Articles in Tradition

Harp Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

The wee city of Belfast, Northern Ireland, as its feisty residents describe their capital city, punches above its size. The Titanic was built here; Van Morrison was born here; “Game of Thrones” is filmed here. Wow. The litany of “firsts,” as recounted by the inimitable Billy Scott, cabdriver and tour guide, during a word-packed, whistle-stop zip around the muscular mercantile city, ranges from the invention of air conditioning and tonic water to the Massey Ferguson tractor. The city’s history is charted in the exuberant and vivid wall murals found on every spare gable end.

There is no lack of business acumen and ambition in the province of Ulster. Belfast’s 19th-century City Hall, awash with Italian marble, is still a striking monument to aspirational can-do spirit, and the superb Titanic museum is a tribute to epic shipbuilding skills and a tragedy that still grips the world. Add to that a hugely hospitable city that is vigorously redefining itself after the Troubles and a flourishing food-and-drink scene that boasts a wealth of native talent and artisan producers. Alongside the traditional breads and Ulster Fry gargantuan breakfasts, there’s now top-class game, beef aged in Himalayan salt, handmade butter, heritage potatoes, Armagh apple juice, watermelon pickle preserves, organic smoked salmon and the most delicious yogurt made by an aristocratic Marchioness.

Throughout 2016 Belfast and the rest of Ulster will celebrate the best from the lush countryside, wild hills and clear waters of Northern Ireland. Let’s raise a glass. With enough Dark and Stormies down the hatch you’ll soon be talking the talk, even if you’re too banjaxed to walk the walk.

Eating in Belfast

Cod, fennel, black olives, mussels and sprouting broccoli at Ox in Belfast. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Cod, fennel, black olives, mussels and sprouting broccoli at Ox in Belfast. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Ox: The Michelin star gained last year by Belfast-born Stephen Toman and Brittany, France, native Alain Kerloc’h typifies the new-look city. A spare Scandinavian look informs the interior, and the exciting, seasonal dishes indicate the influence of Parisian superstar chef Alain Passard, who has autographed the kitchen wall in approval.

Deane: Restaurateur Michael Deane dominates the local scene with his collection of restaurants that range from the sophisticated Michelin-starred Eipic to the relaxed vibe of Deanes at Queens, near Queen’s University, where the vegetables may be served in outsized money-box ceramic pigs and the fries are triple-cooked.

The Bar and Grill: This is an informal grill-room offspring of fine-dining James Street South. Don’t miss Hannan’s Himalayan salt-aged steaks cooked on the Josper grill, plus baked Alaska for dessert!

Wolf and Devour Street Kitchen: The brand-new pitch for the funky mobile canteen on the riverside already has lines for its signature Wolf Burger made with Hannan’s heritage beef, grilled halloumi wraps and sweet potato fries.  The breeze may be a tad Baltic, as they say, but it sharpens the appetite for the impeccably sourced produce and spot-on dishes served in biodegradable packaging.

Drinking in Belfast

A cocktail made from ShortCross Gin. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

A cocktail made from ShortCross Gin. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

The Merchant HotelGinnaissance has hit Belfast big time, and one of the best is locally distilled ShortCross Gin, made with botanicals and spring water from their own estate. When it’s gin o’ clock, head for the cocktail bar of the five-star Merchant hotel, housed in the grandiose former headquarters of the Ulster Bank.

Duke of York: One of Belfast’s most famous pubs crammed with a museum-worthy collection of memorabilia, the place can get so packed you may end up supping your “bevvy” on the cobbled street strung with fairy lights outside. The old advertising signs and mirrors, great Guinness and Irish whiskeys, plus live music (Snow Patrol first played here) and brilliant atmosphere sum up the Belfast zest for the good life.

Harp Bar: In the sister bar to the Duke of York, also in the Cathedral Quarter, there is probably the world’s most extensive collection of Irish whiskeys on display, including rare bottles by distilleries long forgotten. Live music also pulls in the crowds.

The John Hewitt: Run by the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, this fine public house, named after the late poet and socialist, offers artisan craft brews, good food and free, live music. It has an unbeatable cultured and artsy atmosphere — plus a not-for-profit glow from the open coal fire.

The Crown Liquor Saloon: Probably the most famous pub in Belfast, this fabulously ornate Victorian gem is actually owned by the National Trust. The period gas lighting, enclosed “snugs,” or private booths, and ornate tiles, carvings and etched glass are wonderfully preserved, as are the original gunmetal plates for striking matches and the antique bell system. This is an unmissable pit stop.

The Spaniard: Famous for its wide range of rums, this tiny, packed bar is an iconoclastic home to Hispanic curiosities and a candlelit shrine of religious kitsch.

Shopping in Belfast

St. George’s Market: Producers and street food vendors come every Thursday through Sunday to the huge historic covered market. Among the best buys: fruit and vegetables, flowers, fish and great locally made fudge.

Sawers: Northern Ireland’s oldest deli is crammed with virtually every product known to man, and then some. Belfast’s rival to F&M stocks hibiscus flower syrup and Sicilian almonds along with Loch Neagh eel, innovative Suki teas, Ditty’s oatcakes and fabulous Fermanagh black bacon. They also sell sandwiches the size of doorstops.

Avoca: The Belfast branch of this gorgeous Irish lifestyle emporium does not disappoint with its range of household objects, kitchen wares, fresh and specialty foods, and excellent cafe and restaurant.

Main image: Harp Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

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A tasting of Blandy's Madeira wines. Note the difference in colors, depending on the grape variety used and the age of the wine. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

“Where are the vineyards?” I wondered aloud on a recent visit to Madeira, the small volcanic island belonging to Portugal, perched out in the Atlantic, about 400 miles off the coast of Morocco.

