Sunday, April 14, 2024

Steamed Snow Crab

Snow crabs --  also known as chionocetes opilio, "opilio crabs" or just "Opies" -- are native to the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. One can find Opies at depths between 43 feet and over 7,000 feet, but they usually hang out on sandy or muddy areas around 110 feet deep. The Atlantic Opies are located along Greenland, Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Pacific Opies are predominantly found in the waters around Alaska and Siberia. If anyone has watched any of the nineteen seasons of the TV show, Deadliest Catch, then you have inevitably watched crabbing vessels ply their way around the Bering Sea, pulling up large pots with snow crabs.  

Yet, chinocetes opilio may become better known as the twenty-first century, aquatic version of the proverbial "canary in the coal mine." Back in 2018, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries estimated that there were about eleven billion (11,000,000,000) snow crab in the northern Pacific ocean. By contrast, there was just 7.6 billion people on the planet in 2018.  Just three years later, in 2021, there were just over one billion (1,000,000) snow crab in the same region. A loss of ten billion would exceed the entire human population on the planet. (There were only 7.8 billion people on the planet in 2021.)

Researchers and scientists have spent the following three years (from 2021 through today) trying to determine what exactly caused this catastrophic plunge in the northern Pacific snow crab population. At the time, no one quite knew what happened. There were theories that the crab migrated to colder waters, either at greater depths or further North. Other theories revolved around disease or predators. Years passed and the research continued. In recent months, researchers and scientists have begun to go public with their conclusions. One organization -- the Global Seafood Alliance, a not-for-profit that promotes responsible and sustainable seafood practices --wrote a very interesting and troubling piece about that research. 

Charts explaining the snow crab collapse.
Source: Science (2023),

The bottom line has a simple answer and a complicated one. The simple answer is that the snow crab starved to death. The more complicated answer involves climate change. There is no disputing the fact that temperatures have increased in the northern Pacific. The rising temperatures were the facts that led many to think the crabs migrated. However, they didn't. They remained where they were. And, relatively speaking at the time, there were a lot of snow crabs. However, as the temperatures increased, so did the metabolism of the snow crabs. The rising metabolism meant that the snow crabs needed to eat more. An increase of 3 degrees Celsius (or about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) requires snow crab to eat twice the amount of food they would otherwise eat. However, there was less to eat because of the rising temperatures. The combination of factors led to mass starvation and death. It also led to the closure of the snow crab seasons, with the resulting harm to fishing vessels and their crews. 

The snow crabs are a warning sign and it is one that has led me to limit the snow crab that I purchase and consume. The last time I probably bought snow crab was back in 2018 or 2019, before the news broke about the population loss. I broke down recently to purchase some snow crab legs as a treat for my beautiful Angel and the kids, as well as an opportunity to talk about the pressures that threaten the crab's future. 

Generally, snow crab is easy to prepare. The best way is to set up a steam pot and steam it for about 10 to 15 minutes (if the snow crab is frozen, less time if it is thawed). The steamed crab needs only be served with melted butter. 

But, I looked around for something to add to this special dish. I ultimately I found a recipe for a spice mix that reminded me of my project  -- In Search of Orange Gold -- in which I sought to recreate Old Bay. The mix worked well with well with the melted butter and the snow crab. It also works well as a blackening spice for fish. 

After this recipe, I will go back to my old ways of not buying snow crab.


Spice Mix Recipe from

Serves 4-6

Ingredients (for the crabs):

  • 4 pounds snow crab legs (about 3 clusters to a pound)
  • 1/4 cup distilled vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • Water
  • 1 cup butter, melted, divided into four serving ramekins

Ingredients (for the spice mix):

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper


1. Prepare the steam pot. Add 2 to 3 cups of water to a steam pot, so that the water level is below the plate or steam basket. If you want to add additional flavorings, add the vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, mustard seeds and allspice berries. Heat the pot, covered, on high until the water starts to boil and steam comes out

2. Prepare the spice mix. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl, mix thoroughly. Set aside. 

3. Steam the snow crabs. Add the snow crabs to the pot by layering them. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. 

4. Finish the dish. Remove the pot from the heat and remove the crabs from the pot. Serve immediately with the melted butter and spice mix.  


Saturday, April 6, 2024

Lemongrass Chile Chicken (Ga Xao Xa Ot)

As followers of this blog may know, I am a big fan of the public broadcast television series, Luke Nguyen's Vietnam. I watched every episode, as the chef made his way across the country  to showcase the ingredients, dishes and traditions that make Vietnamese cuisine special. 

Many years later, I got a copy of the Luke Nguyen's cookbook, The Food of Vietnam. Much like his television series, the cookbook is a culinary tour from south to north, with many stops along the way.

One such stop was in Hoi An. As Nguyen describes the city: "There are no street lights, but the entire town is dotted with thousands of colourful lanterns, lighting up ancient old buildings and cobbled streets, a slow-folowing river and pretty foot bridges." Hoi An is a remarkable place, finding itself on UNESCO's World Heritage List as a well preserved Southeast Asian trading port. The government owns the entire town, with its structures and environment controlled by several laws. 

As Chef Nguyen made his way through this beautiful town, the one thing he noticed was an "obsession with food." As he wrote, "I am surrounded by street food, market food, restaurants, cafes, and even liitle old ladies sitting on the streets with a steam pot and kerosene lamps." Chef Nguyen had more stories about the town, its people and their food; but, I have to admit I skipped to the recipes (knowing that I would return to read the rest of what he wrote). As I paged through recipes, such as Green Mango & Dried Anchovy Salad and Whole Chicken Pot-Roasted in Sea Salt, my attention fixated upon one particular dish ... Lemongrass Chile Chicken. 

