add the water, the rest of the garlic, beef jerky, and salt and immediately remove the pan from the heat and let rest for 60 seconds.

Now stir in the injera chips VERY GENTLY, so as not to break them. Continue to stir gently until all the liquid is absorbed. The injera should be pretty spongy, so if it isn't, stir in a bit more water.

Serve with the eggs on top and, well, more injera (fresh injera this time). 

Truly Authentic Mesir Wot

A few years ago, I posted a really great mesir wot recipe. But after I spent the last couple years living in Ethiopia, I realized that while awesome, the recipe wasn't quite authentic. With the help of my good Ethiopian friend Ruti, I came up with this recipe that is more full-flavored and dead-on authentic. It's identical to the mesir wot I used to order at the little food shack across from my house.

Note—it’s important to NOT use a non-stick pan for this. The recipe involves scalding the lentils to the pot bottom and using a Teflon-coated pot will ruin the coating and ensure that you end up with a lot of Teflon flakes in your dinner. Use cast-iron, ceramic-lined, or a plain metal pot, like all old Ethiopian women do.

Prep time: 3 cocktails

4 TBSP oil
2 medium onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red lentils

½ tsp ground cardamom
3 TBSP berbere
1 tsp salt or to taste
A pinch or two of sugar (optional)

Heat your large non-nonstick sauce pan, over medium to med-high heat with just the onions in it; no oil yet. (The idea is to sweat some of the moisture out before adding the oil and other ingredients.) Stir the onions almost constantly while doing this. Sweat them for several minutes, not allowing them to stick to the bottom, until they've become translucent. Add oil and sauté a few more minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic, sauté a few additional minutes.

Now add the cardamom and berbere, as well as a couple tablespoons water. Reduce your heat a notch and stir very frequently for about 10 minutes, adding an additional splash of water if necessary to avoid sticking.

Add ¼ cup of water and lentils. Sauté, stirring with a metal spatula almost constantly, until water is absorbed. Continue adding water about ¼ cup at a time. The idea is that you want the lentils to scorch to the bottom a bit each time but not burn. You then scrape the caramelized lentil gunk into the rest of the wot to give it a sweet, nutty flavor. Continue doing this until the lentils are fully cooked. Then top off with enough water to give it a nice, wot consistency. Adjust seasoning an add salt and a bit of sugar, if necessary.

Serve with injera and other delicious Ethiopian vittles.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Two Words That Will Change Your Thanksgiving: Stuffing Tamales

If you want your Thanksgiving to be an absolute slam dunk this week, serve this. You could burn the turkey, forget the pies, and substitute sand and shaving cream for the green bean casserole, but as long as you make these tamales, people will rave about how good dinner was for the next five years. I'm serious about this.

This a modified version from Tamales 101: A Beginners Guide to Making Traditional Tamales. Which is the most remarkable tamale cookbook I've ever seen. Go buy two copies after you make this recipe. 

You serve these tamales with good ol’ fashioned gravy as the sauce. SO GOOD!

Prep time: 4 cocktails (but can be made weeks ahead of time and frozen)

1 package dried corn husks
1 batch Masa from my tamale recipe
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (don’t use margarine or oil)
1 bunch celery, leaves included, chopped finely
2 large onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 TBSP fresh sage, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 pound mushrooms, chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup pine nuts, toasted
8 cups day-old bread, (about 12 slices), cut into ½-inch squares and toasted
2 cups veggie stock

Start by soaking the corn husks in a big bowl. Submerge them in hot water and let them soak for at least a half hour. You’ll want at least 50 husks. You’ll also need something heavy to set on top of the husks so they remain submerged. I use a brick.

In large pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add celery and onions. Increase heat to high and bring to a fast simmer, stirring constantly. Now, reduce to medium low, cover and cook for 5-10 minutes stirring often and checking in.

Once the celery is translucent, add garlic, sage, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook uncovered 5 more minutes. Add mushrooms, apple, raisins, and pine nuts. Cook 5 more minutes and remove from heat.  Let cool until it’s cool to the touch.

Now combine the celery mixture and bread. Toss well with your hands. Then add the stock ½ cup at a time, tossing the whole time.

Return this mixture to the stovetop and cook 5-8 minutes on medium heat, or until heated through. Now you’re ready to make the tamales.

It’s now time to assemble the tamales. This is the most time-consuming part of the operation and is a lot smoother if you can recruit a couple assistants and make an assembly line.

Take a fully-soaked corn husk and figure out which is the smoothest side. Set on the counter with smooth side facing up. The stuffing amount will vary depending on the size of the corn husks. Spread a thin layer of the masa dough on the husk, leaving about ½-inch space to the edges. Make sure there are no gaps or holes in the coating. Now spoon a bit of filling on top, stopping a bit short of the dough’s edge.

