fish biryani

by Heguiberto on November 8, 2011

This is our recipe for the biryani cook-off that the delightful Heavenly was so good to sponsor. Though after making this marvelous, complex dish; I’m starting to think that she might have been misnamed, as it appears that a tiny bit of a devilish streak lies hidden among all that domestic goodness and glamour. Have you ever seen one of those cartoons with the good angel and the bad angel sitting on the main character’s shoulders, giving opposite confusing advice? Then you know where I’m coming from here.

fish biryani

fish biryani

Okay I always promise myself whenever I’m about to cook Indian that I’ll get the spices out first, so I don’t get mixed up or forget anything, then proceed to the actual cooking adventure. But no, I didn’t do that again! Perhaps that was my evil angel’s counsel. I got dizzy from relentlessly having to go back and forth to the pantry and spinning the lazy-susan over and over and over again to locate the next needed spice for this dish. How funny that now that we have a new kitchen with a dedicated place for spices, I still find myself unable to find anything. I hope that one day they add some computerized artificial intelligence with a soothing voice to kitchen cabinets that will both find anything that I want via verbal-command and will calm me with his/her flattery and encouragement as I freak out at the stovetop. Then no more getting lost in the aromatic black hole I call my spice cabinet.

spice chaos as I look for ingredients for fish biryani

spice chaos as I look for ingredients for fish biryani

I must confess I think I have never made a dish that was so complicated. Lots of steps! I quite liked the result, but this was an effort. I am going to test the recipe again using spices in different proportions. I feel sure each time it will come out tasting slightly differently, so I can mix it up some. I’m excited to read about everyone else’s versions in the cook-off. You should be too. Follow these links for the other “contestants’” biryani masterpieces.

Heavenly Housewife from donuts to delirium
Vanessa from sweet artichoke
Glamorous Glutton
moinetteTeczcape: An Escape to Food
Laura from healthyjalapeno

fish biryani

Make Masala powder first. See below for recipe.

toasting the spices for the Masala powder

toasting the spices for the Masala powder

for the rice:

2 cup basmati rice
1 bay leaf
2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
Few peppercorns
¼ tsp kosher salt

Soak rice in plenty of water for about one hour. Drain. Place rice in a saucepan with 5 cups of water. Drop in salt, bay leaf, pepper corn, and parboil the rice for about 10 minutes. Do not overcook it! Drain and set aside.

for the fish:

1 lb monkfish cut into individual pieces, or any other firm white fish
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp Masala powder*
1tsp coriander powder
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tsp kosher salt

Make a paste by mixing lemon juice, garlic and ginger paste, salt and powders. Rub on fish pieces and marinate for about ½ hour. Keep it refrigerated if your kitchen gets too hot.

gently poaching the monkfish in the Masala sauce

gently poaching the monkfish in the Masala sauce

for the Masala sauce:

1 large onion, cut into thin half moon slices
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Serrano peppers, minced, ribs and seeds partially removed
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
A few mint leaves, julienned
1 tsp Aleppo pepper
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp fresh garlic paste
1 tsp fresh ginger paste
2 tbsp Masala powder *
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ajwain seeds
1 tsp black peppercorn
½ tsp allspice powder
¼ tsp clove powder
¼ tsp onion seeds
1½ cups plain yogurt
2 tbsp canola oil
A few strands saffron
1 tsp sugar

Add oil to a large skillet followed by onion and minced Serrano pepper. Cook until onion becomes wilted and translucent. Push onion to the side of skillet. Add ginger and garlic pastes, ajwain seeds, bay leaf, black peppercorn, Aleppo pepper, Masala powder, turmeric, allspice and clove powder, saffron, onion seeds, sugar and cook until raw smells dissipate. Add tomato, stir everything together and cook until tomatoes begin to dissolve. Mix yogurt with half cup of water and fold into the sauce. Carefully lay fish pieces over the Masala sauce, cover pan and cook on medium heat for about 8 minutes. Mix in cilantro and mint leaves.

