Thursday, April 7, 2011

Saint Kitts

Isn't it great that there are so many islands in the Caribbean that claim their own nationality?  I certainly think so, and our house guests don't seem to mind it much either.  Saint Kitts is another of those wonderful cultural mash-ups that make up the many nations of the Caribbean.  I could give you a full history lesson of the place, but I'll just go ahead and recommend looking at the Wikipedia page or suggest you talk to that one relative you have whose cruise scheduled a stop there.  Nice beaches, lots of fruit, sunny skies, bars on the beach blah blah blah...  I'm really just jealous I haven't been to a tropical place in a good while. 

The important thing here is we've gotten lazy and haven't posted meals in a while so I'm going to be streamlining these next several posts to catch the blog up.  This post is dedicated to my good friend Hudson Kingston, one of our most faithful readers whose life has been shattered by the lack of posts on this site.  Enjoy, Hudson, your long dark winter is over. 

Pumpkin Fritters with Chili Cinnamon Mayonnaise 

Some people think we must spend a fortune on frying oil when they see the amount of fried things we serve at every meal.  Well that's just silly!  I've learned to do as the rest of the world does.  After every large batch of deep fried food, allow the oil to settle while you eat dinner and then funnel the cleared oil from your wok (or whatever you fry with) into a large mason jar.  Be sure to leave the burnt crispy stuff in the pan as you do this.  You can continue to do this until the oil looks dark and gross.  Here is one of the many things you can do with  the frying oil.

2 pumpkins deseeded, peeled, and grated
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt or more to taste
Oil for frying

For the Mayonnaise:
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tsp ground red pepper
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup olive oil

1. First make the mayonnaise by combining everything but the olive oil in a food processor.  Grind it all down to a smooth consistency and slowly add the olive oil in a thin and steady stream until a thick mayonnaise is rendered.  Set aside covered in your refrigerator.
2. Combine the grated pumpkin with all the ingredients and form into small balls in your palms.  Heat the oil in a wok or fryer and fry at high heat until nicely browned on the outside.

Plantain Salad

Think of this dish as a more tropical potato salad without the potatoes. Perfect for bringing to a family picnic.  Unless your family hates plantains.  Then you might want to bring a standard potato salad and avoid ruining what was supposed to be a lovely day.

1 cucumber skinned and diced
3 stalks celery chopped
2 avocados chopped
1 red pepper seeded and sliced
1/2 red onion chopped and rinsed under cold water for 3 minutes then drained
1/3 cup lime juice
1 serrano chili
1 mango skinned and chopped
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 cup olive oil
3 green plantains peeled and chopped into half inch pieces
Oil for frying
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. In a wok or fryer, deep fry the plantain pieces in hot oil until they are crisp and lightly browned (about five minutes).  Set aside on paper towels and allow to cool.
2. Once cool combine everything in a huge bowl.  Adjust seasoning and dressing to your taste.  Serve at room temp.

Goat Stew

I did a lot of the shopping for this meal at Amy's least favorite grocery.  It's a little place in uptown called the Old World Market that specializes in West African and Caribbean foods.  I love the place because it has a great selection of foods that I've never heard of, and some of the best deals on meat in the city.  Amy hates it because it's constantly jammed with uptown locals that have no concept of personal space.  But goat meat is something we're both willing to get shoved about for; especially when its as cheap as this place sells it.

3 lbs goat meat (preferably leg) cut into 1 inch chunks.  You should have a butcher do this for you since the meat tends to be in bony chunks
3 tbsp flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 lb tomatoes chopped
1 tsp gravy browning solution (optional but can be included for authenticity
2 medium yellow onions chopped
1 habanero de-seeded, run under cold water for 1 minute, then chopped
1 liter water
1.5 lbs green papaya grated
2 cups flour
1 cup milk
2 tsp baking powder
Salt to taste

1. Toss goat meat with flour and a bit of salt.  Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and brown the goat pieces.
2. Add the onions and gently cook another five minutes until they soften.  Then add the tomatoes, browning, habanero and water.  Raise to a boil and cook covered at a simmer for 2 hours.
3. Add the grated papaya continue cooking another 30 minutes.
4. While you wait make a thick batter of flour, milk, baking powder and salt.  After the time has elapsed, drop spoonfuls of batter into the boiling stew and cook the stew down until it has reached the proper thickness.


