3 – Vegetables

Some news: we’re moving back to Hawaii this week. I lived there from 2001 to 2008, and met my wife Janey there in 2002. Even though it’s been over 11 years since we left, and I spent my first 20 years in Washington state, I still consider Hawaii home. I wrote a little about what this state means to me a few years ago, in my Hawaii Oxtail Soup recipe. Janey is especially excited to get back to her hometown, and to spend time with friends and relatives we’ve only seen a precious few times during our years away. The boys will be going to the same schools their mother attended as a child, and they’re pretty stoked, too.

So to celebrate this return to home, I’m sharing my mother-in-law’s Nishime (vegetable stew) recipe. To be honest, when we lived there, my wife and I weren’t huge fans of this dish — its earthy and subdued flavors are a far cry from the savory, sweet, and crunchy delights you can find out in town. But since moving away we’ve come to appreciate the comforting warmth that Nishime can impart.

Note that this recipe is difficult to make without access to a local Japanese grocery store. For example, nishime kombu is a softer version of the more popular dashi kombu seaweed you can find in most asian markets, but is not sold online. Similarly, fresh burdock root (gobo) can only be found in person. And finally, you’ll want to find a block of konnyaku (the same material used to make shirataki noodles), which is not easy to find online either. All this is not meant to dissuade you from trying this recipe — far from it — but to let you know that this is a hard recipe to replicate if you don’t have access to a Japanese grocer. And because of its simple seasoning (just a bit of dashi, tamari, and honey), each of the ingredients are pretty important to get that signature nishime flavor (although there is a bit of wiggle room here — losing an ingredient or two won’t break the dish).

I’ll be taking the next two weeks off from posting while we move everything from Virginia to Hawaii. Hope you have a happy holidays and see you after the New Year.

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These garlic pickles are a great introduction to fermentation. They’re a familiar flavor, and you can use the brine to marinate chicken breasts for my fan-favorite Gluten, Grain, and Garbage-Free Chick-fil-A Nuggets recipe (which is nearly seven years old – yowza!).

But really, this recipe is just the start of a beautiful relationship with fermented foods. In addition to those you can find in my books, I have a few on the blog. Here are some other fermented or pickled recipes if you’re ready to try out something new:

Kabees el Lift (Pickled Turnips)
Guineitos en Escabeche (Pickled Green Bananas)
Fermented Ketchup
Takuan (Pickled Daikon Radish)
Pickled Watermelon Rinds)

One last note – it’s important to seek out organic (or fresh from the farmer’s market) cucumbers for this recipe, because you want that natural Lactobacillus bacteria that forms on its skin to kickstart the fermentation process. Don’t have access to organic cucumbers? Just add a spoonful of that liquid that forms at the top of yogurt (aka whey) to your brine during step #1.

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Ah, casserole season. I don’t know what it is about this time of year that makes me want to layer a bunch of foods together into a large dish and bake them.

Moussaka is an eggplant casserole of various preparations and presentations. In the Middle East, Moussaka is a sauteed eggplant and tomato dish served cold; in Greece (as in this recipe) it is layered with meat and eggplants, then topped with a Béchamel sauce and served warm; in Turkey, it is not layered or topped with sauce, but served with rice pilaf; in the South Slavic states, it is layered with potatoes instead of eggplants, and topped with custard.

Looking for other casseroles? Here are some other casserole-like favorites:

Tuna Casserole
Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá
Tortilla Española
Ratatouille

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With the release of The Heritage Cookbook last week, I’m ready to get back to how it all started–blogging. And honestly, it feels pretty great to be back in the saddle, fiddling with my old writing tools and codes. We’ll start pretty light for now, with recipes from my new book. I figure that since there are less than two months left to put in your order for the special print edition of the book, you won’t mind if I share recipes and stories from the four years it took me to get it into your hands!

Dimlama is a stew popular in Central Asia (especially Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan), made during that short window when vegetables are in season. It’s hard to grow vegetables above the ground on the Central Asian steppes, because constant winds are disruptive to the growing process; that’s why Central Asian cuisine has historically relied on underground vegetables like onions and carrots as their source of vegetables.

Preparing this dish is relatively simple: grab all the vegetables you have available, and layer them over meat (usually lamb, but sometimes beef or horsemeat), cover and simmer until everything is tender. No need to add water – the vegetables will release their own liquid. And it turns out that this dish is actually a bit of a revelation to cook, because it really brings awareness to the vegetables’ subtle flavors. Plus this meat-to-veggies ratio makes the rare chunks of meat that much more pleasurable. When first developing this recipe, I assumed that this wouldn’t be one of my favorites from the book; I was totally wrong.

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I’m going to be upfront with you – if you don’t like bitter foods, you probably won’t like this week’s recipe. Much as I’d like to tout that I’ve developed a way to eliminate the bitter momordicin compounds which make this vegetable one of the most astringent foods on the planet, that’s just not going to happen. But, there’s a bit of fun to be found in diving into this historically medicinal gourd; a new taste sensation is especially exciting for those who prefer their coffee black.

In truth, there are a few tricks to make bitter melon more palatable. First, salting and squeezing the melon extracts some of its bitter juices. Pairing the bitter melon with tangy amchur (green mango) powder, sweet coconut palm sugar, and a generous amount of spices also help balance the overall flavor. Finally, giving the melon slices a nice crisping near the end of cooking, and garnishing them with fresh cilantro as they come off the heat, give the dish an ideal texture.

