Monday, December 26, 2022

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Sri Lanka

As a young kid, I was always fascinated with maps, both new and old. I spent a lot of time going from continent to continent,  country to country. I spent a lot of time learning the geography of each country ... their shapes, capitals, major cities, and much more. Whenever I looked at these maps, one teardrop-shaped  island always caught my eye. It has the shape of a little teardrop, falling off the southeastern coast of the Asian subcontinent. I traced the outline of the island, from Jaffna at the tip, down the coast through either Colombo or Trimcomalee, to the bottom at Matara. All of those old maps referred to that little island as "Ceylon."  Go back further, and the island was referred to as "Serendip," short for serendipity. 

Since 1972, the country has been known as Sri Lanka (which translates as "resplendent island") or, officially, the Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka. The country is home to diverse groups, from the majority Sinhalese to a large minority of Tamils, along with Moors, Burghers, Malay, Chinese and indigenous people known as the Vedda. Nearly every major religion -- Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam -- is practiced in Sri Lanka. This multi-ethnic country provides the setting for my latest Around the World in 80 Dishes personal culinary challenge. 

This particular challenge has probably been the longest of my Around the World challenges in terms of the recipe planning. That planning began a few years ago. I met one of my best friends for dinner at a pop-up restaurant.  The menu featured a range of Sri Lankan dishes.  We selected a range of dishes from all of the categories on the menu. Every single dish was an amazing experience. 

Since that pop-up dinner, I had a lot of thoughts about what I would prepare if I would be presented with the challenge of making a main course from Sri Lanka as part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes culinary challenge. I started to organize my thoughts, but, then I realized that I needed to learn more about the cuisine itself. This challenge provided me with the best opportunity for that education. It was a challenge that I was more than ready to accept.

One common theme emerged very early in my research is the following: Sri Lankans curry just about anything and everything. As someone who loves everything about the cuisine from the subcontinent, this theme greatly appeals to me. It led me to spend some extra time learning about just what makes this cuisine so special. 

I searched the internet for articles about the ingredients, cooking processes and ingredients, finding some articles that provided a decent background into Sri Lankan cuisine. However, it was a the book Lanka Food that really fueled my research. The book provided an introduction into the cooking processes (such as use of chatty pots over a hearth) and ingredients (with explanations for ingredients that I have never heard of or used before, such as pandan leaves, goraka and Maldive fish chips).  Most importantly, it provided another source of recipes from which I could use as a guide for not only the main course, but also the accompaniments, such as the sambols. 

One final note about Sri Lankan cuisine, which ties into something that has really caught my attention in recent months. It is how the cuisine incorporates the five flavors - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. I was first introduced to this concept through Vietnamese cuisine, where it is known as "Ngu Hanh" or "Ngu Vi." I got to learn more about this concept with my introduction to Sichuan cuisine, which actually adds additional flavors, such as "fragrant." As with Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, Sri Lankan cuisine incorporates this balancing of different flavors, and, it often does so not just in one dish, but by the incorporation of multiple dishes, such as the pairing of a curry with a sambol.

For this challenge, I decided to do more than just the main course. I had too much information in front of me to simply complete the challenge and move on to the next one. I wanted to try to create that balance of flavors through not just one dish, but with a whole meal. So, here it goes....


For the cuisine that curries everything, the most iconic of Sri Lanka's curries revolves around chicken. Sri Lankans refer to it as Kukul Mas. The history of this dish traces it to Colombo, which was the country's historical capital. (The capital, at least for legislative purposes, has moved to Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte.) It is a dish that comes from the island's Sinhalese community. They represent a majority of the Sri Lankan population and their cuisine has been described as one of the most complex of South Asia. While I am still looking for an adequate explanation of that complexity, the one thing that I have learned from this challenge that there is a complexity in terms of how different flavors and textures are added to dishes. 

This chicken curry dish provides an example of another feature of Sri Lankan cuisine: the many variations of dishes. In some respects, there are as many variations of Kukul Mas as there are families and restaurants that prepare the dish. Many of the variations are based on the different spices used to create the curry powder. Other variations surround other ingredients. For example, some recipes for Kukul Mas use tomatoes or tomato puree (a nod to the colonial influences that brought the ingredient to the island). Tomatoes provide the curry with a reddish hue. Others, such as the recipe that I used, dispense with the tomato. These recipes result in a dish of golden chicken, thanks to the turmeric in the curry powders. Despite all of the variations, one common note among recipes is the preference for using a whole chicken, broken down into its constituent parts. This approach ensures that the bones are used and ensures that they provide additional flavor to the dish. In the end, regardless of the recipe used, the end result is a delicious dish that can be found on the tables of many homes in Sri Lanka.


Recipe from Dish

Serves 4


  • 1 whole chicken (about 3 pounds), cut into pieces (or bone-in, skin on chicken thighs and drumsticks)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cardamom pods, bruised
  • 3 dried chiles
  • 8-10 curry leaves
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 stem lemongrass, bruised
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon salt

1. Prepare the chicken.  Joint the chicken, then cut the breast and thigh in half, leaving the wings and drumsticks whole.

2. Sauté the spices.  Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the cardamom pods, chiles, and curry leaves and fry for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the onion and cook until golden. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the ground spices and stir well to combine. 

3.  Sauté the chicken.  Add the chicken to the pan and stir until it is well coated with the spice mix.  Add half of the coconut milk, the lemongrass and cinnamon, cover and cook over low heat for 40 minutes to 50 minutes.  Stir in the remaining coconut milk, season with salt and cook uncovered for a further 5 minutes to 10 minutes. 