At this point heat up the oven to 450F.

ready to layer the baking dish with rice and fish

ready to layer the baking dish with rice and fish

several layers of rice and fish to form my biryani

several layers of rice and fish to form my biryani

*for the Masala powder for fish

5 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks ~3 inch each
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin leaves
1 bay leaf
½ tsp grated nutmeg
1 tbsp ground coriander

Place cloves, cardamom, fennel and bay leaf in a saucepan; put it over burner over high heat. Dry roast spices for a few minutes until aromatic, being careful not to burn it. Transfer to a coffee grinder and pulverize. Mix in ground nutmeg and coriander. (My coriander was already ground, if you have seeds use them instead).

to assemble the fish biryani:

Using an oven-proof baking dish with a cover, assemble the biryani with one layer of rice, followed by a layer of fish masala, and finish with the remaining Masala sauce. Repeat so you end up with three or four layers of all ingredients. Cover and bake for about 30 minutes. The rice will finish cooking in the masala sauce without becoming overly cooked. Remove from oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

If you haven’t had enough fish biryani yet, look here, here and here for other related versions.


pumpkin coconut compote

by Heguiberto on February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today it’s all about sweets for your sweet. My home State, Minas Gerais in Brazil, is famed for its jams and compotes. They make many sweets from lots of different fruits, including: guava, pineapple, passion fruit, bitter orange, jabuticaba, quice and pumpkin, to name just a few. As a kid, I fondly remember watching my mother spending lots of time preparing these wonderful sweets. She gave them to neighbors and to the Church for their weekend auctions to raise funds for charity.

pumpkin coconut compote

pumpkin coconut compote

I bought a huge French pumpkin last November with the intention of using it for decoration through the holidays and then eating it in the New Year. Well, 2011 is now.

You can’t really tell that well from the picture, but it must have been at least 18 inches in diameter (about a half meter!)

my French pumpkin

my French pumpkin

Here are a few others. I read somewhere about French pumpkin. The description of it made me think that it would work for my mother’s pumpkin coconut compote. The French one has a similar texture to the ones from Brazil; with a similar, bright orange flesh that’s slightly fibrous and a relatively soft and pliable skin that makes it easy to peel.

The thing was absolutely gigantic for two people. I cut it up last Thursday and used some for quibebe, a popular savory pumpkin dish from Minas; some I gave to Jasmine Turner, she wants to experiment cooking with fresh pumpkin as opposed to canned for more pies (Here’s the latest version); Steven plans on making some into pumpkin-filled ravioli with sage and shitake mushrooms; and the rest I used for this sweet.

pumpkin coconut compote served with a slice of queso fresco

pumpkin coconut compote served with a slice of queso fresco

This is essentially a dessert. Typically you’d have it with a white, salty but mildly flavored cheese after the meal. We ate ours with slices of Mexican queso fresco. You might enjoy it as a small snack or at breakfast-time as well. It is delicious and can even be elegant.

pumpkin coconut compote

3½ lbs French pumpkin (or similar) peeled, seeds and inner strings removed, cut into small cubes
1½ lbs sugar
1-2 cinnamon sticks
8 cloves
1½ cup dried coconut flakes

Add pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon and cloves to a large pot on medium heat. Stir occasionally. Pumpkin will release liquid and melt the sugar. Cook for about 1 hour, uncovered, stirring every 3-4 minutes to prevent burning or sticking. Pumpkin should dissolve by the end of cooking and much of the liquid should evaporate. If it remains firm, use a wooden spoon to mash it in the pot. Add coconut flakes and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Eat at room temperature or chilled. This could easily be preserved in jars, which is how you find it in Brazil. I didn’t do that here, so we ate it over a few days and gave some to friends. This recipe is also similar to this from a Brazilian blog.


Chinese 5 spice powder

by Heguiberto on February 8, 2011

I can’t think of a many dishes I like that come flavored with star anise, licorice or fennel seeds. I’m not a huge fan. My nose and palate simply cannot process these intense smells and tastes. Pernod flavored mussels? a Sambuca Romana digestif? Pastis? Licorice candy shaped like little black Scotty dogs? I’ll pass, thank you very much. Yet when I see something that seems new to me I keep trying…

Chinese five spice powder

Chinese five spice powder

Take the daikon rice cakes that I made the other day. The recipe called for a minimal amount of Chinese 5 spice powder. If you didn’t know already, one of the “five spices” in the powder is star anise. Star A’ and I aren’t really on speaking terms at the moment. I didn’t dare use a store-bought version. That’s way too strong!

Instead, since I had all the individual ingredients at home, I decided to make my own. I added star anise but not too much. I’m still not sure about it. It is fun to discover things that you love, things that you don’t and, sometimes, things that you keep on giving more chances. Star anise looks so lovely, that I keep giving it another shot.

