Friday, December 22, 2023

Pad Kaprow

My culinary journeys around the world have often led me to "national dishes." Generally speaking, these are meals that have a strong connection to a particular country. This connection may arise in one of several ways. It may involve an ingredient that is produced locally or prepared in way only done in that area. It may form part of a cultural tradition. Or, it may be actively promoted by a government as part of an effort to create a national identity. 

Take, for example, the country of Thailand. At one point in its history, roughly corresponding to the beginning of World War II, the military dictatorship of Thailand promoted a national Thai identity. Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkram issued twelve (12) cultural mandates from 1939 to 1941. Each mandate set forth objectives for the people. For instance, the third cultural mandate -- On referring to the Thai people -- prohibited Thais from referring to themselves inconsistently based upon preferred group, region or religion (for example, don't refer to oneself as a southern Muslim Thai). It also required the people to refer to themselves as the Thai people. The fifth mandate also had multiple requirements, including Thai people should make an effort to consume food made only from Thai products. Such an edict is often said to be the basis for some of Thailand's national dishes, such as Pad Thai and Pad Kaprow. 

Thai Basil
While Pad Thai is perhaps the most popular and well-known dish, Pad Kaprow comes in a close second. The name translates into basil stir fry. It is not just any basil, but Thai Basil (or Holy Basil) that makes this a Thai dish. 

The history of this dish is a little unclear. The main ingredient -- Thai Basil -- had been introduced into Thailand centuries ago (approximately around 2,450 B.C.E. or 2,500 B.C.E.). Yet, the dish of stir frying basil with chicken (or other protein), chiles and other ingredients goes back only a few or several decades. Indeed, I could not find anything in my research that would enable me to trace this dish back to the time when Field Marshal Phibunsongkram was issuing his edicts. Then again, while there are a lot of articles about the greatness of Pad Kaprow, few of those articles actually delve into how the dish came into existence or how it has evolved over the years. 

Nevertheless, the research does point out a couple of key things about Pad Kaprow. First, the dish represents a Thai version of the five tastes: salty, sweet, sour, hot (spice) and bitter. (I have talked about the five tastes before, check out this post and this post for more.) One Thai chef, Chakkrit Chuma, once said that Pad Kaprow or "Pad kaphrao has to be salty first, sweet after and then feeling hot and spicy in your mouth." Chef Chuma lamented that "sometimes people just make it too spicy and you don't taste anything else." (The Chef also acknowledges that he uses seven chiles in his recipe.)  Second, Pad Kaprow is flexible when it comes to the protein. It is most commonly made with chicken -- Pad Kaprow Gai -- but it can also be made with beef, pork, vegetables and seafood. For this dish, I made it with turkey, because that is the only meat that my beautiful Angel will eat. Also, while many recipes used ground meat, I used turkey thighs because I think that the bite-sized pieces are better. (Also, the use of ground meat reminds me too much of laab or larb, which is considered the national dish of neighboring Laos.) 


Recipe from All Recipes

Serves 2


  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, or more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped
  • 1/4 cup shallots, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Thai chiles, minced or sliced
  • 1 cup basil, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups rice, cooked


1. Prepare the broth. Whisk the chicken broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, white sugar and brown sugar together until well blended. 

2. Sauté the chicken. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Drizzle in oil. Add chicken and stir fry until it loses its raw color, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in shallots, garlic and chiles. Continue cooking on high heat until some of the juices start to caramelize in the bottom of the pan, about 2 to 3 more minutes. Add a tablespoon of the sauce mixture to the skillet; cook and stir until the sauce begins to caramelize, about 1 minute. 

3. Continue to cook the chicken. Pour in the rest of the sauce. Cook and stir until the sauce has deglazed the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until the sauce glazes onto the meat, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. 

4. Finish the dish. Stir in basil. Cook and stir until the basil is wilted, about 20 seconds. Serve with rice. 


Saturday, December 16, 2023

When Oysters Can't Sleep

This appears to be the reason why oysters found in deep water are rather small; darkness hinders their growth, and their gloom robs them of appetite.

-- Pliny the Elder 

Pliny's words may hold true for oysters that find themselves in the deep depths of water; but, what if oysters find themselves in a world of light. Does that mean that they will thrive and grow to be big and plump? Put another way, what if oysters are exposed to too much light? What happens in that case?

Those questions were tackled by researchers from the University of Bordeaux. Those researchers - Audrey Botte, Laura Payton and Damien Tran - published a study in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. The researchers kept oysters in several tanks. They turned up the lights slowly to simulate the rising sun and then kept the lights on as if it were daytime. They turned down the lights as the sun would set, but they did not turn them down all the way. Instead, they left a dim glow, which was supposed to simulate artificial light at night. After they concluded their study, they published their findings: 

Our results showed that ALAN [artificial light at night] disrupts the oyster's daily rhythm by increasing valve activity and annihilating day/night differences of expression of circadian clock and clock-associated genes.

So, too much light -- or too much continuous light -- has a negative effect upon oysters.  The following graphic also demonstrates the researcher's findings:

Put simply, light pollution - especially light produced by cities during the night time - has an effect upon the daily lives of oysters. The impact upon the oysters' biological rhythms affects the bivalves' genes. Those genes are what turn on oysters during the day and turn them off at night. But, if there is continuous light, the oysters do not turn off. They don't sleep. They have insomnia. 

