Quick Artisan Bread

If I had to choose a favorite food, without hesitation I would say “bread and butter”. For me nothing compares to the goodness of well made, flavorful bread spread with melting butter.

When I was growing up in Manila, there was a variety of bread available to us. Often for breakfast we would have pan de sal, small brown crusty ovals bought hot and freshly baked from the corner bakery. (In later years this pan de sal would devolve into soft sweetish buns that held very little resemblance to the pan de sal of my childhood). Everyday, any-time bread was pan americano also known as “tasty” bread: soft, sliced store-bought white bread packed in plastic. It was bland and (ironically) tasteless but convenient for lunchbox sandwiches as it kept for days and could be stashed in the fridge. In the afternoons we would sometimes buy snack breads from the pot-pot peddler, named after the sound he would make with his horn. He would have two large tins of bread fixed to the back of his bicycle—in it were a low-cost version of ensaimada (a brioche-type bread) topped with margarine and sugar, soft squarish buns called pan de leche, and other breads with names like monay, kabayan, and pan de coco.

I never tried to bake my own bread from scratch as it was too daunting. Although my mother baked simple cakes from scratch, she never made yeasted breads so I didn’t have a chance to learn from her. It wasn’t until I was living in Singapore about twelve years ago and had a lot of time on my hands (at least on weekends) that I attempted to bake bread. I remember the recipe was called “Grandma Van Doren’s white bread” and I copied it off the internet. My first attempt was a huge success! The loaf was fragrant, well-risen and beautifully brown. I don’t think it made it past the first hour out of the oven—we scarfed it down with a ton of butter.

Such beginner’s luck encouraged me, and I began to bake this bread semi-regularly for a few years. Then I started experimenting with variations, including whole wheat, and testing various recipes. These days I regularly make whole wheat and multi-grain loaves that I can store in the freezer and pull out as needed for everyday bread. For a time I was obsessed with sourdough bread and would make it from wild yeast (my primary resource was a very educational website and bread baking forum called The Fresh Loaf). This sourdough period was a very challenging but highly satisfying and yummy period. But I gave it up when I moved and lost the starter I had been using.

A few weeks ago I discovered this recipe for a quick no-knead bread, featured in the book “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Their master recipe is made in 15 minutes and is good for 4 one-pound loaves. You mix the batch using just flour, water, yeast and salt. Then you leave it to rise for a couple of hours, stick in the fridge for at least half a day, and then shape and bake your bread as needed within the next two weeks.

This is the second batch I’ve made with this recipe and I think I’m getting the hang of it. The tricky part for me was shaping the loaf as the dough is very very wet and difficult to handle. But after watching a couple of videos made by the authors, I am starting to make decently shaped loaves.

The bread you get from this recipe is crusty, with a crumb that is light but also slightly chewy. The longer you keep the dough in the fridge, the better the bread will taste as the fermentation creates more complexity in the bread’s flavor. It’s not sourdough, but it’s very good. I think this will be a keeper.

Quick “Artisan” Bread
(adapted from Hertzberg and Francois’ master recipe)

3 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1-1/2 tablespoons salt
6-1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
Ice or water (to create steam while baking)

  1. Pour water into a 5 quart bucket or similar container. Mix in the salt and yeast. Add the flour and mix until well blended. Do not knead. Cover loosely with the lid or a towel and let rise for two hours or until at least doubled. Place the bucket (still loosely covered) in the fridge. This master recipe will produce 4 one-pound loaves, and should be used within the next 14 days.
  2. On the day you want to bake bread, take out the bucket, sprinkle the top generously with flour, and cut out a piece of dough, roughly the size of a large grapefruit for a 1-pound finished loaf. Adjust according to the size of loaf you want to make. (In the photo above, I used roughly two-thirds of the whole bucket).
  3. Using more flour as needed, gently shape the dough into a ball, pulling the edges gently with your fingers and tucking under to create a tight surface or “gluten cloak”.  This will ensure that your bread will rise evenly in the oven. Watch this video to see what I mean. You can shape the dough into round boules or longer batards. Let rest for 50 minutes on a piece of parchment paper on top of a cookie sheet. (I used this in the absence of a pizza peel).
  4. Twenty minutes before you start baking, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. I used a pizza stone on the second lowest level in the oven. Also place a cast iron pot on the bottom to preheat. When the dough has rested the full 50 minutes, sprinkle the top with flour and slash several times. Open the oven door and quickly slide the parchment paper with the dough onto the baking stone. Carefully pull out the cast iron pot and pour in a cup of ice cubes, then place back in. This will create the steam which will help the dough maintain enough flexibility to rise properly before crusting over. Bake the bread for 30 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. Wait a half hour before slicing (if you can!)

