Tamarind bars are sold at Asian markets in 5x3x1½ inch thick bricks. They’re called Me chua Không Hôt in Vietnamese. Tamarind has a gorgeous sweet and sour flavor. Here’s something fun about tamarind: the fruit was brought to Persia and then the Arab world with the spice trade from the Far East. At that time they thought that the fruit looked like dates because of the color and texture of the pulp are similar. Therefore the name ‘tamar hindi,’ or Indian date was born! Despite the name, it’s originally from tropical Africa, once it made its way to India, the name was fixed.

tamarind, mint and cilantro salsa for samosas

tamarind, mint and cilantro salsa

1/2 cup tamarind purée
2 large ripe roma tomatoes
½ medium newly harvested sweet onion (Vidalia)
2 cup cilantro (about 2 bunches)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1 serrano or jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs partially removed, minced
kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
Juice of 2 limes

Cut a one inch piece off of the tamarind bar. Place in a microwave safe glass jar, cover with a 3/4 cup of water and nuke it for about 2 minutes. Let it cool to room temperature. Squeeze seeds with your fingers until all pulp dissolves and liquid becomes a thick purée. Add a bit more water if too thick. Strain and discard solids.

Place ½ cup tamarind purée into food processor followed by the rest of the ingredients. Pulse until smooth. Adjust flavors. Let rest for 10 minutes and serve. It can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days but it is best in the first day.

Freeze any left over tamarind purée for other use

Serve this with vegan ajawain samosas.


homemade artichoke dip

by Stevie on January 8, 2010

homemade artichoke dip

homemade artichoke dip

I like artichoke dips but don’t care for the premade kind. To me these always taste off. Perhaps it’s the preservatives used to keep the color? Anyway, I “invented” this recipe by looking at the list of ingredients on the packages of industrial type artichoke dips and improvised. Really this is similar to making American basil pesto. The Serrano chile is optional but gives the dip a mild heat that’s very good.

Homemade Artichoke Dip

key ingredient for homemade artichoke dip

1 package frozen artichoke hearts (12 oz)
3 cloves garlic
½ onion
1 Serrano chile (optional)
Juice of one lemon
1 tbsp capers with brine
¼ cup olive oil
Small handful walnuts
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and black pepper to taste

I like to dry pan roast the garlic, Serrano chile and onion similar to how I make the tomatillo salsa. You can skip this step and just cook the vegetables with the artichokes if you prefer. Personally I think it lends the dip a smoky flavor that’s enjoyable. To dry roast just heat a cast iron pan on high. Place the Serrano, garlic and onion in the pan. Cook until slightly charred, turning occasionally. Remove from heat. Peel garlic. Remove stem, ribs and seeds of Serrano. Place garlic, chile and onion in food processor.

Add some olive oil to a hot pan. Toss in frozen artichoke hearts. Sauté in covered pan until artichokes are warm and slightly browned. Add to food processor. Add capers to processor. Pour lemon juice and olive oil over everything. Process until smooth. If dip is too thick, add more olive oil.

Add salt, black pepper and walnuts. Process until smooth. Add cheese and pulse a few times to mix.

Serve dip in an elegant dish. I drizzle a bit more olive oil on top then sprinkle the dip with cayenne pepper for color. It goes well with pita triangles, chips, raw vegetables or can be used as a spread on sandwiches.


Georgian pilaf with tart cherries

by Stevie on December 31, 2009

Georgian pilaf with tart cherries

I made this rice dish over Heguiberto’s objection for Christmas dinner last week. He objected not because it was a non-traditional dish (which he doesn’t care about) or because it was a rice dish (he loves rice). Rather, he didn’t like the idea of the tart cherries. Though he’s from Brazil where there is abundant fruit throughout the year, and he’s been cooking for decades, he still can’t wrap his mind around the idea of fruit in a savory dish. Silly thing! After eating this Georgian pilaf, he’s now a true believer, and you will be too!

I found the recipe in Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey by Najmieh Batmanglij. We’ve had the book for years but only tried a few of the dishes. She excels at rice dishes, so I’d recommend that you get the book to try these for sure. That’s the advice that I’m planning to take.

