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....

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Wojape (Wozapi)

If you could make your food taste exactly like the place where you are physically standing, then you can really evoke the flavor profile that resonates through history. This way of thinking provides a direct connection that we have as indigenous people to our ancestors and to the flavors of their foods, because those flavors have not changed.

-Sean Sherman, quoted in Cornell Chronicle

Quotes have an inherent force, a persuasiveness that brings an important point to the forefront so that it could be considered more fully and understood better. Yet, even quotes require a dive into the context surrounding the words, and, when it comes to the foodways of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, understanding that context is critical.

Growing up in the Midwest, I learned very little about the indigenous peoples of North America. I write "very little" for a reason. To be sure, indigenous people were mentioned in my U.S. history books. However, the books told that history from the perspective of rich white men, not indigenous men and women. There was very little, if anything, from the perspective of those whose ancestors had lived on this continent for generations.

Fortunately, I found a hobby in cooking, which provides me with an opportunity to learn. I use these chances to educate myself, not just about how to prepare food, but also about the peoples, cultures and history behind the ingredients, cooking processes and dishes. I use this blog to record some of my thoughts and some of what I have learned after making the dishes.

One area that I wanted to further explore involves indigenous cooking throughout North America. The desire to learn about this particular aspect of cooking, as well as the underlying cultures and peoples, really took hold during a visit to  Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was there for work, but I found a restaurant near my hotel that sparked my interest. The restaurant is Owamni, which is run by Chef Sean Sherman. An Oglala Lakota, born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Chef Sherman has made it his life's work to educate everyone about indigenous cuisine, as the native Americans would have prepared it (that is, without "colonizer ingredients," such as wheat, beef, pork, etc.). My meal that I had at Owamni was one of the best meals that I had ever had in a restaurant (you can read my restaurant review here).

Since that time, I have wanted to explore indigenous cuisine. The first steps took place on Indigenous People's Day, when I decided to make Wojape or, as it translates in Lakota, "fruit stew. It is a native berry sauce made by indigenous peoples, including the Lakota and Dakota. They traditionally prepared the sauce with canpa'-hu, or, as we would call them chokecherries or bittercherries.  The chokecherry plant is part of the rose family, and it can be found throughout much of the United States and most of Canada. Its white flowers bloom in May, and, then give way to small, rather tart berries in July and August. When the berries are ripe, they are picked for use in a wide range of foods, one of the most common being pemmican, which is a combination of dried meat, fat and, of course, berries. A foodstuff necessary for survival in the northern Plains, especially during the long winter months.

Yet, the Lakota and Dakota also used chokecherries to make wojape. The traditional recipe calls for a combination of cooked chokeberries, pounded raw berries and ground root powder. The result is something that has the consistency of a pudding. As with pemmican, there was a purpose to the pudding. It transformed the berries into something that could last longer than a simple berry sauce.  

As much as I wanted to make a traditional Wojape, I faced a couple of obstacles. First, as common as chokecherries may be, I don't have a ready access to them. Chokecherries are not in my local grocery stores and I don't have the time to go foraging for them. Second, I have even less access to the root powder or root flour that would be used to make the dish. I did not want my start on this indigenous cooking exploration to begin with the use of corn starch or wheat flour. That would seem to be the wrong course to take.

Fortunately, I have a recipe that was developed by Chef Sean Sherman. The recipe comes from Chef Sherman's The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen cookbook. He provides a recipe that incorporates readily available substitutes, such as blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. His recipe also does not use root powder, but substitutes maple syrup or honey, which provides some slight thickening and more sweetness to the final dish. In the end, I was able to make Wojape; and, in a nod to indigenous cuisine, I served it over a roasted, sliced bison loin. 


Recipe from Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, pg. 173

Makes 4 to 6 cups


  • 6 cups of fresh berries (chokeberries or a mix of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, elderberries, cranberries, blackberries)
  • 1 to 1/2 cups water
  • Honey or maple syrup, to taste
Put the berries and water into a saucepan and set over low heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick. Taste and season with honey or maple syrup as desired.


Friday, October 14, 2022

Roasted Curry Wings

In all of my years of cooking, including the more than ten years that I have been experimenting with various curries, I had never heard of roasted curry powder. Sure, I have seen and heard of a variety of curry powders. Those powders were just that - curry powders. The notion of a roasted curry powder seemed strange to me.