Wine has been the principal product of the island for more than 400 years. Its fame is such that you might reasonably expect on arrival to be greeted with wave upon wave of vitis vinifera, rather as you do when traveling through France’s Champagne region. On the contrary, what you mostly see planted on poios, centuries-old terraces stacked steeply up from the island’s coastal fringe, are verdant banana palms, their floppy green leaves rattled by the frequent winds that gust in off the Atlantic.

Hidden vineyards

Terraces planted with banana palms -- and a few vines -- above Camara de Lobos, Madeira. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Terraces planted with banana palms — and a few vines — above Camara de Lobos, Madeira. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

I did eventually spot some vines. The holdings are tiny and widely scattered, hanging on for dear life and threatened both by the bananas and the newly built houses and apartments that increasingly encroach on the available space. Trained in the traditional manner over wooden pergolas, the vines often have a crop of potatoes, cabbages, zucchini and beans planted at their feet to make full use of the scarce — and exceedingly fertile — ground.

Despite the near invisibility of its vineyards, Madeira’s wine remains one of the world’s leading fortified wines. Once highly fashionable and sought after, it was reputed to be George Washington’s favored tipple and was served at his presidential inauguration. The term “fortified” means the wine is bolstered by adding grape spirit, which raises its alcohol content (typically to 19% in the case of Madeira, as opposed to the usual 12% to 14% range for table wines), as well as giving it a longer life. Port, that other celebrated Portuguese fortified wine, gets a shot of grape spirit too, but there the similarity ends, because the grape varieties involved and — above all — the process employed in making Madeira differ in significant ways from those used in Port production.

A happy accident

Bottles of 1966 Madeira wine in Blandy's cellars. The grape variety (Bual), date of vintage and winemaker are stenciled in traditional style directly onto the bottles. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Bottles of 1966 Madeira wine in Blandy’s cellars. The grape variety (Bual), date of vintage and winemaker are stenciled in traditional style directly onto the bottles. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

The wine starts out life in the usual way, with the grapes picked in late summer, then crushed and fermented, and grape spirit added to arrest fermentation — so far, so familiar. From here, things start to get interesting. During its long journey to maturity, Madeira is exposed to the unlikely twin enemies of heat and air, to emerge not only unspoiled but with extraordinary added layers of flavor and complexity. As Richard Mayson puts it in his recently published book “Madeira: the Islands and Their Wines,” “Heat and air, both the sworn enemies of most wines and winemakers, conspire to turn madeira into one of the most enthralling of the world’s wines, as well as one of its most resilient.”

The discovery that wine could be heated and come to no harm — and even improved by it — was a happy accident. The island has always been strategically important for trans-Atlantic shipping, and over the centuries, countless vessels have paused here to restock with provisions before the long sea journey from Europe across the Atlantic to the Americas and beyond. Provisions always included casks of wine, which by the nature of things were exposed on board to great heat. When the ships berthed and the wine was found to be perfectly good — even better than when it departed — the shippers set about reproducing the same conditions in their cellars back home, placing the huge, wooden wine casks on the upper floors of their wineries to bask in the summer heat.

Worth the expense

Casks of Madeira wine maturing in the cellars of Blandy's, a leading Madeira producer. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Casks of Madeira wine maturing in the cellars of Blandy’s, a leading Madeira producer. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Nowadays, a faster (and cheaper) way to reproduce this step is to heat the wine artificially in large containers called estufas, but the finest Madeiras are still aged in wooden casks, heated only by the island’s year-round sunshine. This process, called the canteiro method, is lengthier and more gentle and gives the wines their characteristic, slightly caramelized, faintly smoky aromas with exotic hints of honey and dried fruits.

A premium bottle of Madeira is always expensive, because of the time and skill needed to nurse it to perfection. One consolation — and a considerable selling point — is that once the wines have survived the rigors of heating and oxidation, they are good to go for up to 100 years. Blandy’s, one of the top Madeira producers based in the capital, Funchal, still has a barrel of 1920 wine stored in its cellar, awaiting its moment.

Once bottled, Madeira can be opened and sampled, the cork replaced and the bottle stored upright in a dark place for weeks or months without the contents coming to any harm. “If ever there was a wine to take away with you to a desert island,” comments Mayson, “this is it.”

Today, the chief market for Madeira is France, followed by the island of Madeira itself. Portugal, surprisingly, consumes little Madeira, but the UK remains a big fan, with Japan, Germany and the U.S. not far behind. Check www.winesearcher.com for your nearest supplier.

Top Madeira producers (commonly known as “shippers”) include Blandy’s, Henriques & Henriques, Barbeito and H.M. Borges.

Main photo: A tasting of Blandy’s Madeira wines. Note the difference in colors, depending on the grape variety used and the age of the wine. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

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Harīsa. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Given how easy it is to make harīsa, the ubiquitous chile paste of North Africa, I’ve never had much use for those inferior tubes of the stuff. Harīsa is the most important condiment used in Algerian and Tunisian cooking, and you need to make this recipe and keep it in the refrigerator before attempting any other Algerian or Tunisian recipe you might have in my or others’ recipes.

It’s hard to believe that so essential a condiment could evolve only after the introduction of the New World capsicum after Columbus’ voyages. It’s thought that the chile entered North Africa by way of the Spanish presidios that dotted the coast in the 16th century or came up from West Africa overland from the Portuguese holdings there.

Harīsa comes from the Arabic word for “to break into pieces,” which is done by pounding hot chiles in a mortar, although today a food processor can be used. This famous hot chile paste is also found in the cooking of Libya, and even in western Sicily where cùscusu is made. In Tunisia it would be prepared fresh at home. The simplest recipe is merely a paste of red chile and salt that is covered in olive oil and stored.