Chef Nguyen prepared this dish in the garden of Brother's Cafe, a restaurant in Hoi An. This dish presented an opportunity to cook with many familiar ingredients, such as fish sauce, chiles, lemongrass and garlic, along with a new ingredient, coconut water.  Coconut water is a clear liquid found in young coconuts, and it is available in many supermarkets. 

This dish is very easy to make, with the only issue being the time it takes to marinate the chicken. (I really wanted to try the dish, so I was a little impatient while the chicken rested in the refrigerator.) Once prepared, this recipe reminded me of all the great things about Vietnamese cooking, such as the lightness of the dish and the balance of the five flavor elements.


Recipe from Luke Nguyen, The Food of Vietnam, pg. 175

Serves 4-6


  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 lemongrass stems, white part only, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 long red chiles, finely diced
  • 1 pound of boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup young coconut juice
  • 1/2 onion cut into wedges
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnish


1. Prepare the chicken. In a mixing bowl, combine the fish sauce and sugar and mix until the sugar has dissolved. Add half the lemongrass, half the garlic, half the chile and all of the chicken. Toss the chicken to coat, then cover and marinate in the refrigerator for one hour or overnight for an even tastier result. 

2. Cook the chicken. Heat a large saucepan or work over medium heat. Add the oil and the remaining lemongrass, garlic, chile and stir-fry for one minute, or until fragrant and slightly brown. Increase the heat to high, then add the chicken and sear for 2 minutes on each side or until browned all over. Now add the coconut juice and the onion. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the sauce has reduced by half. 

3. Finish the dish. Transfer to a bowl, garnish with coriander and serve with steamed jasmine rice.


Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Steamed Broccoli with Sesame Soy Dressing

My intense dislike of broccoli is not a secret. I have previously blogged about it. To quote myself: "I hate broccoli. I really hate broccoli." Yet, for some reason, I keep finding myself buying broccoli at the grocery store and searching the Internet for some way to make the green vegetable appealing to my palate.

Despite my feelings about broccoli, I know deep down that I need to eat more vegetables. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, broccoli contains antioxidants (like Vitamins A, C and K) and glucosinolates, which a body can convert into substances that fight cancer. Broccoli also contains compounds such as indol-3-carbinol and diindolylmethane, both of which help to regulate the immune response and reduce excessive inflammation. 

Recently, I just grabbed a few ingredients from the pantry and my steam basket. I decided that I would steam the vegetable and then toss it in a dressing made from soy sauce, mirin, black vinegar, and sesame oil. I then would garnish the broccoli with a mixture of toasted sesame seeds, toasted black sesame seeds and salt. The end result was decent, but not enough to change my position with respect to broccoli.

I guess some more purchases and surfing for recipes will be required. 


A Chef Bolek Original

Serves 4


  • 1 large broccoli crown, florets trimmed and large ones halved
  • 2 tablespoons Tamari soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Mirin
  • 1 tablespoon black vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons toasted black sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt


1. Prepare the dressing and the sesame seeds. Combine the sesame seeds and salt in a small bowl. Combine the soy sauce, mirin, black vinegar and sesame oil another bowl.

2. Steam the broccoli. Add water to a steam pot with a plate and bring the water to a boil and steam. Add the broccoli and steam until cooked, about five minutes. Remove from heat and remove broccoli to a bowl. Add the dressing and toss. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds. 


Friday, March 22, 2024

The Uyghur Connection

The People's Republic of China is the world's largest seafood producer, producing over sixty-seven million metric tons (67 MMT) of seafood per year, which includes more than twenty million metric tons of processed seafood. Much of that production comes from aquaculture, the domestic cultivation of fish, shrimp and other crustaceans, with wild caught seafood in decline. 

China also has a very sizeable seafood processing industry. There are approximately 9,202 seafood processing facilities, mostly in the coastal provinces of Shandong, Fujian, Liaoning, Zhejiang and Guangdong. The largest export markets for Chinese seafood are, in order of size, (1) Japan; (2) the United States; and (3) Thailand. The exports principally consist of processed seafood products. The magnitude of the exports is also staggering.  For example, it is estimated that half of the fish sticks served in American public schools were processed in China. 

Yet, in recent weeks and months, additional light has been shed on some of the workers who process seafood in Chinese facilities for both domestic and foreign markets. The revelations expose, at least for me, some of crueler dimensions of the Chinese government's ongoing persecution of the Uyghur people. This is a story of how a people, whose home can be found in a landlocked region, end along the coastline, processing seafood.

I have previously discussed China's persecution of the Uyghur people. Those discussions can be found here, here and here.  This persecution is best described by Anthropologist Adrian Zenz as a "strategy of control and assimilation ... designed to eliminate the Uyghur culture." 

One major component of this strategy is a forced labor program in which the Chinese Government forcibly transfers Uyghurs across the country to work in various industries. One of those industries, as it is being reported, is the seafood industry. In recent weeks and months, new light has been shed on some of the workers who process the seafood in China for both domestic and foreign markets. These revelations expose even crueler dimensions to the ongoing persecution of the Uyghur people.  

Investigative journalists have been chronicling this persecution and forced labor. One very good resource is The Outlaw Ocean. Investigators for the Outlaw Ocean have followed Chinese seafood vessels around the world, from the waters of North Korea to the waters off of The Gambia and then to the waters off the Falkland Islands and Galapagos Islands. Their method of communication with the crew involved throwing plastic bottles with handwritten questions (in Chinese, Indonesian and English) onto the seafood vessels. Surprisingly, the investigators received some answers. Those answers revealed abuses such as debt bondage, wage withholding, excessive working hours, forced labor, beating of crew members, confiscation of passports, prohibiting medical care and death.

