Thursday, August 24, 2023

Watermelon Salsa

We had a lot of watermelon, which we had bought for our daughter's birthday party. I sliced the watermelon into kid-sized wedges. But, we had a lot of watermelon. And, when the party was over, we still had a lot of watermelon. 

Clare had been talking about making some watermelon salsa. I went onto the Internet and began looking at various recipes. Needless to say, there is a lot of commonality amongst those recipes. Besides the watermelon, most recipes called for red onion, jalapenos, lime juice, cilantro and salt.

I wanted to do something a little different. There were a few recipes that provided some ideas. Recipes that called for additional ingredients, such as cucumber and lime zest. I even thought about adding some mango, but I decided to leave that for another day and another recipe.

In the end, I took a recipe that I found on Master Class and made a couple of changes based on other recipes. I added that cucumber (1/2 of a cucumber, diced) and lime zest (about 1 tablespoon). I also made the salt optional, because I did not think it was required. Given all of the fresh ingredients, along with watermelon's natural tendency to leech water, I thought that it was good to go without the salt (which would have only drawn out more water from the ingredients).  

The end result is a colorful, fresh salsa that is actually very good. If I had a summer menu, this salsa would be part of it, along with a good gazpacho. 


Recipe adapted from Master Class

Serves several


  • 3 cups of seedless watermelon, diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1/2 cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds removed and diced
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest
  • 1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped finely
  • Kosher salt, to taste (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients together and mix well. Season with salt, if desired, just prior to serving. 

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Republic of the Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands, also known as Jolet jen Anij to the Marshallese (which translates as "Gifts from God"), consists of five islands and twenty-nine atolls (totaling sixty-six square miles in land) in the Micronesia region of the Pacific Ocean. At first glance, the country is beautiful, with the palm trees swaying in the breeze as blue ocean waves lap the sandy shore. However, this beauty belies a dark past. It is a past that still haunts the country's citizens to this day. But even the legacy of the past pales in comparison to the threats to the country and its citizens posed by the future. 

This particular Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge is more than just a culinary one: the dishes are relatively easy to make. The real challenge is coming to grips with this country's history: past, present and future. 

The history of the Marshall Islands goes all the way back to the 2nd millennium BCE, when Micronesians first settled on the islands and the atolls. There is very little known about this history, except that the people who lived on the islands were largely self-sufficient. They grew fruits (bananas, breadfruit), taro, vegetables and other crops. There was also an abundance of coconut trees. The Marshallese also fished the oceans (the Marshallese have over fifty phrases and words in their native tongue for various fishing techniques). This self-sufficiency continued into the twentieth century, as the islands and atolls passed from Spanish control to German control and then to Japanese control. However the self-sufficiency of the Marshallese people declined significantly with the arrival of the Americans.

The Bombs at Bikini and Beyond

The United States made an ask (or, perhaps better phrased, a demand) of the Marshallese people: to use their islands and atolls to test nuclear weapons. The United States evacuated the Marshallese who lived on the Bikini Atoll. These people went from an atoll with 2.32 square miles of land and 229.4 square miles of lagoon to Rongerik, which consists of .65 square miles of land and 55.28 square miles of lagoon.  A similar fate awaited the Marshallese on Enewetak Atoll, who were moved to another atoll that was 25% of the size of their home and had only 25 square miles of lagoon, as opposed to the 390 miles of lagoon where they lived.

Credit: Bettman/Getty Images
From 1946 to 1958, the United States tested sixty-seven nuclear bombs on the atolls of the Marshall Islands.  The destructive impact was far beyond what was experienced at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Basically, the impact can be described as dropping twelve bombs of the size that were dropped on Hiroshima each and every day for twelve years. The tests left the atolls of Bikini, Eneweak, Rongelap, and Utirik devastated and much of the remaining islands and atolls contaminated. This legacy has also affected the health of the Marshallese.