Fried tempeh with tomato-cashew-coriander sauce



I’m back after more than a year’s hiatus!

My only excuse is that I married my true love and moved to a new country🙂 But I haven’t forgotten my promise in the last post—that is, to write about my favorite recipe for tempeh. So here it is: fried tempeh strips with an Indonesian-inspired sauce made with tomatoes, coriander and cashew nuts.

To prepare the tempeh is simple enough. Cut your prepared tempeh in thin strips, about the size of french fries. The thinner they are, the more quickly and more evenly they will cook. Marinate the tempeh strips in a little soy sauce and pepper for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a pan. When the oil is ready, deep fry the tempeh strips in batches small enough to allow even cooking. Each batch should cook in about two minutes.  The soy sauce will color the tempeh darker than they normally would be, so resist the temptation to undercook them. Once done, drain on paper towels.

Now for the sauce.  For about a cup and a half of sauce, you will need:

3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
5 medium tomatoes
a small handful of cashew nuts
salt to taste
chili flakes to taste
fresh cilantro leaves roughly chopped

Note: In Indonesia, kemiri (candlenuts) are typically used instead of cashews. Kemiri are difficult to find outside Indonesia, but I find the cashews are a good substitute.

You can use a mortar and pestle (for a chunkier texture), or a small food processor to make the sauce. Start by pounding the garlic with the salt into a smooth paste.  Add the coriander seeds and cashews and grind them in. Toss in the tomatoes and pound into a chunky paste. Adjust the seasoning and add chili flakes for heat. Add cilantro leaves.

These are great as appetizers or have them with steamed brown rice as a main.

On a side note about tempeh-making, since moving to California I have tried making tempeh from scratch. I had nothing but success in Manila, as the year-round temperature there is similar to Indonesia and is perfect for incubating tempeh. My first attempt in California however, was a failure. I think this was due to fluctuations in the temperature between day and night time, even though I had attempted to rig up a heated space in a cupboard shelf with a lamp. For my second try, I used an Excalibur dehydrator, set to about 90° F. The tempeh was done perfectly in 24 hours!  So yes, it can be done, and yes, there will be more tempeh in my future.

Taking Time for Tempeh

Finished tempeh ready for use

Making tempeh from scratch:  it’s one of those things that you have to be in just the right mood to do–because it takes a good chunk of time and effort!

A unique culinary contribution from Indonesia, tempeh is made with fermented soybeans.   Soybeans are, of course,  an important source of protein, particularly for vegetarians. It’s used in many different ways in Asia.  As bean curd or tofu, it exists in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of different varieties: milky, soft, hard, semi-hard, dried, shredded, “frying”, “soup” or “skin” type, flavored, plain.  Then there is TVP or textured vegetable protein, a so-called “meat analogue” which I’ve never really liked (nor for that matter, anything pseudo-meat).  Soybeans are also prepared by fermentation, through the use of various types of mold or fungi.  Tempeh falls in this category along with traditionally brewed soy sauce, miso, and the notorious “stinky” tofu that smells like hell to the uninitiated, and heaven to its acolytes. These days, while the jury is out on the benefits of soy, I tend to keep my consumption of soybeans to a minimum, though I must have my tempeh fix now and again.