The effects of insomnia upon people are well researched and documented. Generally, according to the Mayo Clinic, insomnia can cause physical, mental and emotional complications. People are less effective at what they do. One can surmise that insomnia could have equivalent effects upon oysters - making them less effective at what they do and perhaps even affecting how their internal systems operate.  For people, the solution involves, in part, improvement in sleeping habits. Perhaps for oysters, the solution lies in improving their sleeping habits. That means turning off the lights. 

All of the discussion of oysters got me to thinking about my favorite oyster recipes. If I had to choose one recipe that, to date, is my favorite oyster recipe, it would be the following one. There is something about oysters and gazpacho that is the perfect combination, at least in my humble opinion.


Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

  • 1 pint of shucked oysters or 24 oysters shucked with liqueur reserved
  • 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cucumber, skinned, seeded, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeno, skinned, seeded and diced
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
  • 1 bunch of scallions, white parts and green parts thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1.  Prepare the "gazpacho."  Place the tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, white wine vinegar, and jalapeno in a blender.  Blend until the ingredients are liquified.  Add salt and pepper to taste. 

2.  Prepare the oysters.  If you buy a pint of oysters, remove the oysters and strain the liquid through cheesecloth.  If you bought the oysters, shuck the oysters and reserve the liqueur.

3.  Finish the dish.  Stir the oyster liqueur into the "gazpacho."  Place 1 or 2 oysters in the bottom of a shot glass, and 1-2 tablespoons of the "gazpacho."  Garnish with the scallions.  Serve immediately.


If you are looking for other dishes that will make oysters lie awake at night, here are some recipes that I strongly recommend: 

Vietnamese Grilled Oysters:
 This recipe presents grilled oysters with a topping that incorporates a perfect balance of the five tastes: spice, sour, salty, bitter and sweet.The chiles provided the spice. Lime juice perhaps contributes the sour or bitter flavors. Fish sauce definitely imbues a salty umami flavor and there can be no dispute that honey adds sweetness to the dish. 

Oyster Ceviche:
 This recipe allows one to "cook" oysters in a different way, through the chemical reaction caused by the oysters marinating in citrus juice. That chemical reaction is also the common method of preparing ceviche, which is a well known dish throughout Latin America.

Oyster Shooters with Tomato, Lime and Chiles:
 I called this recipe ever invented. That was back in 2017, which was one year before I discovered my Andalusian-Inspired Oyster Shooters recipe. Still, the combination of tomatoes, limes and chiles works well for a non-alcoholic oyster shooter. 

Oysters Rockefeller:
 No list of oyster dishes would seemingly be complete without a reference to Oysters Rockefeller. The dish that originated in New Orleans and whose original recipe is still a closely guarded secret. My first attempt at the dish was not bad, but the end result was very tasty.

These are just some of the oyster recipes on this blog. If you want to see the other posts, just click on "Oysters" in the word cloud in "What's in my Fridge + Pantry." Until next time,


Friday, December 8, 2023

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Argentina

The posts that I love the most during my Around the World in 80 Dishes culinary challenge are those that involve cooking meat. I am an unabashed carnivore and, to this date, one of my favorite challenges involved Uruguay. I had to prepare Chivitos al Pan, a sandwich that could clog an artery on its own. 

I could truly feel at home in a large swath of South America - from Brazil to Uruguay and on to Argentina, where the cuisines are, to say the very least, meat-centric. For now, I will settle with my next personal culinary challenge, which requires me to make a main course from Argentina. 

The cuisine of Argentina actually begins with the indigenous people of the Andes, as well as the Guarani. I have already some experience with Guarani cuisine from my challenge involving neighboring Paraguay. These indigenous cultures contributed to Argentine cuisine through the use of potatoes, cassava, melons, peppers, squash, tomatoes, beans, quinoa and other native ingredients. These ingredients gave rise to dishes such aa, humita, which is made after milling maize, and cooking processes like curanto, a method used by the Mapuche to cook meat, vegetable or fruits over hot coals covered with linen or dry leaves.

The Spanish introduced cattle, goats and pigs during the colonial period, which became the foundation for the large cattle industry that has a prominent place in Argentine cuisine and culture. However, many of the cattle and horses escaped farms and ranches, finding independence in the countryside long before the people of what would become Argentina. 

A historic photo of a gaucho
(Source: Estancia Ranquilco)
As the cattle and horses roamed the plains, so did the gaucho. Some say the word "gaucho" comes from the Quecha word "huachu," which means "orphan," or "homeless." Others say it comes from the Guarani word for "drinker." Either way, the etymology of "gaucho" sheds some light on the early history of the Gauchos. They were solitary horsemen, wandering the Pampas in search of wild cattle or horses. To be a gaucho was to be part of a social class, one that was, at least at first, viewed with disdain. The Spanish colonial authorities viewed gauchos as cattle thieves, robbers and smugglers. As someone else summarized a gaucho: 

a colonial bootlegger whose business was contraband trade in cattle hides. His work was highly illegal; his character lamentably reprehensible; his social standing was exceedingly low.

