Wonders of the World

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Nov 7, 2020

Note: This episode contains a bit of profanity.

The swampy county of Flanders was the richest part of Europe in the 14th century, fueled by the international cloth trade, and Bruges was the center of that trade, spinning English wool into Flemish cloth. The trade brought power to the craft guilds, and that power brought those guilds into conflict with the aristocracy, and ultimately, the king of France.

In this episode, Manuel Van den Eycke of the Random History of Belgium Podcast joins us to examine the Bruges Matins, a worker-led uprising, and the subsequent Battle of the Golden Spurs. That victory, which nationalists have given connotations well beyond the intent of the participants.

We also talk about Belgian food (the best), including chocolate, fries, beer, and waffles, with a recipe for Liege-style waffles that will bring a smile to your face.

Belgium means so much to me, and I hope my enthusiasm shines through in this episode.

Brown, Elizabeth, A.R. “Philip IV, King of France” in Encyclopedia Britannica
“Enchanted Bruges” New York Times 2006
“The Rise and Fall of the Medieval Flemish Cloth Industry”
Rick Steves Belgium: Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent
Thomson, Emma. Northern Belgium: Flanders With Brussels, Bruges, Ghent & Antwerp

Photo by Hans Hillewaert


Feb 13, 2020


A group of temples sits in the hills of central India, stunningly studded with sculptures. Built by the Chandela dynasty, they are remarkably well preserved testaments to medieval power, but they are best known for their many erotic images.

Anirudh Kanisetti of the Echoes of India podcast returns to discuss the Chandelas, their connection with tantra, their views of sex, their run-ins with the famed Turkic warlord Mahmud of Ghazni, and how all of that relates to India's political environment today.

Medieval India shows the panoply of human experience in all its colors and shades. Nothing is a simplistic black and white.


Bose, Nemai Sadhan. History of the Candellas of Jejakabhukti

Desai, Devangana. Khajuraho

Desai, Devangana. The Religious Imagery of Khajuraho

Dikshit, R.K. The Candellas of Jejakabhukti

Keay, John. India: a History

Lonely Planet India

Miller, Sam. Blue Guide India

Mitra, Sisir Kumar. Early Rulers of Khajuraho

Nasr, Mohamed. The Emergence of Muslim Rule in India

Ramadurai, Charukesi. “India’s Temples of Sex” BBC Travel

Tammita-Delgoda, Sinharaja. A Traveller's History of India

Oct 17, 2018

The classic Istanbul fish sandwich is simple, easy, and delicious.  Fish, bread, a little spices, onion, lettuce, lemon.  That’s it.  Some recipes will include mayo, which isn’t my bag.  Others get more complex with the salad topping.  I like to keep it simple, to let the taste of the fish shine through.

Some notes:

  • If you don’t have fresh mackerel (or smoked), try something like sea bass or haddock.  You’re going for a firm ocean white-fleshed fish.
  • Use an Italian-type bread - not as crusty as a French baguette.  You’re going for pillowy but with a nice chew.
  • Za’atar is increasingly available as prepared blend.  To make your own, mix 1 tbsp (15 ml) each of oregano, sumac, cumin, sesame seeds and 1 tsp (5 ml) salt and black pepper. 

Serves 4


  • 4 fresh ocean fish filets - preferably mackerel, but sea bass or haddock would do
  • handful of arugula
  • 1 small red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 loaf Italian bread
  • 1 or 2 Hungarian wax peppers (optional)
  • 2 tomatoes, thick-sliced
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) za’atar
  • olive oil, for bushing
  • salt


  • Preheat the grill to medium-high.
  • Sprinkle a little salt over the onions and mix well.  Grill the peppers until they begin to char slightly. Remove from the heat.
  • Cut the bread loaf into pieces the same length as the fish fillets. Split down the middle and lightly toast both sides on the grill. Brush the cut sides with olive oil. Keep warm.
  • Lightly brush both sides of the fish with olive oil.  Grill the mackerel fillets over a high heat, skin-side down for 3–4 minutes.  Once the skin has begun to crisp up, flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
    1. With an alternate fish, use a fish basket to ensure the fish keeps it shape.
    2. With smoked haddock, you need not cook as long - you just want to warm it up.
  • Take the warm toasted bread and place slices of tomato on one of the cut sides. Place the fish on top of the tomatoes and then add the other ingredients, finishing with grilled pepper and za’atar. Season, squeeze over a little lemon juice, top with the other half of the bread and eat immediately.

Recipe adapted from

Photo by Daniel Roy

Sep 15, 2018

The best lunch I’ve ever eaten was ceviche in Lima.  Hands down. 

Traditional Peruvian ceviche is amazingly simple.  Seafood, lime juice, red onion, and chile.  That’s it.  Plus sweet potato and corn on the side.

As I said in the episode, you probably won’t be able to make the real thing, because your seafood, as fresh as it might be, won’t be as fresh as the seafood in Lima. Fed by the Humboldt Current, caught that morning, and served for lunch because dinner would be too late: that’s Limeño ceviche.

But if you do have good seafood available, this will get you pretty darn close!

Some notes:

  • If you have one, use a mandoline for the red onion to get it as thin as possible. 
  • Feel free to substitute scallops or shrimp or octopus or really any seafood, diced in the same size, for the fish, or mix them.
  • If you can get Peruvian aji amarillo (yellow pepper), use that, but this jalapeño will do. 
  • If you can find giant-kerneled Peruvian corn, that would be ideal, but whatever you have will do.
  • The fish needs to be as fresh as possible. Buy from a reputable fishmonger. If you cannot prepare and eat immediately, keep the fish on ice in the refrigerator to maintain as much freshness as possible. 


Serves 4



  • 1 lb (0.5 kg) fresh ocean fish filets - like grouper or sea bass - sliced into 1/2 inch (1 cm) chunks
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, minced very fine
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped cilantro leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 ears of corn, husked  (maize, if you prefer)



  • In separate pots, boil the corn and sweet potato until tender.  When cool, peel sweet potato. Slice corn into 2 inch (5 cm) segments, slice potato into 1 inch (2.5 cm) segments.
  • Combine fish, onion, lime juice, cilantro, and chiles in a bowl, mixing gently with your hands. Use gloves, if you’re worried about the acid and chile.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Let sit for 15-20 minutes.
  • Serve.


Recipe adapted from

Aug 25, 2018

Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, is justifiably famous for this dish, a delectable, spicy beef broth served over hand-pulled noodles, with layers of beef and daikon radish on top.  Restaurants all over Gansu ladle out this dish as a pick-me-up breakfast.


You can’t make the real thing, because some of the actual ingredients are only available to restauranteurs in China and because hand-pulling noodles is incredibly challenging — they even have schools for it in Lanzhou.


So this is a legitimate home version from the terrific cookbook All Under Heaven.


Really exciting: it’s an excuse to use that InstantPot you got for the holidays and have been struggling to find uses for.  Woot!  You can do this without a pressure cooker, of course, but it will help to have one.


The challenge here is getting all the ingredients.  It will be hard to do if you don’t have access to an Asian grocery. 


One last note: this dish will taste much, much better if you let it rest for a day or so to let the flavors blend.  Prepare it the day before you plan to serve it, then reheat on the stove.


As usual with red meat, I won’t get to make this at home, so if you can get the ingredients and try it out, please let me know!


Serves 4



  • 1.25 - 1.5 lbs (2-3 kg) boneless beef shank (or 3 lbs (5.5 kg) with the bone)
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) thinly sliced fresh ginger
  • 1 large leek, cleaned, split lengthwise, sliced into 1 in (2 cm) lengths or 1 medium yellow onion, cut into eighths
  • 3 1/2 tbsp (50 ml) bean sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) mild rice wine
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) rock sugar
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) soy sauce
  • 1 lb Chinese radish, sliced and quartered
  • 10 cups (2.3 liters) unsalted beef stock (feel free to make your own, of course)
  • Spices:
    • 1 small black cardamom pod
    • 2 tsp (10 ml) fennel seeds
    • 1 tbsp (15 ml) Sichuan peppercorns
    • 1 tsp (5 ml) white peppercorns
    • 3 pieces sand ginger
    • 3 pieces licorice root
    • 1 piece aged tangerine peel (1/2 inch/2 cm diameter)
    • 1 stick cinnamon
    • 5 pieces star anise
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro as garnish
  • black vinegar as garnish
  • Chile oil as garnish
  • 2 lbs (1 kg) fresh noodles



  • Beef shank - Brisket would work well here, as would short ribs.
  • Bean sauce - This is not bean paste, which is mostly wheat.
  • Soy sauce - Chinese soy sauce is different from Japanese soy sauce (which is often more widely available in the US).  Japanese sauces tend to be lighter and saltier, so don’t use as much or it will be super-salty.
  • Rock sugar - Chunks of crystallized sugar; you can substitute equivalent amount of brown sugar or white sugar.
  • Chinese radish - Looks like a turnip, actually a radish. You can substitute daikon; western radishes are a bit spicier.
  • Sand ginger - A variety of ginger that is a little more aromatic than regular ginger.
  • Licorice root - Dried licorice root. It is what it sounds like.
  • Aged tangerine peel - You can dry your own and it would work fine, or in a pinch, peel an orange and remove the pith. It won’t be as concentrated so you might use a bigger piece.
  • Black vinegar - I love this stuff; you can use a blend of rice vinegar and balsamic to replicate.
  • Chile oil - available at most markets or make your own by soaking chile pepper flakes in hot (but not too hot) oil.