I first tried tempeh in Indonesia, where it is a protein staple for many locals.  Unlike tofu which is rather bland, it has a strong nutty, earthy taste of its own, and is perhaps an acquired one, though once you have it, it tends to stick. Tempeh slices may be deep fried and eaten with various sauces and condiments or cut in small pieces and added to soups, stir-fries, salads and even sandwiches. It does well with marinades–the simplest and for me the best one is a light rub of salt, pepper and crushed garlic about 15-20 minutes before pan frying (I will write about this in my next post).

Once I returned to Manila I was on my own as far as tempeh went. It was nearly impossible to find, (I only once managed to locate a lady whose daughter had done some training with the USDA, of all things, and who was willing to prepare a batch on special order) and I had to make it myself if I wanted to enjoy it on a regular basis. I found a Dutch website called Tempeh Info that had a ton of information on it and took up their offer to send for a free starter packet of the Rhizopus mold that is responsible for the fermentation of tempeh.  I also managed to source about 5 kilos of good, non-GMO (that is, not genetically modified) soybeans. And I was on my way!

Once you have your starter and your soybeans, find a 2-3 day period in your schedule when you are feeling especially virtuous, energetic and most inspired to take up the fight against fast food :-)  Because homemade tempeh is real slow food–right up there with making sourdough bread or putting up your own pickles or preserving fresh produce– and every bit as satisfying.

Homemade tempeh

600 g soybeans

2 Tbsp vinegar

2 g (or about 1/2 tsp) Rhizopus mold starter

1. Soak the soybeans in water for around 18 hours. Make sure you check the beans from time to time, and top up the water as needed–the soybeans will absorb the water and expand quickly.

L-R: Soybeans after soaking; Removing hulls from split soybeans

2. Throw out the soaking water and rinse the soybeans under running water.  By now the soybeans will have swollen to about twice their original size. Place the beans in a bowl, add some water, and remove the hulls and split the beans by rubbing handfuls of beans together and squeezing. It is best to do this in 3-4 batches. When most of the beans have been hulled, fill the bowl with water. The empty hulls will float to the surface. Tilt the bowl gently to one side to drain the water, scoop out hulls, and discard.

L-R: Split and hulled soybeans; Cooking the beans

3. Place the hulled and split soybeans in a large pot and add water to cover.

Little Rio watches over incubating packs of soybean

Add the vinegar and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain the soybeans. Return them to the pot and dry up the beans by mixing them constantly over low heat. Let the beans cool down to room temperature, or about 30-35 degrees Celsius.

4. Sprinkle the Rhizopus mold on the beans and mix very thoroughly.  Prepare 5 plastic bags 12 x 30 cm by punching holes into them with a very large needle at about 1 cm intervals. These holes will allow the mold to breath and thrive.  Spoon the soybeans into the plastic bags, spreading them out evenly on a flat surface.  Fold down the open end of each bag to seal.  Leave for about 36 hours at warm room temperature–about 28 to 30 degrees C.  At the end of this time, you will notice that the soybeans will have become solid cakes covered and held together with a white mycelia.  The tempeh is ready to use!


-You may store unused tempeh in the freezer.
-If you want thicker cakes, use less bags and pack the beans up to 3 cm in height.

Hungarian Eggplant Cream



Hungarian eggplant cream served with green peas, soft feta cheese and pita bread

I have always loved eggplants. There is something deeply satisfying about its smoky, earthy taste and its rich, fleshy texture.  In the Philippines, eggplants are sliced, fried and eaten with a soy-sauce-and-lemon (or vinegar) dip; added along with other vegetables to sinigang (a sour broth with meat or fish); or char-grilled, peeled, dipped in egg and fried.  Another popular dish is the Italian eggplant parmesan, which calls for layering fried (or roasted) eggplant slices with tomato sauce, mozzarella & parmesan cheese. All very tasty dishes, but in each case, the eggplant tended to take a back seat to the other ingredients in the dish, cast in a supporting role instead of being the star.  So when my Hungarian friend Bori visited last year, I was very happy to learn from her a new preparation that was extremely simple, and which let the eggplant’s own unique flavor stand out with very little embellishment : eggplant cream.

