Category Archives: vegan

MexicAsian Pico de Gallo

I’ve been hit by an attack of laziness since finals ended.  After pulling three all nighters, sifting through thousands of pages of research, writing 40 pages, completing an exam and working at baked through all of it, I kind of feel like I’m allowed to be a couch potato.  I was really looking forward to vegging out at my parents’ house in Connecticut, drinking lots of tea and spending time with the friends I grew up with—people I don’t see all that often but feel like family.  I’d also see my actual family—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and lots of cousins.  Then after Christmas, I’d head out for the highlight of my vacation: a return to South Africa, where it’s hot and summery right now, and more friends, family and good food await.

Well, I got to see some of my extended family, and some friends as well.  I had an amazing Christmas Eve dinner at Ferme, a restaurant where my friend Ian is the sous chef.  But when the weather reports confirmed that we were going to get hit hard with the blizzard, I packed up my bags, skipped my big family Christmas and headed down early to NYC to avoid getting snowed in.  And I’ve been here since then, holed up in a hotel room in Brooklyn.  I did venture out into the snow yesterday with Jing, grabbing a quick bite to eat and visiting some of my favorite Brooklyn spots from my old neighborhood (specifically Café Pedlar and Pacific Green Gourmet) and some new spots (Brooklyn Fare, which is not quite what I expected but is a welcome addition to the neighborhood anyway).  We retreated, though, when the wind gusted to 50 mph and it approached full-on whiteout conditions.   I’d never seen snow this bad before, and it didn’t bode well for my flight.  My initial departure was delayed, giving me a two-day holiday in Amsterdam before I’d be able to get on the next flight to Cape Town.  Then that flight was cancelled, and an alternate flight was found that would depart the same night and keep my Amsterdam mini-break intact.  When that was cancelled, the next best option was for me to fly out of Boston on Wednesday, two days after I was supposed to leave and a few hundred miles away from where I’m sitting right now.  Tomorrow I’m packing up again, heading back to Connecticut and then up to Boston.  So much travelling!  In the meantime, though, I’m in my hotel room, everything around me closed, all of my books read, and going slightly crazy from lack of things to do.  Not that I don’t love writing here at POR, but it’s been a bit more brain power than I’ve felt like exerting over the past few days … until now, because I’m out of options to distract myself (and rapidly exhausting even this one. Damn).

I give you, then, tomatillo and fuyu pico de gallo.  Inspired by a craving for pico but a genuine fear of winter tomatoes, I decided to use some other ingredients that aren’t quite as unappealing during the colder months: fuyu, which are actually in season now, and tomatillos … whose growing habits I know absolutely nothing about but always seem to be around the grocery store.  Pictures are scant because I made this at night when the lighting is very bad, but also because I didn’t think I’d post about this until I served it with frijoles negros, brown rice and avo the next day for lunch and was surprised by how nice it looked and tasted.  You could just as easily do this with shredded chicken, pork, shrimp (other meats will be too intense for the delicate flavors of pico and fuyu), or even tortilla chips, but I was in need of an actual meal, feeling lazy (do we sense a pattern here?) and meat averse.  I was so lazy I didn’t even cook my own rice, instead buying the frozen packets from Trader Joe’s, which I have to say are phenomenal.  The warm beans and rice, plus the heat from cayenne pepper, are all welcome in the cold, but the bright notes of citrus and fuyu add a clean, fresh element to the meal that helps to alleviate the short, grey days without making you feel weighed down.

Well, I’ve stretched out this post just as long as it’s going to go before boring all of you to death.  I promise, PROMISE that photographs of food and drink from South Africa are forthcoming—we have a picnic lined up at Boschendal that is definitely worth writing about, and I’m not lugging my camera and laptop halfway around the world and back again for nothing. Until then, wish me safe, on-time, hassle-free travels—and the same to you!


Tomatillo-Fuyu Pico de Gallo

4 medium sized ripe fuyu persimmons, diced

4 ripe tomatillo, diced

1 medium shallot, diced

juice of 1-2 limes (fresh)

approx 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (could also use fresh chilies/jalapeños but I didn’t have any)

salt to taste


Mix all ingredients together.  Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary.

I served mine over warm brown rice and frijoles negros, with ¼ chopped fresh avo.



Rainbow Curry


from top center, clockwise: yellow mustard, red pepper, cardamom, brown mustard, turmeric, whole cumin


I’ve always liked Indian food but it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I got truly addicted.  I spent six weeks in Bangalore, India for school (with a week or so spent on some farms and in Mysore) and ate Indian food for every single meal of the day.  Some people, when they travel, get sick and tired of local food and suddenly crave things like toast or a Big Mac—anything that reminds them of home.  That would not be me (though I will make an exception for coffee anywhere except for India, where I’ll take a hot cup of chai any day).  My host mother in India was a phenomenal cook and introduced me to the delicious flavors of Southern Indian cooking, which is very different from the Northern style that we mostly get in the US.  Southern cooking, to me anyway, is a lot lighter than Northern cooking—it still sticks to your ribs but doesn’t leave you feeling as though you just ate a lot of (very tasty) cement.  There is a lot of coconut used in the South, and it tends to be predominantly vegetarian as the south is majority Hindu.  This recipe is loosely based on curries that Chaya, my host mom, made while in India (note: you could easily swap out the ghee/butter for sunflower or canola oil to make this vegan).  I crave curry as soon as the weather gets colder and make it in huge batches to freeze for quick dinners when I’m tired and/or lazy.  It tastes just as good as the day after I made it—curries are always better once the flavors have a chance to mingle.  See the instructions below for the scoop on “resting” time and freezing.

