Recipe: Soft Tofu Stew (Soondubu Jjigae)

October 15, 2012

Fall is the season of comfort food. Even in southern California, where the leaves remain green and the temperature doesn’t drop below 65 degrees, pumpkin lattes and hearty stews abound. Most Americans, me included, associate comfort food with dishes like macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, beef stew, ice cream, apple pie, or pretty much anything loaded with fat and processed carbohydrates.

Conversely, most Americans associate unappetizing health food with things like tofu, salad, and any vegetable but potatoes (unless it’s a vegetable smothered in cream and/or cheese, in which case it crosses over into the realm of comfort food). But there’s definitely no American-style dish involving tofu that’s considered comforting. The very suggestion is enough to give children nightmares.

I always thought the American notion of comfort food was the universally accepted definition. Then I moved to Egypt and realized that comfort food in the Middle East generally involves rice, which was not on my comfort food radar at that point in time. Growing up, my family would eat rice for one of two reasons: either it was an accompaniment to some kind of “ethnic” meal, like Indian or Mexican food, or it was the only starch we had in the house. Potatoes, pasta, polenta and bread were always preferable to rice. So I associated rice with either foods outside of my comfort zone or as the undesirable substitute for much-loved potato dishes.
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Recipe: Salt Crust Snapper with Mandarin-Fennel Salad

August 21, 2012

I don’t require much to be happy. A new book by my favorite author, this awesome lamp from IKEA, and—above all—an elegant meal for one made my weekend nearly perfect. This is why I think everyone should take up cooking as a hobby. There’s nothing more satisfying than using your imagination, culinary knowledge, and artistic skill to create something that pleases all of your senses. Learning to cook is practical, healthful, and a great conversation starter—who doesn’t like to talk about food?

But I imagine I’m preaching to the choir writing about the joys of cooking on a food blog. I also can’t imagine that everyone would be able to enjoy grocery shopping—the prerequisite to cooking—as much as I do.

Last week was stressful and emotionally exhausting, so on Saturday I braved the heat and walked to a nearby Korean market to peruse the fish counter and let my imagination run wild. After an hour of exploration to the soundtrack of this song on repeat, I left the store with a whole red snapper, a bag of fresh mandarin oranges, a bunch of watercress, two pounds of sea salt, a few perilla leaves, some taro root, radish sprouts, and a significantly better a state of mind (except for a slight headache from that horrible Korean pop song). Continue reading

Recipe: Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)

July 6, 2012

In September of 2009, I spent two weeks in Thailand. My friend and I flew to Bangkok, took the overnight train to Chiang Mai, and then flew to the south, stopping in Khao Sok and Ko Samui before returning to Bangkok. Here’s a list of my 10 favorite activities, sites, places to stay, and things to eat in the places I visited, along with a recipe for my favorite Thai dish, som tam.

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Recipe: Vietnamese Summer Rolls

February 7, 2012

Lately I’ve been reading As They Were, a memoir by M.F.K. Fisher. Fisher was a food and travel writer who grew up in Whittier, California in the early 1900s. Perhaps this is merely mark of a good writer, but as I’ve read her memoir, which is older than I am, I’ve felt a connection with her that goes beyond our mutual enthusiasm for food and foreign countries.

In fact, Fisher and I share a third obsession—nostalgia. Here’s what she has to say of it:

“Nostalgia must always be a strange bedfellow, but an increasingly familiar one as we grow past the years of pick-and-choose. In the case of the views of freighter life that follow, it seems natural that they stay together, instead of being slotted in their chronological rhythm. This bunching is not based as much on wistful remembrances as on a realistic look at some disparate happenings at sea that by now are plainly part of my own nostalgic pattern.”

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Recipe: Oil-Free Carrot-Ginger Dressing

January 10, 2012

I love the holidays. They’re an excuse to stuff your face, drink lots of wine, and throw huge dinner parties—my three favorite activities, in that order. Still, some of them seem a little odd to me.

Imagine an alien passing through Earth and trying to learn about the celebratory rituals of the human race. There are the big monotheistic ones: Christmas, Ramadan, and Passover. In order not to offend any readers on my very first post, I won’t attempt to isolate what’s weird about these holiday celebrations.

Well, maybe just a few observations. Don’t you think it’s a bit bizarre to cut down a perfectly healthy tree and put it in your living room to die (a pagan-based ritual, so I think I’m safe from offending anyone, unless there are still pagans, in which case, I’m sorry pagans)? And what about the Ramadan ritual of fasting all day for a month? It’s not fun, and I know because I’ve done it. Twice. I don’t think any practicing Muslims would describe it as fun either—maybe educational or enlightening, but certainly not fun, so I’m still safe. And why did the Jews come up with a holiday in which they can’t eat arguably their best culinary contribution to the world—bagels. But again, I’m not passing judgment here. Just Pass-me-Over the bagels. Okay, so that was corny, but harmless. Who doesn’t think bagels are infinitely better than matzah?

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