Although the Kukul Mas satisfies the challenge, I wanted to prepare an entire Sri Lankan meal.  The author O Tama Carey describes dhal as the "most essential side dish" in her Lanka Food cookbook (at page 183). A dhal is basically a curry that features a dried, split pulse - such as lentils, beans or peas - as the principal ingredient. Given Carey's description, I had to make a dhal to accompany my chicken curry. Dhals can be found across the subcontinent.

In Sri Lanka, dhals are commonly prepared with red lentils. The common ingredient belies a range of variations in dishes, with some dhals being spicier than others, and some dhals being thicker than others. There are also differences in how the dhal is finished, with some adding green leaves (such as curry leaves, which help reinforce flavors), while others get a garnish, such as fried onion, to add texture to the dish.

In my research for this challenge, I spent a lot of time at a local Sri Lankan grocery store called Spice Lanka. (BTW, I strongly recommend this small, family owned business, because they have a good selection of ingredients and the owners and staff are always very friendly.) I also purchased quite a few ingredients from the store, including a bag of red lentils. Those lentils enabled me to make this Sri Lankan dhal. 


Recipe from O Tama Carey, Lanka Food, at 186

Serves 4-6


  • 75 grams (2 3/4 ounces) coconut oil
  • 5 grams (1/5 ounce) curry leaves
  • 550 grams (1 lb, 3 oz.) brown onions, cut into medium dice
  • 18 grams (2/3 ounce) finely chopped garlic
  • 15 grams (1/2 ounce) finely chopped ginger
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 7 grams (1/4 ounces) black mustard seeds
  • 5 grams (1/5 ounce) turmeric powder
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 2-inch pandan leaf
  • Bottom 2 inches lemongrass stem, lightly bruised
  • 525 grams (1 lb, 3 oz.) red lentils, thoroughly washed
  • 450 ml (15 fluid oz) coconut cream

1. Saute Ingredients. Melt the coconut oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat, add the curry leaves and cook, stirring, for a minute or so until the leaves are fried. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-7 minutes until the onion has softened. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Add the mustard seeds, turmeric, and cinnamon and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes until the turmeric begins to catch the bottom of the pan.

2. Cook the lentils. Add the pandan leaf, lemongrass and lentils and give everything a good stir to combine. Pour in the coconut cream and 1 liter (36 fluid ounces or 4 1/4 cups) of water and mix well, then reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. the dhal is ready when all the lentils have just given away and turned yellow while still retaining a little texture. Re-season with salt and pepper and serve hot. 


"Sambal is a state of mind." While an Indonesian chef, William Wongso, may have uttered those words, the statement is seemingly universal in southern and eastern Asian cuisine. Sambals - or Sambols, as they are referred to in Sri Lanka (the only country that uses an "o" instead of an "a") are a condiment based upon chiles.  As Carey notes in Lanka Food (at pg. 209), sambols play an important role in adding flavors, spices and textures to dishes. 

There are many different sambols in Sri Lankan cuisine. I decided to make two of them for this challenge.  The first one - pol sambol - literally translates into coconut sambol. It is perhaps the most common sambol in Sri Lanka. It also serves as a good representation of the balancing of the five tastes. There is the sweet from the coconut, the umami from the Maldive fish chips, the heat from the chiles and the sour or bitter from the lime juice. 


Recipe from O Tama Carey, Lanka Food, at 214

Serves 8-10


  • 300 grams or 10 1/2 ounces of grated coconut
  • 100 grams or 3 1/2 ounces finely sliced shallots
  • 3 small green chiles, finely chopped
  • 20 grams or 3/4 ounce Maldive fish chips
  • 5 grams (1/5 ounce) chilli powder
  • 3 grams (1/10 ounce) freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 grams (1/10 ounce) sweet paprika
  • 1-2 limes juiced
  • Salt, to taste

1. Combine the ingredients. Place all of the ingredients, except the lime juice and salt, in a bowl and firmly mix them together with one hand, using a squeezing and kneading motion. This not only combines the ingredients, but it helps to release the oils from the coconut. Keep going until the texture of the sambol is almost a little sticky.

2. Finish the dish. Season to taste with lime juice and a generous amount of salt, mixing and squeezing again. Serve at room temperature.


For the second sambol, I decided to continue my exploration of new ingredients. This sambol introduced to me the use of dried shrimp. Much like the Maldive Fish Chips, the dried shrimp provided an almost umami flavor to this particular sambol.  


Recipe from Asia Society


  • 1 cup dried shrimp
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 3 teaspoons chopped red chiles or sambal oelek
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1. Prepare the shrimp and the coconut. Floss prawns in a blender or food processor. Put desiccated coconut in a dry frying pan and toast, stirring constantly, until there is a rich brown color. Immediately turn out onto a plate to cool.

2. Blend the ingredients. Blend the chiles, onion, garlic, lime juice and salt to a smooth puree.  Add the coconut and blend again, adding a little water if necessary to produce a smooth paste.  Add the shrimp floss and blend again, scraping down the sides of the container with a spatula. Serve as a relish with rice and curries. 

*    *    *

This challenge may have taken a really long time to come together, but the end result was perhaps one of the most delicious meals that I have had in a long time. I really liked the Kukul Mas Curry and I will eventually make it again, perhaps adding some of the variations that I came across while researching the dish. As for the sambols, I think I should have them around like bottles of hot sauce. Fortunately, I have enough Maldive fish chips and dried shrimp to make both of the sambols ... again and again!

Until next time ...


Monday, December 19, 2022

My 1000th Post! (And Some News)

I published my very first Chef Bolek blog post - Benvenuto - on April 9, 2008. Since that time, I have written 998 more posts for this blog. I had fourteen years to prepare for this moment: my 1,000th post. However, I have to admit that I was not prepared. When I eventually realized that my 1,000th post was approaching, I did not have any ideas about what I would do.  