Roll the tamale cigarette-style. When you roll it up, make sure you the dough’s edges meet to enclose all the filling. Tie the two ends securely with the string. If you don’t have string, you can tear strips off soaked corn husks to do the job, but this takes a bit longer and the husk strips are easy to tear when tightly pulled.

At this point, you can freeze any tamales you don’t plan on cooking right away. Just stack in a large Tupperware or zip lock bag and place in freezer. You can later prepare frozen tamales by following the steaming directions (but add a couple extra minutes). Frozen tamales can also be steamed inside their husks right in the microwave (though most purists would pooh-pooh the practice). Microwave cooking times vary on size and number cooked, but typically ranges from 3-10 minutes.

To steam right away, use a bamboo or metal steamer. Stack the tamales so there’s lots of circulation space. Cover and cook for about an hour or until the masa gets nice and firm and doesn’t want to stick to the wrapper when you open it up. Don’t forget to check the water level occasionally! Steaming time varies from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on tamale thickness and how tightly they’re packed in the steamer.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kimchi Chigae

Pronounced "chee-gay", this dish is actually best when you use super over-ripe kimchi. So opening the jar instantly makes your kitchen smell like an unkept college football locker room, you're in luck! And not to brag, but this recipe is better than any I've ever had in a restaurant. So if you're looking to expand your Korean repertoire and try something a little unusual, this is the ticket!

Prep time: 1 1/2 cocktails

3 TBSP peanut oil
3-4 cups kimchi (over-fermented is best), drained and liquid reserved
1-inch piece of ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic
2 Jalepeno peppers (optional)
2 TBSP Braggs
1 veggie bouillon cube
2 tsp sugar
1 12-ounce package firm tofu, drained and cut into ¾-inch cubes
3 green onions, chopped
A touch of toasted sesame oil
Prepared rice (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When hot, add drained kimchi, ginger, garlic and peppers/Siracha. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add Braggs, bouillon cubes, sugar, tofu, and reserved kimchi juice then fill the pot with water so that it comes a couple inches above the kimchi. Bring the soup to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add in green onions and continue cooking 2 more minutes.

Add more soy sauce to taste (the amount depends on how big and funky the flavor of your kimchee was when you started. Serve over rice or by itself and drizzle with a few drops of sesame oil before serving.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Kimchijeon (Korean Kimchi Pancakes)

I'm on a savory pancake kick lately. After concocting the world's greatest zucchini-feta pancakes a couple weeks ago, I found some over fermented kimchi in the back of the fridge. It was so far gone, it smelled as though my adorable black lab with a sensitive stomach ate a wheelbarrow of rotting cabbage and bottled the resulting flatulence for me as an early Christmas gift. It was rough stuff.

But the beauty of kimchi is that you can take a batch that's super overripe and turn it into all kinds of cool things, like kimchijeon--savory Korean pancakes. In fact, using overripe dogfart kimche is actually preferable (though the fresh stuff is good too). So next time you find a biohazardous science experiment fermenting in the back of the refrigerator, don't pitch it, pancake it!

Bonus points, you can whip this up in 15 minutes flat!

Prep time: 1/2 cocktail

Dipping sauce:

2 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP rice vinegar
1 tsp untoasted sesame oil
1 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame seeds

Whisk all this stuff together in a small bowl and set aside.


1.5 cups white flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup kimchi juice
1 tsp sugar
Red chili flakes to taste
1 1/2 cup kimchi, chopped up coarsely (use either store bought or homemade), ideally overripe
A few TBSP oil
1-2 chopped scallions (optional)

Combine first 7 ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until all the lumps are gone. Stir in kimchi.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat with about 3 TBSP oil in it. When it's hot, ladle in enough batter to make a pancake about 6-8" in diameter. When the bottom gets a nice golden brown, gently flip. Remove when the other side is golden brown. Top with scallions.

Repeat until your batter is used up, adding more oil as necessary. 


Kimchi—a spicy, fermented cabbage dish—has been a staple in the Korean diet for at least two thousand years. Historically, kimchi was prepared by combining spices, salt, and cabbage in giant clay pots, then burying the pots underground for several days to ferment. Typically, kimchi is served as a side dish to Korean barbecue or other meat dishes, but I love it as an accompaniment to any Chinese or Korean meal. 

Note that any unusual ingredients—such as shrimp paste and fish sauce—can be purchased at any Asian grocer or can be found in the Asian aisle at many large supermarkets. 

I will mention that kimchi is a bit of an acquired taste. If you’re not feeling super adventurous, simply eat this dish right away (without fermenting it). The raw product is simply a spicy cole slaw and is a great side dish. If you're not as adventurous, using regular green cabbage instead of Napa cabbage makes this dish way easier to enjoy.