As President Truman once remarked, it was "for the good of all mankind and to end all wars." Except it was not good at all for the Marshallese. This displacement resulted in the malnourishment of the Marshallese, who were forced to live on less land with less resources. Indeed, eventually one-half of the population ended up living in the capital, Majuro. The concentration and urbanization of the Marshallese became the drivers that undermined the self-sufficiency of the indigenous people, causing them to rely more and more on imported food. 

A Paradise of Processed Food

Credit: Neil Sands, AFP/Getty Images
For those who lived in the small, densely populated urban centers, such as Majuro (as opposed to those who lived on outlying atolls), their diet consisted less of locally grown fruits or locally grown seafood. Instead, their diet began to feature imported foods such as Spam, canned corned beef, and other "variety meats" like turkey tails and pig intestines. It also included much more white rice, ramen, popsicles and sweet beverages.  Nearly 80% to 90% of all food calories consumed by the Marshallese who live in Majuro comes from less than healthy, imported food. (By contrast, those Marshallese who still live on outlying islands still consume between 50% to 75% of their food calories from locally obtained foods.) All of these statistics come from 2008; however, the situation has not improved over the years.

The importation of processed food has had its impact on the Marshallese. Diabetes has become a serious issue among the Marshallese. As of 2008, overwhelming majorities of Marshallese were overweight, and significant numbers had type 2 diabetes. The type-2 diabetes rate in the Marshall Islands is around 23%, far exceeding the rates in the United States (13%) and globally (9%).  The combination of white rice, with fatty meats, canned seafood, salty snacks and sweet beverages, are believed to be the culprits. These imported foods, which are cheaper than locally produced vegetables or caught seafood, have created this health crisis in the Marshall Islands. 

Thus, the culinary history of the Marshall Islands has been severely and negatively impacted by its political history with the United States. While a substantial amount of work has been done to improve the diet of the Marshallese, the country still suffers from high rates of type 2 diabetes. However, that political history still hangs over the islands, as the majority of the population remains in densely populated areas while many of their homes - such as those who lived on the Bikini atoll - remain off limits. 

I spent a lot of time with this challenge focusing on the theme. In the end, I decided to direct that focus not only on traditional foods, but also on the positive. The appetizer illustrates the positive work undertaken by the Marshallese to take control of their situations. The main course - and, my culinary challenge - turns to the traditional foods of the indigenous people.  


Nearly ninety (90%) percent of Marshall Island's non-aid income comes from the tuna industry.  To that end, the Marshall Islands started its own tuna company in partnership with the Nature Conservancy.  The company, Pacific Island Tuna, is the first step for this country to enter into a market that is dominated by foreign fleets, mostly from China and Japan.  

The step enables the Marshallese to own the fish that are sold (which are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council), thereby ensuring that the proceeds stay in the country. Forty percent (40%) of the net income will be invested in community based conservation efforts and climate resiliency projects. The remaining sixty percent (60%) goes to the island government.  

I begin my challenge with an appetizer in recognition of the innovation and leadership demonstrated by the Marshallese people as they try to conserve an important resource and use proceeds in positive ways, such as improving the communities, marine conservation, and fighting climate change. This was also a very delicious start to the meal. 


Recipe from

Serves 2


  • 500 grams (1 pound) sashimi grade tuna
  • 2 avocados, flesh cut into thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
  • 1/2 cup light soy sauce


1. Prepare the tuna and avocado.  Using a sharp knife, cut the tuna into 0.5 cm (or 0.2 inch) slices. Place on a serving platter with the slices of avocado.

2. Prepare the dressing. Combine the extra virgin olive oil and lime juice. When ready to serve dress the avocado and tuna with lime dressing. Garnish with spring onions and season with sea salt and pepper.

3. Finish the dishServe with soy sauce for dipping and extra lime, if desired.


Now, I turn to the culinary challenge itself: to make a main course from the Marshall Islands. I drew inspiration from the fishing heritage of the Marshallese people (after all, as noted above, they have fifty different words for fishing techniques in their native language). The main course is known as Marshallese Grilled Fish. 