It was, in fact, a variation of the middle-eastern Baba Ganoush, which combines peeled, roasted eggplant with tahini (sesame paste), and any number of condiments from onions and garlic to lemon, parsley and cumin. But Bori’s eggplant cream was the simplest, and for me, the tastiest of all–a Baba Ganoush for eggplant purists.  We spent a pleasant half hour in the kitchen as she made the dish from scratch. It was her grandmother’s recipe:

Hungarian Eggplant Cream

to serve 2

4-5 medium sized eggplants (we used the long, dark purple kind)
2-3 Tbsp of coconut oil (or other oil with a very mild or neutral flavor)
1 small onion, chopped fine
salt to taste

Pierce the eggplants with a fork in a few places. Grill over an open flame until the skin is evenly charred all over, and the eggplant is soft. Take off the flame and slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh and place in a bowl. Using a wooden spoon, pound the eggplant until you obtain a rather smooth cream (Bori insisted that metal implements would cause the eggplant to acquire a bitter taste).  Add the oil, finely chopped onion and salt. Mix thoroughly and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

This is very good with some crusty toasted slices of baguette or pita bread, and maybe a green salad or peas on the side.

Sweet and tangy banana lassi



At mid-morning I had a sudden urge to have something tangy as well as fruity and the Indian yogurt drink lassi popped into my head. I’ve always enjoyed yogurt, and I’ve occasionally had a lassi at an Indian restaurant (though not as often as I would have wanted, feeling it was just too heavy to have with a meal).  I have never made it before, so I did some quick research, made some adjustments, and came up with this very satisfying, delicious drink that takes about 2 minutes to prepare.

Banana Lassi

1 cup (250 ml) yogurt (homemade is best, see my recipe here)

1 large ripe banana, sliced

a handful of ice cubes

1 Tbsp honey

1 cardamom seed

Throw everything in a blender for about half a minute, pour and enjoy!

Lassis can be prepared in different ways. Sweet fruity lassis can pretty much use any pulpy fruit: mangoes are popular, but bananas, strawberries, peaches, guyabano (soursop) and pineapple would be excellent choices too. Avocados would probably be worth trying, and why not papaya with a squeeze of kalamansi or lemon juice?

Savory lassis may be spiced with toasted ground cumin, pepper, ginger, turmeric, cilantro and salt.  In Indian ayurvedic medicine they are believed to help aid digestion, and are best taken with meals or in the afternoon.  They can also be flavored with such varied things as coconut milk, almonds and rosewater.

O wonderful moment when a window cracks open to reveal a new world! Now my mind is running with all the delicious possibilities..sweet! savory! fruity! spicy! pulpy.. and the promise of lassis to come.

Manang Dayday’s Suman Latik

Suman topped with latik

The afternoons in Samar are rainy. These days on the farm most work is done in the mornings, and the afternoons are spent indoors sorting seeds, snoozing, catching up on reading.  On one such afternoon I invite Manang Dayday, who lives next door, to make the famous rice cake from Samar–suman latik.  Traditionally prepared for fiestas, Christmas and special occasions requiring the feeding of crowds, this particular batch will be my pasalubong for friends and family back in Manila.

Two kilos of glutinous rice, she said, and 4 pieces of kalamay (panutsa in Tagalog), dark raw sugar molded in coconut half shells. The cream from 4 mature coconuts, and about 80 leaves of the hagikhik plant.

That morning I go with Michael, her son, up to the hills behind the convent to gather the leaves. He is 24, my own son’s age, and he just finished a degree in criminology but hasn’t yet passed the board. Meanwhile, he takes care of the pigs and cows for the convent. The hills are covered with trees—bananas, santol, the ubiquitous coconut tree–and overgrown underfoot with bushes and grass. I ask him about a beautiful tree in a clearing, tall and stately, and he tells me it is a pili tree, now full of the dark fruit which contain the tender, delicately flavored nut similar in taste to the almond.