I would call these things dessert Tamales.  They taste almost like a rice pudding, but with many more flavors involved.  They take a very long time to make, but are well worth the effort.  The texture might be a bit too odd for some to enjoy, but the good news is these keep in the fridge for at least a week.                  

2 cups corn meal
1/2 cup flour
2 cups grated pumpkin
1 stick butter softened
3 cups grated unsweetened coconut
1 tsp salt
3 cups brown sugar
1 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup raisins
Banana Leaves thawed if frozen
Condensed milk and chocolate for garnish

1. Combine everything into a thick batter.
2. Steam banana leaves for 40 minutes and allow to cool.
3. Wrap 1/2 cup portions of the mixture into banana leaves.  Tie them as little packages and steam them for 1 hour.  Allow to cool in the refrigerator and serve covered in condensed milk and chocolate.  They can be eaten right off the unwrapped leaves.

Rum Punch

This is exactly what it sounds like.  The standard boozy sugary concoction that gets served at every resort and weird Chinatown cocktail bar.  The sweetness is a bit much for me, but they must be popular for some sort of reason.  It might have tasted better if it had been warm outside, but as you can see by the photo below, we pretty much killed the jug.

1 pint grenadine
1 cup lime juice
3 cups rum
2 cups pineapple juice
2 cups orange juice
Orange and Pineapple Chunks for garnish

In a huge punch bowl combine everything.  Serve with a ladle into cups of ice.  Or if you plan on drinking it quickly, fill the jug of booze with that ice. 

In Conclusion

This was one of our more simple meals that involved very little effort in the kitchen.  The food processor did a great deal of the work for many of the dishes.  Everyone seemed to agree that the pumpkin fritters were most excellent while mixed opinions were held on the goat stew.  Personally I love the strong flavors and smells that come from stewed goat, others don't find it as pleasant.  And everyone agreed the punch was way too sweet, but proceeded to drink too much of it anyway.  As usual a good time was had by all. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Malaysia is one of the most fascinating places I've had the honor to travel through.  Just like Singapore, it is an amazing mix of Indian, Malay, and Chinese culture brought together by a long and complicated history.  Malaysia is also the site of my worst round of food related illness.  Although the food is incredibly delicious, I didn't take enough caution when sampling the street food and ended up needing a trip to a hospital.  Fortunately, I got better immediately after a quick emergency room visit and a bag of pills which altogether cost me eleven dollars.   It took me a good while to fall in love with Malaysian food again, but the food is too good to let a single case of food poisoning ruin it.  It's full of rich and strong spices as well as strange and savory sauces filled with shrimp paste, tamarind, and lots of chillies.  This can all be a bit overwhelming for many first-timers, but once you develop a taste for it, you realize how exciting a cuisine it can be!

Fried Dried Anchovies and Peanuts

Certainly not the most popular item of the meal, but I truly enjoy this odd appetizer.  For most of our guests the flavor of anchovies, peanuts, and tamarind sauce was just too strange to enjoy.  The bones of hundreds of tiny fish can be off-putting for some.  But for those of you who have adventurous tastes I recommend giving it a try.

1/2 cup dried baby anchovies
Oil for frying
4 peeled shallots
4 peeled cloves of garlic 
1/2 inch piece of ginger
1/2 tsp shrimp paste
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 cup roasted peanuts

1. Heat oil in the wok and fry the fish over medium heat until they are crisp and brown.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
2. In a blender grind the shallots, garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, sugar, and tamarind paste to a rough sauce.  
3. Drain most of the oil from the wok and stir fry the smelly sauce for about a minute over high heat.  Add the anchovies and peanuts and stir fry another minute.  
4. Remove them from the heat, set them in a bowl, serve at room temperature.

Chicken Gulai

This is essentially a rich and hearty curry dish that combines Indian and Southeast Asian flavors.  Amy thought it tasted like a very intense version of chicken stew, which is not too far from reality.  There are many different ways this dish can be prepared so feel free to improvise as much as you like with the recipe. 