  • Pat the beef very dry.
  • In a pressure cooker or wok, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat, then add the beef and the ginger.
  • Brown the beef on both sides, adding the leek.
  • Tricky: scootch the beef and veggies to one side of the pan, lift it so the oil collects in the other, and add the bean sauce, cooking for 30 seconds to release the aromas.  With a regular pressure cooker or wok, this is no problem, but with an InstantPot, you’ll want to lift the pan out of the machine (USING A POTHOLDER) to do this.
  • Pour in rice wine, then add soy sauce and sugar, stirring well to combine.
  • Spread the radish around the beef, and cover with beef stock.  If your cooker/wok isn’t big enough, you might not need the full 10 cups / 2.3 liters.
  • Now, onto spices.  Using the flat of your knife, crack the cardamon pod. Put it and the other spices into a cheesecloth bag or a mesh ball and add it to the soup.
  • Cover and seal.  In a pressure cooker, you’ll want to cook for an hour.  In a wok, you’re looking at three hours after you’ve brought it to a boil, adding more stock as you go if the levels drop.
  • Once it’s done and the pressure has dropped enough that it’s safe to open the pressure cooker, or after three hours braising in the wok, check the meat.  It should be really tender.  If not, give it another 15 minutes of pressure or 30 minutes of simmer.  Regardless, add the rest of the stock if you haven’t already.
  • Taste the seasoning and adjust if needed.  Remove the spices and the beef.  Refrigerate everything.
  • Go to sleep, go to work, do whatever it is you do.
  • When you’re ready to serve, skim the fat off the soup, and reheat.  About 10 minutes before dinner time, boil water and cook the noodles until they float.  While they cook, slice the cold meat against the grain - it will keep its shape better when cold.
  • Take the noodles out with a Chinese spider or tongs and place them in each bowl.  Put the meat on top, then ladle the soup onto that.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and have the oil and vinegar available.


Recipe adapted from All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China by Carolyn Phillips

Photo from user N509FZ on wikipedia

Jul 27, 2018



Pašticada is a long-simmered piece of beef, the kind of beef that would normally be tough and chewy, but when you cook it low and slow melts in your mouth.  Flavored with vinegar, fruit, veggies, and spices, it’s a traditional holiday or Sunday night meal,


Basically, you take a big ol’ slab of top round, or silverside in the UK, stick cloves of garlic and pieces of prosciutto inside it, douse it in vinegar, and leave it overnight to marinate.  The next day, you quickly sear it Then you roast it with veggies like onion, celery root, carrots, plus prunes, and wine and olive oil.  Low and slow in the oven. 


When it’s done, as the meat rests, you puree the fruit, veggies, spices, wine, and drippings into a succulent sauce.  And serve it all over njoki (gnocchi if you’d rather), which is far easier to make at home than you think.


Every Croatian grandmother has her own recipe; this is one that seems like a winner to me.  Since, as I may have mentioned, my wife doesn’t eat red meat, I’m reliant on you to try this out.


Serves 6



  • 1.5-2 kg (3.5-4.5 lb) of stewing beef (top round or silverside in the UK)
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) pršut (Croatian prosciutto) (Consider Italian prosciutto or regular bacon, cut in smallish squares or strips as an alternative.)
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise
  • 6 cloves
  • 3 juniper berries
  • salt
  • 750 ml (3 cups) balsamic vinegar (This can be expensive. Red wine vinegar will work as well.)
  • 400 ml (1 2/3 cup) dry red wine, divided (The Croatian Plavac Mali is closely related to Zinfandel, so try that.)
  • 100ml (half a cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 ml (2 tablespoons) flour
  • 250 ml (1 cup) beef broth
  • 5 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large celery root, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 parsley root, peeled and coarsely chopped (if you cannot find parsley root, use more celery and add a large potato, peeled and coarsely chopped.)
  • 150 ml (2/3 cup) prošek (a white Croatian desert wine, which is NOT prosecco - very different. Consider Sauternes as an alternative.)
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) sugar
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 8 prunes, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • package of gnocchi (unless you're making your own - which is delicious and easier than you'd think, but outside the scope of this recipe)



  1. Begin on the day before you intend to serve the pašticada. Dry the beef and use a sharp knife to cut small openings all over. Carefully insert the pršut or bacon, garlic and cloves.
  2. In a ceramic or aluminium bowl, combine the vinegar with the juniper berries, a bay leaf, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper into the vinegar to make a marinade.
  3. Place the meat inside, top up with about 250 ml red wine until fully covered. Leave in the fridge or a cold place for a minimum of 12 hours, but preferably for 24.
  4. The next day, take the meat out of the marinade and dab it dry with paper towels.  Be sure to reserve the marinade! Remove the pršut/bacon, garlic and cloves from the meat and reserve them as well.
  5. Roll the beef in the flour until it’s lightly dusted on all sides.
  6. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven on medium-high. Place the meat in the hot oil, turning regularly until it is browned on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes. Once browned, remove the meat from the pan, retaining the oil.
  7. Using the same oil over medium high heat, sauté the onions and carrots, plus the garlic and bacon that were used with the marinade, until the bacon starts to brown (the meaty parts). Stir constantly.
  8. Deglaze the pan with the beef broth and bring to a boil. Replace the beef to the Dutch oven, cover partially, and boil for about 10 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, mix the tomato paste, dessert wine, an additional 150 ml red wine and sugar in a bowl.
  10. When the broth and beef have boiled 10 minutes, add the wine blend to the Dutch oven, then add the celery root, parsley root and 2 bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, reduce to low heat and cover.
  11. Simmer for 80 minutes, stirring lightly occasionally. If the braising liquid starts to dry up, add some of the leftover marinade.
  12. Halfway through the simmer, about 40 minutes in, add the chopped prunes. Stir well.
  13. Continue simmering for another 80 minutes, or until the meat is very tender. Again, add marinade if the braising liquid is dry.
  14. Once the meat is tender enough, remove it from the Dutch oven, let it cool a little and cut it into thick slices (about 2 cm, a little less than an inch, in thickness).
  15. For the sauce, turn up the heat of the remaining liquids and vegetables to high and boil for at least 5 minutes to reduce the sauce. Remove the bay leaves and juniper berries (if possible) and either use an immersion blender or, in batches, puree the sauce in a blender.
  16. Prepare your gnocchi (njoki) according to the package instructions (assuming you’re not making your own).
  17. Return the blended sauce to the saucepan, season to taste, add the meat and reheat.
  18. Your pašticada is now ready to serve. Sprinkle it with fresh parsley, then place a slice or two of meat per plate next to some gnocchi (or other accompaniment) and pour the sauce generously over both. Serve with a fresh green salad.


Recipe adapted from

Photo from


Jul 15, 2018

Ma’amoul (Date Cookies)


Ma’amoul are shortbread cookies, filled with a sweetened date puree, baked until just golden, and dusted with powdered sugar.  They are traditionally served for Eid, as a welcome sweet reward following the fasting of Ramadan, and for Easter, as a welcome sweet rewards following the fasting of Lent, for Rosh Hashanah for a sweet new year… Basically, no matter what your religion, in the Levant, if you want a sweet treat, these cookies are your go-to.


Making them traditionally requires two things you likely don’t have, but I’ve got ways to work around those.  First, you probably don’t have the traditional wooden mold that you use to shape the cookies - but that’s OK.  You can use your palm or anything else you have on hand to mold small cookies.  Or you can order one online.


Second, traditionally, these cookies include mahlab, a spice made from cherry pits, which gives an amaretto-like flavor.  Easy to find at a Middle East specialty market, but not accessible anywhere else. You can substitute almond extract or just leave it out.


Building the cookies are easy.  Mix up the dough, knead it and let it sit. 


Pit and chop the dates - I like medjool dates for this, but if you have deglet noor, those work too, they just aren’t as sweet.  Letting the dates cook a bit helps to break down the fibers, enrich the spices, and build up the sweetness.


Roll out the dough into little balls, then take one, press it out in your hand, add some dates, and fold the dough around it.  If you have a mold, put the cookie into it, press gently to get the shape, and then whap onto the counter to release it.  If you don’t have the mold, it’s fine - consider using a fork to make indentations to form a pattern.


Then bake until just golden - do NOT overbake - and dust with powdered sugar.


So good.  IF you like dates.


Makes 20




  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup butter melted and hot
  • ½ teaspoon Mahlab or almond extract (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup milk


  • 1 ½ cup pitted and chopped dates
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon



The dough:

  • Mix the vanilla with milk and oil, keep aside.
  • In a bowl add all the dry ingredients and mix well. Pour the hot butter into the flour and mix using a whisk until well combined.
  • Add the milk and knead for at least 5 minutes. Cover and leave in a warm place for one hour.