Note:  The recipe below is pretty spicy, so if you prefer yours less so, cut down on the chilies and pepper flakes. Alternately, serve with fresh plain yogurt or raitha to cut the heat.




Rainbow Curry

Serves 4-5

4 tbsp ghee/butter

1 tbsp mustard seeds (I split this between yellow and brown but either are fine)

1 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to spiciness preference)

½ tsp ground turmeric

1 tbsp whole cumin

5 whole dried chilies (again, adjust to spiciness preference)

3 thumb-sized chunk of fresh ginger, cut in 3 pieces

5 whole cardamom pods

4 bay leaves (dried)

4 tbsp minced shallots

1 tbsp fresh minced garlic

2 pints tomatoes, halved (canned are also okay – about 16 oz should be fine. I used multi-colored fresh for the “rainbow” effect but you don’t have to)

1-2 fresh peppers, cubed (not green)

2 tsp salt

1 cup canned coconut milk (I used low fat)

3 pounds potatoes, cubed, skin-on (again, used multi colored for the rainbow effect but any kind and color are fine)

2 cups frozen peas


red, orange, yellow and green baby heirlooms.








Melt butter in a large saucepan or stock pot over medium-high heat.  Add pepper flakes, garlic and shallots and sautee until aromatic.  Add cumin and mustard seeds and sautee quickly until mustard seeds start to ‘pop’ (about 20 seconds).  Add tomatoes, salt, ginger, turmeric, bay leaves, cardamom and ginger.  Cook for about 3-4 minutes; for fresh tomatoes, cook until skins start to pucker.  Add coconut milk, peppers and potatoes and cover.  Cook for about 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through/nearly cooked through.  Stir periodically (you can add water if it looks like things are drying out a lot, though the potatoes will release a decent amount of water as they cook).  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary during this time.  Add in peas and cook for about 2 more minutes, until peas are heated through but still retain their bright green color.  Grey peas are gross!  Remove from heat.

Curry always tastes best if it is let to sit for a bit.  Ideally I’ll make my curry in the morning and let it sit out on the stove, covered, until that night.  I’ll quickly reheat and serve over basmati rice (removing cardamom, bay leaves and whole chilies first).  Life being what it is, however, the ideal thing never happens and I usually make it the night before.  It’s fine to sit out overnight and during the day as long as you keep it covered (rules change slightly if it has meat in it).  Reheat in your microwave or on the stove.  To serve, top off with fresh coriander/cilantro.

You can also add in any number of veggies to this dish.  Mushrooms, carrots, eggplant, cauliflower … it can all go in.  If you’re using delicate veg like mushrooms, though, don’t abuse them by adding them at the beginning of the cooking process—toss them in about halfway through the 20-30 minute simmer session.  Carrots, on the other hand, take f-o-r-e-v-e-r to cook so you can add them in with the potatoes.


If you’re anything like me, a craving for something sweet, once sated, is soon followed by a craving for something salty, which is followed by a craving for something sweet, ad nauseum (sometimes all too literally).  This pattern could possibly explain why I’m obsessed with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, which seem to satisfy that sweet/salty cycle like no other treat can.  Until I tried krayasaat.

Krayasaat is a Thai snack, made of palm sugar, sesame seeds, coconut oil, popped rice, peanuts and salt.  I wish I could say that I reverse-engineered this recipe from my all-to-brief stay in Thailand back in 2005, but I can’t.  Instead, I found the first description of it from the blog EatingAsia, a gorgeous food-travel-photography blog featuring predominantly Asian locales.  The “recipe” was provided by a woman named Wan, the longtime housekeeper and friend of the bloggers, who framed it in the highly adaptive terms of traditional Thai cooking (and, come to think of it, some of my recipes too).

A brick of palm sugar.

Though the description and ingredients had my mouth watering, it took me awhile to track everything down.  I was living in Cape Town at the time, which has a relatively low Asian population compared to some of the other places I’ve lived (New York City, Hartford, and, um, Beijing), so the few Asian markets weren’t as well-stocked as what I was used to.  Palm sugar was surprisingly easy to find, and the sesame, peanuts, coconut oil and salt definitely weren’t a problem.  But for the life of me, I couldn’t find popped rice.  I dragged myself by taxi (the slightly dangerous but inexpensive mini-buses that zoom around South Africa’s cities) from the Thai and Korean markets in Sea Point all the way over to the Mainland China market in Claremont, all to no avail.  I had almost given up when I found a big packet of puffed brown rice snuggled away in the corner of the health shop in Gardens.  It wasn’t popped rice, but it would have to do.  After all my hunting, I probably would have offered a kidney, but luckily only had to shell out R25 (about $3 US).