Put simply, "gaucho" was an insult, often lobbed at people who lived in the countryside. 

All of that changed with the war for independence in 1810. As a Spanish general once described the gauchos during the war: 

The gauchos were men that knew the country, well mounted and armed.... They approached the troop with such confidence, relaxation and coolness that they caused great admiration among European military men, who were seeing for the first time these extraordinary horsemen whose excellent qualities for guerilla warfare and swift surprise they had to endure on many occasions.

The war saw gauchos go from being outcasts to revolutionary heroes. The gauchos continued to ply the plains after the war, hunting and trading while living off of the land. 

Ultimately, capitalism was able to accomplish what Spanish generals could not. Private owners began acquiring the livestock that lived on the Pampas, along with fencing off the land into huge estates. As the fences went up, the area for the gauchos to roam shrank. Soon, they were not able to live off the land as they once were. "In one generation," it has been observed, "the free-spirited gaucho was forced to become a ranchhand." 

Modern day gauchos (Source: Audley Travel)


In honor of the gauchos, this particular Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge will feature meat ... and more meat. For an appetizer, I decided to make Choripan or, as the Argentinians call it, "chori." The origins of this dish can be traced to the gauchos, who would grill chorizo - introduced to the region by the Spanish - over a fire in the countryside. Gauchos serve the grilled sausages with bread (pan) for convenience. The dish made its way into the cities, where it is now a common street food that can be found at food stalls or football matches

The recipe I found calls for the preparation of chimichurri as a condiment for the Choripan. The history of chimichurri is not very clear. Some historians have argued that gauchos created chimichurri to flavor the roasted meats. Others note that "chimichurri" is close to "tximitxurri," which is Basque for "a mixture of several things in no particular order." It may even predate the Spanish, as the Quechua had a similar word for a strong sauce that was used to preserve meats.

The Argentinian government has noted the popularity of this dish, estimating that over 500,000,000 choripan are consumed each year. There is even a Choripan World Cup, which is held annually in the city of Cordoba. 


Recipe from Saveur

Serves 4


  • 4 fresh chorizo sausages, Argentinian style if possible
  • 4 6-inch hero rolls, split length wise, connected on one side like a hinge
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup minced white onion
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated using a microplane
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1. Prepare the choripan. Preheat a grill over medium heat. Add the chorizo and let cook, turning occasionally with tongs as needed, until the sides are deeply seared and the center is fully cooked through. 30-35 minutes. 

2. Prepare the chimichurri.  In a medium bowl, add the parsley, onion and garlic. Stir briefly to combine. Add the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, stirring well. Let rest for at least 15 minutes. (Chimichurri can be left out at room temperature for up to 12 hours before serving. 

3. Finish the dish. If desired, briefly warm the insides of the rolls over the grill. You can split the sausages lengthwise if desired as well. Place one cooked sausage into each roll. Slater one side of the roll and some of the sausage generously with chimichurri. Serve immediately. 


A cornerstone of Argentine cuisine is asado, or the grilling of meats. The Asador - or cook - prepares the parilla, which is the grill. There are two parts to this grill: one section that houses the charcoal and wood, and another that has the metal grill upon which the meat - known as carne a la parilla - will be cooked. The meat is primarily beef, but lamb, mutton or pork may also find themselves being seared on the grill. As for the cuts or types, one could find chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), vacio (flank steak), bife ancho (ribeye steak) and lomo (tenderloin). 

However, for this culinary challenge, I will assume the role of asador and prepare tira de asado, which are short ribs and which happen to be one of the more popular cuts to grill. The short ribs are not the typical ones that I can find in grocery stores around me. Instead, the Argentinians have their own style, which is a flanken cut across a three or four bone plate. It took a little time, but I was able to find the cut online (as it is the same type of cut used for South Korean kalbi). 

One last thing, as with the choripan, this recipe called for the preparation of "traditional chimichurri." The recipe underscores one understanding about chimichurri: there are as many versions of the sauce as there are cooks, gauchos or asadors. This recipe does not use onions, as the chimichurri sauce for the choripan, but it does use crushed red pepper. These changes result in a slightly thinner sauce that has a much stronger kick. That is definitely more to my liking. 


Recipe for the ribs from Food and Wine

Recipe for the chimichurri from Food and Wine

Ingredients (for the short ribs):

  • 3.5 pounds of flanken cut, 3 bone beef short ribs
  • 1.5 tablespoons coarse sea salt

Ingredients (for the chimichurri):

  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons oregano leaves
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil


1. Prepare the chimichurri. In a food processor, combine the parsley, vinegar, garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper. Process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and pour the olive oil over the mixture. Let stand for 20 minutes.