There are two main varieties of bitter melon: the warty, light green Chinese cultivar, and the spiny, dark green Indian version. Both work fine for this recipe, but I prefer the exotic look of the Indian variety.

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My wife and I are still reeling from the sheer amount of recipe testers who volunteered to tackle a recipe (or three) during this last stage of recipe tweaks for my next cookbook. We ended up sending out nearly 2,000 recipes, and we’re still parsing through all of the feedback and applying your suggestions to the manuscript – thanks to everyone who helped out!

I still have over a month of writing to go before I turn in the manuscript, then a few rounds of edits, so chances are I’ll be a little quieter than usual on the blog – case in point, I totally forgot to post a recipe last week. Yikes!

So this week we’re going to pull out an old favorite, which was published in Paleo Takeout but hasn’t made it to the blog until today. Although we love rice well enough, sometimes a plate of Cauliflower Fried Rice is just the ticket: we can clean out the fridge and the cauliflower sits a bit more lightly in the stomach compared to rice. I’ve found that baking the cauliflower “rice” ahead of time browns it nicely without making the end product all mushy. I prefer to use any leftover meat I happen to have in the fridge, but you could use fresh meat or shrimp, too (instructions below the recipe).

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Hi everyone, being that it’s a holiday week, I thought it would be a nice idea to share some of my favorite holiday-friendly roasts and vegetable accompaniments.

Honey and Citrus Glazed Ham
Maple and Bourbon Glazed Pork Loin
Roasted Leg of Lamb
Roast Duck with Winter Vegetables
Roast NY Strip Loin
Simple Roast Turkey

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Oven Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes
Winter Slaw
Skillet Roasted Winter Vegetables
Roasted Asparagus with Bearnaise Sauce
Roasted Cabbage Steaks

Hope you folks have a great holiday weekend – we’ll be keeping it quiet here in Virginia as I keep plugging away at the manuscript for my new cookbook. See you next week!

As we enter into November, I have exciting news – I’m just about done with developing and photographing recipes for my next cookbook! I’ve been at it for nearly two years straight – researching, testing, and retesting. I’m looking forward to moving to the next stage of the book-writing process, as I organize the contents, design the layout, and edit the manuscript. To be honest, editing is my favorite part of writing books; I like making small, incremental tweaks to refine my voice, and perfectly lining up every little element of the narrative.

So in celebration of moving on to the next (and arguably the most complicated) stage of the process, let’s enjoy this simple Greek stewed okra recipe. These okra fall into the lathera (λαδερά), or oil-based, dishes commonly found among Greek home chefs – simple to prepare, but packed with flavor. This dish works well as a hearty side, but really shines during Lent or other fasts, since it is remarkably filling thanks to its generous helping of olive oil.

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Every once in awhile, I get a big craving for beets. The craving doesn’t hit me often, but when it does, I typically turn to my Vinegret (винегрет) recipe from The Ancestral Table. So without further ado, here is the text from the book:

Vinegret is the name of a Russian salad that is likely not of Russian origin, but rather borrowed from German or Scandinavian cuisine. In traditional Russian cuisine, salads were pretty rare. Vinegret is often cited as the first Russian salad, first mentioned in the 19th century.

Another Russian favorite is Olivier salad, which has a much more interesting history. It was invented by Lucien Olivier, a Belgian chef working in Moscow in the 1860s. The original recipe was a closely held secret and was never truly duplicated. Documents reveal that the salad likely included caviar, crawfish tails, aspic, and veal tongue. Over the years, these rare ingredients were replaced by common ones. Instructions for making Olivier Salad are also found below, as the method is similar.

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The history of the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family is surprisingly complex, as I recently found. They are one of the first cultivated foods; there is indication they were domesticated as far back as around 15,000 years ago. The Cucurbitaceae family is broken into five main groups, all important to humans for different reasons:

1) the Lagenaria genus, indigenous to Africa, includes bottle gourds (aka calabash), used as a container and musical instrument.
2) the Citrullus genus, also from Africa, includes watermelon and egusi (whose seeds remain an important food in Africa today).
3) the Cucumis genus, is of unknown origin (but likely the Middle East) and includes cucumbers, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon.
4) Luffa is a genus of fibrous gourds, grown in Asia and eaten when immature, or matured and dried on the vine for use as body scrubs (this is where the word “loofa” comes from).
5) and finally, the Cucurbita genus encompasses today’s subject – pumpkins and squash.

As you probably know, the winter squashes we know today – pumpkins, acorn, butternut, and the like – were first domesticated in the New World, and are relatively new additions to other cuisines. But when you look up the origins of other squashes, like zucchini, the results are not so clear. As I dug through recipes for Kousa Mahshi, many would describe this dish as an ancient favorite, as if this delicious stuffed squash was enjoyed in Constantinople a thousand years ago.

In truth, zucchini (and all summer squashes) are simply immature cultivars of the Cucurbita genus, eaten while the rind is still edible. Zucchini in particular was first developed in Northern Italy, and not introduced to the rest of the world until the 1930s – a far cry from the Byzantine Empire!

So in the face of these facts, it’s safe to say that Kousa Mahshi is a relatively new invention, likely a reinvention of the older Sarma/Dolma (stuffed grape leaves) dish common in the Mediterranean, Balkans, and Persian Gulf.

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