I sought some ideas from friends on social media and I got some responses. Those responses provided a good starting point. One  suggestion was to make the oldest known recipe. That recipe would most likely be found on the walls of a tomb outside the ancient city of Thebes in Egypt. The tomb belonged to Senet, who was most likely the wife of a vizier named Antefoquer (or Intefiquer). This individual served Pharaoh Amenemhat I, who reigned during the start of the Twelfth Dynasty, which ran from 1991 BCE to 1962 BCE. That dynasty was often considered to be the highest point of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. (It came after the Old Kingdom, whose Pharoahs built the pyramids and before the New Kingdom, which is known for Pharoahs such as Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and Ramses II.)

Source: At the Mummies Ball
The walls of Senet's tomb contain a recipe for bread. At the time, yeast had not been discovered. Therefore, the recipe was more akin to how one would prepare and bake a flatbread. Craftworkers did not chisel that recipe on the tomb walls so much to remind Senet how to make the bread after she passed through the Duat and reached the Field of Reeds. Rather, it was advise those who would be baking the bread for Senet in the afterlife. If I had to venture a guess, Senet probably enjoyed eating this bread while she walked this planet. I tracked down a possible recipe on the Internet. I thought about making the bread for my 1000th post. In the end, I decided against it. I wanted to do more with this post than just a recipe. 

Other friends provided suggestions. One friend suggested preparing a dish from the cuisine of El Salvador. I looked at dishes like Lomo Rellano and Coctel de Conchas, as well as tamales and pupusa recipes. However, some of these dishes could find their way into Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge. Another suggestion was to bring back my favorite classic of all time. The problem I had with this suggestion is that there are quite a few classics and I could not settle on one.  And, again, I wanted to do more than just make a recipe. 

The ATW Challenge for Bhutan
The question returned to what did I want to do. The answer to that question lies with what I have done. It is a journey that reveals how much my hobby of cooking has evolved over time. I began this blog with my love for Italian cuisine. A trip that I took to Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany sparked that love for cooking and eating Italian food. Many of early blog posts featured my Italian cooking. Early on, one of my best friends presented me with a challenge: go beyond Italy and prepare dishes from other parts of the world. I accepted the challenge in two ways. At first, I started my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge (the first post - Ethiopia - came on September 22, 2010). I tried to study the cuisine, culture and country for each challenge, which gave rise to my desire to learn more about what I prepared and ate. However, I then expanded my everyday cooking to include dishes from around the world.  

As I continued to explore dishes and cuisines from around the globe, I went beyond just learning about the ingredients and cooking processes. I strived to learn about the people themselves, and, to the best of my ability, gain an understanding of their perspective. The blog helped me grow as a person by recognizing the privilege that I have, and acknowledging the struggles of others to obtain the same dignity, respect and, in many cases, justice that has eluded them for years and even generations. 

Beyond Borders - Palestine
This evolution is reflected in my blog. I moved beyond my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge to start a series called Beyond Borders. This effort catalogues my efforts to learn more about those who often go unnoticed and whose plight does not make the headlines of mainstream news outlets. I have used my hobby to learn more about peoples such as the Chagossians, Kashmiri, Rohingya, Palestinians, Ojibwe, Tibetans and others. I learned not just about their cuisines, but also their struggles and fight for human rights, justice, and dignity. 

I have to say that I am proud of this growth; and, I plan on continuing these endeavors (as well as the other projects that I have done over the past fourteen years). However, I feel that I need to take another step, another evolution. 

To that end, I have some news:

I am changing the ways I cook and eat. I will be weaving Buddhist principles into my cooking. I plan on becoming more mindful of what I prepare and how I prepare it. This will, in turn, make me more mindful about what I eat. 

The incorporation of Buddhist principles into my cooking is actually a logical step for me. For years, I have been learning (mostly self-taught) and practicing Buddhist meditation. I started studying Theravada Buddhism (which is practiced in southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Laos and Cambodia) but I have migrated toward Mahayana Buddhism (which is practiced in China, South Korea, Vietnam and Japan.) I began learning about Buddhism and meditation to deal with the anxiety and stress from my work. It has worked well to help bring balance in my life. I try to use what I have learned in the way suggested by the Dalai Lama: 

"Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already are.

Those words will serve as a guide on this new culinary path. The goal is not to become a Buddhist or even eat like a Buddhist. In other words, I am not going to become a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. Nevertheless, I will incorporate Buddhist principles to evolve my cooking experience. I want to bring a mindfulness to the ingredients, the processes and the final dishes. The end result, if I am successful, will be a diet that will gradually incorporate more vegetables and less meat. A diet that will be better for the environment and, of course, my own health.

My new path begins with a book about Buddhist temple food. The book was written by Wookwan, a Buddhist nun who is the head of the Mahayeon Temple Food Cultural Center. Wookwan provides an excellent description of the relationship between Buddhism, cooking and diet. 

The book is only the starting point. I also plan to build on what I have already been doing with my blog to help me along this path. I am going to use what I have learned about various cuisines and cultures to build a more mindful diet. For example, I can draw upon what I have learned about rice dishes from sub-Saharan Africa (from Senegal to Nigeria) or curry dishes from across Asia (from China to Sri Lanka and from Pakistan to Vietnam). I can used what I have learned about indigenous cuisine and their approach to nature, including my exploration of Native American and Pacific Islander cuisines.

In sum, the goal is to become more mindful about what I cook and what I eat. The process is going to be gradual (so don't be surprised if there still seems to be a lot of posts about meat - I have to clear out a backlog of posts). The reason is simple: dramatic changes rarely last, gradual ones can be built upon over time. I will chronicle my journey on this blog, starting with my blog project, The Mindfulness Foodways.  My hope is that, as with my prior evolutions, this journey will also make its way into my everyday posts. 