Once the food made it back to the mainland for processing, The Outlaw Ocean tracked the food to a processing plant in the Shandong province, where they found forced labor working to process the catch. The forced labor consisted of Uyghurs who had been sent to work there. The forced transportation of Uyghurs has been part of what China has called as "Uyghur Aid." The communist government claims that the program is to promote "full employment" and "ethnic interaction, exchange and blending. The actual purpose is the forced assimilation of Uyghurs through forced labor. The program is "door-to-door," with Uyghurs being "delivered from the collection points in Xinjiang to the factory." 

The United States enacted the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act ("UFLPA") in 2021, which requires the United States Customs and Border Protection ("CPB")  to block the import of goods produced with the forced labor of Uyghurs and other minorities. Over the past two years, CPB has seized over a billion dollars worth of goods, ranging from cotton to solar panels. However, most of those goods originate in Xinjiang or East Turkestan, making it easy to seize. 

By contrast, the production of seafood, as noted above, takes place along the coast, as opposed to a landlocked province like Xinjiang. By putting Uyghurs on trains and transporting them to a location that is thousands of miles away, China is able to evade many of the eyes watching for forced labor. 

As a result, seafood processed with forced labor has made its way into the markets of the United States and Europe. According to the Outlaw Ocean and other media sources (like Politico):

  • Over $50 million of salmon from plants in China that used Uyghur labor went to federally funded soup kitchens and programs to feed low-income elderly people;
  • Another $20 million of pollock (that is, fish sticks), was shipped to the National School Lunch Program and other federal assistance programs; 
  • Another $140 million of cod, salmon and halibut was delivered to U.S. military bases domestically and abroad. 

Those are just a few examples of how seafood processed with forced Uyghur labor has made its way into the American market. There are probably more given that at least ten large seafood companies in China have used over one thousand Uyghur workers since 2018.

There is a lot more than can be said on this issue and I may have more to say in the future. While I would ordinarily end one of these posts with my favorite recipes, it doesn't seem appropriate here. Instead, a word of advice ... try hard to determine the source of the seafood that you buy in the market. If it comes from China, buy something else. 

Until next time ...


Sunday, March 17, 2024

Three Creeks Winery Petit Verdot (2018)

Every wine region has its particular grapes, blends, and wines that set it apart from every other wine region. When it comes to the State of Virginia, it may be safe to say that one particular grape sets it apart from other regions. The grape is the Petit Verdot. To be sure, Petit Verdot is grown around the world. What happens in Virginia is its own story. 

Petit Verdot -- translated as "little green" -- is a grape varietal that matures late in the growing season. As such, it is often used as a blending grape. The winemakers of Bordeaux rely upon the grape to add color, tannins and depth to their iconic blends. Few if any produce a single varietal wine that feature the grape. 

Like many grapes, Petit Verdot has made its way to other parts of the world, some close like Portugal, and others further way, such as  Chile, Argentina, Australia, Mexico and South Africa. In the United States, the grape is grown in ten States. As noted above, one of those States is Virginia. 

Virginia has become a place where there are multiple winemakers produce a single varietal wine that features the Petit Verdot grape. One such winemaker is Three Creeks Winery, which provides a Petit Verdot that, quite frankly, provides a robust red wine that stands out. 

This particular Petit Verdot is aged for nine months in new and neutral American Oak barrels. It pours a dark crimson red, with inky depths in the middle of the glass. There are aromatic elements of some very dark fruits, like plums, black cherries and blackberries. Much of those dark fruits carry over to the flavor of the wine. Plums and blackberries, with hints of vanilla and clove, greet the taste buds. 

The taste also includes other elements that one would expect from a Petit Verdot. One noticeable element is the tannins. There is also some earthiness that emerges from the wine as it sits in the glass and opens up. 

The Three Creeks Winery is a lovely place in Hamilton, Virginia. It is definitely worth the visit, not just for the scenery, but also this Petit Verdot wine. 


Friday, March 8, 2024


"Food can bring people together in a way nothing else could." 

-- Yottam Ottolenghi

There is a reason why this post, which focuses on an Arabic dish, begins with a quote from an Israeli-born, British chef. The name of this dish, arayes, is the plural word for "bride" in Arabic. Some say the name is a reference to the "marriage" of the meat mixture with pita bread. An alternate explanation, offered by cookbook author Reem Kassis, is that "the culinary world of the Levant draws upon this poetic imagery." The culinary imagery painted by the combination of crispy pita bread and the rich meat mixture, results in a dish that is as beautiful as a bride.

The key to arayes is balance. One needs the right pita bread. (I realized this fact during the process of making this dish, because I think the bread I used was too thin and broke easily as I tried to stuff the pita.) There must also be an equilibrium between the bread and the meat. In doing research for this post, I found that there were a range of arayes, some thickly stuffed with meat and others that were more thinly stuffed. From what I could tell, the more thinly stuffed arayes are the more traditional way to prepare the dish. This is a point that draws support from Reem Kassis, who described arayes as "pita bread spread with a thin layer of spiced meat...."  

I prepared arayes for a reason. I cooked this dish and wrote this post in the midst of the Israel-Hamas war. That war began with unspeakable horrors on October 7, 2023, when Hamas fighters entered into Israel and carried out war crimes against innocent Israeli citizens. The war has continued, day after day, with the Israeli Defense Forces carrying out war crimes against innocent Palestinian civilians across the Gaza Strip. One of the worst crimes committed by the IDF involves not simply restricting food and aid into the Gaza Strip, which is starving the Palestinians, but destroying the food systems in the strip.  Not only does starvation present clear and present dangers right now, but it will also have long lasting effects upon the Palestinian people. The short term effects include muscle wasting, stunted growth, nd medical issues that include sepsis, meningitis, diarrhea and severe anemia. Longer term issues include cardiovascular disease, hypertension and metabolic disorders. Medical issues may even carry into future generations when pregnant women are subject to starvation, leading to medical issues for the children after birth.

This reality is very distressing to me. Food should never be used as a weapon, especially when it involves innocent civilians. To the contrary, food may very well be one of the most effective means of achieving peace. Food has the ability to create connections between groups of people, build relationships, and promote understanding.