Finally, leftover kimchi or kimchi that has been over-fermented (more than three weeks) can be used in many recipes. You can incorporate it into dumplings, savory Korean pancakes, fried rice, or kimchi stew (kimchi chigae). I even love it as a topping for grilled veggie burgers! So if your kimchi doesn’t turn out as you would like or if it is past its prime, don’t throw it out—just get creative.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

½ cup salt
2 quarts + 1 cup warm water
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 large head Napa or Savoy cabbage, core removed, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 TBSP fish sauce
2 TBSP Siracha
1 1/2 tsp ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp shrimp paste
1 TBSP sugar
3 carrots or a piece of daikon, sliced into matchstick-sized strips (optional)
5 scallions, chopped
1/4 bunch of cilantro, chopped
Handful sesame seeds (optional)

Dissolve the salt into 2 quarts of water in a very large mixing bowl. Add the cabbage. If there isn’t enough water to cover the cabbage, add more. Cover with a weighted plate to keep everything well-submerged. Set aside for 4 hours.

When cabbage is almost done sitting, you can prepare the sauce. In a small saucepan, whisk together 1 cup of the water and the cornstarch. Turn heat on medium-high and warm up the water a couple minutes, until the cornstarch dissolves and it becomes a bit thick. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Combine fish sauce, Siracha, ginger, garlic, shrimp paste, and sugar in a bowl. Mix well. Add in the cooled cornstarch/water mixture and whisk well.

Remove cabbage from its bowl, rinse very, very well, squeeze out moisture, and strain.

Combine cabbage, chili mixture, carrot, scallions, and cilantro. Mix well. As mentioned above, this is the point at which you can eat the kimchi raw. But if you want the fermented variety, pack the mixture into pint or quart mason jars (don’t use metal containers, as the kimchi will react with it and it will stain plastic Tupperware after a few days). Firmly seal the lids and store in a cool dark place for 48 hours, flipping the jars upside down after the first day. After that, move the kimchi to the refrigerator. Anytime after going into to the fridge, it is ready to eat. Don’t be afraid if you open the jars and see bubbles or it smells sour—this is a natural part of the fermentation process. As mentioned above, it is good in the fridge for about three weeks.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ras el Hanout

Ras el hanout is a simple, ubiquitous Moroccan spice blend that serves as the flavor bed for countless dishes. It is somewhat similar to berbere in Ethiopian cooking or jerk seasoning in Jamaican cuisine in that it is a fundamental ingredient made a little differently in all households and by spice merchants. Indeed, ras el hanout translates to “best of the shop” because merchants simply combined their best available spices into a blend to sell to shoppers. Additional ingredients can include anything from saffron, mace, paprika, and cumin to rosebud, insects, and even hashish. Rad. 

1 TBSP ground cinnamon
2 tsp dried, ground turmeric
1 tsp dried, ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cloves

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Night Special: Rich Curried Indian lentils

So India is the largest democracy in the world. So what better way to celebrate Election Day here than warming up on a cold night and following the action with some awesome Indian vittles?

Like many great ethnic foods out there, this dish is simple and super delicious. And if you're anything like me, you'll enjoy this with a prodigious volume of beer and some cabbage saag paneer as you watch the election results come in tonight. 

Prep time: 1 cocktail

1 ¼ cup French green or brown lentils
3 cups water
2 tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric
4 TBSP ghee or butter
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
4 medium-sized tomatoes
1-2 Tbsp chopped cilantro

Rinse and drain lentils. Then put in a large saucepan with water, salt and turmeric. Bring water to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Continue to boil water until lentils are soft (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally.

When lentils are ready, heat ghee in wok or saucepan over medium high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and let them fry a few seconds. Then add the grated ginger and tomatoes. Stir fry the tomato mixture a few minutes.

Pour the tomatoes over the lentils and mix well.

Serve with a very large pinch of cilantro over the stew. Good alone or served over brown rice.

Cabbage Saag Paneer with Tofu

This is a slightly different version of the Punjab staple found at most Indian restaurants. This dish is usually made with spinach, but I prefer cabbage because it has a less-mushy texture. Also, this dish is traditionally served with cubed paneer, a type of farmers’ cheese. But because this dish is rich enough already, I prefer cubed tofu, which is lighter but provides a similar texture.

Note that if you do want to use spinach, instead of cabbage, it is an easy substitution. Use ~1¼ pounds of spinach that has been stemmed, washed and chopped. Do not blanch it in boiling water. Instead, add it raw at the same time you would add the cabbage to the onion and spices. And continue cooking after you add the spinach longer than if you were using cabbage—about 10 minutes, or until it softens.

Prep time: 2 cocktails 

½ to 1 brick of tofu, cut into 3/4” cubes (or cube up some paneer)
½ large head green cabbage, shredded
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2-3 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin, ground or whole
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp ghee or butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 inches ginger, very, very finely grated with cheese grater
3 TBSP masa
12 ounces Greek or plain yogurt (full fat)
Juice of 1 lime
A handful of cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.