Palm sugar in pieces, after I attacked it with a meat cleaver.

From there, I went home, got into the kitchen and whipped together the ingredients into what seemed like the right proportions.  In about 15 minutes I was having my first taste of sweet, salty, toasted and crunchy krayasaat in all it’s coconutty glory.  I’ve since made it many times; these photographs are from my most recent batch.  I liked my puffed rice version just fine (though I’ve used white in the photos you see here, but brown is just as nice), but if you can find or make popped rice, by all means go ahead.  And a word to the wise: if possible, try to buy your ingredients at ethnic markets.  The brick of palm sugar you see above cost me a measly $1.50, and the sesame seeds not much more at $2.50 (for about 3 cups worth, mind you).  You’ll save boatloads of money and won’t sacrifice on quality in the least.


Via EatingAsia

1 chunk palm sugar, about the size of two ping pong balls, broken into smaller pieces

½ cup coconut oil

4 tbsp sesame seeds

1 tsp coarse sea salt, like Maldon

1/3 cup roasted peanuts, crushed into smaller pieces (optional)

5 cups puffed rice

**In deference to Wan, these ingredients may be tweaked to your taste.  If you prefer sweet, leave out the salt.  If you’d like more peanut, add more.  However your final product shouldn’t be sticky or oily in your hand, so be careful when changing the amount of palm sugar and coconut oil.

Heat coconut oil over low, low heat in a small saucepan.  Add palm sugar and let it break down into the oil; unlike regular sugar, this will not dissolve and instead will make kind of a gloppy, soft paste.  You may need to use a little muscle and crush it into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon.  Meanwhile, measure out puffed rice and set aside in a large bowl.  When palm sugar is sufficiently soft, add in salt, peanuts (if using), and sesame seeds.  Mix.  Remove from heat and pour over puffed rice gradually, stirring as you go.  This will keep in an airtight container for a few days, though I seriously, seriously doubt if you’ll be able to keep it for that long …

Redefining Potato Salad

I love potato salad, but I rarely eat it.  Why?  Because to me, potato salad is a summertime food.  It’s served cold, and many a childhood barbecue in the steaming heat has meant that I can’t disassociate potato salad from outdoor meals while baking in the sun.  But eating mayonnaise during the summer, for me, ranks somewhere alongside eating popsicles outdoors in January. In a blizzard. With no gloves.  Other mayo-free potato salads that I’ve tried seem to be drowning in oil, so I’ve steered clear of the whole spectrum of potato salads. Until now.

When I saw this recipe, the winning combination of fennel, potatoes, lemon and a measly 3 tablespoons of oil won me over.  And favas! FAVAS!  To be clear, I’m part Italian (Sicilian, in fact). This means I love fava beans as much as I love tomatoes, pasta, gelato and the Azzurri (don’t even talk to me about the World Cup right now).  Sure, preparing favas isn’t the most fun thing in the world (unless you really like peeling and blanching beans in multiple rounds), but the flavor payoff is always worthwhile.  Fava prep aside, this salad is a breeze to make and the mild anisette flavor of the fennel is perfectly offset by the fresh acid of the lemon and the bite of pepper.  I ended up adding in capers to my version for an extra kick, but the salad is also delicious without them.  Best part is, you can easily adapt this salad for more people; I actually had to increase the recipe as I found out partway through that we were having guests for dinner.  When I finished cooking for the evening, I ate my potato salad outside in the slowly diminishing summer heat and relished every bite.

Potato Salad with Fava Beans and Fennel

Serves 4ish

Adapted from the Kitchn

1 pound cleaned new potatoes (I like red for the color)

1 pound fava bean pods– pick pods that aren’t overly lumpy as the beans might be bitter

1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds

3 tablespoons chopped chives

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons capers, drained (optional)

zest and juice of 1 lemon

Salt (I like Maldon)

Freshly ground black pepper

Start off by removing your favas from their pods.  Boil a pot of water, and set up a bowl of very cold ice water and have a slotted spoon or dumpling skimmer handy.  Blanch favas quickly in the pot, about 40-50 seconds, and then remove beans to the ice bath using the spoon.  Let rest for a minute or two, them remove the thin, waxy coating surrounding each bean.  If they don’t slip right off, that’s okay.  The blanching process will have cause the bean to separate from the outer skin, so you should be able to gently tear it and pop your favas out that way.  Set aside.

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold, salted water by about an inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium and simmer until potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork.  Over-testing won’t hurt them; no one likes raw potatoes, but you don’t want your potatoes to be mushy either.  Drain and set aside until just cool enough to handle.

Halve or quarter the potatoes and place them in a large bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, and lemon zest, pour over the potatoes, and toss. Add the favas, sliced fennel, fennel fronds, capers (if using) and chives to the bowl and toss. Season with pepper, and a bit of salt if you’re forgoing the capers.

Serve at room temperature or chilled.  Extras will keep for 2-3 days, covered, in the refrigerator.