The filling:

  1. In a saucepan, add all the ingredients and stir on medium heat. The date will soften and will form into a dough like texture. This process and depending on the type of dates you are using might take 3 minutes to four minutes.
  2. Let the mixture cool completely then form 10 equal balls.


The cookies:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease a baking pan with butter and keep aside.
  2. Form 20 equal balls from the dough previously prepared. Take one ball and flatten it slightly in the palm of your hand. Place a ball of date in the center and close the dough forming a sealed ball.
  3. Place the ball in a mold, press it gently until the surface is even.
  4. Slam the edge of the mold on folded towel, a clean kitchen counter, or cutting board few times to release the dough from the mold.
  5. Place the cookies on a nonstick or greased baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes. When it cools dust with confectioners’ sugar if you wish.


Recipe adapted from  Image from the Guardian

Jul 7, 2018

Kibbeh are delicious Lebanese dishes made of ground meat (usually beef or lamb), bulgur wheat, onion and spices.  Very simple, very delicious.  Sometimes kibbeh comes as a baked casserole, like a meatloaf, and sometimes it’s a deep-fried croquette, shaped in balls.  Sometimes, it’s eaten raw, like steak tartare.

I genuinely like fried kibbeh best, but it’s pretty similar to falafel in looks, and you might be tired of fried food, so y’know what, we’ll try the baked variety.  I think you’ll like it, and maybe your arteries will too!

A couple of things: If you can’t get the meat for the kibbeh layer ground finely from the butcher, you’ll need to grind it super-fine yourself, but if you’re like me, you don’t have a meat grinder lying around.  So what to do? You may have to use a food processor to grind it down.  Not great, but it’ll do.

Second, the meat will stick to your hands.  Having ice cold water on hand to moisten your hands and keep them free from stickiness will help a lot.  Just make sure not to get too much water into the meat.

Serves 6


For bulgur mixture (kibbeh)

  • 1 cups fine bulgur (#1)
  • 1 pounds ground beef or lamb, VERY lean
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, pureed
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 1 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For filling

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more to coat the pan
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound ground beef from chuck
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter


  • Rinse the bulgur in cold water, drain, and cover to 1⁄2 inch with cold water. Soak for 1⁄2 hour, or until the bulgur is softened.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • First step is the outer layer, the kibbeh.  In a large bowl, knead the ground meat with the pureed onion and about half of the bulgur. If there is any visible water left in the bulgur from soaking, squeeze it out of the wheat before adding it to the kibbeh.
  • Dip hands in ice cold water as you knead, adding about 1⁄4 cup of the water in total; be careful not to add too much water to the kibbeh or it will become mushy rather than just soft. Add the bulgur 1⁄4 cup at a time until it’s fully incorporated. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne and cinnamon, tasting and adjusting the seasoning.
  • Now for the middle layer, the filling: in a large frying pan, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions and about a half teaspoon of salt and sauté until soft. Add the ground beef and season with cinnamon, another half teaspoon of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until browned, breaking up the meat with a metal spoon into small bits as it cooks. Squeeze the lemon juice over the meat, taste, and adjust seasoning if needed. Stir in the pine nuts and set aside to cool.
  • Coat a 9x13x2 inch baking dish with oil. Set up another small bowl of ice water where you are working and use the water to coat your hands as you flatten and shape the kibbeh. Use half of the kibbeh to form thin, a flat layer covering the bottom of the baking dish. Smooth the layer with cold water.
  • Spread the filling evenly over the flat kibbeh layer. Using the remaining kibbeh meat, form another thin, flat layer over the stuffing and smooth with cold water.
  • With a knife, score the top in squares (or the traditional diamond pattern) into the kibbeh, cutting through to the center layer but not all the way to the bottom of the dish.
  • Place a dab of butter on each square—this adds a wonderful savory flavor and moisture to the kibbeh.
  • Bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the kibbeh is deep golden brown on top; finish the kibbeh under the broiler, if needed, to get that deep color.
  • Serve with Labneh (Lebanese yogurt); plain Greek yogurt will do in a pinch.  Warmed pita bread works too.  And don’t forget the mezze in advance like hummus or tabouleh) 

Recipe adapted from Maureen Abood’s Rose Water and Orange Blossoms (

Photo from

Jun 22, 2018

The trick to wonderful couscous is to steam the grain over the sauce so that the flavors of the stew seep into every little piece.  Much fluffier and more flavorful than the store-bought boiled method you’re probably familiar with.

This version also steams onions and chickpeas with the same method.  You soften the couscous with chicken stock first, then make a simple stew of chicken thighs, onion, tomato paste, salt and Libya’s favorite Five Spice blend: Hararat.  Hararat is cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cayenne, and allspice - I love that concept of earthy, spicy, slightly sweet. 

As that simmers, put a steamer over the pot and steam a ton of onions and chickpeas.  After they’ve softened, you’ll transfer them to a separate pot to caramelize.  Then put the couscous in the steamer and let it steam until pure fluffiness.  Then pile it up: couscous, stew, and onions on top. 

Serves 4


  • 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) couscous
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
  • 1 lb (500 g) Chicken thighs, boneless, cut into chunks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 tbsp (37 ml) tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp (1 ml) chili flakes
  • 1⁄4 tsp (1 ml) ground allspice
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) salt 
  • approximately one liter of hot water
  • Approximately 7 medium onions, halved and sliced
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp ghee


  • In a saucepan, heat chicken stock to boiling.  Place couscous in a separate bowl.  Pour the hot stock over the couscous, mix, and cover.  Let rest for 5 minutes, then uncover and fluff the couscous, breaking any lumps.  Use a separate bowl rather than the saucepan because you don’t want the additional radiant heat from the pan.  The goal is soften the grains, but not to cook them yet.
  • Mix the spices together.
  • In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Sauté the chopped onion until golden, then add the tomato paste.  Stir it in and cook, stirring until the paste is fully integrated; you might need to turn the heat down to keep the mixture from scorching.
  • Add the chicken and 1 tsp of the spice blend, mixing thoroughly to coat.  Cook a couple of minutes until spices release their aroma.  Then add salt and water and bring to a boil.
  • Prepare steamer to place on top of pot and put sliced onions into steamer.  Reduce heat to medium, place the steamer onto the pot and cover.
  • After about 20 minutes, check to see if the onions are softening, then add a dish of salt and the chickpeas, then put the cover back on the steamer.
  • After another 20 minutes, the onions should be tender, but not mushy.
  • In a separate saucepan - you can use the one you heated the stock in - melt the ghee over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and chickpeas and 3 ladles of the chicken sauce.  Top with another 1 tsp of the hararat spice blend you made in step 1.  Let this simmer.
  • Put the couscous into the now-vacant steamer.  Check the stew to ensure there is enough liquid to steam the couscous - you might need to add some more water.
  • Replace the steamer and cover, steaming the couscous for about 20 minutes. 
  • When the couscous is fluffy and aromatic, prepare to serve.  Put the couscous in a large serving bowl, and sprinkle with some more of the hararat.  Then ladle the stew onto the couscous, with the onion mixture on top.
  • Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Umm Obabdiah’s website (

Jun 14, 2018

The sadhya is a traditional Keralan feast: a banana leaf covered with small servings of 20 different items, from rice to curries to breads to a banana for dessert.  It’s pretty awesome.

It’s also not something you’ll make for a weekday meal.  So what I’ve done is to take three vegetable curries and combine them for you for a mini-sadhya of sorts.  Delicious, redolent of Keralan flavors, and just fun.

Each dish has a different texture, so even though the flavor profiles are complementary, the tastes are very unique.  I loved how they all worked together, so I’m going to present them as such.  If you want to make each individually, I got all three recipes (plus the rice) from the cookbook Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala by Maya Kaimal.

Each recipe has its own spice mix, or masala.  You’ll note that they are each slightly different, and that difference matters.

Curry leaves are the hardest part of this to get and also the most important.  I bought a bunch for $1 at a local Indian grocery, so I’d recommend that.  You can also order them via mail, but the premium for shipping has to be crazy.

Read through this first and build your mise en place before starting.  Several of the steps go VERY quickly, so it’s best to have everything chopped, mixed, and prepped before you turn on the stove.

This is going to be a bit messy and will use five pots: I’ll note which recipe you’re working on as you go - what can be made first and what can wait until the end.

Serves 6


  • 11 tbsp vegetable oil (divided)
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 1 cup thoor dhal, washed and rinsed (Or masoor dhal, or whatever dal you prefer)
  • 28 ounces fresh spinach (or 2 10-ounce packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
  • 3/4 cup grated unsweetened coconut
  • 3 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (divided)
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 fresh green chile (serrano or Thai), split lengthwise
  • 3 dried red chiles (divided)
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin (divided)
  • 4/8 tsp cayenne (divided)
  • 5/8 tsp turmeric (divided)
  • 1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds (divided)
  • 20 to 22 fresh curry leaves (divided)
  • 2 cans (15 ounce) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 3/4 tsp salt (divided)
  • 2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice (divided)
  • 1 tsp ghee
  • 1/4 cup cilantro (for garnish)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Start with the:


  • In a 2-quart saucepan, combine dal with 2 1/2 cups water.  Bring to a boil. 
  • Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes or so, until the water is absorbed and the lentils break apart under pressure from your spoon.