Arayes provide an example of how we have more in common than we have in differences. There are many claims to the origin of this dish. Most of what I found traces those origins to Lebanon, but similar dishes (with as long of histories) can be found in neighboring Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Even the Palestinians lay claim to arayes. Yet, even with its Arabic roots, the dish has become very popular in Israel. The popularity began with a small restaurant known as M25, located in the Carmel Market of Tel Aviv. When the restaurant opened, it served basically three dishes: kebabs, minute steak and kebabs in pita. That latter dish became a version of arayes. Customers wanted a particular type of kebab in the pita, and the owner connected the description with arayes that he had in Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city in Israel. Eventually, M25 began to serve as many as 800 arayes per week. 

In the end, a simple dish demonstrates how much we have in common despite decades of division along religious, cultural and other lines. People of different faiths (Muslim, Christian and Judaism) and different cultures can come together to enjoy crispy, meat-filled pita breads. If they sit together long enough, they may find that they have more in common than what they have been told or led to believe. 

In fact, true peace will never come with a politician's words or a general's actions. It can only come when the people themselves come together, recognize what connects them and understand that those connections exceed what separates them. Food may not get us all the way there. But, it is a start. If people can gather around a proverbial table to share a meal, that is when discussions can begin. That could be the start. 


Recipe from Food & Wine

Serves 5


  • 1/2 medium (about 8 ounces) yellow onion, chopped (about 2/3 cup)
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup (about 3/4 ounces) loosely packed parsley leaves
  • 1 pound ground lamb or beef (lean) or 1/2 pound of each combined
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1-2 teaspoons red chile paste, such as sambal oelek
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon all spice, seven spice or Palestinian nine-spice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt, plus 5/8 teaspoon divided
  • 5 6-inch pita bread rounds, halved crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Greek-style yogurt, for serving (optional)
  • Toum, for serving (optional)


1.    Prepare the oven. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a a broiler-safe wire rack in a baking sheet and set aside.

2.    Prepare the mixture. Place onion, garlic, and parsley in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped into a rough puree, about 6 to 8 pulses, brushing down the sides of the bowl as needed. There should be about 2/3 cup of the onion mixture. Place in a medium mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press on the mixture to drain excess liquid. Discard the liquid. Combine the onion mixture and ground lamb (and/or beef) in a large bowl and mix until evenly combined. Add tomato paste, smoked paprika, red chile paste, pepper and allspice (or seven spice or nine spice) and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and mix to combine. 

3.    Prepare the pitas. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the filling into each pita, spread and flatten so the filling is evenly distributed and reaches the edge of the pita. Brush some of the olive oil onto each side of the pita and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 5/8 teaspoon of salt. 

4.     Bake the pitas. Place the filled pitta halves onto the prepared baking sheet and bake on center rack until filing is cooked through and the pitas are crisp on each side, about 18 to 20 minutes, flipping the pitas halfway through cooking. If desired, turn the oven to broil and cook on each side until desired crispness, about 1 minute per side. Serve with yogurt or toum. 


Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Xocoveza

Beer reviews have become fewer and fewer on this blog. It is not so much that I am not drinking beer. It's just that I have been drinking many of the same beers (some of which have already been reviewed and others which don't really need or deserve a review). However, every once in a while, there comes a beer that deserves its own review. 

The Xocoveza from Stone is such a beer.

The story of this beer begins back in 2014 as a mocha stout recipe submitted by Chris Banker as part of Stone's Annual Homebrew Competition. Banker's recipe won the competition. After joining a collaboration between Stone Brewing and Cerverceria Insurgente (a craft brewery in Tijuana), Banker's recipe became the Xocoveza. Nearly ten years later, the beer is now brewed with a range of ingredients beyond the traditional barley, hops (English Challenger and East Kent Golding) and yeast. The additional ingredients include cocoa, coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and lactose. The combination of scents and tastes elevate this stout to something well beyond any chile stout (pasilla peppers) or holiday stout (cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg). 

The greatness of this beer comes from the fact that the additional ingredients contribute to every aspect of the beer. The beer pours pitch black with a brown foam. That foam gives way to an aroma where the cinnamon, coffee and coca become gradually more noticeable. While the brewers say there is also nutmeg and peppers in the aroma, I had a little more difficulty pinpointing those elements. 

However, the nutmeg and peppers are evident in the taste. Those flavors emerge out of the cocoa, coffee and cinnamon, and there is a heat that comes through in the middle and the finish from the peppers. Together, the complexity of the numerous flavor elements remind me of a simple mole. Indeed, this beer would complement a mole very well, although I have to admit that it would probably be drunk long before the mole was finished. 

This beer is on my short list of favorites. It also makes me happy that Stone has made the Xocoveza one of its annual offerings. If you see it in the store, buy a six pack or two. It's definitely worth it. 


Saturday, February 24, 2024

Lunu Miris

I love the cuisine of Sri Lanka, which is known to curry almost everything. One particular aspect of this cuisine has really gotten my attention: the sambols. A sambol is a freshly made condiment or relish that typically incorporates chiles to add not just spice, but other flavors to whatever one is eating.

The history of sambols takes us to Indonesia, where they are referred to as sambals. Indonesians prepared these condiments using cabya, also known as the Javanese long pepper, which is native to the island of Java. The earliest references to cabya go back to the 10th century C.E. Although not technically a chile, the cabya provided a spicy element to the dishes prepared by Indonesian cooks. However, by the 16th century C.E., Spanish and Portuguese explorers and colonizers brought the traditional chiles from the new world to the Indonesian islands. Soon, cooks started using chiles over cabya. From there, the Dutch colonizers exported sambals to other countries, including Sri Lanka. 