Brush a bit of olive oil or spray cooking spray on a cookie sheet or baking pan and place tofu cubes on pan so that individual cubes do not touch. Bake until firm and outsides begin to become nice and firm and yellowish or just beginning to brown (about 30-40 minutes).

Bring a large pot of water with a few TBSP of salt to a boil. Add cabbage and blanch it a few minutes, until the cabbage becomes a nice deeper shade of green and softens up a bit. Remove from heat, strain and rinse well. Set cabbage aside.

Combine all the dry spices into a small dish (not including salt). Heat a dry frying pan on medium heat and add spices. STIR CONSTANTLY as spices cook. Once they turn a shade or two darker than normal, remove from heat and transfer to small bowl. Add salt.

Heat ghee in a wok or large pan on medium-high. When hot, add onion. Sauté until it becomes transparent, about 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic, ginger and spice/salt mixture. Cook 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. If it begins to stick to pan, add another TBSP of ghee or vegetable oil. Add cabbage, and a couple TBSP water, reduce to medium and simmer stirring frequently. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring frequently.

As cabbage cooks, in a small bowl, combine ¼ cup water and masa. Whisk well. Add mixture to cabbage. Next add yogurt, lime and tofu as well. Stir well and bring to boil.

Cook another more minute or so. Depending on how thick you like your saag, you can cook longer for a thicker dish, or add water for a lighter dish. Stir in cilantro before removing from heat. Serve hot over rice, with chapatti, or with naan.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pad Thai: Kind of Like the Steve Buscemi of Food

Much like the casting of a Coen Brothers movie, you'd think Pad Thai is just an ensemble of weird shit. But, just as any good Coen Brothers film can combine the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, and John Goodman with surprising synergy, this dish combines ingredients like tamarind, vinegar, shrimp paste, and eggs to create an unexpectedly delightful meal. It's so good, it'll make you want to move to Fargo.

The stuff like shrimp paste, tamarind paste, palm sugar, fish sauce, and rice noodles can be found at any Asian grocer or most large supermarkets. And you can always veganify this by substituting 3-4 TBSP soy sauce for the shrimp paste and fish sauce. 

Prep time: 2 cocktails.

1 batch Incredible Jerk Tofu (but replace first 5 ingredients with 1-2 TBSP Siracha)
2 TBSP tamarind paste
8 ounces wide (fettuccine-size) Asian rice noodles
3 TBSP fish sauce
1 TBSP shrimp paste
3 TBSP palm sugar
1 TBSP rice vinegar
3-6 Thai chilies, sliced into thin wheels
3 TBSP peanut oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 eggs, scrambled together
A handful of peanuts, chopped up a bit
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 lime
3 cups bean sprouts

Prepare tofu according to the hyperlinked recipe (with adaption) and set in the refrigerator to cool. 

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Combine 3/4 cup of that water in a bowl with the tamarind paste. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool. After 10 minutes, with a fork, break up the tamarind completely. You'll have some big pulpee bits and maybe some seeds. Remove these with your hands or, if you want to be cleaner, pass it all through a mesh strainer and discard the solids.

After you've removed the boiling water for the tamarind, remove the pot from the heat and immediately add the noodles. Let the noodles sit for 10 minutes, then drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

In a small bowl whisk together fish sauce, shrimp paste, palm sugar, rice vinegar, and chilies. Set aside.

In a wok, heat the oil on medium-high heat. When it's hot, add garlic and 2/3 of the scallions. Saute 3-4 minutes. Then scoot them off to the side and add the egg to the cleared area. Once the egg sets, scramble it up with a spatula. When egg is just tender-done, add the noodles, tamarind juice, and fish sauce mixture. Stir well. Once everything is incorporated, add peanuts, cilantro, and squeeze the lime in. Stir it all up again. Then stir in the bean sprouts and remaining scallions. Remove from heat and serve. Goes great with a little extra Siracha and a Thai beer. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Savory (and Awesome) Zucchini Feta Pancakes

I blew my girlfriend's mind with this recipe. Just beware: if you don't handle massive compliments and lots of praise very well, you probably shouldn't make this recipe. You've been warned.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

1 pound zucchini, grated with cheese grater
1 small bunch scallions, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup milk
6 ounces crumbled feta
1 handful shelled sunflower seeds
1 cup whole wheat flour
Large handful chopped, mixed, fresh herbs—dill, basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley are all great
1 tsp salt
15 good grinds black pepper
2 fresh cayenne peppers, chopped (optional if you want some extra kick)
Olive oil
Sour cream (lowfat or full-fat is fine... but don't use fat free)

Combine all ingredients except olive oil and sour cream in large mixing bowl and stir well.

Heat a cast iron or other frying pan over medium low to medium heat. Add a nice drizzle of olive oil and ladle a pancake size portion into the pan. Spread the patter out a bit with the bottom of the ladle until you've got a cake about 1/3-inch in thickness. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until nice crisped brown but not burned on the bottom, then flip. Remove when second side becomes a nice golden brown. 