Yet, roasted curry powders play a feature role in Sri Lankan cuisine. It often serves as a fundamental component of a Sri Lankan curry. That is saying something for a cuisine that is known for currying anything and everything. Indeed, "rice and curry" is often known not just as the national dish of Sri Lanka, but it is also a phrase that could describe most of the dishes prepared in that country. 

This is why I love Sri Lankan cuisine. I am even preparing a personal culinary challenge to prepare a Sri Lankan dinner as part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes personal culinary challenge. It has taken a lot of time to prepare, partly because I am taking a substantial amount of effort to research the dishes; and, partly because I am a little intimidated. I have a lot of high expectations for a cuisine that I find truly fascinating and I want the end result to be as good as my expectations. (Any shortcoming will be due to my lack of experience as opposed to the cuisine itself.)

In any event, some very good friends and neighbors (one of whom is from Sri Lanka) know about my desire to prepare a dinner from the Pearl of the Indian Ocean (as the country is sometimes called). They provided me with a birthday gift consisting of a big bag of roasted curry powder. I have been working to incorporate that powder into my personal culinary challenge. However, in the meantime, I wanted to put it to a more immediate use. Nothing is more immediate for me than a chicken wing recipe.

I tried to find some history about how roasted curry powder came to be, but, any history of the powder seems difficult to find. Most leads simply led me to recipes using the powder (much like this one will become, see below). 

In any event, roasted curry powders are used in Sri Lankan cuisine to prepare darker curries. (If one was looking to prepare a lighter curry, one could simply use a regular curry powder.) I used it to prepare a dry rub for chicken wings. I decided to add some other dry ingredients, which together effectively make a regular curry powder. While those additional ingredients boosted the dry rub, the roasted elements of the roasted curry powder were still very present in both the aroma and taste of these wings. I can't wait to explore the use of roasted curry powder more when I finally complete my Sri Lankan challenge as part of the Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge. 


A Chef Bolek Original Recipe

Serves 2


  • 1 pound chicken wings
  • 1 tablespoon roasted curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek powder
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 lemon juiced


1. Prepare the marinade. Combine all of the powders in a small mixing bowl. Stir well until all powders are thoroughly mixed. Pour the coconut milk and lemon juice into a larger bowl. Stir the spice mix into the coconut milk mixture. Add the chicken wings and toss to coat. Let the wings marinate for at least an hour.

2. Grill the wings. Heat a gas grill or charcoal grill over medium high heat. Oil the grate. Add the wings and grill the wings for about 5 to 7 minutes before turning them. Grill for another 7 minutes or until the wings reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.


Friday, October 7, 2022

Garlic and Lavender Rubbed Leg of Lamb

Since I started cooking as a hobby, I have become more and more interested in what are known as "foodways." Generally, a "foodway" is the eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region or historical period. Some of the most interesting perspectives - at least in my humble opinion - come from a viewpoint of a people in a region over a period of time (that is, essentially combining all three components of a foodway). There many different foodways, but, one in particular grabbed ahold of my attention and pushed me to learn more. It is the African-American foodway. 

The eating habits and culinary practices of African-Americans was undeniably "molded in the crucible of enslavement." Africans were uprooted from their homes and forcibly brought to the New World. Yet, they did not leave everything behind. As is well documented in the works of culinary historicans and authors, such as Jessica B. Harris and Michael W. Twitty, they brought some of those habits and practices with them. Africans were then forced to adjust under circumstances marked by deprivation and dehumanization. Nevertheless, enslaved Africans were able to develop their own foods, cooking practices, and cuisine. Put differently, in the words of Randy Fertel of the Fertel Foundation, they were "making a way of no way and taking advantage of disadvantages." 

I came across an article on Epicurious by Gabrielle Carter, who is a cultural preservationist who uses food to reimagine, among other things, marginalized food systems. She wrote about what she would serve at a dinner party after emerging from the COVID pandemic. The centerpiece of that dinner was a roasted leg of lamb. The recipe comes from Jessica B. Harris, and it includes what Carter describes as a "fragrant paste of garlic, lavender and other herbs." 

Apart from the connection to my exploration of African-American foodways, it was this paste that also caught my attention. I have been wanting to make a dish that incorporated lavender. During the COVID pandemic, my family took a camping trip in rural Maryland. As we made our way back home, we stopped at a local lavender farm. I had purchased some "culinary lavender" to use in recipes, but I did not have any such recipes at the time. When I came across the recipe from Jessica Harris, which was introduced to me by the article written by Gabrielle Harris, I knew that I had to make this leg of lamb. 