Sambols (or sambals) have chiles as the central ingredient, around which a range of secondary ingredients are added. For example, pol sambol includes green chiles combined with coconut, shallots, Maldive fish chips, and lime juice. Dried shrimp sambol uses red chiles combined with dried shrimp (obviously), dried coconut, onions, garlic and lime juice.  

Lunu miris translates into onion chile. However, there are no onions in this recipe, but there are three different chiles: long red chiles, chile flakes and chile power, as well as freshly ground black pepper. I found this recipe in O Tama Carey's Lanka Food, which describes the sambol as more of a paste. When I prepared it, the final product was more like a salsa, but a very thick and extremely fiery one. Carey advises that this sambol is "[n]ot for the faint hearted." That is definitely an understatement. This recipe should only be prepared by people who order their food at the highest level of spice for those who ordinarily prepare it.


Recipe from O Tama Carey, Lanka Food, pg. 222

Serves 4-6


  • 7/8 ounces Maldive fish flakes
  • 1/8 ounce chile flakes
  • 1/8 ounce salt flakes
  • 3 long red chiles, cut into thin rounds
  • 2.5 ounces of shallots, finely sliced
  • 1/8 ounce chile powder
  • 1/10 ounces of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 limes juiced


Using a mortar and pestle, or a food processor, pound (or process) the Maldive fish flakes, chile flakes and salt until the flakes are finely ground. Add the long red chiles and shallots and pound (or process) to a paste like consistence. It does not have to be super smooth. Mix through the pepper and chile powder and season to taste with lime juice. Service at room temperature. 


Friday, February 16, 2024

Rohingyan Beef Curry

We all miss home, but we cannot go back to the same fear. -- Nur Anya 

For decades, the Rohingyans -- a Muslim minority group --  have suffered under dehumanizing discrimination in Myanmar. The government refused to grant citizenship to the Rohingyan people, denying legal status to an entire ethnic group. Yet, the government passed laws that placed significant restrictions upon the Rohingya. For example, in the northern towns of Mungdaw and Buthidaugn, the authorities limited Rohingyan couples to two children. The government also requires Rohingyans to get approval before they can marry, as well as to travel or move outside of their home towns. These conditions are exacerbated by the fact that the area where most Rohingyans call "home," the Rakine State, is the least developed of Myanmar's states and has a poverty rate of 78%, which is more than double the national rate of 37.5% percent. 

The discrimination and repression led to violence in 2017, after a militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police and army posts. The military cracked down on the Rohingyan people. As the United Nations would later find in an after-the-fact investigation, the Myanmar military showed "genocidal intent" and, in a 2018 report, the UN determined that Myanmar found that the military engaged in "clear patterns of abuse" that included, among other things, the systematic targeting of civilians, promoting discriminatory rhetoric against the Rohingya and establishing a "climate of impunity" for the government's security forces. After approximately one year, it is estimated that the Myanmar military and security forces killed nearly 24,000 Rohingyans.

Fleeing Death and Destruction

The violence and death led to mass displacement of Rohingyans, significant numbers of whom fled as refugees to other countries. I previously touched upon the Rohingyan refugee crisis as part of my culinary challenge involving Myanmar. Approximately 740,000 Rohingyans fled into neighboring Bangladesh. Many more fled to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. It was, at the time, the world's fastest growing humanitarian crisis.

Rohingyan refugees. Source: UNHR Australia

The stories of those who became refugees is heart-wrenching. As Nur Anya recounted from a refugee camp in Bangladesh: 

In Myanmar, we had our lands where we grew flowers, vegetables and many plants. We had a big house where all the family members lived together. The violence and the killing drove us to leave our homes. They brunt houses in my neighbourhood. They shot and killed a lot of people in my village. We were living with fear every day.  When we decided to leave, we had no other option.

It was the most difficult journey of my life. We walked 13 days and nights. To cross the river, my family used a handmade bamboo raft. There were a lot of people with us -- I could not say what the number was, it was so huge. 

As Rohingyans became refugees, many of their villages were abandoned and even more were distroyed. At one point, 176 of 471 Rohingyan villages -- or more than 1/3 of the villages -- had been abandoned.  The Myanmar government cleared entire Rohingyan villages and farms. The government then built homes, infrastructure and military bases in their place. 

Preserving the Rohingyan Culture

The end result, and perhaps the government's objective, was to eliminate the Rohingya people from Myanmar.  The government sought to take the legal status of the people -- that is, no recognition of the Rohingyans -- and make that a factual reality. This creates a clear and present danger to the Rohingyan identity and their culture, including their cuisine. The stories from the refugees include accounts where they had to leave everything behind, including all of their cooking utensils, which makes it harder for them to prepare food for themselves and their families. This leaves the people dependent upon food aid, which has become more difficult to obtain, leading to smaller meals or even skipped meals.

Rohingyan refugees eating a meal. Source: UNHCR

There are efforts to preserve that culture and its cuisine. One example involves the Endangered Material Knowledge Program (EDKM), which provides grants to conduct research on critically endangered knowledge. One project that was under consideration in 2023 was entitled, Rohingya Recipes and Food Practices of stateless Rohingya Community in Camps of Bangladesh. The project description noted the historical difficulty of the Rohingyan people when it came to food: they struggled to maintain the needed nutritional demands, whether it was at their homes in Myanmar or in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. The objective of this project is, among other things, to document recipes and practices of the Rohingyan people. 

This research is sorely needed, as there are few resources and research available on the Internet about the Rohingyan people, their culture and their cuisine. I was able to find a few recipes (which was more than my previous research when I was working on my Around the World challenge). I found a couple of recipes, including one for Rohingyan beef curry.

This recipe is a very interesting one. It calls for beef with bones. When I went to the grocery store, I had to improvise: I purchased some stew meat and some marrow bones. The "masala" for this curry -- turmeric, red chile powder, coriander, cumin, and garam masala -- provided for an aromatic cooking experience and a lot of flavor to build upon the garlic/ginger paste. 

