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.