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.  


Sunday, January 7, 2024


Tsampae-drima kha (Having a Tibetan quality) - Tibetan proverb

At its simplest, tsampa is roasted barley flour. Hulled barley grains are roasted over fire until they turn a golden, slightly brownish hue. The grains are then removed from the heat, ground into a flour, and then set aside to cool.

Tibetans then combine tsampa in a bowl with butter and tea, rolling the mixture into small balls to be eaten. One may also see Tibetans combine tsampa with other ingredients to create a porridge called jham-thoo

However, tsampa is more than a fundamental staple food for Tibetans. It has a very meaningful story to tell. To understand this story, one needs to walk in the boots or shoes of the Tibetans themselves. If you are like me, and unable to actually travel to Tibet, then the next best way to traverse that path is to read about those who have done so. In the end, you learn that tsampa is not just any food, it is a fundamental aspect of the Tibetan identity.  This post represents the first of a few posts in which I explore tsampa and its connection to the Tibetan people. These posts will be available as part of my Beyond Borders project and my Mindfulness Foodways project. 

The Tibetan Tsampa Path

I have never traveled to Tibet, which rests mostly on the world's highest and largest plateau; but, from what I have read, the area is beautiful - with towering mountain ranges enclosing valley with rivers, plains, and lakes. The altitude, combined with the dry climate (Tibet receives only about 18 inches of precipitation annually), limits what vegetation can grow on the plateau. Grasslands cover nearly two-thirds of the Tibetan region, which provide areas for livestock -- from chickens to yaks -- to graze, but limit the types of crops that can be grown. The principal agricultural crop grown by Tibetans is barley.

Barley growing in Tibet. Source: Go To Tibet

Barley played a pivotal role in the settlement of the Tibetan plateau. The grain is hardy, with a high tolerance for frost and dehydration. Thus, Tibetans could grow barley with little effort or resources (like water). Once harvested, they could also turn the barley grains into tsampa, because the process (as outlined above) is relatively quick and requires little fuel. All of these factors led to an agricultural system that was built predominantly around that single grain.  

Thus, the singular importance of barley to the Tibetans also provides an important starting point on the map for the Tibetan food pathway. 

The Preparation of Tsampa

The preparation of tsampa.
Source: Ravencywoodpress

The traditional process of turning barley into tsampa is often described as long or arduous; and, before many of the modern conveniences, I can understand that characterization. If one were a Tibetan living out on the plateau during the 19th century through the mid-twentieth century, the process was, in fact, time-consuming. The process can be broken down into four basic steps: (1) acquiring the barley; (2) prepping the barley, if necessary; (3) roasting the barley; and (4) grinding the barley. While the first step would seem to be easy, given the availability of barley in Tibet, the rest of it required time and resources. Some of those resources, like fuel for the fire, are precious given their scarcity on the plateau.

During my research, I came across a personal account of how a Tibetan nun, Choe-la, prepared tsampa. According to the account: 

My mother would get barley grown at high altitude from Manali or Ladakh. [Manali is a city in India and Ladakh is region within India, so the account comes from someone whose family had left Tibet.] Once it arrived, Choe-la would get one or two helpers and they would start the washing process - which is tedious and time-consuming. Then comes my favorite part, which is the roasting. The washed and dried barley is roasted in hot sand until the barley is cooked through - like popcorn, one can smell the roasted barley or "yoe" as we call it, from a distance and Choe-la would allow us kids to fill our pockets with fresh "yoe" to eat on the way to school. Next is the final step of grinding the roasted barley into Tsampa flour .... Choe-la always said, the best Tsampa comes from the "chu-tha" - water mill.

This account tells us a lot about how tsampa was made. From the purchase of the barley, to the washing and drying of the seeds, and ending with the roasting over hot sand. 

Tsampa on the Tibetan Table

The roasted barley flour - having already been "cooked" - became a very flexible ingredient that could be used in a variety of ways. As the British travel writer, Peter Fleming, recounted during a trip in the Tibetan region: 

Tsampa ... is sustaining, digestible and cheap. For nearly three months we had tsampa for breakfast, tsampa for lunch and the diet was neither as unappetizing nor as monotonous as it sounds. One of the great virtues of tsampa is that you can vary the the flavour and the consistency at will. You can make it into a cake or you can make it into a porridge; and either can be flavored with sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar or (on special occasions for you only had one bottle) Worcester Sauce. And, if that were not enough, you can make it with cocoa instead of with tea. I would not go so far as to say that you never get tired of tsampa, but you would get tired of anything else much quicker. 