Harīsa is sold in tubes by both Tunisian and French firms. The Tunisian one is better, but neither can compare to your own freshly made from this recipe.

I first became intrigued with making harīsa from a preparation made by Mouldi Hadiji, my Arabic teacher more than 30 years ago. I concocted this version, based on a Berber-style one I had in Djerba, from a recipe description given to me by a merchant in the market in Tunis, who unfortunately provided measurements that could last me a century (calling for 50 pounds of chile).

Tlitlu bi’l-Lahm (fresh pasta pieces with lamb in spicy harīsa sauce). Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Tlitlu bi’l-Lahm (fresh pasta pieces with lamb in spicy harīsa sauce). Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Some cooks also use mint, onions or olive oil in their harīsa. You also don’t have to use the exact dried chiles I call for, but at least one should be quite piquant.

Be careful when handling hot chiles, making sure that you do not put your fingers near your eyes, nose or mouth, or you will regret it. Wash your hands well with soap and water after handling chiles. After you make your first harīsa, with all the modern conveniences, I hope you can appreciate what exacting work this was, making it in the traditional mortar — 50 pounds of the stuff!

Harīsa

Prep time: 1 1/4 hours

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

2 ounces dried Guajillo chiles

2 ounces dried Anaheim chiles

5 garlic cloves, peeled

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground caraway seeds

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Extra virgin olive oil for topping off

Directions

1. Soak the chiles in tepid water to cover until softened, 1 hour. Drain and remove the stems and seeds. Place in a blender or food processor with the garlic, water and olive oil and process until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides.

2. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the caraway, coriander and salt. Store in a jar and top off, covering the surface of the paste with a layer of olive oil. Whenever the paste is used, you must always top off with olive oil making sure no paste is exposed to air, otherwise it will spoil.

Variation: To make a hot harīsa, use 4 ounces dried Guajillo chiles and 1/2 ounce dried de Arbol peppers.

Note: To make ṣālṣa al-harīsa, used as an accompaniment to grilled meats, stir together 2 teaspoons harīsa, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves.

Main photo: Harisa. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

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Freshly milled oil. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

It’s an old story — you’ve heard it before, and not just from me — but it’s coming around again. Predictably, just as U.S. specialty markets begin to trumpet the arrival of fresh new-harvest, extra virgin olive oil comes the warning that it ain’t what it seems.

According to journalist Tom Mueller, speaking on the popular CBS News program “60 Minutes,” an astonishing 80 percent of the extra virgin olive oil sold in the United States does not meet the standards for extra virgin.

That statement requires some clarification. To be characterized as extra virgin, legal parameters must be met. They are set by the International Olive Council, and they are liberal. The oil, for instance, must have only 0.8 percent free oleic fatty acid and a peroxide content of 20 milliequivalents, or meq.

But there’s more. To qualify as extra virgin, an oil must be free of defects, with perfect flavor and aroma. And that’s where a lot of extra virgin oil on sale in the U.S. falls down, usually because it is too old (Unlike wine, olive oil does not improve with age.) or has been exposed to damaging light, heat and/or atmosphere. The finest extra virgin will deteriorate very quickly. I know firsthand because once in Tuscany I deliberately exposed a glassful of extra virgin, milled just days earlier from my own olives. Within a week of exposure, it was unrecognizable, pale in color and with almost no flavor or aroma except for the slight development, as yet inchoate, of rancidity.

Much of the 80% of substandard extra virgin oil cited by Mueller (if indeed the figure is accurate, which I tend to doubt) was probably legally produced, bottled and shipped. But once it left the producer’s hands, all bets were off.

Buyer beware

An olive tree. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

An olive tree. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Let me give a disturbing example: In my local Whole Foods I bought a bottle of oil from a Sicilian producer whom I know well, one who makes his award-winning product with scrupulous care. And it shows: The oil has a robust flavor you associate with new oils made from barely mature olives and picked just 12 to 24 hours before pressing. Yet, the oil I purchased was pale yellow, indicating exposure to too much light, and it was unmistakably rancid, so much so I had to spit it out at the first taste.

So buyer beware, or caveat emptor, as they said back in Rome.

The conclusion of this somewhat misguided “60 Minutes” report was simple: The problem with Italian olive oil is a creation — like so many Italian problems — of the Mafia, a catch-all for everything wrong with Italy. And we Americans, who sometimes seem to fear the Mafia as much as we fear ISIS, certainly don’t want to give any support, financial or otherwise, to the dons. So should we all stop buying Italian olive oil?

Hang on a minute. If Italy is ground zero for olive oil fraud, the country is also recognized as ground zero for fraud protection, with not one but three national police forces responsible: the Carabinieri (like state police only national), the Guardia di Finanza (the tax police) and the Corpo Forestale, park rangers who also have the responsibility of investigating counterfeit foods and pursuing anti-Mafia activities. It was the Carabinieri in Turin last November who charged seven top olive oil companies with commercial fraud, among them Carapelli, Bertolli, Sasso and Coricelli. All were accused of selling as extra virgin, at extra virgin prices, oils that barely qualified as second-tier virgin, resulting in a 30% rip-off on the price.

Do the names sound familiar? They should. All these brands are in wide distribution outside Italy (as well as within), and especially in the U.S. through supermarkets and big-box stores. Although media have targeted the brands as “Italian,” in fact Carapelli, Sasso and Bertolli, which all began life a century or more ago as Italian family companies, are now owned by the Spanish multinational Deoleo. On its website, Deoleo promotes itself as “the world leader in the olive oil market.” That’s no stretch — Deoleo owns seven of the most widely sold olive oils in the world, including the abovementioned.