2. Grill the beef ribs. Preheat the grill (preferably a wood fire) to medium high (400 degrees Fahrenheit to 450 degrees Fahrenheit). Pat the ribs dry with paper towels. Sprinkle all sides of ribs evenly with salt, pressing salt into meat and rubbing it on bones. Arrange the ribs diagonally, spaced 1 inch apart on lightly oiled grates. Grill uncovered and undisturbed until bottoms of ribs are browned and release from grates, about 4 to 6 minutes. Flip ribs, and continue to grill uncovered until browned and a thermometer near the bone but not touching it registers 130 degrees Fahrenheit, about 2 to 4 minutes. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Finish the dish. Serve the ribs whole, or if serving with an assortment of meats for a larger group, cut each rib into thirds on the diagonal. Serve with chimichurri.

*     *    *

In the end, this challenge satisfied my inner carnivore. Any grilling challenge almost inevitably ends up in the top few of my most favorite challenges. I may not have been out in the middle of nowhere in the Pampas, but from my suburban backyard, I could at least spend a couple of hours as an Asador or a Gaucho. Until next time ...


Friday, December 1, 2023


"Under international law, the responsibility for protecting civilians in conflict falls on the belligerents. Under military occupation, the responsibility for the welfare of the population falls upon the occupiers." -- Kofi Annan

In the days and weeks following the October 7, 2023 barbaric attacks by Hamas against Israelis and foreigners, Israel proceeded to impose a complete blockade and then inflict a relentless military campaign upon the Gaza strip. Israel directed its self defense not simply toward Hamas, but also at more than two million Palestinians who live in Gaza. 

Israel's response has resulted in unimaginable suffering for those innocent people, who saw food stores run out, clean water run dry, and medical supplies become scarce. Supporters of Israel's strategy blamed all of the Palestinians' suffering on Hamas (or worse, they equated innocent Palestinian people with Hamas). The terrorist organization had control over Gaza since 2006 and which, during that time, entrenched itself amongst the civilians. The innocent Palestinians became the human shield of Hamas. Yet, Israel nevertheless chose to drop bombs and shoot missiles at that shield. The Palestinian people are caught between two warring sides, with indefensible losses of life and indescribable suffering. 

As I watched the unfolding events, a profound sadness overwhelmed me for the everyday Palestinian people. Those individuals who were just trying to make a life for themselves and their families, overcoming obstacles and shouldering burdens imposed upon them because of who they are and where they lived, not for what they have done. I have explored Palestinian culture and cuisine, with its ties to the sea and its roots in the ground. Now, in this post, I take a step back, because the situation has become much more dire for the everyday Palestinian people and their future in Gaza.

While everyone focuses upon the savagery of Hamas' central tenet (that is, the eradication of the Jewish people living in Israel or Palestine), there have been many statements by officials of the Israeli government that suggest the same outcome for the Palestinian people living in Gaza. These statements include, but are not limited to: 

  • October 9, 2023: Israel's Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, stated, "we are fighting human animals and we will act accordingly."
  • October 10, 2023: Israeli Army spokesperson says the emphasis is on damage, not precision.
  • October 28, 2023: Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu invokes the biblical passages about Amalek, in which the prophet Samuel conveys God's command to King Saul that the Hebrew people "punish the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them," adding "do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." 
  • November 13, 2023: Israel's Agricultural Minister, Avi Dichter, described the current war as "Gaza's Nakba," which is a reference to the original Nakba that resulted in the displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians when the State of Israel was created in 1948 (many of whom fled to Gaza).
  • November 14, 2023: Israel's Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, called for the voluntary migration of the Palestinian people out of Gaza, claiming it was the right humanitarian solution to do (it is also the first and principal step toward ethnic cleansing). 
  • November 17, 2023: The Deputy Speaker of Israel's Knesset, Nissim Vaturi, stated that, "We are too humane. Burn Gaza now no less."

Statements like those set forth above suggest an objective that involves far more than simply eradicating Hamas. They are opening a door to take action against the Palestinian people who live in Gaza, forcing them to flee their homes in what could become another Nakba. (The original Nakba refers to the dislocation of Palestinians when Israel was established.) Israel's "self-defense" appears to involve little differentiation between everyday Palestinians and Hamas fighters, as evidenced by block after block of destroyed buildings, the targeting and destroying of civilian infrastructure, and the devastating boycott, denying the people of Gaza the very things they need to survive (like food, water, medical supplies, and fuel).

Two pictures: (L) Palestinians fleeing during the Nakba in 1948 and
(R) Palestinians fleeing the current conflict. 

Accountability for the above is deflected by a range of defenses. For example, the death toll of Gazans is often discounted as Hamas propaganda. More disturbingly, those who challenge Israel's "self-defense," are labelled as anti-Semitic. The calls upon Israel to international law and refrain from imposing collective punishment upon the Gazan people supposedly become anti-Semitic because it is believed that the challengers have not held other countries to such standards (regardless of whether that is true or not). Simply put, it is not anti-Semitic at this present moment in time to call upon people to be not only human, but humane. Our history should shape our future, where everyone on both sides learns from our prior failings and mistakes in order to prevent us from repeating them, time and again. One should not use the failings of the past as a defense to the failures of the present. We need to call out violations of human rights and international, calling for their cessation and remediation. 