Add another drizzle of oil before adding the next pancake.  

Serve each pancake with a couple dollops of sour cream.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thai Peanut Stir Fry

New to Thai food? Intimidated on how to get all the sweet, salty, spicy, and sour flavors to meld? Have no fear... This recipe kicks more ass than Chuck Norris. You'll be pro at (quasi authentic) Thai food in no time!

Prep time: 2 cocktails

1 block of firm Tofu, chopped into 1" cubes
3 TBSP peanut oil
2 cups chopped veggies that are good to stir fry (broccoli, cabbage, bell peppers, and bok choi are all good options)
5 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch segment ginger, grated finely with microplane or finest side of cheese grater
1 TBSP soy sauce
1/2 cucumber sliced into thin wheels
1 underripe tomato, sliced into 6-8 wedges
A handful of Thai basil leaves, torn up roughly
Several handfuls of prepared rice noodles or a couple cups of prepared rice
Double batch spicy Thai peanut sauce
Optional garnishes: chopped peanuts, lime slices, cilantro leaves, chopped Thai chilies

Preheat oven to 350. Arrange tofu cubes to a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray so they aren't touching. Bake until the cubes get nice and crispy golden, but not totally dried out, about 30 minutes depending on the water content. You'll want to flip them with a tongs halfway through.

When the tofu is done, heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat. Throw in your chopped veggies (NOT INCLUDING the tomato or cucumber), plus the garlic, and ginger. Stir fry for 3-6 minutes, or until veggies begin to get a little tender. Add tofu, soy sauce, cucumber, tomato, and and basil leaves stir fry another 90 seconds or so.

Serve the stir-fried veggies on top of the noodles or rice and cover with the peanut sauce. Add garnishes and eat more heartily than Chuck Norris at a the Badass Buffet.

Best Damn Garlic Dill Pickles on Earth

Not to brag... but I get loooooots of comments when I share my pickle with other people. They typically wax on about how firm it is. They comment me on how delicious is is. Then they always ask if they can have more. Finally, they tell all their friends about how amazing the experience was.

And now that it's September, it's the perfect time, for you dear reader, to get involved in the love for pickle.

This is actually a preparation I prefer to home canning cucumbers, as it doesn't require any canning equipment, the cukes stay more crisp, and I think the flavor is better. Instead of canning, these pickles are brined at room temperature. While the brine acts to preserve cucumbers, they still must be refrigerated after a few days out and will only stay good for about 7 months in the fridge (after that, they don't go bad, but they start to get a little overly briny).

Also, I recommend you buy a case of 1-quart mason jars with lids (usually about $12). Spare salsa or pasta sauce jars you have sitting around the house will not work.

Finally, I recommend you only use cucumbers fresh from the farmers’ market or out of your own garden. The fresher the cucumbers, the crisper the pickles will be. Pickling cucumbers sold at the stores are usually several days old and will make inferior pickles.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

For each jar of pickles you’ll need:
5 heads fresh dill (not the springs you buy in the little packages in the herb section, but real, nice big heads, found at some gourmet grocers, health food stores and farmer’s markets in late summer)
Fresh pickling cucumbers, available at any farmer’s market or most health food stores
2 cloves garlic, quartered
2-4 hot peppers, halved
20 whole peppercorns 
20 whole mustard seeds 

Brine liquid (enough for 3 jars’ worth or so):
1 1/2 cup white vinegar (only use white vinegar)
1/2 cup salt
3.25 quarts of water

In a large mixing bowl or other container, put the cucumbers in an ice bath. Keep the bowl in the refrigerator for 3-6 hours. Do not let the ice melt; replenish the ice if it is almost melted. This is an optional step but the ice bath makes the pickles nice and crisp.

To make the brine, combine vinegar, salt and water in a pot. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Once it boils, remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 5-10 minutes but you can also let it cool all the way to room temperature.

In bottom of jar, place 2 dill heads, peppers garlic, peppercorns, mustard seeds. Take cucumbers out of fridge. Put as many in each jar as you can without forcing. It’s okay if they’re a bit snug. Any really big cucumbers need to be cut in half lengthwise to allow the brine to penetrate completely. Top with remaining dill head(s). Fill the jar completely up with brining liquid.

Seal and let sit out at room temperature for three days. Gently shake the jars once or twice a day to allow flavors to mingle. You can invert the jars and let them set upside-down for a day or two.

After three days, put pickles in fridge. You can open and begin eating in another week. Stays good in fridge at least three months.

Salmorejo: The Hero of Late Summer

It's the end of summer and time to appreciate those last few heirloom tomatoes. Try salmorejo! Salmorejo is a chilled tomato soup that originates from the south of Spain that is similar to gazpacho, but is much simpler. The key to making salmorejo well is to only use top-quality tomatoes (from your garden or the Farmers’ Market only), olive oil (organic, virgin, cold-pressed), and bread (good European-style bread, no Wonder Bread bullshit!). Using top-quality ingredients will make all the difference for this soup.