As frauds go, I have to confess, I don’t find this one all that shocking. Selling oil that barely reaches the cheap virgin qualification as more expensive extra virgin? It’s a bit like selling cheap toilet water as Chanel No. 5, and it’s tempting to fault consumers for their ignorance. If you can’t tell the difference between eau de toilette and a Chanel classic, it’s your problem, honey, not mine. Nonetheless, fraud is fraud. While this may be fairly entry-level fraud, it is still deceptive. And illegal. And possibly dangerous to the health of people who consume a great deal of what they believe is heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil.

The core of the problem is that, even in Italy and other regions known for producing fine oil, most consumers, including experienced chefs, have little or no idea what top-quality extra-virgin olive oil ought to taste like. Here’s a simple tip: It should leave your mouth feeling clean, not the least bit greasy, and it should have the fresh, herbal fragrance and flavor of just-cut grass. You’ve never actually tasted fresh-cut grass? Get out there behind the lawn mower and try it. It’s not going to kill you!) The flavor and aroma of fine, fresh olive oil can get a lot more subtle than that, and experienced tasters will detect nuances, from roasted nuts to citrus to green tomatoes and tomato leaves, but basically if you keep in mind the adjectives fresh, grassy, herbal, clean, you’ll be on the right track.

What to look for in olive oil

Quality olive oil abounds, if you know what to look for. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Quality olive oil abounds, if you know what to look for. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

A well-made olive oil will have a good balance of three basic characteristics: the fruity flavors of sound, healthy olives, and the bitterness and piquancy (pepperiness) that are indications of the presence of antioxidants that make olive oil the fat you want on your table for all its great health benefits. What should be avoided is oil that has a flat, tired flavor, that tastes of rancidity, that leaves your mouth feeling coated with fat or that tastes like a jar of commercial tapenade that was opened three weeks ago and got lost in the back of the refrigerator.

Fortunately, now is a perfect time to educate your palate with the outstanding flavors of fresh, well-made olive oil. From the Mediterranean — especially Italy — and from California, producers are rushing olio nuovo, new-harvest oil, to market. It is expensive, but worth investing in, if only to give you a firm base-line sense of what excellence is all about. Once you’ve tasted it, you will never again mistake bad oil for good.

Here are just a few I have tasted and liked. Please note these are not by any means the extent of fine extra virgin olive oils; these are specifically new oils that I have tasted recently.

From Gustiamo in New York:

Pianogrillo from Sicily, $38.25 for 500 milliliters.

Tratturello from Molise, $44.50 for 750 milliliters.

Rio Grifone, organic from Tuscany, $39.50 for 500 milliliters.

From Market Hall Foods in Oakland, California:

Séka Hills, top-ranked Californian oil, $18 for 250 milliliters.

Titone, award-winning Sicilian organic, $28 for 250 milliliters.

Olio Verde from Sicily, single cultivar, nocellara del Belice, $38 for 500 milliliters.

From Olio2go in Fairfax, Virginia:

Capezzana from Tuscany, $44.50 for 500 milliliters.

Frescobaldi from Tuscany, with the prestigious Laudemio seal, $32.95 for 250 milliliters.

Villa Zattopera from Sicily, single cultivar, tondo Iblea, $36.95 for 500 milliliters.

Direct from the producer, California Olive Ranch:

COR Limited Reserve, $19.99 for 500 milliliters.

Main photo: Freshly milled oil. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

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Green and yellow plantains at Carniceria Mimi in Canas, Costa Rica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

I was intimidated by plantains. Having eaten them in Latin American restaurants, I knew they were good when served with roast chicken, rice and beans. But seeing them in the market, I had no idea how to cook them. A trip to Costa Rica changed all that when a chef demonstrated how plantains are easy to prepare and delicious.

Like bananas, their sweet cousins, plantains are naturally fibrous and a good source of potassium.

Although they look like large bananas, they are not edible unless cooked. Primarily starchy, especially when green, plantains also have a stiff, bark-like peel. Delightfully easy to cook, plantains are used to create delicious side dishes.

Available all year round and grown primarily in the southern hemisphere, plantains are cooked in a great many ways — steamed, deep fried, sautéed, boiled, baked and grilled. The same fruit is prepared differently when it is green than when it is yellow or black. The first time I visited a Mexican market in Los Angeles, I noticed bunches of very large bananas with mottled yellow and black skin. I thought the blackened fruit was spoiled. In point of fact, when the peel turns yellow and then black, the starches in the fruit have begun to convert to sugars.

Plantains, yellow or black, will never be as sweet as a banana, but when cooked in this ripened state, they produce a deliciously caramelized side dish or dessert.

In his kitchen at Villa Buena Onda, an upscale boutique hotel on the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Provence, Chef Gabriel Navarette demonstrated in a cooking video how easy it is to prepare plantains. In fact, they are so easy to cook, now that I am home, I make them all the time.

Chef Gabriel Navarette with a plate of patacones. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Gabriel Navarette with a plate of patacones. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The only difficulty with cooking plantains is finding a market that sells them. Not available in supermarkets in many U.S. cities, markets serving the Spanish-speaking community will have plantains. Seek them out because besides selling plantains, the markets will also be a good source of mangoes, papayas, tomatillos, chayote, fresh chilies, Latin spices and a good selection of dried beans and rice.

Navarette demonstrated how to prepare plantains three ways. He stuffed green plantains with cheese and baked them in the oven. He flattened green plantains and fried them twice to make patacones, thick, crispy chips served with pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole or ceviche. And, he caramelized yellow plantains to serve alongside black beans and rice on the wonderful Costa Rican dish called casado, which always has a protein such as chicken, fish, pork or beef.