Move on to the:


  1. Heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  When hot, add 1 tsp whole cumin seeds.  Then quickly add 2 cups basmati rice.  Stir to coat each grain of rice.  Toast for a while to bring out a nutty aroma.
  2. Add 4 cups water, bring to a boil, stir, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat after that and set aside.

Back to the:


  1. While the rice and dal are cooking, create a masala for the dal:
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  1. In a frying pan, heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil.  Add 1 tsp mustard seeds and COVER the skillet or pot.  Mustard seeds will pop like crazy once they reach the right internal temperature, and that’s what you want to release flavor, but trust me, you’ll want to keep them in the skillet instead of all over your kitchen.
  2. Once the popping subsides - but before they burn - add 1 dried red chile and 10 curry leaves.  After a few seconds, add 1/2 cup onion and sauté until golden brown.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the masala and saute for 1 more minute.
  4. Take this whole onion mixture and add it to the dal in the saucepan, along with 1/2 cup water and 1 tsp salt.  Stir to combine, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes, partially covered.
  5. Add more water as needed - the consistency should be pea soup-thick, not pasty.
  6. Remove from heat and add 1 tsp lemon juice and ghee.
  7. Set aside - you can reheat when it’s time to serve.

Next comes the:

SPINACH with COCONUT (Spinach Tharen)

  1. Wash, dry, and chop the fresh spinach or drain the thawed frozen spinach. Set aside.
  2. Create a masala for the spinach:
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  1. In a bowl, combine coconut, the green chile, 1 tsp salt and the masala.  Stir with about 1/4 cup water, just enough to make a paste.
  2. In a large skillet - or even a strong bottomed soup pot: I liked the high walls to keep the spinach in - heat 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat.  Add 1 tsp mustard seeds and COVER the skillet or pot. 
  3. Once they start to pop, add 2 dried red chiles, 10 to 12 curry leaves and 1 cup onion.  Stir and sauté for 2 minutes or until the onion starts to soften (but not brown).
  4. Add the spinach and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes or until the spinach is halfway to wilted through. 
  5. Stir in the coconut paste and keep cooking, stirring constantly until the spinach is tender.  Remove from heat and taste for salt.  Set this aside - you can reheat quickly when it’s time to serve.

Proceed to the:


  1. Create a masala for the chickpeas:
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  1. Heat 4 tbsp oil in frying pan over medium-high heat.  Sauté 2 cups onions until light brown. Add masala and stir for 1 minute or until the spices start to smell fragrant.
  2. Add the drained chickpeas, 1 tsp pepper, 3/4 tsp salt, and about a tablespoon of water.  Sauté over medium heat stirring constantly until a few of the chickpeas start to break down.  Add a teaspoon of water whenever the mixture becomes dry: it should never be wet or saucy but it should be moist.
  3. Stir in 1 tsp fresh lemon juice, remove from heat, taste for salt and serve with 1/4 cup chopped cilantro.

Wow.  23 steps.  I know that seems like a lot, but it’s all about careful planning your mise en place. 

Trust me - you’ll love this.  I did.  The chickpeas are my new go-to recipe, and the spinach with the coconut was particularly outstanding.

Recipe adapted from Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala by Maya Kaimal (2000).

May 9, 2018

Artichokes are a special part of a Roman spring.  Jewish-style artichokes are flattened and fried, and are delicious, but they can be devilishly difficult to cook at home.  Roman-style artichokes, on the other hand, are, as I’ve learned, only regularly difficult to cook at home.

The cooking isn’t the problem.  It’s the cleaning.

Artichokes are spiny, woodsy, challenging, and inside there’s the nasty, inedible, fluff-ridden choke.  Why on earth do we bother?

Because they’re delicious.

I’ve seen some recipes which only call for the hearts, while others allow more of the leaves.  Here’s what I’d recommend: trim the outer leaves, using a y-shaped vegetable peeler to remove all the woodsy bits. Then cut the tops off the artichokes, so that you can spoon out the nasty choke.  Put them into lemon juice infused water - this well keep them from browning.

Once they’re cleaned, slather them with herbs and plop them in a pot with olive oil and wine.  Braise them until they’re tender and enjoy!

Serves 4


  • 2 whole lemons (for maintaining artichokes' color)
  • 4 large or 12 small artichokes (2 pounds; 1kg)
  • 1/4 cup (7g) minced flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) dry white wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Fill a large bowl with water; halve and squeeze 2 lemons into it.  Keep one lemon half to the side after squeezing - you can use this to rub onto the artichokes as your clean them.
    1. Using a serrated knife, cut off top of artichoke and bottommost part of stem.
    2. Using a paring knife or sharp vegetable peeler, trim away the tough outer leaves to expose the tender inner leaves and heart.
    3. Trim away fibrous outer layer around stem to expose tender inner core (if stem breaks off, that's okay; just save it and cook it alongside the hearts).
    4. Slice the top off each heart deep enough that you can dig into the heart but not so deep that you lose the artichoke.
    5. Using a spoon, scrape out the inedible, hairy choke in the center of each heart.
    6. Transfer cleaned artichokes to bowl of lemon water as you work, covering them with a clean kitchen towel to keep them completely submerged.
  2. Trim artichokes by cleaning them down to the hearts:
  3. In a small bowl, stir together parsley, mint, oregano, and garlic. Rub concave side of each artichoke heart with herb mixture, packing it into any leafy crevices. Set aside remaining herb mixture.
  4. Add olive oil and wine to a pot just large enough to hold all the artichokes closely side by side, so that they can sit flat with their stem sides up. Arrange artichokes in pot and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bring pot to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower heat to a bare simmer, cover, and cook until artichokes are fork-tender, 20 to 30 minutes. (Smaller artichokes may not take as long.)
  6. Remove from heat and transfer artichokes to a platter, stem sides up. Drizzle with cooking juices, along with some fresh olive oil and a light sprinkling of reserved herb mixture. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe from - They have a terrific page on cleaning artichokes, complete with video!

May 3, 2018

I know I promised you huaraches.  I even described them in the episode.  But can I be honest?  Yes?  I like to keep these recipes to things you can do on a weeknight: delicious and authentic, yet not overly complicated.  Well… huaraches were getting too complicated.

So instead, I give you a very simple and delicious dish with its roots in Puebla, a city between Mexico City and the Gulf Coast, where the Mexicans defeated a French Army in 1861 on May 5, forever remembered as Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo is NOT a significant holiday in Mexico, which will surprise the many Americans who celebrate with tacos, margaritas, and more margaritas.  It’s big in Puebla, but how it became big in the US is simply a marketing thing.  The weather is usually nice on May 5, and early May lacked a good alcohol-driven holiday.  Mexican Independence Day (September 15) is too close to Labor Day and would be less festive, I guess.

Anyway, Puebla is famous for its mole above all else, which I’ll get to eventually, because mole poblano is one of the world’s best dishes, bar none.  For now, though, I introduce the tinga: shredded meat, combined with chipotle peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes and spices.  Traditionally, it’s served on tostadas, crispy fried tortillas.

This recipe, from Rick Bayless’ Everyday Mexican is adapted for a slow-cooker, so it’s great for a weekday meal.  This is one of my absolute go-to recipes.  Set it up in the morning, and come home with the house smelling like absolute heaven. 

It’s not completely traditional.  It’s got potatoes, which are not typical but which make for a nice additional filler.  The slow cooker doesn’t allow for browning, hence the Worcestershire sauce to bring in umami.

I prefer tinga as a taco filling rather than as a tostada topper.  It’s just less greasy that way.

I will vouch all day for this recipe.  ¡Feliz cinco de mayo!

Serves 4


  • 4 medium (about 500g/1 lb) red or gold-skinned potatoes, each cut into 6 wedges
  • 1.5 kg / 3 lbs  chicken thighs (skin removed) - you can substitute 1 kg / 2 lbs of boneless thighs or (if you HAVE to) breasts
  • 28 oz canned diced tomatoes, drained (fire-roasted, if possible) - it’s May, so good tomatoes aren’t in season yet
  • 4 oz fresh Mexican chorizo (NOT spanish), crumbled
  • 1 white onion, sliced
  • 2 or 3 canned chipotle chiles, chopped, with 1 tablespoon of their adobo canning liquid
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Corn tortillas - 12, at least, but probably more


  1. Spread the potato wedges on the bottom of the slow cooker.  Top with the chicken.
  2. Sprinkle the chorizo on top of the chicken.  Put the onion slices on top of that.
  3. In a large separate bowl, combine the chipotles, adobo, tomatoes, Worcestershire, thyme, and salt.
  4. Pour the tomato mixture over the chicken and chorizo in the slow cooker.
  5. Put the lid on the slow cooker and set to slow-cook on high for 6 hours - most slow cookers can keep the dish warm for an additional four.
  6. Once complete, remove the solids into a separate dish and discard the bones, if any.  Ladle the remaining juices into a saucepan and boil over high heat to reduce to  about 1 cup.
  7. Shred the chicken with a fork.  Pour the sauce over the meat mixture.
  8. Serve with corn tortillas.

Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless’ Everyday Mexican, a cookbook that I have used more than all my other cookbooks combined.  Every recipe is fantastic.

Rick Bayless is a Chicago-based chef, who has made a career of bringing out the best in regional Mexican cuisine. You may have seen his show "Mexico: One Plate at a Time" on your public television station.  I appreciate that he is white and that calls for cultural appropriation reign down upon him. But he has a passionate love for Mexico which shines through.  Generations of young Mexican chefs have passed through his kitchen, to start their own successful restaurants. Every year, he shuts down his restaurants to take the entire staff, from busboys to sous-chefs to a different state in Mexico, to sample the cuisine, explore the markets, appreciate the local flavors.  I believe there is a massive difference between appropriating culture (like bars doing Cinco de Mayo) and showing honor and respect.  If you want cultural appropriation, may I introduce you to hipster white dudes selling "Nashville Hot Chicken"?  OK, soapbox over.  Try this recipe and enjoy it.

Apr 25, 2018

You shouldn’t need a recipe for bruschetta. It’s so simple, after all.  And yet, you’ve had bad bruschetta.  We all have.  The bread isn’t crisp enough or maybe too crisp.  There’s too much topping or it’s too wet.  And so, as a public service, I give you SIX EASY TRICKS to PERFECT BRUSCHETTA.

#1. The bread:  Use good crusty Italian bread.  Day old is preferable.  Slice to about half an inch thick.  Grill it if you can, toasting is an acceptable alternative.

#2. The tomatoes:  fresh, ripe, local is best.  Peel and seed before chopping.  Most people miss this step and it makes for a less pleasant experience.  Peeled and seeded tomatoes will melt in your mouth.

#3. The garlic: Slice a clove in half width-wise, squeeze the half a little bit and rub it on the top of the toast.

#4. The olive oil:  Use good Italian olive oil, extra virgin, unfiltered if available. Aim towards a fruity variety, rather than a more bitter variety.

#5. The salt:  Kosher salt only please, or sea salt with largish crystals.

#6. The basil:  Fresh and bright. The best is the kind you grow yourself.  In fact, if you live in an apartment or house or anywhere, and have a southern exposure that gets sunlight, you can grow basil.  It’s worth it to do - you can use it on all sorts of things and it’s so wonderful when you pick it yourself.

Serves 4


  • 8 half-inch (1 cm) thick slices of crusty bread
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced width-wise
  • 4 whole tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Handful of basil leaves, sliced into small pieces
  • Fresh ground black pepper (finely ground)


  1. Grill the bread slices over a moderately hot fire until they are nicely toasted on both sides, turning to ensure even browning. Be careful not to burn them; older bread is drier and will cook quickly.
  2. Take a half garlic clove and rub each slice of bread while it is still hot with the exposed inside of the clove, squeezing the garlic between your fingers to release its juices into the bread.  The more you rub, the garlickier it will be.
  3. Drizzle the bread lightly with the olive oil, since you’ll be including olive oil in the pomodoro mixture. Salt the slices very lightly as well.
  4. Toss the tomatoes, basil, a splash of olive oil, a little extra salt, and a twist of pepper.
  5. Top each slice with the tomato mixture.
  6. Serve and enjoy the happy faces.

Recipe adapted from

Mar 5, 2018

Traditional Hanukkah foods are fried in oil, and among Israeli Jews, that means sufganiyot: jelly doughnuts.

The word sufganiyot comes from the sword sfog, meaning sponge, and North African Jews brought a long tradition of frying doughnuts with them to Israel.  There, they mixed with Eastern European jews who brought their own doughnuts, with jelly.  These ponchkes in Yiddish are the Jewish version of the Polish pączki (pronounced "paunch-key".  Pączki are Mardi Gras treats, best known in America as the reason there’s a line out of every Polish bakery in Chicago in February.

So, to make sufganiyot, you need to be able to manage yeast and dough.  I can’t.  I’ve tried several times.  Once the water was too cold, and the yeast didn’t bloom.  Another time, the water was too hot, and the yeast died a tragic scalding death.  A third time, the yeast seemed OK, but I kneaded the dough too much. 

But if you have skill with baking, try this recipe, and let me know how light and fluffy they are.  This recipe has an orange zest, which adds some zing to the dough, and raspberry or strawberry filling.  That’s great, but if you’d rather lemon zest and blueberry, I won’t be mad at you.

Serves 4 at least


  • ¼ cup lukewarm milk or water
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) sugar
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) sour cream or vegetable oil
  • ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) salt
  • ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) vanilla extract
  • Freshly grated zest of 1/2 orange
  • 1  cups flour (400 ml), more as needed
  • ½ cup (120 ml) thick raspberry or strawberry jam
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • Confectioners' sugar for dusting


  1. Place milk or water in small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) sugar over milk. Set aside until frothy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat remaining sugar with egg and egg yolk. Add sour cream, salt, vanilla extract, orange zest and yeast mixture, and mix well.
  3. With mixer running, gradually add flour. Mix until dough is soft, smooth and elastic, adding flour if dough seems very sticky, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not add more than an additional 3 tablespoons (45 ml) flour; dough will be somewhat sticky, but will firm up in refrigerator. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
  4. On a floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2-inch thickness (1.25 cm). Use a biscuit or a cookie cutter to cut out 2-inch rounds (5 cm), placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Reroll scraps and cut again. Let rise in a warm place 30 minutes.
  5. In a heavy pot, heat 3 inches of oil (7.5 cm) to 365 degrees F (185 C); when hot enough, a small piece of dough will brown on bottom in 30 seconds. If too hot, doughnuts will brown outside before cooking through.
  6. Working in batches, fry doughnuts until golden brown, turning once. Drain on paper towels and dust with sugar while still warm. Let oil come back to 365 degrees F (185 C) between batches.
  7. If you have a pastry bag, fit with a small round tip and spoon jam into bag. When doughnuts are cool enough to handle, use tip of bag (or pointed tip of a serrated knife) to make a hole in bottom of doughnut. Squeeze or use a small spoon to nudge 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) of jam into hole. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and serve immediately. Dust again with powdered sugar.

Recipe adapted from

Feb 26, 2018

Everyone loves grilled chicken, right?  Especially cooked on an open flat grill and served in a warm sandwich?  Yes, please.

Jerusalemites have their own version, the Jerusalem mixed grill, or me’orav Yerushalmi.   Chicken bits, sautéed with spices.  Supposedly concocted in the Mahane Yehuda market, just a bit west of the Old City, the mixed grill was based on English mixed grill, brought by the British.  It has a twist though.

While you can make it with breasts and thighs, traditionally the mixed grill is hearts and livers.  That’s often enough to deter the squeamish, but don’t let it!

This is the easiest recipe I’ll post.  Dice up the chicken into small pieces, and marinate with thin-sliced onion and spices.  Then sauté on a hot skillet.  Easy peasy.

When I tried it, I used breast, because of squeamish family members, and I loved it.  The spice mix I used had slightly different flavors than the usual shawarma blend: in addition to cumin and paprika, the mix has allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, and cardamom, which give a sweetish warmth and kick on the forefront of the tongue.  It’s just pleasant.  And in a warm pita with hummus and tahini sauce, marvelous.

Serves 4 at least


  • 1 pound chicken livers, chopped  (If you’re not into livers, try thighs)
  • 1 pound chicken breast, chopped
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg


  1. Mix the chicken livers and breast with the onions, spices and olive oil. Marinate for several hours (up to one full day).
  2. Heat a skillet and add the seasoned meat mixture.
  3. Cook, stirring, until meat has cooked through.

Recipe adapted from

Photo from wikipedia because I forgot to take a picture of what I cooked, which was great.  The onions, man, the onions made it all so magnificent.

Feb 6, 2018

You’ve heard of a cronut, right?  Some New York baker took a croissant and fried and glazed it like a donut and made bajillions?  Well, feteer is a cro-izza.  It’s flaky and buttery like a croissant; in fact, some think it was the ancestor to that noble pastry.  But it’s thrown, stuffed, topped, and eaten like a pizza.

It’s fiendishly simple, which is why I haven’t tried to make it yet.  I tend to do really badly with fiendishly simple things involving dough, because fiendishly simple dishes often require an expert technique or skill to make them terrific, since they don’t have the complex flavors that come from many ingredients or a more complicated process.

In this case, it sounds too easy to be true.  Flour, water and salt in a mixer to create a very sticky dough.  Roll into four balls and let sit in a bath of melted butter.  This sounds crazy and fattening, but it will make the flour much easier to roll out, and you’re going to use the butter anyway, so why not?

Take a ball, put it on a wide flat and floured surface, and roll it as thin as you possibly can.  If you can see through it, that’s ideal.  Put your stuffing, whether sweet or savory, in the middle, fold over the sides, and then do the same with the other layers. 

Try this, then let me know how it turns out!