I’ve modified the recipe slightly as I thought that it would go better.

key ingredients for Georgian pilaf

Georgian Pilaf with Tart Cherries

2 cups basmati rice
3 cups water
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp salt
1 medium onion, finely sliced
1 inch piece peeled fresh ginger, grated
2 two inch cinnamon sticks
2 cups pitted tart cherries. (I used Morello cherries in a light syrup from Trader J’s. Just rinse them before use.)
1 Serrano chile; stem, seeds and ribs removed; minced
½ tsp saffron threads, ground and dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water
½ cup blanched, pan toasted almond slivers
½ cup shelled unsalted pistachios

rinse the basmati rice thoroughly before cooking

Rinse basmati rice thoroughly with cold water before cooking.

saffron and sour cherries make this dish exciting

Put two tablespoons vegetable oil in a pan over high heat. Add salt and rice. Sauté for about a minute. Add water and cover tightly. Bring to boil then lower to simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove from heat when water is absorbed (about fifteen minutes). Set aside.

While rice is cooking, pour remaining oil into a large non-stick pan on medium-high heat. Add onion, Serrano, ginger, cinnamon sticks. Sauté until onion turns a golden brown. Then add cherries and saffron. Stir to warm. Add nuts. Mix well.

Fold rice into cherry mixture. Cover to warm through. The book recommends cooking for another fifteen minutes. I added a bit more water and let it cook a bit longer but to me it seemed done.
Plate and serve. We had this with a remarkable fish dish that John made from a recent Saveur magazine issue. Hegui wants me to make the rice again sometime!

Georgian pilaf with tart cherries

Thanks for sharing this video, Jack! Happy Holidays, everyone! Welcome 2010!!!


braised carrots with pepitas and raisins

braised carrots with pepitas and raisins

I like carrots, but Steven, not so much. For this reason, usually I skip them on my trips to the supermarkets. We’ve been sharing most of our meals together for quite a while now. Sometimes we need to compromise, particularly when our tastes diverge. Things changed when I ‘discovered’ heirloom carrots.

There is one particular type that I really like: the Nantes, named after the French city in the Loire region. It is bright orange, thin, sweet, earthy, succulent and crunchy. I just love eating them raw. The farmers markets here in San Francisco offer these and many other kinds of heirloom varieties with a broad array of colors and shapes available all year around. If you haven’t tried other carrots besides the standard large orange kind or the appalling and ubiquitous “baby carrot” then I encourage you to branch out. You’ll be surprised and probably delighted with the whole spectrum of flavors, colors and textures stimulating your taste buds! Whenever I shop at farmers markets I make sure I bring some home. These heirloom carrots are available at our local Trader Joe’s but the flavor and freshness are inconsistent. They still taste better than the conventional ones, so I get them there when I can’t get to the farmers market.

some heirloom carrots from the farmers market

some heirloom carrots from the farmers market

This time around I decided to cook these succulent roots instead of eating them raw. This dish is inspired by a vegetarian cookbook, Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey by Najmieh Batmanglij. I bought it a couple of years ago on a wine tour to the very fancy Darioush winery on Silverado Trail in Napa Valley. It boasts an Iranian theme complete with reconstructions of ancient Persian statuary at the entrance. Really it was very impressive. You’re almost fooled into thinking that you’re in the ancient Middle East only to wake up and realize that you’re actually in some kind of Northern Californian Disneyland for adults. But that’s pretty cool too.

Back to earth now, I was very pleased with the end result of this vegan carrot recipe. By the time the dish was ready the air in the house was permeated with sweet, tart and spicy aromas. To me, this was redolent of a Middle Eastern, Near Eastern, Indian or Moroccan kitchen at meal time. Back to dreaming at Darioush! We ate our carrot creation with mushroom flavored rice, but you could have it with couscous, quinoa, pasta, on sandwiches, over crackers and so on and on.

Here’s my adaptation:

Braised Carrots with Raisins and Pepitas

1 ½ lb Nantes carrots
1 large onion cut into thin slices
1 cup raisins
1 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 Jalapeño or Serrano pepper, minced, seeds and ribs removed
1 Jalapeño or Serrano pepper split in half, seeds and ribs removed from one of the halves
4 ripe roma/plum tomatoes skin removed and sliced*
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
Pinch saffron threads (marinated in 2 tbsp warm water for 5 minutes)
2 tsp tomato paste
4 cloves of garlic minced
3/4 cup water
3 Tbsp olive oil