Villa Buena Onda, or VBO as it is known locally, is an intimate destination. With only eight rooms, the hotel fells like a private home with a personal chef. The price of the room includes all three meals. Navarette and his fellow chefs make each dish to order.

Navarette studied at Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, a prominent school training professionals in many fields. He worked in resort and hotel kitchens, moving up the ranks from server to line cook, then as a sous chef and finally as the head chef at VBO for the past eight years.

Cooked yellow plantains. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cooked yellow plantains. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

What attracted me to his food, as well as that of his cousin Diego Chavarria on the weekend and Rosa Balmaceda in the morning, was that each dish tasted home cooked but was plated in the most beautiful, five-star way.

Aided by César Allonso Carballo to translate, Navarette was happy to show me how to cook plantains. I was amazed at how easy they are to cook.

Cooking yellow plantains to use as a side dish or dessert is the essence of simplicity. Simply peel each plantain, heat a half-inch of safflower or corn oil in a carbon steel or cast iron pan over a medium flame, cut the plantain into rounds or in half lengthwise and then cut into 5-inch long sections, fry on either side until lightly browned, drain on paper towels and serve. All that can be done in five to eight minutes and the result is delicious.

The crisp and savory patacones are slightly more complicated to prepare but not much more so.

Patacones from the kitchen of Villa Buena Onda

Yellow or black plantains should not be used to make patacones because they are too soft.

In the restaurant, Navarette uses a deep fryer to cook plantains. That is fast and easy so he can keep up with the orders, but I discovered at home that by using a carbon steel pan I was able to achieve the same result using less oil with an easier clean up.

The oil may be reused by straining out cooked bits and storing in a refrigerated, air-tight container.

Enjoy the patacones with an ice-cold beer and, as the Costa Ricans say, Pura vida! Life is good because everything is OK.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 green plantains, washed

1 cup corn or safflower oil

Sea salt and black pepper to taste (optional)

Directions

1. Cut the ends off each green plantain. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut along the length of the tough peel being careful not to cut the flesh of the plantain. Pry off the peel and discard.

2. Preheat oil in a deep fryer to 350 F or a half-inch of oil in a large sauté pan over a medium flame.

3. Cut each plantain into 5 or 6 equal sized rounds.

4. Place the rounds into the deep fryer for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. In the sauté pan, turn frequently for even cooking, which should take about 5 to 8 minutes.

5. Remove, drain on paper towels and allow to cool.

6. Prepare one round at a time. Put the round on a prep surface. Place a sturdy plate on top of the round. Press firmly in the middle of the plate until the plantain round flattens, then do all the other rounds.

7. Place the flattened plantains back into the deep fryer for 2 minutes, or 4 minutes in the oil in a sauté pan as before. Turn as necessary in order to cook until lightly browned on all sides.

8. Remove from the oil, place on paper towels to drain and cool.

9. Season with sea salt and black pepper (optional).

10. Serve at room temperature with sides of black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream or ceviche or all four so guests can mix and match.

Main photo: Green and yellow plantains at Carniceria Mimi in Canas, Costa Rica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Chickpeas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

As the new year emerges, the world welcomes a fresh start, usually with hopes of a new beginning with some luck thrown into the mix. The practice of welcoming a new cycle in the calendar is probably one of the most universal holiday celebrations in the world, and it is often celebrated by eating legumes for luck. I love the idea of a new start as much as I love the seasons, and over the years I have relished the idea of welcoming the new year with simplicity and good, wholesome food.

Legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, are considered to be symbolic of money, and thus considered a harbinger of prosperity and good luck in the new year. Several of them resemble coins, and the fact that they swell up when soaked in water also extends the analogy that the prosperity grows with time.

Traditions vary in different parts of the world. In Italy there is a preference for sausages with green lentils eaten just after midnight. In a similar vein, in Germany they ring in the new year with split peas, while in Japan lucky foods eaten during the first three days of the year include sweet black beans. Closer to home in the southern United States, it’s traditional to eat black-eyed peas in a dish called Hopping John. When the dish is served with collard greens, the odds of prosperity are increased, because green symbolizes the color of money.

On an Indian table, legumes are a cornerstone ingredient, soul food actually, something that we celebrate on days good and bad, so the idea of a bowl of legumes served any which way easily translates to good luck for me.

The new year often comes with resolutions for eating healthy, and legumes are healthy and readily available during the winter months when other things are somewhat lean. The cornucopia of red, yellow, green and white lentils, along with the dozens of red, white and black beans, ensure we have plenty of options to pick from at the beginning of the year and beyond.

Legumes are rich in protein and high in fiber and are lower in calories than most meat-based sources of protein, offering a healthy and filling option for your plates and palates. While most legumes will cook down to soft and satisfying goodness, they have a whole variety of flavors, tastes and textures to ensure your palate is interesting and innovative.

Most beans and complex lentils can be cooked ahead of time in a slow cooker for four hours or for 20 minutes in a pressure cooker. Cook legumes with water and a little salt and use in your recipe as needed. Cooked beans and lentils can be stored in your refrigerator for up to five days or alternately place them in a zip-lock bag and freeze to use as needed.

The water the beans are cooked in is actually fairly tasty and good for you and can be added to soups and stews. On any given week, I have a few of these bags handy and ready to be added into flavorful dishes, assuring me full-flavored stews without the trappings of extra sodium and preservatives.

For your new year, I offer you two versions of classic dishes the way we enjoy them in my household and a recipe for collard greens to ensure we are in the green for the coming year.