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has read my blog, commented, and/or reacted on social media. The input and reactions from family and friends is very important and helpful. I am looking forward to the next 1,000 posts (and, hopefully, it won't take another fourteen years for that to happen). Until next time ...


Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Yakitori Hatsu

This post is the final installment of the three-part, Yakitori-themed Kebab-apalooza. The prior two installments focused upon Yakitori Negima (chicken thigh kebabs) and Yakitori Sunagimo (chicken gizzard kebabs). Now, I take an additional step into the world of chicken offal with Yakitori Hatsu. Skewers of chicken hearts.

I am no stranger to preparing heart. To date, I have prepared Grilled Beef Heart with a Herbed Vinaigrette, Cuore di Agnello al Chianti (Lamb Heart Braised in Chianti), and Khalyat Alkadba Wal Galoob (Fried Heart and Liver). (That last one was the Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge to prepare a main course from Libya.)

Some say that the Yakitori Hatsu is as popular as Yakitori Negima. And, as with the latter type of skewers, Yakitori Hatsu is prepared with, as well as served with, a tare. That is a sauce made with soy sauce, mirin and sake. The tare provides a slightly sweet, yet salty complement to the earthy, mineral flavors of the chicken hearts. 

One practical note: I purchased a two pound package of chicken hearts from a local Korean grocery store. (It was the smallest package I could find.) Given the number of hearts that came in the package, I decided to thread the hearts horizontally onto the skewers, which increased the number of hearts that I could have on each kebab. I think the more traditional way of doing it would be to thread the hearts vertically. 

In the end, this recipe represents a strong finish for this three-part series, which was the first to focus upon the kebabs of one particular cuisine (as opposed to three separate kebabs from three different cuisines). This little journey has gotten me thinking about what other cuisines. Perhaps that will be the subject of the next Kebab-apalooza. 


Recipe from Ang Sarap

Serves 4


  • 20 chicken hearts
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger paste
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch


1. Prepare the sauce. In a sauce pan mix together sugar, sake, mirin, soy sauce, ginger paste and corn starch. Mix well until free of lumps and then place on the stove top, using high heat boil the mixture and simmer for a minute. 

2. Grill the chicken hearts. Season the chicken hearts with salt and pepper, then place on skewers. Grill the chicken heart while brushing with the soy sauce mixture occasionally.  Remove from the grill and then serve immediately. 


Friday, December 9, 2022

Quercioli Reggiano Lambrusco

Lambrusco is a wine with a difficult past. At one point in time, there were many Lambrusco wines available, and, many of them were bad. One could purchase a bottle or jug of the frizzy wine and drown themselves in a miserable experience. Those wines had jaded me to rule out all Lambrusco wines. Until I went to the beginning ... Emilia Romagna.

Lambrusco grapes were first cultivated in that region and its history goes all the way back to when the Etruscans and Romans ruled the land. Over the years, decades and centuries, more than sixty (60) different versions of the Lambrusco grape have been cultivated. Today, just six (6) of those varietals are commonly used: Salamino, Grasparossa, Montericco, Maestri, Marani and Sorbara. There are also currently six Appellation of Origin for the wine, mostly around the cities of Mantua and Parma. 

I recently came across a wine from the Reggiano Lambrusco D.O.C. called Quercioli. Reggiano wines are the most common Lambrusco wines, coming from vineyards that line the Po River. This particular wine was on the dry side, which is how I prefer Lambrusco. (Sweet wines can stay in the bottle as far as I am concerned.) 

As this Lambrusco pours, the wonderful sound of the effervescence provides an audio track for the bubbles. Those bubbles give way to a cranberry red wine, along the cranberry tones tend to be more along the darker lines of the fruit. 

The aromatic and taste elements track what I have grown to expect from a D.O.C.  Lambrusco. There are a good amount of berry flavors in the aroma, tending toward raspberries, cherries and even a little of the sweetness from strawberries. Those berry elements carry over to the taste, with raspberries and strawberries making their presence known. The dryness that comes with a good Lambrusco is also present, with the effervescence almost feeling like a palate cleanser. 

While I have had better Lambrusco wines (anything from Cleto Chiarli ranks at the top), this wine from Quercioli is definitely worth the price and is very good. It is one that I would surely purchase again if I had the chance. Until next time ...


Thursday, December 1, 2022

Yakitori Sunagimo

For those few who follow this blog, you may have seen the post about Yakitori Negima. The skewers of bite-sized chicken thigh and scallions, brushed with a tare of soy sauce, mirin, and sake, are some of the best skewers or kebabs that I have had. Yakitori is the essence of simplicity and perfection.

Yet, yakitori is not just one type of chicken skewer. Japanese cuisine features more than a dozen different types of yakitori.  Each skewer features a different part of the bird. For example, there is torikawa, which are skewers of crispy chicken skin. There is also kimo, which are skewers of chicken livers. And, there are the tsukune, which are little balls of ground chicken, egg and spices. 

With a wide array of possibilities, I decided to go down a path of vintage Andrew Zimmern. The Zimmern of Bizarre Foods. Rather than have the more common varieties of yakitori, such as the ones I mentioned above, I went for the less common and more out of the ordinary. My starting point is sunagimo, which are skewers of chicken gizzards. 

To be sure, I have eaten gizzards before. Whenever I purchase a whole chicken, I usually use the gizzards, along with the neck, to make a quick broth or stock. Yet, one gizzard does not make a skewer. Fortunately, the local Asian grocery store sells gizzards ... by the pound or three.  

The recipe that I used for sunagimo offered a opportunity to learn more about the different types of seasoning used to make yakitori. One seasoning involves the use of a tare sauce, which, as I noted above, is a combination of soy sauce, mirin and sake that is used as a basting liquid during grilling and served on the side. This sunagimo recipe uses only a sprinkling of salt, a preparation known as yakitori shio

So there you have it: namely, the two basic flavor styles of yakitori: tare and shio. You also have a glimpse into the fact that yakitori is not just grilled chicken thighs. It includes other grilled parts of the bird. The only question that remains, is, apart from what I mentioned above, what other parts can be used to make these skewers.