Serves 4 at least


  • 4 cups of white all purpose flour.
  • 2 cups of water ( +/- depending on the type of flour you are using)
  • A dash of salt.
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • Something savory to stuff inside (cheese, vegetables, meat) OR
    • Something sweet to stuff inside (chocolate, jam, custard)
  • Something savory to top (cheese, olives, peppers) OR
    • Something sweet to top (powdered sugar)


  1. First, mix the flour and salt and add the first cup of water and knead very well then add the remaining bit by bit until you get a dough that is very elastic and sticky.
  2. Divide the dough into 4 balls, grease a deep dish and put the balls in it.
  3. Let it rest for 15 min. and turn your oven on to the highest degree possible, mine was 550 F.
  4. Roll the first ball to be very thin that you can see your counter top through, brush the surface generously with melted butter.
  5. Arrange your stuffing in the middle and carefully fold all 4 sides over the center.
  6. Roll the next ball until very thin and brush as you’ve done with the first ball.
  7. Place the already done one, folded side down, then fold the outer one and brush with more butter as you fold.
  8. Repeat the process for additional layers. Brush generously with butter and add the suggested toppings if you would like to.
  9. Place in a greased pizza pan - or any oven-safe pan - for 10-15 minutes until done.

Recipe adapted from

Jan 12, 2018

Soupe au pistou is a classic Provençal dish: ripe vegetables, fresh herbs, inexpensive ingredients.  Soul-warming, bone-sticking nutrition in a bowl.  It’s sort of like minestrone: a bean soup, flavored with fresh herbs, then with any vegetable you can think of thrown in, but especially tomatoes, then some pasta to provide a little thickening.  Traditionalists say it requires haricots vests, zucchini (or courgettes, if you go that way), potatoes and tomatoes, but others say it’s whatever you have handy.

The secret to soupe au pistou, though, is the pistou itself: a dollop of basil/garlic/olive oil sauce on top.  Don’t call it pesto - that would contain pine nuts, which pistou does not.  Again, traditionalists say no cheese either, but I find a little Gruyere helps to make it smooth and delicious.

There are countless recipes for soupe au pistou out there.  This is one I used, and it came out great.  Well, I didn’t exactly.  I didn’t have the cabbage and forgot the zucchini.  I think both would help boost the flavor. 

Two other notes:  I didn’t have a bay leaf and used rosemary, which was nice but obviously quite different.  The most important thing here is to ensure that you have the herbs ties up or contained; otherwise, they fall apart and you’re left with random rosemary needles.

Second, If you’re using green beans, make sure they are cut into small lengths so they’ll fit on a spoon.   

The thrill is stirring that bright green dollop of pistou into the soup.  It’s delicious.  My son loved this one, especially with a fresh, warm baguette to soak up the soup.  We also had some French butter on hand, which was very pleasant with the bread. 

Be forewarned: this makes a LOT, so don’t make a vat of it the day before you go away on a four-day business trip.  Bon appétit!

Serves 8 at least



  • 1 ½ cups (360 ml) white beans, soaked for six hours in 6 cups water and drained
  • 2 quarts (1.9 liters) water
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • A bouquet garni made with a few sprigs each thyme and parsley, a Parmesan rind and a bay leaf
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 leeks, white and light green part only, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 1 can, with liquid
  • 2 cups shredded savoy or green cabbage
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium-size zucchini, scrubbed and diced
  • 2 medium-size turnips, peeled and diced
  • ½ pound (250 g) green beans, trimmed and broken into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups), blanched for five minutes and set aside
  • ½ cup (120 ml) soup pasta, such as macaroni or small shells (or ditalini if you have some left over from when you tried the koshari recipe!)
  • Freshly ground pepper


  • 2 large garlic cloves, halved, green shoots removed
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups, tightly packed, fresh basil leaves
  •  cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup (120 ml) freshly grated Gruyere
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup (120 ml) freshly grated Gruyere for sprinkling


  1. Drain the white beans and combine with 2 quarts water in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam, then add half the onion, half the garlic and the bouquet garni. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Add salt to taste.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet, and add the remaining chopped onion and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add the leeks and remaining garlic. Stir together for a few minutes, and add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly and the mixture is fragrant, five to 10 minutes. Stir this mixture into the soup pot, add all of the remaining vegetables except the green beans, and bring back to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Taste and adjust the seasonings.  By sautéing the aromatics before adding them to the soup, you help their flavor develop  an additional richness.
  3. While the soup is simmering, blanch the green beans for five minutes in salted boiling water. Transfer to a bowl of ice-cold water. Drain and set aside.
  4. To make the pistou, mash the garlic with a generous pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle. Remove it and set aside. Grind the basil to a paste in the mortar, a handful at a time, then add the garlic back in and mix together well. Work in the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, then stir in the cheese.  You can use a food processor too.  It’s really OK.
  5. Add the pasta to the simmering soup about 10 minutes before serving, and cook until cooked al dente. Add pepper, taste and adjust salt. Stir the blanched green beans into the soup and heat through. Serve, adding a spoonful of pesto to each bowl for guests to stir in. Pass additional Parmesan for sprinkling.

Recipe adapted from  Image from

Dec 11, 2017

This is the easiest pasta to make, and the easiest pasta to mess up.  There are four ingredients:

  1. pasta, preferably spaghetti - long, thin (but not too thin) and able to be completely coated in sauce
  2. water, specifically the water used to cook the pasta
  3. fresh cracked black pepper
  4. Pecorino Romano, a hard, salty sheep’s milk cheese that Romans have been eating since the legionaries were marching on Carthage. 

You’d think this would be so easy.  I mean, it’s basically Roman mac n’ cheese.  But you’d be surprised how easy it is to get really greasy or clumpy or both.  You’re trying to make a creamy sauce from a hard cheese.  But it can be done!

Here’s secret one: grate the Pecorino as fine as you can.  The finer it is, the easier it will emulsify into your sauce. 

Secret two: save a little pasta water - that’s the water you cook your pasta in.  Makes a huge difference in making your sauce silky since the water contains starch, which will again help to emulsify. 

Secret three: don’t try to make this a one-pot dish.  You’ll end up overcooking the cheese, which leads to lumps.  Instead try this.  Cook your spaghetti in well-salted water.  And yes, spaghetti really is the winner here.  Not so thin that it falls apart, but not so thick that portions get uncovered in sauce.  Short pastas would be less appealing here too.  Before you drain your pasta, be sure to save a cup or so of your pasta water.

OK. Now add the warm pasta water to a separate pot with your finely grated cheese, about 2 cups or 110 grams.  Stir until it’s all completely melty and beautiful.  If it looks as though it’s breaking, add a little more pasta water.  Then tong in the pasta and mix it all up so it’s all coated.  Buon appetito! 

Serves 4


  • 1 lb / 450 g spaghetti
  • Water
  • Salt
  • 5 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 180 g Pecorino Romano cheese, grated fine (approximately 1.75 cups)


  1. Toast the pepper in a hot, dry dutch oven until it smells fragrant.  Then set aside.
  2. Cook the spaghetti in well-salted water in a pot according to directions.  DO NOT use too much water - there should only be enough water to cover the pasta.  Too much water means not enough starch in the pasta water.
  3. Save a cup (240 ml) of pasta water before draining the pasta.  Then drain and set aside.
  4. In the dutch oven, which should still be a little warm, mix the cheese and pepper and slowly add some of the water, while mixing to create a paste.  Then add a little more pasta water to transform the paste into a sauce.
  5. Lastly, add the pasta and toss like crazy.  Add more water if you need to.  Then savor the amazing wonder that is cacio e pepe.

Recipe adapted from

Oct 24, 2017

Xi’an, being on the silk road, sits at a fascinating middle ground between east and west, only in this case, west means not Europe but the steppes of Central Asia.

This soup reflects that heritage: it blends Chinese spices and flavors (ginger, star anise, sichuan peppercorns) with lamb, a very Central Asian meat, and bread.  The bread is almost a homestyle flour tortilla or naan, meant to be ripped apart and doused in the soup, to thicken and dissolve in the broth.

Noodles make an appearance as well, and the entire experience is one of warmth, both temperature, spiciness, and soul-warming home-ish-ness.  That’s not a word.

I think I’m going to try this with chicken, since my wife will go for that.  Its won’t be the same!  But at least it’s close.  Try this out and let me know what you think!

Serves 4



  • 1 1/2 pounds (3 kg) boneless lamb (mutton, goat or stew-grade beef also work)
  • 10 cups ( litres) beef stock
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) Sichuan peppercorns
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 small stick cinnamon
  • 2 or 3 dried Thai chiles
  • 2 inches (5 cm) fresh ginger, smashed
  • 5 green onions, trimmed, lightly smashed
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) sea salt, or to taste


  • 2 cups (250 g) flour
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

Finishing touches:

  • 2 bundles cellophane noodles, soaked in cool water until soft
  • 1/4 cup ( ml) dried wood ear mushrooms, soaked in to water for at least an hour
  • handful of cilantro, chopped
  • chili paste or oil, to taste
  • black vinegar, to taste


  1. Cut the meat up into inch (2 cm) size cubes or so.  Place them in a large dutch oven or soup pot, cover with water, and boil for about 10 minutes, just to remove the initial fat.  Pour out the water and the scum which forms on top, and rise the meat in a colander.  Rinse out the pot / dutch oven and replace the parboiled meat and add the stock.
  2. If you have a mesh ball to hold spices, great - if not, use a piece of cheesecloth tied with twine.  You’ll use this to hold the fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorns.  Add this package to the soup, along with the rest of the spices and flavorings (star anise, cinnamon, chiles, ginger, and green onions. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, covered.  If all of that is too difficult, just throw the spices in.
  3. While the soup is simmering away, make the bread.  Mix the flour and baking powder together, add water and knead it together.  Cover and let rise for 30 minutes or so. 
  4. Heat up a wok or frying pan without oil to medium-high.  Take small pieces  from the dough and roll them out into circles around 1/3 inch (less than a cm) thick.
  5. Slap each one onto the wok, let them get brown on each side and then set aside.  Like making a tortilla, except without the press and not as thin.
  6. Throw the noodles and mushrooms into the soup.  Serve with cilantro, vinegar and chili sauce as condiments.  Break the bread up into the stew as a thickener, like fritos in chili.  Yum.