Typically, this soup is served with slivered Prosciutto or Serrano ham, minced hard-boiled eggs, and crostini. You could also serve it with any high-quality baguette bread and even some good hard cheese—such as Parmesan Reggiano—on the side. The consistency is almost more like a dip than a soup, so you’ll dunk your bread or other accompaniments in it as you eat.

Prep time: a few sips of your late summer cocktail (after the overnight soak) 

1 Kg (2.2 pounds) fresh tomatoes, tops removed and quartered
1 cup olive oil, divided
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 slices bread, chopped up a bit
3 cloves garlic, halved
1 tsp salt

Soak the tomatoes, ½ cup of olive oil, garlic, vinegar and bread overnight in a big bowl.

The next day, blend the bread/tomato mixture and salt in blender or food processor, adding the remaining ½ cup olive oil very slowly as it mixes.

Depending on the consistency you like, you can blend in some water too at this point, but I like to keep it fairly thick, so I don’t add any.

Serve cold with any of the garnishes listed above, or anything else that you think would go well. 

Awesome Tangy Tomatillio Salsa Verde

This is a pretty traditional restaurant style green salsa or as a zippy tamale smothering sauce. If you're a heat fanatics, you can scale up the pepper count—I usually make it with three jalapeños and a habenero.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

1.5 pounds tomatillos, with husks left on
4 Jalapeños (or other hot peppers), whole
5 medium-sized cloves of garlic still in husks
¾ cup onions, chopped coarsely
10-12 sprigs fresh cilantro
Juice of 1.5 limes
½ tsp salt
20-30 fresh oregano leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
A good amount of fresh cracked pepper

Preheat oven to broil. Place tomatillos on a cookie sheet or baking pan. Pan should be big enough so that tomatillos aren’t too crowded. Broil tomatillos until the skins blister and they begin to expel some of their juices, about 10-15 minutes. Let cool a few minutes and remove husks.

Heat a dry frying pan over medium to medium high heat. Add peppers and garlic. Stirring occasionally, pan roast them until they blacken and blister a bit. The garlic will take about 6-8 minutes, the peppers will take a bit longer (it’s impossible to over-char your peppers, so don’t worry too much).

Remove garlic husks and chili stems. Put everything except the onion in a food processor or blender and puree. Once it’s relatively smooth, add onions and pulse a few times to break the onion up into little chunks. Adjust salt and pepper.

Refrigerate and serve. Flavor gets even better after a day or two.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce

Thai Spicy Peanut Sauce

Radically good for dipping or to top stir fried veggies and noodles.

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

3 TBSP peanut oil
1-inch finely grated ginger, grated with microplane or finest grating of cheese grater
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup all natural, unsweetened peanut butter
3 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP agave nectar
Juice of one big lime
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp cayenne (or more to taste)
1/4 cup onion, minced very finely
a handful of peanuts (optional)
water, if necessary

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat then add garlic and ginger. Saute a 45-90 seconds, then add all other ingredients EXCEPT onion and peanuts. Whisk until it's all uniform. Continue to whisk frequently until sauce reaches a boil. Add a little water if you need to adjust the thickness, then add onion. Boil one more minute and remove from heat. Add peanuts. Serve hot over noodles and veggies or use as a dipping sauce. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Caribbean Tortellini with Garlic, White Wine, and Fruit

One of my favorite summer dishes! This recipe isn’t recommended with other pastas, like ravioli. And be sure to use just use plain old cheese tortellini… Fancy tortellini with stuff like spinach pasta or sun dried tomato filling will make this dish very weird. 

Prep time: 1 cocktail

1 pound frozen or fresh plain cheese tortellini
1TBSP soy sauce
1 big pinch dried basil and oregano
dash of black pepper and red chili flakes
1/3 cup canola oil
8 cloves garlic
¼ cup white wine
1 big banana, sliced into ½ inch-thick wheels
6 canned pineapple rings, cut into eighths (tiny pizza-shaped wedges), RETAIN JUICE
1 big handful grapes, each grape sliced in half
4-5 green onions, chopped

Prepare tortellini and drain. Set aside.

In small bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup of the canned pineapple juice, soy sauce, basil, oregano, pepper, red chili flakes. Set aside.

Combine oil and garlic in food processor or blender. Puree well.

Heat a large frying pan on medium high heat. Add garlic oil mixture. Sauté 30-60 seconds, but DON’T let the garlic turn brown. Add wine. Continue to cook for 20 more seconds.