Serves 4


  • 1 1/2 pounds of chicken gizzards
  • Salt
  • Skewers


1. Prepare the skewers. Soak the skewers for 30 minutes. Remove the skewers from the water. Thread the gizzards on the skewers, leaving room to be able to turn the skewers. Salt the skewers generously. 

2. Grill the skewers. Heat a grill to high heat. Add the skewers and turn every couple of minutes until the gizzards are cooked through.


Sunday, November 27, 2022

Global Disturbance Hazy IPA

There were three trails that could take someone westward: the 900 mile Santa Fe trail, the 2,000 mile Oregon trail, and the 2,000 mile California trail. All three trails have a common starting point: Independence, Missouri. The town was founded in 1827, at first for the Santa Fe trail. Records indicate that approximately 12,000 people used the Santa Fe trail from 1849 to 1859, along with 3,000 wages and 50,000 animals. Between 1840 and 1860, between 300,000 to 400,000 people used the Oregon trail.  Another 200,000 also used the California trail during the same time period. In summary, a lot of people made their way through Independence seeking a life out west. 

The use of trails ended with the rise of the railroads. Those who came to Independence did not continue on to the west. Of course, there is a lot to see and do in Independence. One could visit the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site. There are other mansions or estates - such as the Harvey M. Vaile Mansion and the Bingham Waggoner Estate - that one could visit.

But, if one were a Savage Bolek, he or she would be visiting the local brewpubs. Fortunately, my beautiful Angel got to visit one such brewery when she was in Independence ... 3 Trails Brewing. At this point, I should probably disclose that a close family friend is the head brewer at 3 Trails Brewing, and my Angel was there because he was getting married and the reception was held there. I was unable to attend (unfortunately), but my Angel did bring back a six-pack of beer for me to try. And, I am truly thankful that she did. 

The beer is 3 Trails' Hazy India Pale ale known as the Global Disturbance. The brewer notes, "[o]riginally brewed during a time of uncertainty[,] [t]his beer brings flavors of tropical fruit. citrus and guava derived from the Galaxy and Mosaic hops."  That is a good description of what was to come when I had a chance to try the beer. 

The Global Disturbance pours like a hazy IPA, a yellowish-gold (reminiscent of what turmeric does when it is added during cooking). There is a solid foam that covers the entire surface of the liquid and only gradually gives way over time. The beer does give aromas of citrus fruit, along the lines of grapefruit. The taste falls squarely within the brewer's description: it is grapefruit forward, with hings of other citrus fruit swirling around in the taste of the beer. 

I have always been a little skeptical of hazy IPAs; however, this beer is very good. If you happen to make your way to Independence, I strongly suggest you visit 3 Trails Brewing. There will be no need to go any further west.


Saturday, November 19, 2022

Carolina Crab Rice

Mine is a living culture, not one of some 200 years ago. It's a culture that continues to shape our surroundings.

- Ron Daise, Singer/Cultural Preservationist

The above quote refers to the Gullah Geechee, an African-American ethnic group who live along the coastal lowlands, from Jacksonville (North Carolina) to Jacksonville (Florida). The two names cover one people, with Geechee referring to those who live in the Carolinas and Gullah referring to those who live in Georgia and northern Florida.

The story of the Gullah Geechee is a history about culture.  That history can be traced back to Africa, mostly the Western coastline of the continent, from what is known today as Senegal down to Angola.  Their ancestors were slaves, taken by force from their homes and brought to the southeast  to work on plantations along the coast and on the sea islands. These African ancestors originated from different parts of the African continent, especially along the western coast from Senegal down to Angola.  

Rice cultivation along the Niger River
Source: Wikimedia
If one went inland from those African coasts, following rivers into the heart of the continent, one would have encountered the cultivation of rice. Africa has its own indigenous form of rice, Oryza glabberima. Indeed, it is widely believed that rice cultivation first started in the inland delta regions of the Niger River in an area that now falls within the country of Mali. Africans brought that rice to other parts of the continent, such as westward what would become known as the "Rice Coast," which stretched from Senegal to Sierra Leone.

That same coast was also known for a commodity other than rice ... slaves. European slavers brought Africans from that region (and other parts of the continent) to North America to work on plantations. American plantation owners discovered during the 1700s that they could grow rice in the subtropical regions bordering the coastline. Those owners did not know anything about growing rice, so they turned to the slave trade. The plantation owners were even willing to pay a higher price for slaves from Senegal, Guinea and Sierra Leone, with the expectation that those slaves would know how to cultivate rice. 

Rice raft with Gullah Geechee (1904)
Source: South Carolina Gullah Museum
The slaves who were forcibly brought to Georgia and the Carolinas to work the rice plantations became the foundation of the Gullah Geechee culture. Given the relative isolation of their plantations, and the strong community they built over time, the Gullah and Geechee have been able to preserve much of their culture, including ties to Africa. The Gullah language is an English Creole that has similarities to a Sierra Leone Krio, including common terms such as bigyai (greedy) and swit (delicious). Other words in the Gullah language have been drawn from the indigenous languages of Sierra Leone.

Apart from language, it is rice that provides the Gullah Geechee with the connection to the lands from which they were forcibly taken. The connection was not very simple on the plantations. Slaves first had to remove cypress trees and gum trees, drain swamps (which had alligators and snakes), and create the hydrological infrastructure (think dams, dikes and floodgates) that could be used to irrigate the rice fields. It is estimated that the slaves cleared more than 40,000 acres of land and dug more than 780 miles of canals to provide the foundation for the production of rice in South Carolina.