10 candlenuts or macadamia nuts roasted and finely ground
1 large onion sliced
5 cloves garlic peeled
2 inch piece of ginger
4 red chillies tops removed
1 can coconut milk
2 stalks of lemongrass slit down the middle
2 kaffir lime leaves (I keep mine in my freezer)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1/2 cup water
3.5 lbs chicken cut into serving pieces

1. Clean off that blender one more time and grind the candlenuts, onion, ginger, and chillies with a half cup of coconut milk into a smooth paste.
2. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pot and fry the paste for a few minutes until it becomes fragrant. Add the lemon grass, lime leaves, turmeric, tamarind paste, water and the rest of the coconut milk.  Raise this to a simmer and boil it down for five minutes.
3. Add the chicken and mix everything together, cover the pot, and simmer over a low flame for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid and reduce the sauce to a thickened consistency and serve.  (Make sure you make a lot of rice with all this food.)

Vegetable Fritters with Peanut Dip

Ok, for some reason people who live in hot countries love to eat fried food.  I believe this is because fried food is delicious and can be made quickly.  So once again we've included fritters with this meal.  These take about ten minutes to put together so make the sauce well in advance.

For the batter

1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 cup besan (chickpea flour)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and set aside for a half hour.

For the Vegetables

1/2 lb chopped green beans
1/2 thinly sliced red onion
2 carrots julienned
Or any veggies you might have on hand
Also lots of oil for deep frying

Heat the oil in a wok set over a high flame.  Combine the vegetables with the batter.  Drop the batter into the oil by spoonfuls working in small batches.  Once the balls are fried, remove them from the oil with a strainer and serve with peanut sauce.

For the Peanut Sauce

1.5 cups roasted shelled and skinned peanuts
3 shallots
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground pepper
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp honey
1 or 2 serrano chillies
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup water

1. In a food processor grind the peanuts, shallots, spices, chillies, soy sauce and honey to a rough paste.  Or be a complete Luddite and  do it the old fashioned way in a huge mortar and pestle for 15 minutes.
2. In a 2 quart saucepan combine all the ingredients and boil down to thick sauce.  Salt to taste (although I think the soy sauce adds plenty of salt) and serve at room temperature with the fritters.

Water Spinach and Shrimp Paste
Amy took charge of making this dish and immediately regretted it when she was blending the shrimp paste sauce.  For the uninitiated, please remember to not directly breathe in the fumes when this stuff is freshly ground up.  It is not good, but when it's given enough time to cook it mellows out into a deliciously savory taste that goes perfectly with the greens.

1. In a blender, grind the shallots, chillies, garlic, shrimp, and shrimp paste to a smooth paste using a few tablespoons of water to loosen the mixture.
2. In a large saucepan or wok heat the oil over high heat and add the paste.  Fry this for two minutes until it smells less horrible.  Now add the spinach and sugar and fry another two minutes.  Add a few tbsp of water to the pan and fry another two minutes or until all the water has evaporated.  Serve immediately.

Catfish Curry 
This was one of the easiest dishes of the night.  Just a few ingredients and about thirty minutes is all this recipe involves.  Add as many chillies as you can handle, this simple curry is supposed to be extremely spicy.  If you feel fancy, other firm flesh fish steaks work well with this sauce.  I'm sure tuna or marlin would be incredible.  But catfish is cheap and feeds a crowd, also it's really good.

2 lbs catfish fillets cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cans coconut milk
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground fennel
1 large onion sliced
7 red chillies with tops removed
1.5 inch piece of galangal or ginger if you can't get it

1. In a blender combine the chillies, onion, spices, and galangal with a half cup coconut milk until you render a smooth paste.
2. In a pot bring the rest of the coconut milk to a boil and add the spice paste.  Simmer this uncovered for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
3. Add the catfish and cook a further 10 minutes adding water if the sauce thickens too much.  Salt to taste and serve immediately.