Hopping John (Rice Cooked With Black-Eyed Peas)

Hoppin John. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Hoppin John. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

For my recipe for this Southern dish, I have actually ditched all meat-based products to create a dish that is flavorful and delicate. If served with love and affection, it will indeed convince you that this year you shall be lucky with or without money. My secret ingredient is that I do, in fact, cook my black-eyed peas from scratch and save some of the simmering liquid to use for cooking my rice dish. The dish resembles a pilaf, which probably takes it closer to the Senegalese roots of this traditional dish.

Of course, to maximize the green, I garnish my variation of Hopping John with finely chopped green onions. New Year’s or otherwise, add this dish to your table and you are bound to feel well-nourished on a cold day. For a quick visual of how to make this dish, watch this video.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium-sized onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 or 2 ribs of celery, finely chopped

1 or 2 carrots, diced

1 cup white rice (I used basmati rice, which will give this recipe a very delicate and elegant finish.)

2 1/2 cups stock or water

1 cup cooked black-eyed peas

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (optional)

Chopped green onions for garnish

Directions

  1. In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, add the olive oil and butter and heat until the butter is melted.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens considerably and begins to turn pale golden.
  3. Add the celery and carrot and stir well.
  4. Stir in the rice and mix well. Add the stock or the water and cup of black-eyed peas.
  5. Add the salt and the pepper and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook the rice for 18 minutes. Note: This time works for basmati rice; for other rice varieties allow a few more minutes. Essentially the rice should be soft and all the water should be absorbed.
  6. Let the rice rest for about 10 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff. Sprinkle with the red wine vinegar if using and garnish with the green onions if using.

Note: If you are cooking the black-eyed peas yourself, save the cooking liquid and use it for the rice, in lieu of the stock or water.

Pasta With Spicy Sausage and Chickpeas

This southern Italian dish is often made with brown lentils and spicy Italian sausage and often enjoyed on New Year’s Day. I make this with chickpeas and add lots of fresh basil to provide a fresh touch of brightness. Since we like our flavors spicy, I use andouille chicken or turkey sausage and add in some freshly ground cumin and fennel. For a quick visual on how to make this dish, watch this video.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 to 30 minutes

Total time: 35 to 40 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small red onion, very finely diced

1 1/2 cup of crushed red tomatoes or tomato sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

3/4 cup of cooked chickpeas

1 cup of chopped spicy sausage (Italian or andouille)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground fennel

1 1/2 cups pasta cooked until al dente (a small shape such as a pipette or ditalini)

2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped basil

Freshly grated Parmesan to finish

Directions

  1. Heat the oil and add the minced garlic and cook until the garlic is pale golden. Add in the onions and sauté until soft and wilted (about 4 to 5 minutes).
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes and the sugar with about 1/2 cup of water.
  3. Stir in the salt and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add the chickpeas, sausage cumin and fennel and cook through for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the pasta and mix well.
  6. Turn off the heat, garnish with the chopped basil and Parmesan and serve.

Collard Green and Roasted Root Vegetable Slaw

Collard Green and Roasted Root Vegetable Slaw. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Collard Green and Roasted Root Vegetable Slaw. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

This dish is a beautiful medley of root vegetables, tossed with very finely chopped collard greens tossed in an assertive Asian-inspired marinade.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

For the roasted vegetables:

2 medium-sized turnips
3 medium-sized carrots
4 small to medium parsnips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons maple syrup (I have a strong preference for Crown Maple Syrup)
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

For the greens and the remaining dressing:
1 medium-sized bunch of collard greens
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Sesame seeds for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Peel the turnips, carrots, parsnips and julienne into thin strips.
  3. Place the vegetables in a roasting pan. In a small bowl mix the olive oil, ginger, maple syrup and the tamari, and drizzle the vegetables with the mixture.
  4. Roast the vegetables for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, stack the collard leaves over each other and thinly slice the leaves, to create a chiffonade. Place in a large bowl.
  6. Add in the roasted vegetables, reserving the pan juices.
  7. Pour the pan juices into a mixing bowl, add in the sesame oil, cayenne pepper, olive oil and vinegar and mix well.
  8. Add the dressing to the collard and vegetable mixture and toss lightly. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve.

Main photo: Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Chickpeas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

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In Provence, Christmastime comes to an official close on Feb. 2. This is not just maddening French bureaucracy but a recognition that Candlemas Day denotes the feast of the purification of the virgin and the beautiful Provençal Nativity scenes made from clay figurines called santons are to be put away for another year.

It will mark the end of several weeks of festivities starting Dec. 4, the feast day of St. Barbara, when everyone plants a few seeds of wheat or lentils on a bed of damp moss. Gradually, these seeds turn into tufts of green, which will be used to decorate the festive tables over the coming weeks — although the celebrations may be a bit muted if the seeds have failed to sprout. This is not a good sign, but perhaps an excuse for an extra glass of elegant Chateau Simone white or rosé or a licorice-based Ricard from Marseille.

Christmas traditions have diminished in the south of France much as they have elsewhere as time moves on. This is not an indication of any less enjoyment, but an evolution to suit more modern mores. The famous gros souper (grand supper) used to be eaten before Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, followed by the réveillon, the “awakening” supper, on return. For many families, however, this has merged into the meal taken on Christmas Day around a table decorated with holly and roses of Jericho, white cloths and candles.

The gros souper was traditionally a meatless yet hearty meal, hence its alternate name of souper maigre (lean supper); it remains essentially simple, fresh and abundant. As Gilles Conchy, owner of Provence Gourmet cookery school, explained at his country house near Aix-en-Provence, there is no single set menu and meals are adapted to regional produce and local availability.