Recipe adapted from All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China but Carolyn Phillips and from


Oct 10, 2017

One of the special pleasures in life is a cold spread coating a piece of warm, fresh-from-the-oven bread, and this one from Greece is my favorite.

It’s fiendishly easy and magnificently garlicky.  If you don’t like garlic, then give this a pass. Not for vampires.

Basically, you boil potatoes, and mash them until they’re smooth.  I find it a lot easier to boil potatoes you’ve already cut into chunks.

In the meantime, you make a puree of garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and an additional thickener.  Almonds are standard, but if you’re nut-free, bread crumbs will do in a pinch.  Puree the garlic in the lemon juice - the acid will remove some of the garlic bite while keeping the flavor.

Then spoon it all together.  If it’s too thick, a little water will do, but not too much.  You want this to be thick enough to spread onto something, but not thin like mayonnaise or anything like that.  Slather it onto bread or fish or basically whatever you want.  It will be worth it.

Serves 4



  • 1 pound (450 g) of russet potatoes (2 or so), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup whole almonds (or substitute bread crumbs)
  • 4 to 6 medium cloves garlic (the more garlic, the more intense - start small at first)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (90ml) white wine vinegar and/or fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Minced flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  • Warmed pita and/or bread, for serving


  1. Set cubed potatoes in a colander and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Transfer to a large saucepan and cover with cold water by at least 2 inches. Season water with salt until it is salty like tears. Bring water to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until a knife easily pierces potatoes with no resistance, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain potatoes in colander, then rinse with hot running water for 30 seconds.
  2. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine almonds or bread crumbs, garlic, 2 tablespoons (30ml) cold water, and wine vinegar and/or lemon juice. Process until garlic and almonds are reduced to a paste. Season with salt.
  3. Spread potatoes in an even layer on a baking sheet and let the steam evaporate.  You want to get as much of the water out as possible.
  4. Thoroughly mash potatoes with a potato masher in a large mixing bowl.  (If you have a fancy ricer, feel free to use that.)
  5. Stir in olive oil and almond-garlic mixture until thoroughly incorporated. If the oil does not fully blend with the potatoes, stir in more cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well, until mixture is emulsified. Season with salt, then garnish with parsley and serve immediately with warm pita or bread, or chill until ready to serve.  It really is best chilled.

Recipe adapted from


Oct 6, 2017

Spanakotiropita  (σπανακοτυρόπιτα)

So I have searched every website out there to find an acceptable spanakopita, sorry, I mean spanakotripita, recipe, and I think this one will work.

Here’s the thing: phyllo dough is an absolute pain in the backside to work with.  It freaks me out every time.  So kudos to those who choose to make their own.  Even the frozen kind is challenging for me.

I found this recipe at  The best thing about this site is that they have many photographs and even videos really documenting each step.

Check their website out.  Honestly - it’s so well done.  They make it look actually easy to do.

Another note: I got into a significant argument with a Greek-American colleague about whether a spinach pie with feta was spanakotiropita or just spanakopita.  He was insistent that all spanakopita included cheese - it didn’t need to be mentioned specifically.  Note that this is counter to the point that Darby made in the episode.  We ended up at a Greek restaurant in Chicago (Greek Islands!) and they listed their spinach and cheese pie as… spanakotiropita!  Victory.  Nike.

Serves 4



  • 16 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
  • 2 bunches flat-leaf parsley, stems trimmed, finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 10.5 oz quality feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tsp dill weed
  • Freshly-ground black pepper


  • 16 oz package of frozen phyllo dough (thawed)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil or melted butter - you know you want to use the butter


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Before you begin mixing the filling, be sure the spinach is very well drained, and squeeze out any excess liquid by hand.
  3. To make the filling: In a mixing bowl, add the spinach and the remaining filling ingredients. Stir until all is well-combined.
  4. Unroll the phyllo sheets and place them between two very lightly damp kitchen cloths.
  5. Prepare a 9 1/2″ X 13″ baking dish. Brush the bottom and sides of the dish with olive oil or butter.
  6. To assemble the spanakotiropita: Line the baking dish with two sheets of phyllo letting them cover the sides of the dish. Brush with olive oil. Add two more sheets in the same manner, and brush them with olive oil. Repeat until two-thirds of the phyllo is used up.
  7. Now, evenly spread the spinach and feta filling over the phyllo crust. Top with two more sheets, and brush with olive oil.
  8. Continue to layer the phyllo sheets, two-at-a-time, brushing with olive oil, until you have used up all the sheets. Brush the very top layer with olive oil, and sprinkle with just a few drops of water.
  9. Fold the flaps or excess from the sides, you can crumble them a little. Brush the folded sides well with olive oil.
  10. Bake in the 325 degrees F heated-oven for 1 hour, or until the phyllo crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven. Cut into squares and serve! Enjoy!

Just go to and follow the step-by-step there.  It’s brilliant.

Sep 12, 2017

There are few dishes as stereotypically Greek as roast lamb.  With the weather starting to get cold as we move towards Autumn, what better way to celebrate stick-to-your-ribs comfort food?

If we were REALLY doing this right, we would roast a whole lamb on a spit in your front yard.  But that might upset the neighbors, the police, and the homeowners’ association, so we’ll do something in the oven

Arni sto Fourno (αρνι στο φουρνο), which means “oven-roasted lamb,” is a recipe I’m using from the restaurant where I met my wife 15 years ago.  In fact, this is the very dish I had that night, which is a good way to know that it’s the real deal - I mean, it was fifteen years ago.

The restaurant, the Greek Islands, calls it Arni Fournou, but whatever you call it, it’s super simple.  Chunk up some potatoes, throw in chopped tomatoes, garlic, oregano, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Then nestle in four lamb shanks, of about a pound each (500 g). 

This recipe ( comes from the Greek Islands, via the files of Check Please!, a public television staple in Chicago, in which each of three average viewers invites the other two to their favorite local restaurant.  I wish every town had that show - it does a terrific job in introducing viewers to cuisines, neighborhoods, and establishments they would never have considered otherwise.  (

Serves 4


  • 4 lbs/2 kg lamb shanks (four, about 1 lb/500 g each)
  • 2 lbs/1 kg peeled russet potatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 cup/240 ml chopped tomato
  • 9 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup/240 ml fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup/240 ml olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon/5 ml oregano (Greek or Turkish - not Mexican)


  1. Simply mix the above ingredients in a deep baking pan, fully coating the lamb in the marinade.
  2. Preheat oven to 275-325° F / 135-160° C (depending on the actual heat that your oven produces - if it runs hot, set the temp lower).
  3. Bake the lamb for 2 hours, turning the pieces over after the first hour.
  4. Serve the lamb with the potatoes and use a bit of the remaining juices to pour over the dish.
Sep 1, 2017

Sesame halva is well known throughout the world, and can be purchased at most Middle Eastern stores or Jewish delis.  I don’t care for it though, so I’m trying out a different version: one based on flour rather than sesame.

It's smooth, sweet - but not too sweet, with a nuttiness that comes from toasting the flour after blending it with butter.  I omitted the almonds because my kids are allergic, but they would probably give an amazing added crunch.

This recipe comes from the New York Times:

Serves 4


  • ½ cup/113 grams unsalted butter
  • 1 cup/125 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup/200 grams sugar
  • 1 ½ cups/350 milliliters whole milk
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 2 cups whole blanched almonds (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon


1. In a medium pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour, a little at a time to prevent clumping; reduce heat to very low and cook, stirring often with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the flour is deep golden brown and butter separates and floats to the top, about 1 to 2 hours. The higher the flame, the quicker it will cook, but the more you will have to stir it.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium pot, combine sugar, 1 1/2 cups/355 milliliters water, and milk; bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Turn off heat, cover to keep warm, and reserve.

3. When flour mixture is toasted and browned but not burned, slowly whisk in the warm milk mixture and a pinch of salt if you like. (It's O.K. if the milk has cooled to room temperature; it should not be cold.) Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until mixture comes together in a paste-like texture and no longer sticks to sides of the pot. (Make sure to stir in the corners and bottom of pot.) Whisk the mixture occasionally, if necessary, to create a smoother texture and get rid of any lumps. Cover pot with a cloth and a lid, then let cool.