So, it comes as little to no surprise that a rice dish would be considered as a cornerstone of Gullah Geechee cuisine. I came across a recipe from the Smithsonian Institution's Folklife Festival, from a year with the institution celebrated Gullah Geechee culture. The recipe relies upon one developed by Sallie Ann Robinson, a chef, cookbook author and culinary historian who celebrates the Gullah culture. This particular recipe has some adaptations, which are not identified, nevertheless, the end product is reminiscent of what someone could find on the sea islands of Georgia or along the coast of South Carolina. That end product was also very delicious and, if it were not for the high price for crab meat, would be part of a regular rotation of dishes for me.


Recipe from the Smithsonian Institution

Serves 4


  • 1 cup long grain rice, uncooked
  • 2 cups water
  • Small pinch of salt
  • 2-3 strips of thick cut bacon, diced
  • 1 celery stalk diced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, any color, diced 
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 pound of crabmeat, cooked (preferably lump)
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Salt
  • Black pepper


1.  Prepare the rice. Rinse the dry rice under cool water 3 to 4 times and drain. Put the rinsed rice into a small pot, cover with 2 cups of water, add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and let the rice cook undisturbed for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, crack the lid of the pot so the rice can stop cooking and set aside. 

2. Fry the bacon. In a small skillet, fry the bacon pieces over medium-low heat until all of the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Carefully remove the bacon pieces and set them aside. Reserve the rendered fat in the pan.

3. Fry the vegetables. Over medium heat, add celery, bell pepper and onion to the pan with the bacon fat and sauté until vegetables have softened and onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Then add crabmeat and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes until crab has begun to crisp. 

4. Finish the dish. Add the cooked rice, bacon and seasonings to the pan with the vegetables. Incorporate all of the ingredients until evenly mixed, turn to low and let cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately. 


Saturday, November 12, 2022

Qiatou Yi Nen

What we eat is an essential part of who we are and how we define ourselves.

- Fuscia Dunlop, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

Writer Fuscia Dunlop is a well known culinary writer who has focused her attention on Chinese cuisine. Her books -- such as the one quoted above, along with others like Every Grain of Rice (which one a James Beard award in the international cookbook category -- provide interesting insights and perspectives to many different aspects of Chinese cuisine, including provincial and regional dishes, cooking techniques and ingredients. 

My introduction to Dunlop's work comes with her book, The Food of Sichuan. That food is perhaps known best for its hot and spicy dishes. Those dishes catch my attention given my love of chiles.

Yet, there is more to Sichuan cuisine that the heat of the peppers. As food writer and culinary historian, Andrew Coe, noted for Serious Eats, "Sichuan food is really about a variety of flavors: spicy, flowery (Sichuan peppercorns), salty, sour, sweet, bitter, smoky, etc." I find this description intriguing. I have previously explored the concept of "Ngũ Hành" (as it is called by the Vietnamese), which recognizes five fundamental tastes. This concept actually originated in China, which identifies those tastes as salty (or han in the Sichuan dialect), sweet (tian), sour (suan), hot or pungent (la) and bitter (ku). (Dunlop, The Food of Sichuan at 21.) 

Perhaps one of the oldest references to the five tastes can be found in the Tao Te Ching, the text written by Lao Tzu in 400 B.C.  The text is important to Taoism, a school of thought or religion that teaches how one can live in harmony within the universe. Verse 12 of the Tao Te Ching references the five tastes, although there appear to be many, slightly different translations that basically say the same thing. The translation that I chose is the following:

The five colors make people's eyes blind;

Galloping and hunting make people's heart go wild; 

Goods hard to come by make people's acts injurious.

The five flavors make people's mouth numb;

The five notes make people's ears deaf.

Hence, when the sage man ruled,

He supported the stomach, but not the eye.

Therefore he abandoned that and chose this.

All of the translations basically read as having the five tastes causing one's mouth to go numb, in other words, cause people not to taste

Sichuan peppercorns
(Source: Serious Eats, photo: Vicky Wasik)

In some sense, Lao Tzu's words are representative of Sichuan cooking, which has its own variation on the five tastes. However, in that cooking, the hot or pungent taste is replaced with numbing (ma). 

This change may be a nod to the use of Sichuan peppercorns, which are not actually pepper. Instead, they are the berries from the prickly ash tree. There are two types of Sichuan peppercorns: red, which provides earthy notes; and green, which provides more floral notes. Both types share something in common. When eaten or tasted, Sichuan peppercorns cause a numbing sensation. They could, in the words of Lao Tzu (however translated), cause "an injury" or "numbness" to the palate. 

Sichuan cuisine even adds another taste: umami (xian) or fragrant (xiang), creating six or seven tastes. Taken together, all seven tastes provide a window into the complexity that can be found in this regional Chinese cuisine. 

Eager to explore these seven tastes, I started selecting recipes from The Food of Sichuan to make in my home. I thought that it would be best to start with some of the simpler recipes. One such recipe - Qiatou Yi Nen - stood out. It is a fairly easy recipe, with the only difficulty arising with a couple of the ingredients. (I still cannot find Sichuan pickled chiles.) Nevertheless, I worked with what I have - including Sichuan peppercorns - to make this dish. The end result was perhaps one of the greatest chicken dishes since I made Chengdu Chicken with Black Beans, Chiles and Peanuts, which happens to be another Sichuan-inspired recipe.

Qiatou Ni Yen focuses primarily on the salty and hot tastes (as well as the Sichuan taste of numbing), both of which comes from the variety of chile and chile-based ingredients. As I move on to other recipes in The Food of Sichuan, my hope is to explore how the cuisine incorporates the other three (or, if we include the other Sichuan element, four) taste elements into the dishes. 