I have been doing so in my own small way, by focusing on the Palestinians as a people. I wanted to do what I could to restore their humanity by recognizing their struggles while learning about their culture and cuisine. That cuisine can be best summarized by a headline to an article that I read: Dill, Fish and Resilience: The Holy Trinity of Gazan Cuisine.  To be honest, I don't cook with a lot of dill because it is not my favorite herb. Yet, many of the recipes that I reviewed included dill, and a lot of it. Dill can be found in salads, seafood dishes, soups and stews. As one put it, dill "is the smell of Gaza." Where the French have mirepoix and the Spanish have sofrito, the use of dill, in combination with chiles and garlic, provides a base for much of Gazan cooking. The other key element of Gazan cuisine, as it is for all Palestinian cuisine, is olive oil. The olive tree has an especially important place in Palestinian cooking. 

Yet, Palestinian cuisine also includes some more intangible ingredients. One of which is generosity. It features itself not only in the dishes, but also in the offering of food to others, especially those who are less fortunate. (Given the Palestinians' plight, that is really saying something.)

Whalid Al-Hattab serves Jarisha to his poor neighbors. Source: Arab News

The other intangible ingredient to Gazan cuisine is resilience. When one talks of food in Gaza, the discussion often gets intertwined is Israel's blockade of the territory. This blockade predated the events of October 7, 2023; and, its imposition has bordered on not just inhumane, but also irrational. At various points in time, basic food items -- such as pasta, lentil and coffee -- have been denied to the Gazan people by Israel. Indeed, even crayons were once blocked from entry into Gaza. The arbitrary denial of food and ingredients has had a negative impact upon not just the cuisine, but the every day meals for Gazans. Yet, Gazans continue to prepare dishes with what they have, and continue to share those dishes with the have-nots. 

The dish of Qidreh is not Gazan in origin, unlike Zibdiyet Gambari or Gazan Dagga. Its origins lie in the West Bank city of Hebron. Qidreh actually refers to the copper pot used to prepare the meal.  However, like most recipes, there are regional versions of Qidreh. For example, cooks in Jerusalem add chickpeas to the rice. Gazan cooks use much more garlic and a range of spices. I selected a recipe that draws not only from the traditional Hebron dish, but includes the chickpeas from Jerusalem and enough spices to make me believe that there is a nod to Gaza in the meal. The one variation on the recipe is that, rather than using a seven spice blend like Baharat, I used the Palestinian Nine Spice blend. 

I don't know what the future holds for Palestinians in Gaza (or the West Bank), but, if the past is any indication, it is not a good one. As long as far-right governments control the Israeli government, as long as extremist settlers wage violence upon Palestinian communities in the name of a greater Israel, the risk that a people, along with its culture and cuisine, may become endangered. All because of an inability or unwillingness to differentiate between those who wage terror and those who face terror.


Recipe from Fufu's Kitchen

Serves 5

Ingredients (for the lamb):

  • 12 cuts of medium sized lamb (preferably lamb shoulder)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice
  • Boiling water
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Ingredients (for the rice):

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 20 garlic cloves, halved
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon seven spice (or Palestinian Nine Spice)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 15 ounces chickpeas, drained

Ingredients (for the garnish):

  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon ghee


1. Brown the lamb. Rinse the lamb pieces thoroughly under cold water and trim excess fat if necessary. Pat the lamb dry.  In a large pot, add the olive oil on medium heat allowing for it to warm up. Once the oil is hot, add the lamb pieces and sear for 4 minutes each side to achieve a light browning. Season with half of the salt, pepper, and all spice from the ingredient list. 

2. Prepare to stew the lamb. Add enough boiling water to cover 2 inches over the lamb. Let this simmer covered for about 30 minutes. If residue rises to the top, skim it off. At this point add the rest of the seasonings and components on the ingredient list for the lamb. Allow to simmer for another 1.5 hours on low to medium heat. Once the time has passed, check the tenderness of the meat. Depending on cut and size, it may need more time but should be ready. take out the lamb pieces through a strainer on top of a bowl and reserve the lamb broth.

3. Prepare the rice. Wipe the same pot used to cook the lamb and add the olive oil with the onions. Sauté until fragrant, which is about 5 to 8 minutes and then add the garlic and saute for another 5 minutes. Season with all of the spices in the rice list and add the rice and chickpeas to this as well. Give it a nice stir so that everything is coated. Take a majority of the rice out and put on a plate to the side. Leave a layer of rice in the pot and top it with half of the lamb pieces and then add the remaining rice and top of the remaining lamb. Add enough lamb broth to cover the rice 1 inch over. Put a heat proof plate that fits on top of the pot. Store extra broth in a container to use for other purposes.

4. Cook the rice. Cook the rice covered with a lid for about 20 to 25 minutes on low to medium heat making sure not to scorch the bottom of the pot. Once the liquid is evaporated and the rice is cooked through, turn off the heat. allow for the rice to stay in the steam for another 5-10 minutes before serving on a platter of your choice.

5. Finish the dish. Top with toasted slivered almonds and/or pine nuts in ghee. Enjoy with a refreshing salad and plain yogurt. 


Thursday, November 16, 2023

Gazan Dagga

"We are so proud that we can feed our families fresh, natural food and that we can finally see our business bloom like our vegetables. -- Abu Riyad

As the Hamas-Israeli war wages on, I cannot help but think about the people caught in the middle. I think about the Israeli hostages who are being held by Hamas within the Gaza Strip. I think about the people who were visiting the strip when the hostilities broke out. And, I think about the Palestinian people who call the Gaza Strip their home. 