This grilled fish dish is traditionally prepared by marinating the fish first in "so-shoe" (soy sauce) and then grilling the entire fish (including the guts) over a fire made with coconut husks. I followed the traditional marinade, but the rest of the recipe did not quite follow the tradition. As a routine, I had my fish gutted and scaled at the grocery store. I also lacked coconut husks to use in the grilling process. 

The dish was relatively easy to prepare. The hardest part was deciding on the fish to use. The fishing fleets that patrol the waters of the Marshall Islands usually land bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna, blue marlin, black marlin, albacore tuna and swordfish. None of those were readily available whole at any market near me. 

However, I decided to go with a yellowtail amberjack. Nevertheless, I felt it was appropriate because the Yellowtail Amberjack is a nod to marine conservation generally. The Monterey Bay Aquarium rates this fish either a "best choice" or a "good alternative" depending upon whether the fish is raised through aquaculture and/or where that takes place. I marinated the whole fish (minus the guts) in soy sauce and then grilled it on my gas grill (not authentic at all). My one regret is not getting a picture of the fish before I started to deconstruct it to serve as the main course for myself and my beautiful Angel.   


Recipe from International Cuisine

Serves 2


  • 1 whole fish, cleaned
  • Coconut oil, for basting
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sea salt
  • 1 pineapple, peeled and cut into rings or chunks


1. Prepare the fish. Clean the fish inside and out and pat dry. Marinate the fish in the soy sauce on both sides for about 20 minutes. Brush with some coconut oil. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Grill the fish. Place the fish in a fish basket for grilling so you can flip it without sticking to the grill. Place on a medium-hot grill and cook both sides for about 5 to 6 minutes or until the fish is flaky and tender. Do not overcook.

3. Grill the pineapple. As the fish is being grilled, add the pineapple to the grill. Grill for 1-2 minutes and flip. Grill for another 1 minute.

3. Finish the dish. Serve the fish whole with grilled pineapple and chukuchuk.


This side dish calls for the use of calrose rice, although I had a lot of sushi rice at hand. So, I substituted sushi rice, which worked well in terms of making the rice balls. In fact, it worked a little too well as I ended up pretty much with sticky rice. That stickiness ensured that the final product would be a coconut rice ball. These rice balls are served on special occasions and are often served alongside grilled fish. 


Recipe from International Cuisine

Makes 12 balls


  • 2 cups calrose rice
  • 1 coconut, meat shredded/grated


1. Prepare the rice. Prepare the rice in accordance with the directions on the package.

2. Continue preparing the rice. When the rice is cool enough to handle, roll the rice into balls and then roll the balls on the grated coconut. 

*    *    *

As I mentioned at the outset of this challenge, the dishes are easy to make, it is the history that is hard. The efforts of the Marshallese to take control of their resources, their food and their health face even greater challenges in the future. I cannot finish this post without addressing the biggest of these challenges: climate change. The average height above sea level in the Marshall Islands is seven feet.  As temperatures rise around the globe (and, they are rising given 2023 will be the hottest year in history) and ice melts at the poles, the sea levels will rise. 

Rising sea levels pose a threat to a country like the Marshall Islands. An average sea level rise of just 3 feet (or 1 meter) will result in nearly forty percent (40%) of the buildings in the capital, Majuro, being inundated with water. It will also result in the salinization of land used for domestic agriculture. Thus, Climate change may end up doing what atomic bombs could not do. If left unchecked, it might completely destroy the country, submerging most of it under the Pacific Ocean leaving little left that would be inhabitable. 

Credit: Karl Fellenius, AFP/Getty Images

There is one thing standing in the way: the Marshallese people. Their resilience throughout their history is noteworthy, but I fear it may not be enough. Measures to combat climate change are expensive, far beyond the means of countries with far more in resources that the Marshall Islands. 