Making a full Malaysian meal for a crowd involves an absurd amount of dishes.  I must have washed the blender about 3 or 4 times over the course of prepping all of this food.  I spent my hangover doing these dishes.  The picture below captures just one of three large batches I went through.  But it was all worth it.  Although Malaysian food was the cause of the the worst round of food sickness I've ever suffered, the food is so good I'd go back and do it all over again.  Up next is St. Kitt's! 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Most people in this country are at least somewhat familiar with the notion of Thai food.  In the 1980's Thai restaurants began to pop up in nearly every urban area.  Here in Chicago pretty much every neighborhood has at least one Thai BYOB restaurant.  Our friend Nick, who recently moved to New Zealand, is the son of a Thai restaurant owner in Indianapolis.  His mom's Thai Cafe in Broadripple was one of the first places I ate a Thai meal.  I strongly recommend checking them out next time you find yourself debating what to eat in Indianapolis.  Given the popularity of the food, I knew this meal would have to be a pretty large one.  

Fortunately, I've been cooking (or attempting to cook) Thai food since my time in college.  It took a lot of failures to make my first decent pad thai.  Also I've been lucky enough to have had the chance to visit Bangkok for a few weeks about five years ago.  I made sure to eat as much food as I possibly could.  That trip is still one of my fondest food memories and I'm sure I'll make the trip again.  The variety of the cuisine is astounding and no single meal could ever begin to encompass the complete glory of Thai food.  For this meal we decided to go for simplicity on a grand scale.  Most of the dishes can be made well ahead of time and served family style.  This allowed us more time to schmooze. Most of the ingredients are easy to find at an Asian grocery, and some supermarkets are now selling the staple ingredients.  Just be sure to buy plenty of rice.   

Mussel Fritter

The first time I had this was actually quite recently at a little place in Chicago called Sticky Rice at Irving Park and Western.  Amy and I both decided it was one of the most delicious things we'd ever had and were happy to discover that it was very simple to make after perusing a few cookbooks.  It may sound wretched, but we actually bought a large bag of frozen shelled mussel meat from a Vietnamese market for this dish.  The bag was so cheap we had to find out if the mussels were actually edible.  Naturally, the best way to do this is to cook a lot of them, feed them to your friends, and see what happens next.  So we prepared a large batch of the following recipe and were happy to see that nobody got ill or spat their food out in disgust.  Quite the opposite happened and the entire platter was quickly consumed.

1.5 cups mussel meat
5 tbsp rice flour
1.5 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
2 eggs 
1 cup chopped scallions
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil

1. Combine the rice flour, starch, salt, water and eggs to form a thick and smooth batter adding more water if necessary  Then fold in the remaining ingredients.
2. In a large skillet heat 1/2 cup oil or just enough to shallow fry over high heat.
3. Drop the batter into the skillet in ladle sized quantities one at a time and fry for until the bottom crust begins to brown and gently flip the fritter and fry the other side.
4. Repeat until all the batter is used storing the freshly made fritters in a warm oven until ready to serve.  Accompany with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup fish sauce
3 tbsp sugar
1 clove garlic chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 red chili thinly sliced
1/3 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and serve with fritters.

Cabbage and Peanut Salad

Cabbage is one of my favorite vegetables to cook with.  It's cheap, flavorful, and is great raw and cooked.  The Thai understand cabbage is awesome as well.  Here it is prepared much like a cole slaw but with other savory elements of peanuts and fish sauce.  We overdid it a bit with the chillies and some people couldn't eat it, but generally this serves as a very spicy side dish with most Thai meals.

1/2 head or 1 lb green cabbage with outer leaves and core removed
2 carrots grated
1 red onion thinly sliced
1 bunch cilantro chopped
1/4 cup chopped mint
1 serrano chilli finely chopped
2 tbsp sugar or to taste
3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
1/4 cup vinegar or to taste
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
1. Using a knife or mandolin, thinly slice the cabbage into even strips.  Place these into a large bowl.
2. Combine all the remaining ingredients and taste for sweetness and salt.

Laap or Seasoned Ground Beef

Our good friend Chris Allen prepared this dish for us when we visited him in beautiful Muncie, IN.  He came to know of the dish through his days in the Peace Corps where he served in a small Thai village.  He made it much better than I did.  I'm guessing the cut of meat I had was a bit too lean.  In the future I'll grind down a fattier cut of beef.   