Add soy sauce/spice/juice mixture.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Now add all the fruit and tortellini. Stir everything frequently until the whole thing comes back up to a boil (about 60-90 seconds). Don’t overcook or else fruit will disintegrate. Stir in onions, remove from heat and serve.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Moroccan Stuffed Tomatoes Bring All the Italian Grandmothers to the Yard!

This years' tomato harvest in my garden would make an Italian grandmother weep with joy. I've been picking 25-30 pounds of heirlooms a week! Needless to say, I'm getting pretty creative in the ways to use the cute little buggers. 

Because you are hollowing out the tomatoes, you want them to be very firm, so use only those that are just not over-ripe and soft.

When you scoop out the tomato guts, there’s no reason to throw them out! I boil them down on into a tomato sauce that is a great base for pasta sauce, salsa, or many other dishes.

Prep time: 2 cocktails

1 cup raisins
3/4 cups whole, raw almonds
7 TBSP olive oil, divided
1 medium eggplant, skinned and cut into ¼-inch cubes
1 medium onion, diced
1 TBSP ras el hanout, (click here for recipe)
1 tsp dried ginger powder
1 14-ounce can fava beans or garbanzo beans, drained
1 tsp salt
1 cup of prepared brown rice
10 large tomatoes
Hard-boiled eggs (optional)

Heat a couple cups of water until almost boiling and combine the water and raisins in a soup bowl. Set aside for a little while until the raisins plump up. Then drain the water and set the raisins aside.

Preheat oven to 375. Bring three cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan on high heat. Add almonds and let them blanch until they begin to float, about 2 minutes. Remove and drain water. Allow to dry for a minute, then spread the almonds on a cookie sheet and place in the oven. Bake the almonds, stirring every couple minutes, until they become toasted, but not burned. Remove from heat and let cool. Reduce oven heat to 300.

Heat 4 TBSP olive oil over medium heat in a large pan or wok. When warm, add eggplant. Sauté 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add onion and sauté until it becomes a bit transparent, about 5 more minutes. Then add in ras el hanout and ginger. Sauté a couple more minutes, then remove from heat.

In a food processor, combine the beans, remaining oil, salt and ¼ cup of water. Puree until very smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, combine raisins, almonds, eggplant/onion mixture, bean mixture, and rice. Stir well.

Take the tomatoes and slice off the tops. With a spoon, scoop out the guts, being careful not to tear the walls. You can save the tomato innards and use as suggested as above. Stuff the hollowed tomatoes with the mixture. Bake on an oiled cookie sheet for about 20-30 minutes, or until the tomato skin becomes a bit wrinkled and the insides are all hot. Note that cooking time can vary significantly based on tomato size and type.

Serve with warm hard-boiled eggs that have been sliced, if desired.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dad's Gazpacho

Dad was a genius in the kitchen and would spend hours concocting the most elaborate feasts—often for no occasion at all. He just loved cooking. I can only dream of becoming a fraction as talented in the kitchen as dad was. He was really something special.

While there’s nothing too elaborate about this particular dish, it is the best gazpacho I’ve ever had—Dad spent years perfecting it. Like any gazpacho, this recipe is especially delicious when you can get fresh, local veggies. Exotic, unusual-tasting heirloom tomatoes can also give this soup interesting dimensions. Only for summertime!

Prep time: 1 cocktail 

1 box of croutons, divided
¾ cup chopped celery
½ very small onion
1-1.5 large cucumber, chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
4 tomatoes chopped
2 garlic cloves, (NO MORE!) minced
4 Tbsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp +1 tsp Tabasco
1.5 cups cold veggie stock
2 cups cold tomato juice (Snappy Tom is best)
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Italian flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Blend 1 cup of croutons into crumbs in food processor or blender. Set aside.

Next, combine celery, onion, cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, and garlic in food processor. Mix well.

Now combine crouton crumbs, veggie mixture, and all remaining ingredients in a blender and mix well.

Depending on the tomato juice used, it may be necessary to add additional salt to taste.  

Serve chilled with additional whole croutons on top. Also garnish with a drizzle of good olive oil, parsley and additional minced veggies, if you like. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


This dip is versatile and is great with many foods. It's a great for chips or pita, is awesome with most Middle Eastern foods, and solves conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Yeah, it's that good.

If you can't find Greek yogurt, you can make your own. Buy a tub of plain, full fat or lowfat yogurt (fuck that fat-free shit--tastes like donkey dick). Now, take a large strainer or colander and line the inside with triple-layered cheesecloth. Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth and place the whole thing in the fridge above a large bowl or other dish to catch the drippings. In 12 hours, it's ready. Remove from fridge and discard drippings. The Greek yogurt in the cheesecloth is ready to use.

Prep time: 1/2 cocktail

2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of ½ large lemon
¼ tsp and pepper to taste
½ tsp salt (or more to taste)
8 ounces Greek yogurt 
1-2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or fresh mint (or more to taste)
1 medium cucumber
1 clove garlic, minced

Grate the cucumber with a cheese grater and squeeze all the water out of it by wrapping it in cheesecloth and gently but firmly squeezing. After this, spread cucumber in a colander and toss it with some salt. Let is stand in the sink for 20 minutes. The salt will draw out any remaining moisture.