In inland Provence particularly, vegetables play a major role: spinach with garlic and parsley, chard and cardoon, raw celery with anchoiade, olive tapenade, the small but sweet vibrant orange-bronze potimarrons (pumpkins) of the South mashed with black truffle. As elsewhere in France, festive meals frequently begin with oysters and foie gras — in Conchy’s case, violet artichokes with pine nuts, tomatoes and fresh goose foie gras — but thereafter it may include a light garlic and herb broth, Sisteron lamb with herb butter, a chestnut-stuffed turkey or goose, capon, guinea fowl, salt cod with aïoli or a fish bourride, and Banon cheese. The poet of Provence, Frédéric Mistal, recalled a gros souper at the turn of the 19th century that also included snails and gurnard with olives.

Sweet treats for the holidays

Treize Desserts for Christmas in Provence, France. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Treize Desserts for Christmas in Provence, France. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Thirteen loaves of bread were once offered to symbolize Jesus and the apostles. Today that reference is incarnated in the Treize Desserts, the plate of 13 desserts. These are not, as I discovered to the relief of my waistline, a succession of creamy concoctions, but a ritual lineup of delicious things to nibble, most famously four types of nuts and dried fruit or mendicants to represent the Catholic religious orders that require vows of poverty.

After that, it’s a question of region, town or individual family, but items generally include a flat cake made with olive oil (around Aix they add anise seeds and orange-flower water), black and white nougat flavored with lavender honey and Provençal almonds, clementines, candied fruit, quince paste, dates, prunes, green melon, white grapes and the lozenge-shaped almond Calissons d’Aix sweetmeats. According to tradition, guests must sample a little of each dessert with some sweet vin cuit prepared in the autumn.

The appearance of the three wise men on Epiphany is celebrated with a galette des rois (cake of the Magi), as it is in the rest of France. The Provençal version, however, is quite different from the traditional puff pastry one and takes the shape of a crown-shaped brioche encrusted with candied fruits symbolizing the jewels of the Magi.

In Marseille, Candlemas celebrations are dazzling — their roots are in ancient pagan rites of preparation for the end of winter. The blessing of the navettes takes the edible form of biscuits in the shape of the rowing boat that reputedly brought the Saint Maries to the shores of Provence.

Winter in Provence is not just luminous blue skies, Cezanne landscapes and the scent of wild herbs; it is also animated Christmas markets, Nativity scenes, santon fairs, Mass in the ancient Provençal language and time-honored pastoral plays, processions and ceremonies. Soon after Candlemas, the first of the almond trees will bloom — once, Aix was the celebrated center of the almond trade. With this, the cycle of the year begins again in this most magical of French provinces.

Rack of Lamb With Pink Fir Apple Potatoes

Rack of lamb. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Rack of lamb. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Recipe courtesy of Gilles Conchy of Provence Gourmet.

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

2 racks of lambs of 6 chops each (about 3 1/2 pounds)

Half a stick of unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Provençal dried herbs (thyme, rosemary and savory) to taste

2 pounds of small pink fir apple potatoes, unpeeled

12 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Cover the lamb with slightly softened butter into which you have mixed salt, pepper and herbs. Place in an oven-safe dish.

2. In a bowl, mix the rinsed but unpeeled potatoes with more herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil and the unpeeled garlic cloves. Arrange these around the sides of the lamb.

3. Cook at 375 F for 40 minutes.

4. Remove the lamb from the oven and slice the chops from the rack. They should be slightly pink on the inside. If not cooked enough, put the chops back in the dish and in the oven for a couple of minutes.

5. Serve the lamb with the potatoes.

Mashed Potimarron With Truffles

Mashed Potimarron With Truffles. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Mashed Potimarron With Truffles is shown with tapenade canapés. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Yield: Makes 8 servings.

Ingredients

2 medium-size potimarron (pumpkins)

5 teaspoons heavy cream

1/3 to 1/2 ounce black truffle

Salt and pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese to taste

Directions

1. Open the potimarron and remove the seeds. Peeling is optional, but it is advised if you can’t get Provençal pumpkins.

2. Cut potimarron into large diced chunks.

3. Steam for 20 minutes.

4. Once steamed, mash the potimarron with the cream, grated truffle, salt and pepper.

5. Turn into an oven dish, top with a little grated parmesan cheese and broil till it browns a little.

Cardoons With Anchovies

Yield: Makes 6 servings.

Ingredients

1 cardoon, about 3 1/2 pounds (Choose the curvy, white variety.)

Juice from 1 lemon

1 handful plus 6 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

12 anchovy fillets

4 cups of milk, gently heated

Grated Swiss cheese

Directions

1. Separate the cardoons into branches. With a knife, remove the “threads” on both sides of each branch.

2. Rinse and cut into 1 1/2-inch slices.

3. Drop the cardoon pieces into a pot of water acidulated with lemon juice as you go.

4. Heat another large pot of salted water and stir in a handful of flour. When it boils, drain the cardoons from the first pot, add to the boiling water and cook for an hour.

5. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil, onion, garlic and anchovies over medium heat. Drain the cardoons and add to the pan. Turn the heat to low.