These Palestinians (who I will sometimes refer to as Gazans) are caught between two warring sides, both of which have dehumanized them. On the one hand, Hamas uses the Gazans as human shields, placing them between Hamas soldiers and Israeli missiles. On the other hand, the Israeli government knows that the Gazans are being used as human shields and the Israeli government fires the rockets anyways. 

While Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas's barbaric attacks, I believe that a self-defense that disproportionately affects innocent the Palestinian civilian population, or that imposes a collective punishment on the Gaza population, is ethically and morally wrong. As I have watched the armchair commentariat on social media, I also find myself repulsed by people who conflate the Palestinian population of Gaza with Hamas. This conflation has inspired me to learn more about the everyday Palestinians who live in Gaza, as well as their culture and  cuisine. As with my earlier post about Zibdiyet Gambari, and my Beyond Borders project generally, my goal is to restore some of the humanity that has been taken away from these people. 

Once again, I go back in time, to a period when Gaza was a thriving region. Agriculture played an important role. Back in the 1960s, farmers in Gaza were able to grow and export produce such clementines, grapefruit, lemons and oranges. The cultivation and production of citrus constituted nearly thirty-five percent (35%) of the Gazan workforce in the 1960s. If someone took the time to listen, they would hear Palestinians fondly remember those times. Not only was citrus critical to the economy, but also to the culture. There are over sixty-seven (67) references to oranges in the works of Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish.

Picking oranges in Gaza. Source: Middle East Monitor

Everything changed with the Israeli occupation of Gaza after the 1967 war. The Israeli government coerced Gazan farmers to shift production from citrus to other crops, such as strawberries and flowers, for international markets. Over time, the Israeli government took more direct acts of interference.  For example, in the 1990s, the Israeli government began to bulldoze orange groves, claiming that they were being used as shelters for terrorists. These actions contributed to the end of the citrus industry in Gaza.

However, things got worse for Gazan agriculture. As the Israeli Defense Forces left Gaza in 2005, Israel created "Access Restricted Areas." Those areas were not created on Israeli land, but using some of the 140 square miles of the Gaza strip.  The ARA extended 300 meters from a perimeter fence built by Israel, which deprived Gazans from approximately 35% of their farming land (and 17% of the entire Gaza Strip). Palestinians who maintained farms just beyond the ARA were also affected. It has been well documented that the Israeli government has sprayed herbicides in the ARA that have been lethal to the crops of Palestinian farmers. The loss of crops has been significant for Palestinians. They estimate that, between 2014 to 2019, the loss was between $140,000 to $280,000.

Notwithstanding all of these obstacles, there are stories that illustrate the resilience of the Palestinians who live in Gaza. Take, for example, farmer Abu Riyad, who lost all of his crops in 2014 due to the violence. The not-for-profit, Anera, worked with farmers like Riyad to restore farmland that was either damaged by war or left fallow because of a lack of resources to farm it.  Riyad is able to not only grow vegetables and other produce to feed his family, but to also sell it at a farmers' market in Khan Yunis.

Abu Riyad with his new farm. Source: Anera.

There are more stories like the one involving Riyad. Back in May 2021, the Israeli government engaged in sustained bombing of the Gaza strip. That bombing damaged over fifty percent (50%) of the farms owned by Palestinian women.  With outside assistance, these farmers were able to rebuild with new machinery, new livestock and other resources. These farmers have also given back, creating a program to provide food to families in need. Even as they make recoveries, they still have to deal with adversity, including another sustained bombing campaign by Israel in May 2023. 

Now, with Israel's sustained campaign after Hamas' October 7 attack, farmers must again deal with the inability to maintain their farms. Only this time it is worse: the farmers are suffering from the collective punishment imposed by Israel, which includes a complete blockade, the civilian infrastructure (including the water infrastructure), and large numbers of deaths, injuries and displacement. The resilience that defines the Palestinian spirit, as demonstrated by their ability to not only rebuild their farms but to also help their communities, will truly be tested in the coming days and months.


Recipe from Chef in Disguise

Serves 4


  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 hot chile peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup fresh dill, minced, or 1 teaspoon of dill seeds
  • 2 very rip tomatoes, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


1. Prepare a paste. In a Gazan clay bowl or zibdiya (or a mortar), mash the onion and salt into a paste using a pestle. Add the chiles and continue to crush. Add half the dill (if using fresh dill) or all of the dill seeds and crush them to release their oils. 

2. Add the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes, and mash. You can make the salsa as sooth or as chunky as you would like. If using fresh dill, add the other half along with the lemon juice and toss. 

3. Finish the dish. Toss generously with olive oil. Serve with flat bread on the side for dipping. 


Monday, November 6, 2023

Zibdiyit Gambari (Spicy Shrimp and Tomato Stew)

"If cooking is in part an act of preservation, a way to sustain cultural identity, it is also an art of resilience, demanding the ability to adapt."  --  Ligaya Mishan

The New York Times columnist, Ligaya Mishan, wrote those words about the Palestinian people and their cuisine in February 2020. However, as I write this post, these words take on more meaning and, in a very real sense, more urgency. 