Recipe from The Food of Sichuan, pg. 204

Serves 4


  • 10 ounces of boneless chicken thigh, preferably with skin
  • 2 teaspoons potato starch
  • 1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
  • 6-8 scallions, white parts only
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Sichuan chile bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped salted chiles or coarsely chopped Sichuan picked chiles
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon ground chiles
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cooking oil (ideally a mix of half lard and half rapeseed oil)
1. Prepare the chicken. Place the chicken on a chopping board, skin side down. Use a knife to make shallow, parallel cuts into the chicken at 1/4 inch intervals and then make similar cuts at right angles to the first ones (this cross-hatching will help the flavors to penetrate the chicken and speed up the cooking).  Cut the chicken into 1/2 to 3/4 cubes.  Place in a bowl, add the potato starch and Sichuan peppercorns, along with 1 1/2 tablespoon cold water and mix well. 

2.  Prepare the other ingredients.  Cut the scallion whites into 3/4 inch lengths. Place in a bowl and add the ginger, chile bean paste, chopped chiles, ground chiles, salt and 1 tablespoon of oil.

3. Cook the chicken. Heat the rest of the oil in a seasoned wok over high heat.  When the oil is sizzling hot, add the chicken and stir-fry. As soon as the pieces have separated, add the bowlful of aromatics.  Continue to stir-fry until the oil is gorgeously orange in color and the chicken is just cooked (test one of the larger pieces by cutting it in half to make sure). Serve immediately. 


Monday, November 7, 2022


I am becoming more and more convinced that the best way to prepare a whole turkey or a turkey breast is to treat it like a pork roast. It all started a few years ago when I decided to prepare a turkey in the style of an arista, which is a way in Tuscany to prepare pork roasts. I prepared the rub - an amazing mixture of rosemary, garlic, fennel seeds, cloves and lemon zest. That arista-style has become my go-to recipe, and, indeed, perhaps one of Chef Bolek's signature recipes. 

There also happens to be more than one way to prepare a pork roast, as this blog readily demonstrates. If you check out My Personal Cookbook or the Recipe Vault, you can find several different types of pork roast recipes.  

Recently, I decided that it was time to try to prepare a whole turkey or turkey breast in another pork roast style. As I noted above, there are a lot of different ways to prepare pork roasts. Ultimately, I decided to try to prepare a turkey in the style of a Puerto Rican lechon or pork roast. 

A few caveats at the outset. I have yet to prepare a pork roast in a lechon style. So, it seems a little presumptuous to skip over the pig and head straight to the turkey. Still, I had a turkey breast in the deep freeze and no pork roast on hand. So practicality won over technicality. A found a recipe for a turkey done in a lechon style -- or pavochon, with el pavo being Spanish for turkey -- on The Spruce Eats and decided to make it. 

The recipe had a bonus: I could make my own adobo spice mix. Adobo is typically made from garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, and oregano; however, there are versions that include turmeric (like this one) and citrus zest. As you may know, the use of turmeric -- the golden spice -- turns everything to a golden yellow color. Everything including the outside of the turkey breast. 

Still, the recipe is relatively easy to make and the end product was good for a first time. To be sure, the next time I want to make lechon, it will be with a pork roast. 


Recipe for turkey from The Spruce Eats

Recipe for the adobo spice mix adapted from The Spruce Eats

Serves Several

Ingredients (for the adobo spice mix):

  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons granulated garlic
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 1 tablespoons black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder

Ingredients (for the turkey):

  • 1 head of garlic (cloves separated and peeled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon whole black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons adobo
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 turkey (about 14 pounds) or turkey breast


1. Prepare the adobo spice mix.  Combine the salt, granulated garlic, oregano, black pepper, turmeric and onion powder. Whisk the ingredients together until well mixed.

2. Prepare the marinade.  Mash the garlic and salt into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Add the peppercorns and adobo. Continue to mash the ingredients into a paste. Stir in the olive oil and apple cider vinegar into the mash. Rub the mixture under the skin and in the cavities, as well as on the skin, covering the entire turkey. Tie the legs together with twine.  Let the turkey rest at room temperature for 2 hours. 

3. Roast the turkey. Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Roast the turkey for about three hours or until the breast meat reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit and the thigh meat reaches 175 degrees Fahrenheit. 

4. Finish the dish. Once the turkey reaches the proper temperature, remove from the oven, cover and let rest for about 30 minutes. Carve and serve immediately.


Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Yakitori Negima

Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.

- Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain's words provide an apt description for one of the simplest, but perhaps, greatest kebabs in the world ... Yakitori. Even the word is simple, translating to "grilled bird." Small bite sized pieces grilled over a charcoal grill, sometimes basted with a particular sauce or other times just a sprinkle of salt. These particular chicken skewers a truly a unique culinary experience. 

The history of yakitori dates back to the middle of the Meiji Period, around the 1880s and 1890s. (However, there are references to grilled chicken dishes going as far back as the Kamakura Period, the fourteenth century, and the term "yakitori" is said to have appeared in the oldest Japanese cookbook, Ryori Monogatari, which was produced during the Edo Period in 1643.)

Yet, it may have been pigs who led the way. Before yakitori become widespread, there was yakaton, which was pork offal skewers, which were first made in the Kanto Region of Japan (which includes, among others, the city of Tokyo). It is said that these pork offal skewers led the way for the chicken skewers that became yakitori. Food stalls -- or yatai --started popping up across Japan, from which vendors offered skewers of grilled innards from the expensive game birds served by from restaurants. The grilled skewers became a way for Japanese to enjoy grilled birds, which were often too expensive to bun the restaurants.