While I have used lavender in recipes in the past, I think this recipe represents the first time that I used the ingredient successfully in a recipe. The aroma and the flavor of the lavender was just right, present enough to know that it was there, but not to overpowering or offsetting to throw off either the smell or the taste of the roasted lamb.


Recipe by Jessica B. Harris, available on Epicurious

Serves Several


  • 1 leg half bone-in leg of lamb (4 to 5 pounds)
  • 6 large garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely ground sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons mixed peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
1. Prepare the leg of lamb. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  If the butcher has not already removed the fell (parchment like membrane) from the lamb leg, trim it away along with the excess fat.  Using the tip of a sharp knife, make 15 or so small incisions in the leg, spacing them evenly. 

2. Prepare the rub. Place the garlic, lavender and thyme in a small food processor and pulse until you have a thick paste.  Poke a bit of the paste into each of the incisions in the lamb. Place the salt, peppercorns, dried rosemary and herbes de Provence in a spice grinder and pulse until you have a coarse mix.  Rub the mix all over the lamb, covering it evenly. Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan.

3. Roast the lamb. Roast the lamb for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to roast for about 1 hour or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part away from the bone registers 130 degrees Fahrenheit for rare, or 140 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare.  Remove the lamb from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving. 

4. Finish the dish. Carve the lamb parallel to the bone in long thin slices and arrange the slices on the platter. Transfer the warm sauce to a sauceboat and serve immediately. 


Saturday, October 1, 2022

Rapa Nui Ceviche

Whether an island such as Easter Island can be considered remote is simply a matter of perspective. Those who live there, the Rapa Nui, call their homeland Te Pito Te Henua, 'the navel of the world.' Any point on the infinite globe of the Earth can become a centre.

 - Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands

The island of Te Pito Te Henua or, as it is more commonly known, Easter Island, lies in the middle of the southern Pacific Ocean. It is a special territory of Chile, yet it lies more than 1,400 miles from the nearest Chilean island and more than 2,400 miles from the capital of Chile, Santiago.

Yet, the island remains the center of the Rapa Nui, the indigenous people descended from the Polynesians who first arrived by two canoe expedition from Marae Renga (also known as the Cook Islands) between 800 C.E. and 1200 C.E. The Polynesian explorers believed the island was a good place to settle and live peacefully away from the conflicts from where they came.

The Rapa Nui eventually encountered the European explorers during the 18th century; but, the 19th century brought devastating events for the indigenous people, including slave raids from Peru in the 1860s (resulting in nearly half of the population being captured and taken away) and colonization by Chile in 1887. The indigenous people found themselves largely confined to the city of Hanga Roa, while the rest of the island was rented to the Williamson-Balfour Company, who used the land for a sheep farm. This ended by 1966 and the island was reopened again to its residents. 

Despite all of this adversity, on a remote island in the middle of the ocean, the Rapa Nui have retained their own culture, including their language, their art (for example, the Moai resting on large platforms known as ahu), and their cuisine.  Chilean control of the island has left its mark as well, with Spanish being the predominant language and with Latin influences making their way into the cuisine of the people. 

This recipe provides an example of that influence. Tuna - or kahi as it is referred to in Rapa Nui - is a traditional food of the Rapa Nui. Tuna ahi is a Rapa Nui dish that involves placing the tuna on hot volcanic rocks, allowing the fish to cook as the rocks begin to cool. This dish and its preparation represent traditional Rapa Nui preparation of the fish.

By contrast, a tuna ceviche is perhaps the most typical dish of Rapa Nui cuisine. It is also illustrative of how the Latin influences have made their way into that cuisine. The tuna is cut into small pieces or slices, and then prepared with lime juice, sugar, and ginger. The addition of coconut milk provides more of a Polynesian influence to the dish. The tuna is then mixed with the liquid, along with diced chiles, sliced onions and julienned carrots. The end result takes a traditional food of the Rapa Nui people and presents it in a manner that one could find along the Pacific coastline of South America.


Recipe from New World Review

Serves 4-8 


  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 14 ounces unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 pounds sashimi grade tuna, cut 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 purple (red) onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons died red pepper (use aji rocoto for a little kick)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
  • 3 tablespoons julienned carrots


1. Prepare the ceviche liquid. Place the ginger, sugar, lime juice and coconut milk in a blender and puree until smooth. 

2. Combine the liquid with the tuna. Toss the mixture with the tuna and the remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. 

3. Finish the dish. Garnish with thick cut potato chips, coconut sticky rice, cucumber slices and/or a small bowl of coconut milk. Serve immediately.