While cucumber drips out, process everything except the cucumber and garlic very well in food processor or blender. Transfer this mixture to a bowl.

Now combine cucumber and garlic with yogurt mixture.

Finally, let the dip sit covered in the fridge a few hours or overnight before serving (it can be really bland at first).

Holy Dolmas!

Dolmas are the amazingly delicious stuffed grape leaves that you might recognize from Middle Eastern restaurants or the salad bar at your natural grocer. Making dolmas from scratch is a bit time-consuming compared with buying the canned variety, but the flavor is even better. Serving these with tzatziki dip or hummus will make you the hit of any party (read: you're not going home alone).

The grape leaves in this recipe can be purchased at any Middle East grocer and most large natural food stores. You can also use your own, if you happen to have grape vines nearby. Just blanch fresh leaves in boiling water for 2-3 minutes or until they soften up. And if you’re using canned leaves, be sure to rinse the brine off them before using.

You can use forbidden black, sushi, brown, or plain old white rice for this recipe. I like forbidden black because the high gluten helps everything stick together and it looks cool. 

Prep time: 2 cocktails

18 or so grape leaves
1 medium red onion, chopped fairly finely
1 cup olive oil, divided
1 cup prepared forbidden black rice
1/3 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
A small handful of fresh dill (finely chopped) or a few shakes dried dill (optional)
2 tsp salt
½ cup pine nuts, finely chopped (optional)
Juice of 2 lemons

Blanch grape leaves if you're using fresh; rinse if you're using canned. Set aside.

To prepare filling: In a large frying pan or wok, heat ¼ cup of the olive oil on medium heat. Sauté onion 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Add rice, mint, parsley, dill (if using), salt, and pine nuts and sauté one more minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

To fill each grape leave, place the smooth side DOWN. Add about 1-2 tsp rice mixture per leaf (though this will vary, depending on leaf size). Fold the leaf in half, then fold in sides. Then roll up like a burrito. Be sure you roll tightly, or else they’ll unwrap during cooking.

Arrange the dolmas in a single layer in big round pot or pan that has a snug-fitting lid. Top the dolmas with the remaining ¾ cup olive oil and lemon juice. Next, place a plate on top of dolmas so they don’t float away when you add water… but be careful not to crush them!

Now add BOILING water so it just covers the dolmas (if they’re not tightly packed, only submerge till they’re 2/3 covered).

Place the dolma pot on the stovetop and turn the heat to high. Bring the water to a boil, then put the lid on an reduce to simmer for 60 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Once liquid is all cooked off, remove from heat and allow to cool in pot (moving them while hot will break the leaves). Once cool, remove. Serve at room temp or slightly chilled. An extra sprinkle of salt and some lemon wedges are good accompaniments.

Unruly Tabbouleh!!

It's summertime and the garden is kicking tons of ass! What to do with all those tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and herbs? Tabbouleh, obviously. This Middle Eastern salad is so damn good, it makes me want to move to Syria. Even now. 

This makes a pretty huge batch. You can always halve it if you wanna avoid a week of leftovers. 

Prep time: 1 cocktail (includes harvest time)

2 cups bulgur (or whole wheat couscous--both available in the bulk section any natural food store)
4 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 medium bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped finely (no curly parsley!)
1 cucumber, chopped
½ cup green onion, chopped
6 tomatoes, chopped (you can certainly use many more tomatoes, if you like)
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1.5 ounces mint (about 6 TBSP), chopped finely
Additional lemon, salt, and olive oil for topping

Boil water and add bulgur. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered until all the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. No need to stir. Add more water and cook longer if bulgur is still crunchy. 

Transfer to a large bowl and chill completely.

Once the bulgur or couscous is cold, combine all ingredients in a large bowl. When you serve it, top each portion with an additional drizzle of olive oil, a good squeeze of lemon and a nice pinch of salt.

Now kick back, pour a huge cocktail and enjoy your summer. 

Roasted Red Bell Pepper (or just plain) Hummus

Simple, fast, delicious. That's about all I need to say about this one. Eat heartily and often. 

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

1 can garbanzo beans, drained
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup tahini
1 clove garlic (no more)
¼ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley
½ tsp salt (or more to taste)
2 TBSP green onions
4 TBSP olive oil
1 roasted red bell pepper, seeds and skin removed (optional)

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Puree until smooth. It may be necessary to add some water or additional olive oil to reach your desired consistency.

Adjust if there is too little lemon or salt. Serve chilled.

Alternate recipe:
Omit parsley, bell pepper and green onion. Replace with a couple pinches each allspice and cumin. And maybe a touch of sugar. Prepare the same way.