It took some time to get used to the smells of these stalls. For many Japanese, the smells of roasted or grilled meat was distasteful. Vendors began grilling their skewers using a particular type of coal, binchotan coal. This coal gets very hot, burns cleanly, but produces its own smoky aromas, which not only mask the smell of the grilled fowl, but also provide a smoky taste to the skewers. Vendors also started applying a tare, a sweet and salty sauce that added more aromas and flavors to the meat. 

There are many different types of yakitori, with each type focusing on a particular part of the bird or chicken. The most common yakitori is Yakitori Negima (ねぎま), which consists of bite sized pieces of chicken thigh skewered along with pieces of scallions or long onions. This particular yakitori includes the preparation of a tare, which is a sauce consisting of soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar. The sauce is brushed on the skewers during the grilling process, as well as served alongside the skewers.

This recipe seemed like the perfect start for the trifecta of yakitori recipes that will serve as the latest installment of my Kebab-apalooza series. Come back and check as I head further back into the origins of yakitori, including the preparation of kebabs using chicken offal (like hearts and gizzards). 


Recipe from Curious Cuisinere

Serves 4

Ingredients (for the chicken):

  • 8 bamboo skewers
  • 1 pound chicken thighs, cut in 1 inch pieces
  • 6 scallions, cut in 1 inch pieces

Ingredients (for the tare):

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 1/4 cup sake
  • 2 tablespoons sugar


1. Prepare the grill and the skewers. Preheat the grill to a medium-high to high heat, roughly 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Soak the skewers in water for 10 minutes.

2. Prepare the tare. In a small saucepan, mix the soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heart. Reduce the heat to medium heart and set it aside to cool slightly. Once cool, divide the sauce between two small bowls. One will be used for brushing the raw meat, one will be used for serving. 

3. Prepare the skewers. While the sauce is simmering and resting, remove the skewers from the soaking water and skewer the chicken and scallion pieces, leaving a little room at each end for easy turning.

4.  Cook the skewers. Cook the yakitori skewers over a hot grill for 2 minutes on the first side. Flip the skewers and cook for an additional 2 minutes on the second side. Flip the skewers again and brush them with the yakitori sauce. Flip and brush the skewers once more. At this point, the chicken should be firm and the sauce should be beginning to caramelize and create a nice glaze on the chicken.

5. Finish the dish. Transfer the cooked yakitori to a platter and brush them once more with the yakitori sauce (using a clean brush and the second bowl of yakitori sauce that has not been used for the chicken as it cooked).

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The "Dead" Catch

Source: Starlight Seafood
I admit that, at one point in time, I was a great fan of the television show, Deadliest Catch. I did not care so much about the drama between the crews of various vessels. I also did not care about the competition over who would catch the most crab. All I cared about was the crab. I watched the shows to see trap after trap of king crab and snow crab being raised from the water. Yet, as the Deadliest Catch continues with season 18, not so much can be said for the crabs.

Recently, the Alaska's Department of Game and Fish announced that it was cancelling the snow crab season. The department made this decision based upon a recent survey by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ("NOAA") of the Bering Sea Floor.  NOAA found that the population of snow crabs had declined from 11.8 billion in 2018 to just 1.9 billion in 2022. Those figures represent a population loss of nearly 84%.

To put this loss into perspective, consider the following. The decline of the snow crab population over the course of four years - 9.9 billion - exceeds the total number of humans walking the planet Earth (approximately 7.98 billion). 

Source: BBC
Snow crabs are not the only creatures suffering significant population losses. For example, a few weeks ago, there were reports of 65,000 pink and chum salmon dead in the Heiltsuk territory of British Columbia. The smaller size of this population loss does not mean a smaller impact. It is estimated that the death of these fish, before they could reach their destination upstream, may result in the loss of an entire generation of pink and chum salmon in that area.

Similar reports of the decline of salmon have been reported in Alaska. For example, NOAA has reported the decline of chum and chinook salmon in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. The declines have led the Alaskan state government to develop an emergency plan to address the "salmon disaster" in those areas. While that is a step in the right direction, it should be noted that, earlier this year, there were federal disaster declarations for 14 Alaskan fisheries.

Reactive declarations of disasters, while necessary, are not sufficient by themselves to address these issues. We need to address the root causes for the losses of salmon and snow crab, as well as a lot of other fisheries around the world. One way is to manage the harvesting and consumption. Again, this is an important step, but, even if we stopped eating snow crab or salmon, the populations still remain at risk. They will always remain at risk until we address the fundamental factor underlying these losses ... climate change. Until we address the warming of our planet, the threat to these fisheries will remain.

Source: G Captain
The warming of our planet, along with the resulting loss of ice at the North Pole, has caused the warming of the waters in the Pacific northwest. NOAA has been researching the impact of climate upon the populations of fish and other marine life. That research posits that a significant heat wave in 2019 across the northern Pacific, which was most likely the cause of climate change, had a disastrous impact  upon the now crab population. Snow crabs need cold water to thrive and grow. Warmer water leads to more disease, like bitter crab disease, and more predators, like the Pacific Cod, which feast on juvenile crabs. Warmer waters also lead to increases in metabolism, which could starve the crabs if they are not able to find enough food. 

Similarly, warming waters - as well as drought - are contributing to the stress on salmon populations. Warming waters cause the fish to grow more quickly. This increase in growth requires more food for the salmon in order to survive. Reports in some of the fisheries revealed that, in warm years, salmon appeared thinner and less fit. Those conditions could have resulted from the increased metabolic rates, and reduced prey for the salmon. Climate change has also resulted in droughts across the western portion of North America, which has resulted in lower water levels that make it more difficult for the salmon to swim upstream. 

Many people have written, lectured and taught about what we can do to respond to climate change. But, in order to take any such action, we need to admit that there is a problem. To admit to a problem, we need to have a good understanding of the issue and its implications. Until next time....