Ingredients for suman latik

This land, he says, my great grandparents said they used to live here, and they planted all those santol trees.  On the way up we encounter 3 men, nimble and swarthy, balancing expertly on the treetops as they harvest coconuts to make copra. They nod in greeting as we pass.  Michael shows me which leaves of the hagikhik plant are suitable for the suman. We gather the leaves and head back to the convent.

Manang Dayday arrives mid-afternoon. She is a large woman of middle age, mother of four. The last time I saw her, she had just lost her husband of 30 years. How are you doing, I ask. As well as can be expected, she says, but there is some good news: the government agency where her husband had been a contractual temp for over 20 years has offered his old job to their eldest daughter.  Small mercies, she smiles.

All the ingredients are assembled. She picks over the hagikhik leaves, looking critically at each one, putting aside the ones which are too small, or are starting to wilt, and carefully wiping each one clean. She washes the rice grains several times in water before putting it in a big pot with more water to cover, and adds 8 tablespoons of lye water for flavor and color.

The rice is put to a boil and when all the liquid is just absorbed but before the rice is fully cooked, she takes the pot off the stove and lets the mixture cool slightly.

Then the wrapping begins. She puts about 2 tablespoons of the half-cooked rice on the back of a hagikhik leaf, about two thirds down from the pointed end. The sides are folded in to make a little point at the bottom. This point is folded up to create a little package, the top sides are folded in again, and one last fold seals the suman, ready for final cooking.  It’s a few steps, but looks simple enough.  I try my hand at the folding but of course I mess it up. Manang Dayday has folded thousands of these suman over the years.

Final cooking for suman, and kalamay melting in coconut cream

Wrapping the rice mixture in hagikhik leaves

Suman wrapped and ready for final cooking

She made them as a girl, helping her mother at Christmas and for the annual fiesta, every year of her life. She laughs gently at my effort and adjusts my sorry looking suman. You wrap it too loosely, she says, and the rice will fall out while cooking. Too tight and it will burst out. We are joined by Auring, who helps with the convent housework, and the two women set to work wrapping the suman.  They work quietly, with a practiced rhythm.

At last all the suman are wrapped: 79 pieces in all. Manang Dayday goes through each one again, snipping the ends when they are too long, tucking a stray edge here and there.  The suman are packed tightly in a big pot which has been lined with more hagikhik leaves. About 2 inches of water are poured into the pot and it is set on the stove to boil for about an hour and half, or “until the leaves turn color”.  Meanwhile the coconut cream is poured into another pot and heated with the half spheres of kalamay.

Finally everything is cooked. The suman’s outer wrapping has turned an olive green color, the syrup to be used for topping is thick and sweet.  The ladies have left for the day, and my pasalubong is ready to be packed for the eager folks back home.

Sowing Seeds in Samar




I volunteer at Sophie’s Farm, a piece of land on Samar Island on which a small model of sustainable farming is slowly but surely taking shape.  Sophie’s Farm is a project of the SHIFT Foundation, a non-profit organization run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Samar is one of the poorest islands in the Philippines, and the farm was conceived to become a learning center at which local people can be helped to grow food for their tables in a way that is mindful of the environment.

Coconut trees dominate the hills behind the farm

I stumbled upon this project in that strange way life has of leading you from one thing to another. Three years ago I had recently returned to Manila from working overseas and had decided to make fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains the staples of my diet.  I frequented weekend “farmers’ markets” to source fresh, locally grown produce.  At one of these I met Gil Carandang, an organic farmer, owner of Herbana Farms, and a man on a mission. He was giving 3 and 5 day impassioned seminars on organic farming at his five-hectare spread in Calamba.  I went for the weekend and stayed 3 months, working as an apprentice at his farm and learning the ropes of organic farming by getting my hands dirty and my feet wet.

Three kinds of basil on Sophie's Farm. From top, clockwise: Holy Basil, Sweet Basil, Thai Basil

After my 3 months were up, and while I was wondering what to do next with my new-found and very small store of knowledge, I met by chance one of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. She casually invited me to their farm in Samar, telling me how they wanted to start going organic but did not have the know-how nor the human resources. They probably got a big shock when I actually turned up 2 weeks later.  I had also brought Cameron, one of the other apprentices I had met at Herbana Farms.  After a short visit we returned and since then have been working on and off as volunteers on the farm, digging plots, sowing seeds, concocting smelly brews of bio-nutrients, culturing microorganisms, mulching, weeding, second-guessing the weather, chasing off bugs, making compost, harvesting the fruits of our labors, saving seeds, making many mistakes but learning so much.