How to:
Adjust your mandolin to spaghetti thickness and pass carrots though it.
Warm one tbsp olive oil in a deep pan; add raisins, pepitas and sauté for about a minute. Raisins will puff up a bit. Transfer to a bowl and reserve. Add remaining olive oil and sliced onion to same pan and sauté for about 15 minutes on medium or till onions turn golden brown but not burned. Add garlic, carrots, Jalapeño peppers and cook for 8-10 minutes.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, saffron, sugar and cook for about 5 minutes stirring constantly till all ingredients have been incorporated. Add water. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to medium. Cover pan and cook for approximately 15 minutes. Just before serving mix carrots, raisin and pepitas together.

dreaming of Darioush

dreaming of Darioush

*to remove skin cut tomato tops off, make a cross cut at the bottom, dip them in hot water for ½ to 1 minute. The skin will curl. Remove from pan, cool and peel.

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shaved brussels sprouts

by Heguiberto on September 8, 2009

Don’t give up on brussels sprouts yet!

shaved brussel sprouts with white jasmine rice

shaved brussel sprouts with white jasmine rice

They have a bad reputation, and I must say I have never been a big fun of the brussels sprout; that is until recently. Before I discovered this great recipe, I always thought these cruciferous flowers tasted bad: they’re always undercooked or overcooked; sometimes they’ve a funny, unpleasant sulfur or mangrovy smell; they look weird, too, like unappetizing stunted artichokes…yuch! Plus I tend to associate the b-sprout with American holidays like Thanksgiving. I always overeat, often on dull “traditional” foods, feel lethargic, get blue with homesickness and feel cold in the gloom of winter. I guess I’ve mistakenly elected the poor BS as my escape goat.

The odd thing is that except for brussel sprouts, I adore most of the other members of the cruciferous family. I enjoy cabbage, broccoli, rapini (AKA broccoli rabe), kale, and collard greens. We eat these healthy plants at least twice or three times a week, sometimes even more! These vegetables help prevent cancer, have anti-oxidants, and lots of vitamins. Finally, I’ve discovered a way to make the brussel sprout a food to savor rather than to just grudgingly tolerate.

fresh brussel sprouts should be firm without wilting

fresh brussel sprouts should be firm without wilting

This recipe makes the sprouts taste sweeter. Serve it as a side dish. I enjoy eating it with rice and beans. Recently we had it with my Brazilian bacalhoada.

Shaved Brussel Sprouts

1 lb fresh brussels sprounts
3 cloves garlic cut into slivers
1 Serrano chili cut into strips; stem, seeds and ribs removed
3 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tbsp water

How to:
Get your mandolin ready to use. Adjust blade setting to thin. Pass brussels sprouts through mandolin. Unfortunately this is not as good with the food processor because the slices are too thick. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and Serrano chili. Cook till fragrant, about 1 minute. Add shaved brussels sprouts, salt and stir. Add water and cook covered for about 4-6 minutes, stirring occasionally or till soft. Adjust salt, add black pepper and serve.

shaving the sprouts is the secret for this dish

shaving the sprouts is the secret for this dish

sauteing the sprouts

sauteing the sprouts

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It’s another end of the week and the fridge is getting empty; just a few items left here and there. I opened the fridge and just found 2 green cayenne peppers, a red bell pepper, 1 onion, 2 Serrano chilies, 3 ultra ripe tomatoes, 4 cloves of garlic, and a container of tofu. Slim pickin’s!

close up of my spicy pepper and tofu entree

close up of my spicy pepper and tofu entree

I remember I went to an Indonesian restaurant in the gourmet ghetto of Berkley few months ago. We had gone for an art show benefit at the greenlighting institute where our friend Christian works. But looking at art can make a man hungry. At the restaurant I ordered a dish with vegetables that was oozy, spicy, sweet, savory and sour. Basically perfect. I forget the exact name and my online search did not return any result. All I can say is that it was tasty and healthy. So I tried to reproduce it at home as follows:

Vegetarian Spicy Tofu and Pepper Surprise Entrée

3 tbsp canola oil
All the veggies above roughly chopped (remove the ribs and seeds of Serrano peppers)
1/3 cup ketchup
Black pepper
Rinsed and dried tofu cut into medium sized cubes

How too:
Using a non stick pan, add oil and sauté peppers and onion for about 10 minutes on high heat, stirring constantly until vegetables shrink and begin to brown. Add garlic and tomato, stir. Let cook until tomato pieces collapse and skin begins to separate from flesh. Remove tomato skin if you wish. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Add ketchup and tofu. Give it a good stir and cook for another 5-8 min so all flavors marry together.