1.5 tbsp rice
4 dried red chillies 
1 lb chuck steak ground
1/4 cup lime juice
3 stalks lemon grass minced
1 red onion finely chopped
1 green bell pepper finely chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves 
2 tbsp fish sauce

1. Cook the rice and chillies over medium heat in a dry pan until the rice has begun to brown.
2. Grind the rice and chillies in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
3. Boil the ground beef for one minute or until it just changes color.
4. Combine everything together and serve at room temperature.

Sweet Pork

It really doesn't get any simpler than this.  This dish's sauce of fish sauce and sugar is the base sauce of many Thai dishes.  Here the sauce is presented in its simplest form without any additional chillies or herbs.  With the fresh pork loin the dish tastes almost like a good sweet ham.  It tastes great for up to two weeks in the fridge.  Make sure to eat it with lots of rice.

3 pounds pork loin cut into 1 inch cubes
1.5 cups palm sugar
1.5 cups fish sauce
4 cups water
Crispy shallot flakes for garnish.

1. Place everything but the shallot flakes into a deep heavy pot and bring to a simmer stirring frequently to incorporate the palm sugar.  Lower the heat and cook for 30 minutes covered.
2. Skim off any fat that has risen to the surface and continue cooking another 45 minutes to an hour until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thick and syrupy.  Serve with rice feel free to add chili sauce.

Green Curry With Chicken

Thai curries may sound like a challenge to cook, but the hardest part of them is not so much making the curry but gathering the giant list of ingredients needed for the curry paste.  This is next to impossible if you don't live near a Southeast Asian grocer.  I'm lucky enough to be near one and most large to medium sized cities will have one tucked away somewhere .  Once you do have the ingredients, this curry is a simple process of grinding a paste and boiling everything together in a thick sauce of coconut milk and fish sauce.  

For the paste:

1 inch of fresh galangal or 1 tsp dried powder
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground caraway
1 tsp ground pepper
4 cloves ground
1 whole nutmeg ground
2 stalks lemon grass minced
4 cloves garlic
3 shallots
5 kaffir lime leaves
2 serrano chillies
1 tsp shrimp paste
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp vegetable oil

Grind everything to a uniform paste in a blender adding a bit of water at a time.  Set this aside or freeze for up to 6 months.

For the Curry

4 lbs chicken thighs chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 cans coconut milk plus one cup water
Fish sauce to taste
Green curry paste recipe
1/2 cup thai basil
5 kaffir lime leaves

1. In a large saucepan, dutch oven or wok, cook the chicken with one can of coconut milk and 2 tbsp fish sauce until the meat is tender (10-15 minutes).
2. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Boil the coconut milk down to a thicker consistency.
3. Add the curry paste and cook for 3 minutes stirring frequently until the paste gives off a strong fragrance.
4. Once again add the chicken to the pan and cook 5-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened.  Then add the remaining can of coconut milk.  Simmer this another five minutes and serve garnished with basil and kaffir lime leaves.  Serve with rice.

In Conclusion

This meal was a real pleasure to cook.  The literature on Thai food is so vast and expansive that there is no need to desperately search for recipes from obscure sources.  I should probably mention my personal favorite Thai cookbooks here since there are so many out there that aren't that great.  Jennifer Brennan's Original Thai Cookbook is my favorite reference point for most family sized recipes.  It has been a standard since it came out in the 80's and can be found used on Amazon for dirt cheap.  Her recipe for pad thai is still the best one I've found in a Thai cookbook.  David Thompson's Thai Food is a great encyclopedic look at Thai cooking and recipes, though many of the ingredients are a bit obscure even with access to a decent Southeast Asian grocer.  But it is a damn good cookbook.

The meal was a great success for the most part.  Once again all the leaves were used in the dining room table and nobody appeared hungry when they left.  I was a bit saddened by the lack of any noodle dishes, but it's hard to fry noodles for a large crowd.  The next day I made some pad thai to satisfy my craving, just writing this post has me thinking of busting out the wok tomorrow.

Up next: Malaysia!