On October 7, 2023, Hamas perpetrated barbaric acts of murder, rape and inhumanity upon Israeli and other civilians. The scale of the terror attacks shocked the world, which quickly and rightfully rallied around the Israeli people. The Israeli government responded with a "self defense" campaign, vowing to end Hamas. The campaign included a complete blockade of the Gaza strip, where Hamas has wielded control since 2006, as well as a relentless military assault upon that territory with the objective of eliminating the terrorist organization. 

A view of the Gaza strip in 2020.

While Hamas deserves to be eliminated, there are over two million Palestinians who live in Gaza (who I sometimes refer to as "Gazans"). These Palestinians live in cities such as Khan Yunis, Beit Hanoun, Rafah and, of course, Gaza City. Many live in neighborhoods such as Jabalia and Al-Shati, which originated as refugee camps. All of these cities, with their neighborhoods, occupy an area of 140.9 square miles. By comparison, the city of Las Vegas, Nevada occupies 135.9 square miles. In addition, Gaza City, which is the largest city on the strip, has a higher population density (with 36,296 people per square mile) than New York City (which has only 29,303 people per square mile). The overwhelming majority of the more than two million Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas's October 7 terrorist attack.  

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in October 2023
Despite that fact, Gazans have found themselves caught between two warring parties -- Hamas and Israel -- and dehumanized by both sides. Hamas uses the Palestinians living in the Gaza strip as human shields against Israeli attacks. Much of the terrorist organization's command and control structure exists in tunnels beneath schools, hospitals and apartment buildings of Gaza. If Israel were to strike at Hamas, then it would have to go through the Palestinian people. And, as the events after October 7 have shown, Israel has engaged in an aerial bombardment that has resulted in significant deaths, injuries and displacement of Gazans. As of this post, nearly 10,000 Palestinians have been killed (many of whom were children), with thousands more injured and over 1 million (or half of Gaza's population) displaced. The numbers that are being reported as of the time of this post include nearly 10,000 Palestinians dead, countless thousands more injured, and over 1 million (or half the population of Gaza) being displaced. Put bluntly, while Hamas may be using the Palestinian people as human shields, the Israeli Defense Forces nonetheless continued their relentless assault and their complete blockade. Everyday Gazans are struggling to find food, clean water, and fuel, against a backdrop of Israeli bombardment in which the only numbers rising are the dead and injured, as hospitals deal with dwindling medical supplies and resources. 

While bombs drop across Gaza, as the armchair experts exchange salvos and blame on social media, one basic fact seems to have been forgotten: Palestinians living in Gaza are humans just like everyone else. Together, they have their own culture, cuisine, and history that is also part of a larger Palestinian one. I want to take this moment to restore, in whatever small way that I can, the humanity of these people whose were already struggling -- but surviving -- before the recent events. This post will delve into the history, culture, and cuisine of the Palestinians who live in Gaza, with a particular focus to their ties to the Mediterranean Sea.

If we go back in time, Gaza was definitely a different place. Long before the first blockade, which Israel imposed after Hamas took control of the strip in 2006. Even before the Yom Kippur war of 1973.

Source: Research Gate

The Gaza strip is located on the southeastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. There are forty (40) kilometers of coastline, which has a long historical connection with the sea. From 800 B.C.E. to 1,000 A.D., a thriving port known as Anthedon provided sea access to a succession of peoples, including Neo-Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Byzantine and eventually, Islamic empires (such as the Umayyad and Abbasid). During this time, the port played an important role in the incense trade and the silk route.  Goods such as spices, frankincense, myrrh, rare woods and precious stones made their way through the port.  The Anthedon Harbor is on a tentative list for designation as a UNESCO Heritage Site. 

While the Anthedon port continued into history under names, such as El-Blakiyeh, the strip continued to play an important role in connecting people with the sea, as well as promoting trade. Indeed, Gaza continued to serve as an important point in the spice trade until the 19th century. It served as the main port for goods being imported into southern Palestine, as well as Jordan and Iraq.

The Gazan coastline was not only important to international trade in the region, but also the local economy. Gazans have a long history and tradition of shipbuilding and fishing.  Workers would take their boats out to sea, drop their nets, wait patiently a few hours, and then pull up the nets to reveal the catch. At one point in time, that catch included  sardines, sea bass, mullet and various types of bream. The vessels would return with the catch, which would then make its way into the local market and on to the plates of Palestinian families.

Things changed after the Israeli government occupied Gaza in 1967. While a small port continued to exist in Gaza City, its role began to diminish and eventually end when Israel closed the port to international shipping. 

The Israeli government began to impose increasingly greater restrictions upon Gazan fishing boats. For comparison purposes, international law provides that the first twelve (12) nautical miles are territorial waters, with an additional twelve miles constituting a "contiguous zone" over which a country can exert certain authorities, which include fishing. Under the Oslo Accords of 1993, the area of territorial waters (and the contiguous zone) open to Gazans was limited to twenty (20) nautical miles. That area shrank to approximately twelve (12) nautical miles with the Bertini Commitment in 2005. Israel reduced the area open to Gazan vessels to six (6) nautical miles one year later. By 2009, the area open to Gazan fishing boats had been reduced to three (3) nautical miles, which is well short of where much of the fish swim. Israeli's navy enforced the restrictions, not only arresting workers on vessels that ventured too far out, but also shooting at them when at them for crossing the arbitrary lines that Israel drew in the sea. 