5-spice powder is actually made with six ingredients if you include salt. Online recipes can’t seem to agree on individual ingredients and amounts used. You can find another version here and here and here.

Chinese 5 spice powder

5 cloves
1 star anise
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp Szechuan pepper corns
2 cm long cinnamon stick
¾ tsp kosher salt

Place all of the above in the electric grinder. Pulse until pulverized and voilá!


I do not know what has come over me, but I have this overwhelming urge to eat and fully enjoy pumpkin pie. It might be because it is the season for pumpkins and pumpkins are just everywhere. Also the food advertisements that come in bright colors in the mail every other day make holiday meals look even more enticing by depicting pumpkin pies along with the rest of the festive table. My friends think that I’ve gone mad because I keep talking about pumpkins and pies. I admit it: I love pumpkin pie, world! Did you hear that? I LOVE PUMPKIN PIE!!!

healthier-than-it-should-be pumpkin pie

healthier-than-it-should-be pumpkin pie

The other day I brought a Sweet Earth Vegan Pumpkin Pie over to share with my WC friends and a guest of theirs from New York. Gordon was a little leery when I explained there was tofu in the pie as well as other healthy ingredients. Foolishly, he almost turned down a slice. He wasn’t so sure about the whole Northern California “tofu pie” and all that. We giggled a little about some of the radical organic food theatrics that tend to creep up on us in this part of the State. But mostly I enjoyed my pie. The truth is you can’t even taste the tofu. I could have told Gordon that we were just having a really good pie but the WC’s like to discuss food in detail, so we wanted to fully disclose the information. He was reasonably open-minded and then pretty shocked by how much he actually liked it.

The Sweet Earth Vegan Pumpkin Pie is a bit surprising with the tofu instead of eggs in the filling. These are amazing pies and taste like a treat. But they are also so wholesome and good for you, that you don’t feel any guilt, even though it’s still a pie. You might be tempted to eat the whole darn thing! Believe me I have done that. My advice to you: do not try this at home! Mireille Guiliano would not be amused.

There is a certain build up to the big holiday meal, and my favorite part, if you haven’t yet guessed, is the “PP,” or pumpkin pie. Inspired by Sweet Earth, I made what I think is a little more healthy pumpkin pie than the traditional version. I bought a can of organic pumpkin at TJ’s and whole wheat organic pie crusts from Whole Foods and went to work in my own little kitchen. I used soy milk instead of condensed milk and egg whites instead of tofu because I am not brave enough (yet) to make a pie myself using the tofu. I wonder how they prepare the tofu for their pie? I know, you’re probably thinking, “Just Google it,” and I will eventually.

TJ's cooked canned pumpkin

TJ's cooked canned pumpkin

healthier-than-it-should-be pumpkin pie

1 can cooked pumpkin
½ cup soy milk
1 tbsp Pumpkin Pie Spice pre mixed from Trader Joes (or make your own blend from clove, cinnamon and nutmeg)
whole wheat pie crust from Whole Foods
3 egg whites
1/8 cup maple syrup or honey

Mix pumpkin, soy milk, spices and egg whites until smooth. Pour into piecrust. Cook at 425F for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350F for 35-40 minutes more. Let pie cool thoroughly and then voila, healthy pumpkin pie!

Enjoy a few slices ‘cause after all it’s low fat and organic! Low fat and organic means you can eat as much as you want until you get full and you are good to go! LOL!


doce de abóbora em pedaços

by Stevie on April 2, 2010

doce de abóbora em pedaços

Doce de abóbora em pedaços or “sweet pumpkin in pieces” is a common roadside snack that you might see while travelling in São Paulo state on the way to Minas Gerais in Brazil. There’s another version that uses green papaya instead of pumpkin. The secret ingredient is this chemical called cal virgem. We bought some of this whitish powder, anxious that the border patrol would find it in our luggage and think that we were importing cocaine or something naughty. Nobody in Brazil seemed to know exactly what “cal virgem” really is. Thank god for the Internet! Turns out that it’s just calcium oxide, also known as lime: so not nearly as nefarious as we had feared.