Eggplants, peppers, basil & tomatoes under a shaded canopy

On Sophie’s Farm today regular harvests include eggplants, pumpkin, mung beans, green and purple okra,lettuce and pechay.  There are tentative tomatoes, hesitant capsicums, undecided carrots, but also promising corn, patient pineapples, string beans biding their time, and 3 kinds of basil ready to take over (it was an overly ambitious pesto project).  The herb garden we started last year was overgrown when I came back last week, but upon clearing, I discovered some of the chili peppers had survived, and there were straggler colonies of mint, tarragon, local oregano (Indian Borage), and maiden wort (dahong maria).  I plan to put in cilantro, parsley, chives, stevia and bunching onions. On the property there are fruit trees: bananas, papayas, jackfruit, santol, avocado, and many many coconuts.

There is a lot still to be done, many choices to be made. An aborted vermi-culture (earthworm farming!) trial promises to be revived very soon.  Cameron wants to put in a fish pond to harness all that rainfall, and have a real livestock program to integrate the farm. And we’ve been talking forever about doing an experimental plot of rice.  We’re also just starting to form linkages with the community—with women’s groups, with young people, with the university, with government agencies and NGOs.

But we are sowing seeds–and it is with hope and wonder that we’ll watch them sprout and grow.

For more information contact:
SHIFT Foundation at Sophie’s Farm
.  Brgy. Dona Lucia, Mondragon, 6417 Northern Samar
Mobile No. +63 (918) 918 1253.  Email : shiftrscj@yahoo.com. Web: shift.rscj.org

Discovering Chap Chae



When I want a dish that’s a complete meal in itself and easy to prepare, I very often turn to stir-fry noodles. Most of the work is in preparing the vegetables, but once that’s done everything is quickly cooked in one pan with the flavors and seasoning of your choice. It’s also a forgiving and tasty way to clean the fridge of odds and ends, and clearing up is a breeze.

There must be a million ways to prepare noodles, but Chap Chae is one of my recent discoveries and fast becoming a favorite among family and friends. A Korean dish, Chap Chae is made with seasonal vegetables, sweet potato noodles (dangmyeon) and flavored with garlic, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil.  This dish is great hot or cold!  I made it last weekend for a potluck dinner with a gaggle of girlfriends from high school. It got good reviews and a couple of requests for the recipe :-)    Here it is:

Chap Chae

Serves 6-8

150 grams Korean potato noodles
½ cup soy sauce
6 Tbsp sesame oil
5 Tbsp brown sugar
6-8 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp cooking oil
1 large onion, sliced thin
3 medium carrots, julienned
60 grams dried shiitake mushrooms
200 grams green beans, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 large head napa cabbage, chopped
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds

1. Soak the noodles in water for 30 minutes to soften, then boil for 2-3 minutes or until cooked but still firm. Drain and reserve.

2. Rinse the shiitake mushrooms then soak for 30 minutes in enough hot water to cover. Drain, squeeze out excess water, and slice thinly. Reserve the soaking water to use as stock.

3. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and garlic in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.  Set aside.

4. Heat cooking oil in a large wok or frying pan. Add onions and carrots, cook for 2 minutes. Add green beans and shiitake mushrooms, cook 3-4 minutes. Add some of the reserved soaking water from the mushrooms as necessary, but be sparing as you will add the soy sauce mixture later.  Add cabbage. Now add the pre-cooked noodles and the soy sauce mixture. Mix everything until evenly combined. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes or until vegetables are cooked but still crisp.  Stir in sesame seeds, leaving a couple of tablespoons to sprinkle on top.