The challenge to prepare a main course from the Marshall Islands has been less a story about paradise and more about our health and the health of our planet. It has definitely opened my eyes. 

Until next time ....

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Txuleta with Red Pepper

It has been referred to as the "cornerstone" of Basque cuisine. It goes by the name of Txuleta (pronounced choo-letah) which translates into "meat chop." This particular cut of "meat chop" is always a porterhouse steak, from cattle that are raised in the autonomous community of Galicia. The cattle are raised on a very particular diet comprised of "high quality grasses." Another source of beef comes from retired dairy cattle from Germany or Poland. Moreover, the beef comes from relatively old cows, ranging in age from eight years to eighteen years.

There is also a very specific way to prepare Txuleta. It involves the application of a lot of salt to the exterior of the meat. This layer of salt helps to create a charred exterior during the grilling process. Once the steak reaches the desired temperature, which should be rare and no more than medium rare, the salt layer is brushed off before the steak is cut and then served.  

Not just any porterhouse will do. The steak should be at least two inches thick, so as to allow the steak to "stand" on its side when grilled. Not everyone has access to a butcher, who could provide you with a two-inch thick porterhouse. Thus, the key is getting the thickest steak you can. You will just have to adjust the cooking times to ensure you reach that rare or medium rare temperature.

All of the foregoing suggests the importance of cuisine to the Basque people, as well as the pride taken in terms of its preparation. The cuisine reflects the Basque region itself, which stretches along a coastline of the Bay of Biscay in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. That coastline means that seafood often plays a prominent role in Basque dishes. These include Marmitako, a fish stew, and Txipirones, a dish made from baby squid. Yet, the region also extends into an interior of fields, hillsides, and mountains. That interior yields grapes, producing some very good wines (especially Txakoli white wines), as well as livestock, produce and cheeses (like the Idiazabal). It also gives rise to meat stews and the iconic Piperade, a mix of tomatoes, onions and green peppers whose colors reflect the flag of the Basque country.

Returning to the Txuleta, the dish is typically served with some simple sides. These sides include a tomato salad, fried peppers or green onions. The recipe that I found, which comes from the Smithsonian Institution's Folk Life Festival, included charred, thinly-sliced red piquillo peppers. 

As a cornerstone of a cuisine, Txuleta represents an excellent introduction into a culture that I hope to further explore in the near future.


Recipe from Smithsonian Institution

Serves 2


  • 1 T-bone steak, about 2 inches thick so it can stand on its side
  • 1 Piquillo pepper (or any sweet red pepper)
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil


1. Prepare the pepper. Take a red pepper and place it on a roasting stick. Using a burner with the plate removed, lay the pepper in the open flame. Roast the pepper until its skin is entirely black. Rotate as needed. Burning the skin makes the pepper easier to peel and gives it a slight barbecue flavor. Peel the pepper by gently scraping off the burnt parts with your fingers or a paper towel. Do not use water as the pepper will lose flavor.

2. Continue to prepare the pepper. Chop or tear the pepper into long thin strips. In a 10" saute pan, add a layer of olive oil (approximately 1/2 cup or 4 ounces) and the steps of pepper. Let the peppers cook in low heat for 5 minutes to soften. Set the peppers aside.

3. Prepare the steak. Place the txuleta on a skillet or barbeque. Cook one side for approximately 4 to 5 minutes on low heat. Flip sides when the steak gets a nice browned color. Add a layer of salt on the top side. This helps keep the juices in and makes the meat crisper. Cook the second side for 4 to 5 minutes. Once done, shake off the excess salt. 

4. Finish the dish. Cut the meat off the bone in long strips, cutting from outside in toward the bone. The meat should still be red, rare to medium rare. The dish is traditionally served along with hot stones, which can be used to cook the meat further if desired. Place the meat on a platter with the peppers and serve.