What makes this sweet interesting is the firm almost crunchy exterior with the soft creamy interior. It takes a while but it’s actually easy to make so long as you have the cal virgem. I ended up with quite a lot of the stuff so we’re still snacking on it after more than a week. I think that if you have attractive jars, that this would make a lovely gift.

key ingredients for doce de abóbora em pedaços

Doce de Abóbora em Pedaços

1 lbs. winter squash (I used butternut)
1 tbsp. cal virgem
4 cups sugar
2 liters and 2 cups water
12 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Peel squash. Remove seeds, inner stringy parts and woody parts. Cut into 1 inch cubes. Mix cal virgem in 2 liters water. Add squash and allow to sit for two hours.

Drain water and thoroughly rinse squash. Using a fork, poke each piece of squash once to allow liquid to enter.

In a large pot, add sugar, 2 cups water, cloves and cinnamon. Cook on high until sugar melts into liquid. Add squash, bring to a boil then simmer until ready, about 20 to 30 minutes. Refrain from stirring the squash to prevent damaging it. It’s ready when a fork passes through easily.

Let cool and enjoy. This makes a great dessert, snack or breakfast food.


mmmm! I love this thing!

I love roadside snacks almost anywhere. In the American Southwest I chomp on Cornuts. In Virginia or at the movies, nothing is better than cherry Twizzlers. When I took a three week tour of China about fifteen years ago, the other members of our little tour group started calling me “snack man” because I would buy anything and everything from little hole-in-the-wall shops to nibble. Brazil is no different. There they’ve got a lot of “rustic” sweets made from pumpkin, peanuts, coconut or sweet potatoes. I particularly adore the doce de batata roxa, or “purple potato sweet.”

On our recent visit to attend Hegui’s nephew’s graduation from engineering school (congratulations, Neto!), we stopped to refuel and stretch our legs a bit at this large market/restaurant/bar/gas station/rest stop. Inside they had an extensive array of homemade sweets, including doce de batata roxa. I was in heaven!

You can see me in the pic devouring my sweet right outside the store in the parking lot. These candies are typically either log-shaped or come in lumpy, freeform disks. The color is always dark purple. When you bite into the better ones there’s a chewy, almost crunchy outer shell hiding a soft, creamy interior. It tastes very sweet, a little like sweet potato, and sometimes coconut-y.

Brazilian roadside sweets including doce de batata roxa

I wanted to reproduce the magical dessert here at home, so looked around online for some recipes to try. Most of them were for a pudding made of sweet potato rather than the firmer candy. Finally I discovered one recipe that added gelatin to make the sweet into bars that could be individually cut and served. I had to improvise a bit as I can’t find sweet purple potatoes. I used the red ones instead. Mine didn’t quite turn out as I had hoped. It tastes wonderfully. That’s not it. The problem is that it didn’t firm up enough to cut. So it was sweet potato pudding after all.

Sweet Potato Pudding

3 lbs sweet potatoes (about four medium sized ones)
2 cups sugar
2 whole cloves
¼ cup light coconut milk
6 g. Gelatin
some water for gelatin
brown sugar as garnish

Clean sweet potatoes and put in a large pot. Cover potatoes with water and heat to boiling then simmer for about half an hour to cook potatoes and soften skin. Test them with a fork for doneness. Remove when soft.

sweet potatoes

Drain and rinse to cool. Peel off and discard skin (I did this by hand as it was quite easy). Throw into food processor and process a few minutes until smooth.

Put potato purée, sugar, coconut milk and cloves in medium sauce pan over high heat. Once it heats up to boiling, lower heat to simmer. Stir with wooden spoon to prevent sticking. Cook about an hour until it glistens.

Dissolve gelatin in some cold water for a minute. Pour half a cup boiling water over gelatin and stir until fully dissolved, about five minutes.

Mix gelatin into potato. Pour into a baking dish and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Here’s where my recipe diverged. The original says that you “Corte o doce em quadrados ou em losangos e role no açúcar cristal um pouco antes de server,”or ‘Cut into squares or lozenges and roll in crystallized sugar before serving.’ Ah, if only it had been so easy!

sweet potato pudding

I ended up serving mine in a bowl sprinkled with brown sugar and ate it with a spoon. It has a very intriguing flavor from the clove and coconut milk: really quite good and better than pumpkin pie filling. Nevertheless, if you know a reliable recipe for the bars, please send it to me!