The end result is a delicious beef curry with a slight kick. (I used Kashmiri chiles for the ground red chile powder.) I could not escape the thoughts about how this dish is just a memory for nearly a million Rohingyan refugees who have been forced from their homes and subjected to even greater poverty than what they previously experienced. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to prepare this dish and prepare this post, as my effort to help publicize the Rohingyan culture and cuisine. More of this is needed so that the world does not forget the tragedies that unfolded over six years ago. 

Recipe from SBS Food
Serves 4

  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 1 kg diced beef, with bones
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic paste
  • 2 tablespoons ginger paste
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon red chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 3 teaspoons garam masala powder
  • 4 tablespoons cooking oil
  • Coriander, as garnish
  • Green chiles, as garnish

1.    Saute the vegetables and brown the meat. Heat oil on high heat in a large pot. Add onions, garlic paste and ginger paste. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes until brown. Add diced beef and bones and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add turmeric powder, red chile powder, coriander and cumin. Stir-fry for 2 more minutes. Add the garam masala and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. 

2. Add the liquid and tomatoes. Add 1 cup of water and diced tomatoes and cook on high heat for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes in the last half an hour. 

3. Finish the dish. Garnish with coriander (cilantro) and green chiles. Serve with hot steamed rice.


Friday, February 9, 2024

Morning Tsampa

In a prior post, I began the exploration of tsampa, one of the most fundamental aspects of the Tibetan foodways. The cultivation of barley, along with the roasting of barley berries, gave rise to a foodstuff that provided sustenance to the Tibetan people, allowing them to expand their culture and civilization across the high, arid Tibetan plateau. As part of this journey, I made my own tsampa, roasting the barley and grinding it down into the finest powder that I could with what I have. 

Now it is time to go further down those foodways, to explore the uses of tsampa. A British adventurer and food writer, Peter Fleming, once recounted a basic way of preparing breakfast with tsampa: 

You fill your shallow wooden bowl with tea, then you let the butter melt in the tea (the butter is usually rancid and has a good cheesy flavor); then you put a handful of tsampa in. At first it floats; then like a child's castle of sand, its foundation begins to be eaten by the liquid. You coax it with your fingers until it is more or less saturated and has become a paste; this you knead until you have a kind of doughy cake in your hand and the wooden bowl is empty and clean. Breakfast is ready.

Fleming provides quite the description, and, maybe someday I will try to prepare breakfast in that manner. That date may have to wait until I have some rancid butter. 

More recent accounts, such as one by Barbara Hazelton, who visited Tibet in 2016, provide a similar glimpse into how tsampa is eaten at breakfast. Hazelton wrote: 

The trip to Tibet is long and arduous, and over these many trips to Tibet, I have found I have developed my wits and ways of adapting to this fierce world. In the monastery, the food, tiresome, over-fried and boiled vegetables and tasteless white rice which the kind, bow-legged cook Karma carefully prepares for the "foreigners," Rinpoche's guests, I discovered one gloomy cold morning, can be avoided by taking refuge in the warm cozy kitchen, where one finds the dzo yogurt from the nunnery and the leather bag of tsampa from the cook's family, hanging on a post by the kitchen stove and in the decorated wooden bowl, dried cheese, and sugar. This is where the monks gather and laugh and chat, as they make their morning tsampa balls and slurp the heavy nourishing butter tea, in the kitchen y the long black metal stove filled with fragrant wood, that snaps and spreads out its waves of welcome heat. 

This account -- with its dzo yogurt and tsampa -- provides a tie-in to what I decided would become my attempt to make a breakfast meal using tsampa. 

The recipe, Morning Tsampa, comes from the Beyond the Great Wall cookbook, which was written by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid. That cookbook taught me how to make tsampa in the first place, so it seemed only appropriate that it should guide my on my next step: to incorporate the roasted barley flour into a dish. 

The Morning Tsampa recipe, like many tsampa recipes, is very simple. It involves up to four ingredients, namely, tsampa, yogurt, berries and some sugary ingredient like maple syrup or honey. Those ingredients are combined in a bowl and eaten. The combination of tsampa (which is high in fiber, has important minerals, and promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria), along with the yogurts and berries, probably represents the healthiest breakfast that I have ever had in my life time. 

For that reason, I have resolved that this dish will constitute the start of my day whenever possible. It also represents a significant step forward on my Mindfulness Foodways, as it not only represents a notable improvement in my diet, but one based upon an ingredient and foodstuff that has an important place in our world. 


Recipe from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Daguid, 

Beyond the Great Wall, pg. 181


  • About 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, plain or sweetened
  • 3 tablespoons Tsampa, or to taste
  • Handful of berries or chopped fruit (optional)
  • Honey, sugar or maple syrup, to taste


Place the yogurt in  bowl and stir in the tsampa thoroughly so it is all moistened. Add fruit and a sweetener (honey, sugar or maple syrup) if you wish.


Friday, February 2, 2024

Chargrilled Hmong Black Pig Skewers with Sesame Salt

"I would tell people that Hmong food is not just a type of food. It's not about the product. It's a philosophy.... If you want to know our people you have to know our food. By knowing our food, you will know our story. You'll know where we been and it will show the trajectory of where we're going.  

-- Chef Yia Vang

To the extent people know about the Hmong, that knowledge comes more from political history. The Hmong are an indigenous ethnic group that has lived for centuries as a minority in eastern and southeastern Asia. During the Vietnam War, the United States Central Intelligence Agency recruited and trained the Hmong living in Laos for a "secret war" against the North Vietnamese Army. The Hmong harassed the North Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Minh trail, safeguarded U.S. radar installations, and rescued downed American pilots. After the war, the communist governments of Vietnam and Laos declared that the Hmong were "traitors." The governments persecuted the Hmong. They arrested the Hmong, who were sent to hard labor camps. They sprayed Hmong villages with chemicals, including napalm.  Nearly ten percent (10%) of the Hmong population was killed and around 100,000 Hmong sought refuge in neighboring Thailand and beyond. 