The lines changed again, with Israel widening them to fifteen (15) nautical miles in 2019, only to reduce it again one year later to eight (8) nautical miles a year later. The lines would change again and again at the whim of the Israeli government, usually in response to violence by terrorists, leaving Gazan fisheries uncertain about what their future held. Those uncertainties increased with Israel's initial blockade in 2006, which made fishing equipment and boat fuel harder to come by and more costly when found. The restrictions made it extremely difficult for Gazans to make a living off the seas, with an overwhelming number of fishermen living in poverty. 

Yet, there are still stories of how the Palestinians have persevered in the face of adversity. The Fishermen's Wives Seafood Kitchen provides one such example. Twenty wives of Gazan fisherman -- who call themselves Zawajat al-Sayyadin or "Fishermen's Wives" -- opened the kitchen to help their spouses. When the fishermen returned to port with their catch, the wives would prepare the seafood according to customers' orders. These orders include crispy fried fish, grilled fish, fish soups and fish pies. The prepared dishes could be sold for more than the fish. This effort followed a previous one that failed. But, the wives learned from the prior attempt, made changes, and found success, as well as support from a non-profit organization.

Some of the Fishermen's Wives preparing the catch. Source: Middle East Eye

For those Gazans who did not venture out into the dwindling areas where they could fish, they looked for other opportunities to continue their connection with the sea. One such opportunity involves a fish farm that is expected to raise sixty to eighty tons of sea bream each year. The farm was established with the assistance of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and Italy. Palestinians have also established inland fish farms to raise tilapia. Both the sea bream and tilapia present opportunities to address needs within the Gaza strip, as well as potential "exports" to at least the West Bank, if not beyond (when allowed by the Israeli government). 

More importantly, these stories, and many others, provide insights into the Gazan people. Although told over the years, these voices are now silenced by the thunderous tones of war and weakened by the sharp propagandist attacks by each side's supporters.  The ultimate casualty are the innocent civilians who are caught in the cross-fire. They are first deprived of their humanity by outside forces, with the truly unfortunate being deprived of their lives. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "[o]ur lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter." I have used this blog to protest the inhumanity of how people have been treated, such as Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya or China's treatment of the Uyghurs. For me, this blog has evolved beyond just cooking food, but to learn about cultures and to gain a better understanding of other people and, most importantly, have a greater empathy for their lived experiences. 

So, I refuse to be silent in the face of so many people who appear to accept or ignore the dehumanization of everyday Palestinians. I will use my voice, through this blog, to recognize their lived experience (as briefly outlined in part, above) and to respect their culture and cuisine by preparing one of their traditional dishes (as set forth below).  

I have selected a dish that dish that represents the Palestinians' ties to the sea, namely, Zibdiyit Gambari (Spicy Shrimp and Tomato Stew). The dish calls for ingredients that are common in Gazan recipes, such as the use of dill, which has been referred to as part of the "Trinity of Gazan Cuisine," with the other parts of the trinity being seafood and resilience.  I also learned that Gazans have a love of spicy food, using chiles to bring a kick to many of their dishes. That is something that, as the more than a dozen dried and ground chiles in my pantry will attest, is something that I have in common with them. This particular dish was not too spicy, as I left out the seeds from the chiles. The end result was still a very delicious stew, that I served with some white rice and flat bread. 


Recipe from New York Times

Serves 4


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 (14-ounce) can whole, peeled plum tomatoes, juices reserved
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, plus more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 jalapenos, finely chopped, plus more to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 pound raw medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
  • Coarsely chopped parsley leaves, for serving


1. Sauté the onion and garlic. Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juices; 1 teaspoon sugar, the cumin, caraway seeds, allspice, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and 1 cup of water to bring to a boil. 

2. Prepare the jalapeno, garlic and dill paste. Mash the jalapeno, garlic, dill and 1/2 teaspoon together using a mortar and pestle for a few minutes. Alternately, finely chop them together on a cutting board, then  mash them by pressing back and forth using the flat side of your knife until a paste forms. (Both approaches release the oil from the jalapeno and dill and make them more fragrant.) Add to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally to break down the tomatoes, until the sauce is thickened and flavors meld, about 20 minutes. 

3. Toast the sesame seeds. in a small skillet, stir the sesame seeds over medium heat until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.

4. Cook the shrimp. When the tomato sauce is ready, taste and adjust the seasoning (you may want to add some more sugar or jalapeno). Finally stir in the shrimp, making sure that they are submerged, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until they have all just turned pink and are cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes. 

5. Finish the dish. To serve, drizzle with a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil and scatter with the sesame seeds and chopped parsley.

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I will have more to say in my efforts to protest against the dehumanization of the Palestinians who live in Gaza, as well as about the experiences of people around the world. Until then, lets pray for ...