Serve it over Thai fragrant jasmine rice. The crowd will love it! This time around though, I served it with my Japanese kabocha risotto.

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tomatillo salsa

by Stevie on July 14, 2009

homemade tomatillo salsa

homemade tomatillo salsa

I first got excited about Mexican food when I lived in Dallas. There it’s really “Tex-Mex” though this local variation uses a lot of the same ingredients that you’d find south of the border. I would never make it at home, though. Somehow, the cuisine seemed too difficult.

In San Francisco, burritos are very popular. And though they can be quite good, I miss the complex array of dishes that can be found at a more conventional Mexican restaurant. Since I couldn’t easily get this kind of food here, I learned how to make some Mexican dishes at home. One of the critical skills is preparing good salsas. Now I can make about a half dozen but this tomatillo one is the most popular at my house.

It’s very simple to prepare at home and always tastes better than similar store-bought kinds. The tomatillo has a pleasing sour flavor like tamarind. The serrano chiles add some heat. If you like it hotter, just leave more of the seeds or some of the ribs of the chiles; for less spice, use fewer chiles.

peeled and washed fresh tomatillos

peeled and washed fresh tomatillos

Tomatillo Salsa

6 to 8 fresh tomatillos
3 cloves garlic with peels
2 fresh serrano or similar green chiles
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half
Sea salt to taste

Peel and wash tomatillos thoroughly. Cut in half and remove stems. Boil for five minutes then drain.

Heat dry cast iron pan on high. Throw in garlic, onion and chiles. Roast until vegetables begin to char, turning occasionally. Remove from heat. Peel garlic. Remove chile stems, seeds and ribs.

Add all ingredients to food processor. Process until smooth. Adjust salt to taste. Serve with rice and beans, tortilla chips, on burritos or with any Mexican style dish.

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The week-end before the annual Paso Robles wine festival, I went shopping in the Mission District of San Francisco for stuff for the week. We always go to these hole-in-the-wall markets that have a lot of stuff for Mexican cooking. I ended up bringing home a whole bunch of fresh serrano and jalapeño peppers. Really it was a mis-communication: both Billy and I picked up some of the peppers. We use a lot of fresh hot chili peppers in our cooking, but not dozens in a few days. Needless to say, with less than a week before going away, we had way more than we needed. It takes so much energy to produce and bring food to the table that I simply cannot throw food away. It’s just sacrilege to me! I needed to do something with those peppers fast before they went bad.

escabeche or pickled spicy peppers

escabeche or pickled spicy peppers

Looking at the slightly shriveled peppers in the fridge, I thought that pickling them would be a good idea. If you have ever been to San Francisco taquerias you know what I mean. You can’t have your burrito without a couple of those hot vinegary mini torpedoes. These turned out a little spicier than I had planned; a bit more than when you get them canned. I love them though, and I can’t get enough. If you want to cut down on the heat, cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and some of the ribs.

Pickled Serrano and Jalapeño Peppers


½ lb. fresh jalapeño and/or serrano peppers
3 tbs. olive oil
2 carrot cut into ¼ inch chunks
salt to taste
1 bay leaf
1 garlic bulb, peeled
1 medium onion chopped coarsely
1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
2 cups white wine vinegar
½ tbs. sugar


Heat oil in a pan. Add onions and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add peppers, garlic, carrot, salt, bay leaf and oregano. Continue sautéing until onion turns soft and translucent.
Add vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil then reduce temperature and simmer on low heat for approximately 12 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate.

Serve as a condiment with rice and beans, tacos, vegi burgers or any Mexican dish.

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delicious South Indian Rasam soup

May 29, 2009

I first discovered Indian food back in the 1990’s when I lived in England. It was love at first bite! I used to joke that I had a virgin palate because food in Brazil, my country of origin, though fresh and delicious, is generally extraordinarily bland. At that time, at least, there were no Indian […]

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almost vegetarian Sancocho

May 1, 2009

My significant other went out today with work mates for dinner at Epic Roasthouse. Epic is part of a ‘chain’  of restaurants owned by or partially owned by Pat Kuleto here is San Francisco. Pat Kuleto finances this type of enterprise throughout the Bay Area.  Some of them are especially fancy e.g., Jardinière. I have […]

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