The culinary history of the Hmong is far less known. Before the Vietnam War, the Hmong had a strong agrarian tradition in the mountains of northern Laos and Vietnam. They grew rice and other produce, as well as raised livestock, such as pigs. The Hmong practiced animism, believing that objects, plants animals, and even places have their own spirit. These beliefs underlie the respect that the Hmong hodl for what they have. It also informs their traditions. 

For example, there is a Hmong tradition -- called Noj Tsiab (nee-al jia) -- that centers around the butchering of a pig. During the last week of December, each family would select a pig from their herd to be butchered. Every family member had a role in the process, being taught by the elders how to prepare the pig, how it would be cut, and how to ensure that all of the pig would be used with nothing going to waste. This knowledge was important, and it was passed on from generation to generation. The end products would be used to prepare a meal for the community for the new year. It enabled everyone to participate in a tradition that gives thanks for what they have been given and to their ancestors for watching over them.

This tradition was lost, at least temporarily, for those Hmong who fled their homes and found themselves in refugee camps. Even after they escaped those camps, making their way to the United States or elsewhere, many of their new lives did not include the raising of pigs, let alone the opportunity to butcher them in accordance with their traditions. 

I knew none of this when I came across a recipe for Chargrilled Hmong Black Pig Skewers with Sesame Salt.  It was in a cookbook called the Food of Vietnam. The author, Luke Nguyen, is a Vietnamese-Australian chef who was part of a television show, Luke Nguyen's Vietnam, that I watched on public television. Every episode fascinated me, both with respect to the people, the surroundings, and, of course, the food. When I got this cookbook, as well as another Vietnamese cookbook, I spent a lot of time paging through the recipes. This one caught my eye because of the reference to the Hmong people. 

Roasted sesame seeds with salt
According to Chef Nguyen, the Hmong raised black pigs in the hills and mountains of Vietnam. The cuts from the necks would be used for this dish. I had access neither to those particular black pigs, or, more generally, to pig necks. Instead, I looked for any cut of pork that would enable me to slice thinly or that came sliced thinly. 

There are two things that I really like about this recipe. The first thing is the marinade. The recipe calls for a combination of scallions, lemongrass, fish sauce, oyster sauce, black pepper, and honey, for a marinade. This particular combination of ingredients imparts a lot of flavor into the meat, which is facilitated by the fact that the meat has been thinly sliced.  The second thing is the ease of preparing this dish. Once the marinade is complete, the rest of this recipe is easy: just thread some pre-soaked skewers, place on a heated grill, flip the skewers a few times and you are done. 

These skewers are very delicious and, given the ease of preparing this dish, I will very likely make this recipe again. The next time will take on a little more meaning now that I have some understanding of the traditions of the people behind the recipe. 


Recipe from Luke Nguyen, The Food of Vietnam, pg. 318

Serves 4-6


  • 300 grams (10.5 ounces) pork neck, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 3 spring onions, sliced then bashed to release the flavor
  • 4 tablespoons finely diced lemongrass, white part only
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil


1. Prepare the marinade. Combine the onions, lemongrass, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar honey and black pepper in a mixing bowl and mix well. Add the pork and toss until well coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. 

2. Prepare the skewers. Soak 12 bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes to prevent scorching. Thread the pork on to the skewers and chargrill on each side for 3 minutes. Mix the sesame seeds with a pinch of sea salt. Serve on the side for dipping the skewers into. 


Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Romesco Sauce

As the story goes, it all began in El Serralo, a neighborhood along the port of Tarragona. During the 1700s, fishermen would take ingredients that they had lying around -- such as almonds, bread, dried peppers, olive oil, salt and wine to create a sauce. That sauce would be served alongside whatever was left of their catch. 

As with most recipes, there may be as many variations on a romesco sauce as there are chefs and cooks who prepare it. However, there are three basic common rules. First, the base of the sauce usually consists of roasted tomatoes or roasted peppers (roasting the latter is slightly easier than roasting the former. Second, the peppers and tomatoes are pureed, thickened by the addition of almonds, and toasted bread. Third, the sauce is then emulsified with olive oil.  These rules get you to a sauce, which will be rich, and smoky, but it is what comes next that provides you with a truly wonderful sauce.

The variations in a romesco sauce relate to the additional ingredients that may make their way into the recipe. Ingredients such as garlic, chile flakes, and sherry vinegar. All of these ingredients add depth of flavor or heighten the piquancy of the sauce. One may also add paprika or smoked paprika, the latter if you really want to underscore the smokiness of the roasted peppers or tomatoes. 

One final note about this sauce: while its origins may lie with fishermen using the sauce to flavor fish and other seafood, a romesco sauce basically works with anything and everything. It is a great accompaniment to beef, chicken, turkey, and vegetables, as well as most fish and seafood. I prepared this sauce years ago to accompany grilled seafood, but the sauce showed its true versatility when I prepared it for our fondue dinner on New Year's Eve. 

Recipe from Gordon Ramsay's Cookery Course
Serves 4

2 red peppers
1 thick slice of ciabatta or farmhouse white bread,
     crusts removed and torn into chunks
Olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
3 vine ripe tomatoes (like plum)  on the vine
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chile flakes
4 tablespoons of blanched almonds, toasted
     and roughly chopped
1 lemon, juiced
1-2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
Sea salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Prep the bell peppers.  Heat a grill until very hot.  Put the peppers on a foil lined baking tray and place under the grill.  Cook for 5 minutes turning regularly until he skin is blackened and blistered all over.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.  