4. In a medium skillet, toast the almonds in the dry pan over medium heat. Sprinkle almonds and cinnamon over cooled helva. Spoon onto plates or into small bowls to serve.

Involved?  Yes.  But worth it.  Really worth it.  Here's a couple of tips:

  • Use a bigger pan for the roux than you think you need.  You added the milk mixture to the roux, so you'll be thankful for the extra space.
  • When the recipe says, add the flour a little at a time, DO THAT.  I had to throw out my first batch because the flour/butter roux was way too clumpy.  The first 1/2 cup blends beautifully into the butter, it's the second half that will get you, and get you quick. 
  • I added a little vanilla extract to the milk mixture when hot.  I'm told that's a legit choice, as is rosewater.  I don't have rosewater, but vanilla was an excellent choice.
  • I ended up getting impatient.  After 45 minutes on very low, and no noticeable browning, I turned the stove to medium-low, with regular stirring (every couple of minutes).  That did the trick!  You definitely want brown, the browner the better.
  • As you add the milk, whisk like you've never whisked before, because helva comes at you fast.  It takes less than a minute for the final product to come together, and if you don't whisk hard in that time, you can end up with floury lumps instead of smooth, sugary sweetness.  It's only 45 seconds; you can do it.
Aug 1, 2017

Chicken, skewered and grilled, is a classic Persian dish, one that has been cooked for centuries.  And it’s magnificent.  The key is two-fold: 1) the marinade: a tangy blend of yogurt, lime juice, olive oil and saffron, which does wonderful things to the chunks of chicken breast, and 2) the charcoal grilling, which lends that lovely char that so nicely offsets the tenderness of the meat.

Chicken alone is nice; I like to pair with vegetables like onions, peppers, and tomatoes.  Make sure you cook those on different skewers, as they and the chicken take different times to cook.

Above all, you need a starch to go with this, and the best without doubt is the chelo, the rice.  It’s officially just a standard steamed basmati rice, but if you do it right, you get this lovely crust (or tah-dig) at the bottom of the pan that is so mind-blowing. 

This recipe comes from Azita from the top-notch Persian food blog Turmeric and Saffron (

Serves 4


  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, preferably fresh, never frozen, cut into cubes
  • 1 medium onion, grated 
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1.5 teaspoon powdered saffron dissolved in 5-6 tablespoons of hot water, divided in two
  • 2 teaspoons salt plus extra for the rice
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • A pinch of red pepper powder *optional
  • 2 1/2 cups basmati rice
  • Butter
  • Vegetable oil


Start with marinating the chicken (6-8 hours before meal)

  1. In a bowl, combine the yogurt, onion, olive oil, lime juice, liquid saffron, salt and pepper. Blend well into a smooth mixture, adjust the seasoning with lime juice and salt and pepper.
  2. Pour the mixture over the chicken in a large bowl, making sure that all the pieces are fully covered with the sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6-8 hours.

Move to rice (3.5 hours before meal)

  1. In a large bowl, wash the rice with cool water a few times to get rid of the extra starch and pour the water out. Soak the rice in 8 cups of  cool water, add 3 tablespoons of salt and set aside for at least a couple of hours.
  2. In a large non-stick pot that has a tight fitting lid, bring 8 cups of water to a rapid boil on medium-high heat. 
  3. Drain the soaked rice and pour into the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until the grains are long soft on the outside and hard in the center. Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cool water a few times.
  4. Wash the rice pot with water and and return to heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon of liquid saffron to the bottom of the pot, move the pan in a circular motion or use a wooden spoon to evenly cover the bottom with oil. 
  5. Remove from heat and with a large spatula return the parboiled rice back into the pot, building it into a pyramid shape away from the sides of the pot. 
  6. In order to release the steam make 4-5 holes in the rice with the handle of the wooden spatula. Place the pot back on the stove on medium-high heat, uncovered. 
  7. Wait about 7-10 minutes or until steam starts coming out of the pot. 
  8. Gently pour 2 tablespoons oil, 1/4 cup water and saffron over the rice, cover, lower the heat and steam the rice for an hour.   (Here’s a secret:  Wrap the lid with a kitchen towel or 2-3 layers of thick paper towels to prevent the moisture from going back in the pot. This is the secret to making a perfect tah-dig.)

As the rice steams, heat the grill and get the chicken ready to go.

  1. Thread the chicken pieces onto metal skewers, place the skewers on the hot grill and continue grilling until chicken pieces are well cooked.

Involved?  Yes.  But worth it.

Jul 11, 2017

This week’s recipe comes courtesy of Vivek Vasan, our special guest and host of the Historical India podcast.  The recipe is based on his mother’s recipe, so you know it’s gotta be good.  I haven’t been able to try it yet, mainly because finding many of the ingredients require a special trip to the local South Asian grocery, but I will be trying it soon.

It sounds complex, but each of the four major steps require some rest time, leaving plenty of time to proceed to the next.  Start with making the dough, then build the filling while the dough rests.  While the litti cooks, you can make the baigan chokha.  To bake the chokha, you can bake in a conventional oven, since you’re likely not to have either a Tandoori oven nor to fuel said oven with upla (animal dung).  While they bake, chop, sauté and season the eggplant.  Then all will be ready.


To make dough:

  1. Wheat flour - 400 grams (2 cup)
  2. Ajwain (carom seeds) - ½  Tsp
  3. Ghee (clarified Butter) -2 Tbsp
  4. Curd - ¾  Cup
  5. Baking Soda - ½ Tsp
  6. Salt - ¾ Tsp

For Stuffing (Pitthi)

  1. Sattu (roasted black bengal gram flour with the skin retained) - 200 Grams (1 Cup)
  2. Ginger - 1 Inch Long Piece
  3. Green Chilli - 2 To 4
  4. Coriander - ½  Cup, Finely Chopped
  5. Jeera (Cumin seeds) - 1 Tsp
  6. Ajwain (Carom seeds) - 1 Tsp
  7. Mustard Oil - 1tsp
  8. Pickle Spices (you can add any Indian pickle e.g. You should be able to get Priya Mango or Lime pickle in your local Indian store) - 1 Tbsp
  9. Lemon Juice - 1 Lemon
  10. Salt - Add To Taste  or 1/2 Tsp

For Chokha –  this is one option for the accompaniment  - Eggplant or you can try the Potato one

  1. Brinjal (Big Eggplant) - 400 grams (1 Or 2)
  2. Tomatoes - 250 gms ( 4 Medium Sized)
  3. Green Chillies - 2 To 4, Finely Chopped
  4. Ginger - 1 ½  Inch Long Piece, Finely Chopped
  5. Coriander - 2 Tbsp, Finely Chopped
  6. Salt - Add To Taste  or 1 Tsp
  7. Mustard Oil - 1 To 2 Tsp


Prepare dough for Litti

  • Filter the flour and keep it in a utensil, put Ghee, baking soda, Ajwain (carom seeds) and salt in flour then mix well.
  • Beat curd and put it in flour as well.
  • Knead soft dough using warm water.
  • Cover the dough and keep aside for 30 minutes.
  • Dough required to make Litti is ready.

How to make Stuffing for Litti

  • Wash, peel and finely chop ginger (you can also grate it).
  • Break the stems of the green chillies, wash then finely chop them.  
  • Clean green coriander, wash then finely chop the leaves.
  • Take out Sattu (Bengal gram flour) in a utensil put chopped ginger, green chillies, coriander, lemon juice, salt, Jeera (cumin) , Ajwain (carom), mustard oil and pickle spices in it.
  • Mix all the ingredients properly, if the Pitthi seems dry then add 1-2 spoons of water to it, Sattu Pitthi is ready.

How to make Litti

  • Break off medium sized pieces from the dough.
  • With the help of your fingers expand the pieces 2-3 inches in diameter.
  • Place 1 - 1 ½  tsp Pitthi on it, wrap up the dough piece and close from all sides.
  • Press this stuffed pieces to flatten it a bit, Litti is ready for frying.
  • Heat the Tandoor(furnace), place the stuffed pieces of dough in the Tandoor and cook it by turning sides regularly till they turn brown (traditionally Litti is cooked on a Upla).  - You can stick it in the convection microwave, keep an eye while it’s cooking till the sides are browned on its top and bottom and the dough is hardened. It should take about 20 minutes at 250 degrees Celsius (482 F)

How to make Chokha for Litti

  • Wash eggplant and tomatoes then fry them. Allow them to cool, peel the skins, keep them in a bowl and mash with a spoon.
  • Put the chopped spices, salt, oil and mix properly.
  • Eggplant Chokha is ready. 
  • If you prefer garlic and onion then peel 5-6 cloves of garlic then finely chop them. Peel 1 onion, chop it finely and mix these with brinjal.

 Aaloo (Potato)  ka Chokha

  • Peel 4-5 boiled potatoes break them into small pieces, add chopped ginger, green chillies, green coriander, red chilli powder and salt to it then mix well. Aaloo ka Chokha is ready.


  • Put Chokha in a bowl, dip hot Litti in melted Ghee, Litti can also be broken at the centre and then dipped. Serve with Chokha, green coriander chutney.

Courtesy of Vivek Vasan

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