  • You can use other vegetables, or add to the ones above.  Snow peas, brocolli, cauliflower, zucchini, cabbage and spinach would work well.
  • Korean sweet potato noodles–dangmyeon–are the best to use for this dish.  They are easily available from a Korean grocery. I learned recently there are different grades of noodles, and the top grade gives you a more chewy, fatter noodle that’s more resistant to over cooking. If you can’t get dangmyeon, mung bean glass noodles (sotanghon/ tanghoon) are good too. Since these are thinner, you will need to reduce the cooking time.

Samosas and Tamarind Chutney



I wasn’t crazy about Indian food until I became a vegetarian. Once I started down that path I began to look more closely at different cuisines and what they had to offer to non-meat eaters. And so began my journey of exploration into Indian, Mediterranean, and Thai cooking, among others– these cultures having strong vegetarian culinary traditions. It is one of those strange phenomena: one thinks one enters a narrow door and yet upon entering, whole new, vast worlds are revealed!

Samosas are a very popular Indian snack, but in fact they are not limited to India. They are present in various incarnations all over south and southeast Asia, the middle east and even parts of Africa, southern Europe and the Mediterranean.  They are very commonly filled with spiced potato, peas and other vegetables, or mixed with chicken, beef or other meats. The Singaporean/Malaysian “curry puff” is very likely a close cousin to the samosa. And if we consider the empanada another relative, that expands the samosa’s genealogy throughout Iberia, South and Central America, and all across the Pacific to the Philippines.

The typical vegetarian samosa is made with a triangular pastry shell of fine wheat flour filled with a spicy mixture of potatoes, onions and green peas (the spice mix usually consists of cumin, coriander, garam masala, amchoor or mango powder, and chili). These are deep fried then dipped in a sweet sour tamarind chutney.  I have not attempted to make these myself, as the ones that I get from TAJ, my neighborhood Indian grocer, are so good and very reasonably priced. Once we discovered them, they quickly became a favorite for parties, when unexpected guests arrive, and just a tasty take-out food for those days when cooking at home is not an option.

Too hot for anything but Hummus


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It was just too hot, and I couldn’t be bothered to be cooking hot meals in the kitchen twice a day. So I called on a standby that could be made quickly, tasted great and could be eaten with different things.  Best of all it would keep in the fridge for a few days and with some fruit and bread, provide a light, cool, quick meal when needed.

Hummus to the rescue.  A spread or paste made from chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil, hummus has been popular in the mediterranean region and the middle east since ancient times.  It’s great as a dip with a flat bread like pita, with fresh cut vegetables sticks;  or as a spread for a more substantial sandwich, for example, with falafel, tomatoes, pickles and lettuce.  The chickpeas in the hummus make this a protein-rich food, and it’s also rich in Vitamin C, folate and iron.

You can use canned chickpeas for convenience, but dried ones are easy to prepare too, are more economical, and taste better.  If using dried chickpeas, soak them for 12-18 hours in twice as much water and in a big bowl, as they will expand a lot.  Drain and rinse the soaked peas, and cook in a pot with more fresh water to cover generously for about 40 minutes to an hour.  A cup of dried chickpeas will expand to about 2 to 3 times its volume when cooked.

Pre-cooked chickpeas

Lemony, Garlicky Hummus

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

3 Tbsp. tahini

2 cups pre-cooked or canned chickpeas

Juice of 2 lemons (this is very lemony! start with one if in doubt)

1 tsp. salt or to taste

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Sumac (optional)

Process the garlic in a food processor or spice grinder until minced. Add the tahini, chickpeas, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and process until pureed.  Transfer to a bowl, and pour a little extra olive oil on top.  Sprinkle with sumac.


  • I have sometimes used fresh, lightly toasted sesame seeds in place of the processed tahini. In fact I prefer this method as I can be sure my “tahini” is fresh.  I also find it less bitter. Here’s how to do it: after processing the garlic, pour in about a quarter cup of toasted sesame seeds and process until creamy and it starts to release its oil.  Add the rest of ingredients.
  • Sumac is a mediterranean spice that gives a lemony tang to the hummus.