2.  Continue making the romesco sauce.  Cook the bread chunks for 2 minutes in a small frying pan with a dash of oil, then add the garlic and cook for a further minute until the garlic is tender and the bread toasted.  By this stage, the peppers should have cooled and it will be easy to peel and rub off the charred skins.  Peel, deseed and roughly chop them, then place in a blender.  Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the peppers with the bread and garlic.  Blitz to form a rough paste.

3.  Continue making the romesco sauce.  Add the smoked paprika, chile flakes, almonds, lemon juice, vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper to the blender and blitz until well mixed.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  With the motor running, slowly pour in 6 tablespoons of olive oil.  Taste and adjust the seasoning again if necessary.  Allow the sauce to come to room temperature and stir well before serving. 


Monday, January 15, 2024


What is past is gone, what is hoped for is absent, for you is the hour in which you are. -- Sahrawi proverb.

The word Sahrawi translates to "inhabitants of the desert."  The particular inhabitants are a people of Berber, Arab and sub-Saharan ancestry who live in the western reaches of the Sahara.  Those reaches include parts of Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania, They also include an area that historically known as Western Sahara. The nearly 105,000 square miles of this area, which is roughly equivalent to the square mileage of the State of Nevada, tell a story that few people know about. It's a past that has been difficult to tame. It's hope may be absent, but there is a potential for it to materialize. And, as for hour in which it finds itself, that part has yet to be written.

Western Sahara involves a stretch of northwestern Africa coastline running from the southern border of Morocco to the northwestern border of Mauritania. The area stretches inward in a Tetris-like shape past oases, such as Amgala and Meharrize, as well as cities like Laayounde, Bir Anzerane and Tifariti the actual western reaches of the Sahara Desert. 

This region has a long history, dating back to at least the Phoenician empire, which established settlements along the Atlantic coastline. Some of those settlements dated back to the 5th century B.C.E. They have since faded into history, as the Phoenicians were followed by the Romans, then the Berbers and the Arabs. 

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the area was known as bled es-Siba or the "land of dissidence." There was little centralized control over the region, which was occupied by tribes that raided the trade routes that ran east through the desert. 

Then, in 1887, the Spanish established a protectorate over what is present day Western Sahara, which became one of the last additions to the Spanish Empire. The protectorate was first referred to as the Spanish Possessions in the Sahara and later as the Province of the Sahara. As the Spanish tried to establish control over the region, they learned first-hand about bled es-Siba. The Sahrawi fought against the colonialists. Spain responded, as most colonial powers did, by repressing the local populace. However, repression is never a long term strategy. A resistance group known as the Polisario Front emerged in 1973, fighting against the Spanish rule. Less than two years later, the Spanish left the Western Sahara, with Morocco and Mauritania dividing the territory between themselves. 

The Polisario Front continued its guerrilla warfare, leading to a treaty with Mauritania, which recognized the right of the Sahrawi Democratic Arab Republic to Western Sahara. On the other hand, Morocco proceeded to seize most of the land given up by Mauritania, annexing that land in 1979. Morocco proceeded to build a wall between what it controlled and what was left for the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Morocco began the wall in 1980 and finished the seventh segment in 2020. 

A Sahrawi woman with the Sahrawi flag. Source: Michelle de Mello

That troubled political history obscures the cultural history of Sahrawi people. The people are a mix of Arab and Berber descendants, as well as some sub-Saharan peoples.  These influences are also apparent in the cuisine of the Sahrawi, which also has some Spanish influences resulting from colonization. Setting on the western reaches of the Sahara desert, agriculture is limited to what can be grown around oases, or what can be raised in those areas. The principal proteins of Sahrawi cuisine include goat, lamb and even camel. For those who live along the Atlantic Coast (most of which is still occupied by Morocco), the Sahrawi are able to add fish to their diet. 

Sahrawi recipes are hard to find. Most of the recipes are fairly simple, reflecting the difficult life of living in a desert and the limited ingredients for preparing dishes. Couscous is one staple that finds its way into many dishes, including one that is prepared with meal paste, meat and vegetables. There is also El Aych, which is prepared with the use of milk and cereals. 

And, then there is Mrefisa. This recipe is a traditional stew, often made with lamb, rabbit or camel meat, along with onions and garlic. The ingredients are then cooked together in a stew, with added water. Once the meat is very tender and the stew has cooked down, it is served upon a traditional unleavened bread that the Sahrawis prepare by cooking it in the sand. I don't have any sand where I live, let alone sand hot enough to bake bread. I went to a local Persian market, where I purchased some Taboon. Although it is leavened bread (it contains yeast), it is nevertheless a flatbread that could work as a substitute. (In some ways, I liked it more because there was more bread to absorb the lamb stock.) If you can find traditional unleavened bread such as Arboud, which is prepared by the Bedouin, then you are good to go. If you can't, then any flatbread will work. 

In the end, this is a very simple meal. Five ingredients -- onions, garlic, lamb, oil and water -- are combined to prepare a very tasty dish. It is a change from what I have been cooking, such as curries, in which there are often more ingredients that go into the masala, than there are in this entire recipe. It also demonstrates how a people who have little to work with given their circumstances and surroundings are able to produce something that is delicious to eat.


Recipe adapted from Book of Day's Tales

Serves 4


  • 1 pound of lamb, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
  • Water
1. Sauté the onions and garlic. Heat the oil in a pot over medium high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and sauté them for about five minutes.  

2.  Add the lamb.  Add the lamb and proceed to brown the lamb on all sides.  

3.  Add the water. Add enough water to barely cover the lamb and the onions. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Stew the lamb for a couple of hours, adding water as necessary. 

4. Finish the dish.  Once the lamb meat can be easily shred, remove the stew from the heat. Place the bread at the bottom of the bowl. Add the lamb, onions and garlic over the bread. Spoon the lamb stock over the meal and serve immediately.