This food finds itself not only on the Tibetan Table, but in religious ceremonies as well. Some Buddhist rituals call for the throwing of pinches of tsampa into the air as a "mark of joy and celebration." Throwing tsampa has made its way into other occasions, such as throwing it on the new year, while chanting verses calling for good luck. To round out the occasions, Tibetans also throw tsampa at funerals, where, according to Buddhist ritual, it is intended to release the soul of the departed. 

The Mindfulness of Tsampa Preparation

Recently, I decided that I would prepare tsampa myself. Fortunately, I have a ready source for hulled barley and a ready fuel (namely, my stove). I also had a recipe in a cookbook, Beyond the Great Wall, which was written by Jeremy Alford and Naomi Duguid. While this book was given to me as a present, I had become familiar with Duguid's work exploring cuisines such as those in Burma or Persia (that is, Iran and the Caucuses). 

The process was not long or arduous to prepare tsampa, thanks to many modern conveniences. I did not have any barley on hand, but with the advent of the Internet, it was not hard to find a bag of organic, hulled barley berries. I also did not need any sand, I just used a good, solid pan on a stove. With the berries literally in hand, along with that heated pan, I began the roasting process. Once the berries were in the pan, things began to change. 

I look for moments in the day when I can use my mindfulness techniques. Some of those moments are forced, such as when I am dealing with a lot of stress, uncertainty or conflict. Other moments - such as my preparation of tsampa - come naturally. As I looked down at the seeds in the pan, I began to view them as one may view grains of sand. My pan had itself become a kind of sand garden. I took deep breaths and focused on the tasks presently before me. 

The recipe directed me to use a wooden spoon to move the seeds, so that they would not become scorched or burnt. As I moved the spoon, I focused on the movement of the seeds, as they were pushed ahead or fell to either side of the spoon. I moved the spoon in circular motions, occasionally flipping the seeds to bring the ones from the bottom to the top. As I did these moves, my sand began to slowly turn more golden and eventually a little browner in color. When the barley was roasted, I turned off the heat, moved the pan, and made some final stirs with the spoon. 

For that brief period of time, I felt as if I had a mindfulness moment. One that was quiet, where I could focus on the present, without thinking about what I had done previously or what I had left to do after the recipe was completed. The ability to take some deep breaths gave me a break during a relatively stressful holiday season. It also reinforced in me the need to find more such moments going forward. 


Recipe from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Daguid, 

Beyond the Great Wall, pg. 180


  • 2 cups barley berries (whole grain)


1. Roast the barley berries. Place the barley berries in an 11 to 12 inch heavy skillet (cast iron works very well) and dry roast over medium heat. Stir constantly with a flat-ended spatula or wooden spoon, moving the grains off the hot bottom surface and rotating them from center to the outside, to ensure an even roast with no scorching. The grains will crackle a little as they expand in the heart, will start to give off a toasted grain aroma and will change color. Keep on stirring and turning until all of the grains have darkened to more than golden, about 10 to 14 minutes. 

2. Check the barley berries. Test for doneness by trying to bite into one of the grains - it should yield easily. Times will vary depending on the amount you are roasting, the size of your pan and the heat. Remove the pan from the heat and keep stirring for another minute or two to prevent scorching.

3. Grind the berries. If you are using a coffee or spice grinder to grind the grain, you will need to work in batches. A flour mill works well if you have one, no need for small batches and your grind will be finer and more even. Transfer about 1/2 cup of the toasted grains to a clean, dry coffee or spice grinder and grind to a fine flour-like texture (you will hear the sound change as the granules get reduced to a powdery texture.) Turn out into a bowl and repeat until all the grain has been ground to flour. If you want to perfect your grind, pass the milled powder through a fine sieve and then regrind any remaining larger pieces. 

4. Finish the Tsampa.  Let cool completely, then store in a well-sealed wooden or glass container in a cool place. Tsampa keeps indefinitely in the refrigerator.


Monday, January 1, 2024

A Chef Bolek Fondue

Fondue originated in Switzerland, most likely in the Valais region through which the Rhone River flows in southern Switzerland. The tradition emerged as Swiss farm families gathered around a hearth over which they melted hardened cheese in a pot called a caquelon. The family members would then dip pieces of stale bread into the cheese, which softened the bread and made it easier to eat. It was a way for these poor farming families to make the most out of what little they had. 