A friend’s mother, Linda Dunn, an accomplished painter living and working on the Central Coast of California, emailed me the other day asking for a dessert recipe for a potluck Brazilian-themed party she was going to attend. I immediately thought of manjar, a simple and easy to make dessert I used to eat when a kid.

manjar de coco

Manjar de Côco com Ameixas

But what is it? Manjar is a kind of pudding made with milk, corn starch and some natural flavoring. My favorite has always been coconut with prune sauce. I have had manjar with other combinations of flavors in the past; such as guava and coconut, raisins with wine and coconut, figs, passion fruit or strawberries; but my favorite is really this one.

Manjar de Côco com Ameixas

Pudding ingredients:

some key ingredients for manjar de coco

some key ingredients for manjar de coco

3 &1/2 cups whole milk
8 tbsp sugar
2 cups coconut milk
7 tbsp corn starch
1 Bundt cake pan, lightly greased with canola or any flavorless oil

Sauce ingredients:

1 ½ cup pitted prunes
6 tbsp sugar
1 & ½ cups water
2 cloves
2 inch cinnamon stick

Mix pudding ingredients together in a pan. Set heat to medium and cook pudding until it thickens to a polenta consistency. Lower the temperature to minimum and simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring it at all times. Transfer mixture to greased Bundt cake pan. Cover with greased plastic film. Let it cool. Turn it upside down onto a nice platter. Refrigerate.

Place dried plums, cinnamon, cloves, sugar and water in a pan. Cook until prunes are soft and the liquid turns syrupy. Discard cinnamon stick and cloves. Let cool. Pour over pudding.

It can be served chilled or at room temperature.

This is super simple and a popular dessert that Brazilians adore.


my spicy chana recipe

by Heguiberto on August 28, 2009

Chana is the Indian name for chick pea or garbanzo bean. My recipe is inspired by a wonderful chick pea dish called Kaabli Chana that I order from Rotee Express, an Indian restaurant that I go to for lunch every now and then. This restaurant is conveniently located around the corner from my office on Howard and Spear in San Francisco. Since I really love the place, that’s great for me!

my spicy chana recipe

my spicy chana recipe

I don’t actually know their recipe so mine turned out a little spicier than theirs. Nevertheless it’s delicious! I think they use ghee but I wanted to go vegan so left it out. I think that the dish is already full of flavor anyways.

Chana is an excellent source of protein and combined with my delicious carrot cumin basmati rice it was a perfect meal. Don’t be scared to cook Indian. It’s true that there’re a lot of unusual spices and names to get the hang of and I do sometimes feel like a mad scientist in a culinary laboratory. But it’s super fun, and the results are always rewarding.

My Spicy Chana Recipe


2 cup cooked chick peas (chana)
3 tbsp canola oil
1 bay leaf
A few cloves
3 cardamom pods
3 medium onions, peeled
few pepper corns
5 ripe Roma tomatoes
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp fresh ginger ground into paste
Pinch of turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chili powder
2 tsp Sambar* for extra spice, extra kick and thickening
½ bunch chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt to taste
1 to 2 cup hot water

*Sambar is a spice mix from South India made with coriander seeds, besan flour (chick-pea flour), fenugreek, black pepper, mustard seeds, chili powder, turmeric, cinnamon, curry leaves, asafetida and amchur powder (mango powder). You can find it at Indian specialty stores.

How to:

Place tomatoes, 2 onions, minced garlic, and ginger in food processor and pulse till puréed, then reserve. Cut remaining onion into thin slices. Heat oil in a non-stick pan; add cardamom pods, bay leaf, pepper corns and cloves cook for about 1 minute till fragrant. Add onion and sauté till soft and translucent but do not burn it. Add puréed tomato mix, turmeric and salt. Cook on high heat stirring constantly for 18-20 minutes. Add coriander, cumin, chili pepper and Sambar, give it a good stir. The powdered spices will soak up the juices and make a thick mass. Keep stirring it for few more minutes. Add chana, about 1 and ½ cup water and simmer on medium heat for another 10-12 minutes, stirring few times. The dish should have a thick consistency like a hearty marinara sauce. Adjust salt. Toss in cilantro and serve over rice.

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a homemade Indian banquet

April 28, 2009

Have you ever wondered about cooking Indian food at home? Well it’s not as hard as you think, though it does take a little planning. At this Indian dinner, I served six traditional dishes from southern India. That probably sounds like a lot and it did take a few hours to prepare everything. Fortunately, many […]

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