Although originating as a cucina povera dish, fondue made its way into cookbooks, with the first known written recipe dating back to 1699. That recipe was published in a cookbook under the recipe name of Kass mit Wein zu Kochen or "to cook cheese with wine."  Fondue even made its way into the cookbooks for the Swiss military. Over time, the farm family tradition would be elevated beyond as a national dish of Switzerland (or so the Schweizerische Kaseunion - or Swiss Cheese Union - wanted everyone to believe because it would lead to the sale of more cheese).  And, as the dish spread across the world, it would take on new preparations and new ingredients.

Nothing says Switzerland like an "envelope" of Lipton's Onion Soup Mix.

Indeed, the passage of time gave rise to other versions of fondue. One popular one is fondue au chocolat, which involves dipping those food bites (usually bread, cheese or fruit) in a pot of melted chocolate. To be sure, my kids love chocolate fondue because they love anything that has a nice, chocolate coating. Another version is known as fondue bourguignonne, also known as beef fondue. The cheese or chocolate is replaced with hot oil, which is perfect for dipping bite sized pieces of your favorite protein or, on occasion, a vegetable or mushroom. 

Apparently, a guitar is required for fondue.

It is this latter version of fondue that became part of my family's New Year's Eve tradition. We would gather around a pot of hot oil, which was also encircled with dishes containing raw pieces of beef, chicken, sausage, mushrooms, broccoli and other foods. We pierced each bite and dipped it into the oil, becoming our own cook for a few minutes. Over the years, it became clear that dipping a bunch of things in hot peanut oil is not necessarily the healthiest way to ring in the New Year. So the tradition evolved to using vegetable broth, which cooked the food without the added consequence of clogging an artery. 

Fast forward to today, my beautiful Angel suggested that we have a fondue to ring in the new year. After clarifying that cheese and chocolate would not be involved, the Chef Bolek began to emerge. Rather than unhealthy oil or plain vegetable broth, what if I made a court bouillon for the fondue pot? A court bouillon is a flavorful liquid that is often used to poach proteins, such as fish or seafood. It would provide a healthy alternative in which I could control the ingredients and, by extension, the flavors. I quickly found a good court bouillon recipe as a starting point. Then my mind started thinking about the sauces. 

The tradition in my family, as is the tradition typically for a fondue bourguignonne, would be to serve about three to four sauces as part of the meal. These sauces typically included a Béarnaise sauce, a Bordelaise sauce, and, if I recall correctly, a horseradish sauce. However, I wanted to take those sauces to the next level. I wanted to serve sauces from around the world. So, for a Chef Bolek Fondue, I drew upon my experience and made the following sauces: 

Argentinian Chimichurri: I recently completed the Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge for Argentina, which had me prepare chimichurri in two different ways. I decided to prepare one of those chimichurris, because the garlicky sauce goes well with beef, chicken and vegetables.

Catalan Romesco Sauce: This sauce goes well with just about any food, with the smoked paprika, almonds and sherry vinegar providing different flavors for the meal. I borrowed from a recipe that I prepared more than ten years ago, but I will post a new one in the near future.  

Sri Lankan Lunu Miris: An extremely fiery sambol with three chiles and freshly ground black pepper from the cuisine that curries everything, which is why I love Sri Lankan food. This sauce is really just for me; it is too spicy for everyone else. I will post the recipe in the near future. 

Vietnamese Nuoc Cham: I have spent a lot of time this year learning about Vietnamese cuisine. I have become a huge fan of nuoc cham because of how it balances the different flavor elements. I used this recipe in which I paired the sauce with raw oysters in place of a mignonette. 

With these sauces, one has a fondue Chef Bolek style. The recipe for the court bouillon is set forth below. 


Recipe from Rouxbe


  • 5 cups cold water
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 1 leek (white part only)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns (white or black)
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1 sprig fresh parsley


Place the cold water and wine in a pot. Slice the celery into 1/8 inch slices. Cut the leek in half, wash, and thinly slice the white part. Dice the onion and add everything to the liquid. Cut the lemon and squeeze the juice into the liquid (keep the seeds out of the liquid). Add the bay leaf, peppercorns and parsley and bring to a simmer. Once the liquid comes to a simmer, turn off the heat. Cover with a lid and let steep for about 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and transfer to the fondue pot.  

Once the court bouillon is prepared, then it can be used for a fondue, with the sides served alongside all of the cut meats and vegetables.