6. Combine the remaining flour and the milk in a saucepan and stir until it thickens.

7. Place the sauce in an oven dish with the cardoons. Top with a little Swiss cheese and broil until it browns a little.

Bourride (Fish Stew With Aïoli)

Bourride made with monkfish. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Bourride made with monkfish. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

For the fish stock:

Salt and pepper to taste

1 fish head

1 onion

2 leeks

1 celery branch

7 ounces white wine

For the aïoli:

2 cloves of garlic

1 egg yolk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

4 ounces olive oil

4 ounces sunflower oil

1 soup spoon lemon juice

For the bourride:

1 ounce olive oil

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 to 3 branches of dried fennel

1 bay leaf

Orange peel (a coin’s worth)

4 large potatoes, sliced a quarter of an inch thick

Salt and pepper to taste

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

4 slices white fish (conger eel, cod, angler fish, whiting or bass, for example)

Salt and pepper to taste

4 slices of grilled bread

Directions

For the fish stock:

1. In a saucepan, combine 3 1/2 pints of water, salt, pepper, the fish head, onion, leeks and celery and slowly bring to a boil.

2. Skim off the top layer, then lower the heat.

3. Add the wine and simmer for 30 minutes (no more). Check the stock occasionally while cooking and skim if necessary.

4. Filter the stock through a colander.

For the aïoli:

1. Peel and crush the garlic, then combine the garlic paste with one egg yolk, mustard, salt and pepper.

2. Mix the oils and start to add the garlic mixture drop by drop very slowly, whisking all the while. This process is delicate, so never stop whisking and only when your aïoli starts to come together can you start to dribble in the oil a little faster.

3. About halfway through the process, add the lemon juice.

4. Set aside in the refrigerator.

For the bourride:

1. In a cooking pot, layer the ingredients in the following order: the thinly sliced onion, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the fennel branches, the bay leaf, the orange peel, the sliced potatoes, salt and pepper.

2. Brown these ingredients 2 to 3 minutes on high heat without stirring. (Shake your pot a little so the onions do not burn.)

3. Add enough warm fish stock to barely cover the ingredients. Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes at medium heat.

4. Place the slices of fish on top and as much stock as is needed to cover the fish.

5. Cover the pot and cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Check to make sure the fish and potatoes are cooked, then remove from the heat.

6. Soak the grilled bread in fish stock and set aside.

7. Remove 2 tablespoons of aïoli for each serving and set aside.

8. Put the remaining aïoli in the cooking pot, add 2 egg yolks and 9 ounces of fish stock. Mix over very low heat and keep stirring until the sauce thickens.

9. Pour the sauce on the soaked bread. Place a slice in each serving dish and top with the fish and potatoes. Use the reserved aïoli as a mayonnaise and offer a little extra fish stock for those who want extra moisture.

Main image: A Provençal Nativity scene made from clay figurines called santons. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

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Anglo–Indian Shepherd’s Pie is a traditional holiday dish for the author. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

I am always amused when I hear of Diwali or other such festivals being referred to as the Indian Christmas. After all, in my mind Christmas is the Indian Christmas.

As a child, I looked forward to being invited for Christmas with my friends for whom this was a family festival. So many distinct recipes are a part of the Indian Christmas tradition — rum-laced moist fruitcakes, rose cookies, a roasted rack of goat and many others. As with other traditions, holidays always have a regional twist and take the flavors of the regional origins of the family.

One of my fondest Christmases was one spent with my friend Ruth’s family, maybe now almost three decades ago. It was the first time I was allowed to spend two days without my parents at a friend’s house, and the spirit was nothing like I had ever seen. Their small house was filled with family from various parts of India, mostly from southern India, where the family had its roots. They all congregated in Ruth’s house, as her father was the oldest of the siblings and therefore had the honor of hosting the holiday. Tinsel and shiny wrappers were all around as everyone quickly and furiously set about decorating the house.

Fond memories of Christmas in the kitchen

My attention, of course, strayed to the kitchen. Even as a child, it was always about the kitchen for me. The sweet scents of coconut oil and citrusy curry leaves tantalized my spirits with aromas so amazing and yet so distinct from my mother’s kitchen. That is the magic of an Indian kitchen — every cook uses the same collection of spices so differently.

Ruth’s aunt, whom she called Appachi, was amused to see my interest in the food, and she started explaining some of her foods and techniques to me, and I was hooked.

The tiny kitchen was filled with an assortment of dishes, all neatly arranged in copper serving spots. She proudly lifted the lid of a pot that had been slow cooking for the whole afternoon to reveal a whole duck, and seeing the small, diminutive bird, I initially wondered what the fuss was about.

She fried an assortment of golden-spiced potatoes in coconut oil and carefully placed the duck in the center of large china serving plate, something she proudly told me was a wedding gift she had received more 20 years ago — something she often brought along for Christmas, for serving her signature duck. Around the duck went the crisp, golden potatoes, and she hoisted and brought in the gorgeous dish just in time to place at the center of the table.

She was greeted with huge sighs of appreciation by the living room crowd, who had completed their decor, filling the room with red and silver glitter. Lights twinkled and ornaments shone on a large faux Christmas tree.

Amid this magical spirit, we sat and feasted, listening to stories and talking the night away.

Over the years, I have carried memories of the duck and fried potatoes, later joined by another wholesome recipe, for an Indian version of shepherd’s pie. I have re-created them and share with you for a Christmas feast with an Indian touch.

Spicy Roast Garlic and Curry Leaf Duck

A platter of carved Spicy Roast Garlic and Curry Leaf Duck, with a side of roasted potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

A platter of carved Spicy Roast Garlic and Curry Leaf Duck, with a side of roasted potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: About 10 minutes, plus 24 to 48 hours to marinate

Cook time: 3 1/2 to 4 hours

Total time: About two days.

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

1 medium-sized red onion

30 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon freshly ground ginger

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 sprigs of curry leaves

1 medium-sized duck (about 3 to 4 pounds)

Directions

1. Place the onion, half the garlic, ginger, peppercorns, lime juice, salt and 2 springs of curry leaves in a blender and blend until smooth.

2. Carefully loosen the duck skin and spread the mixture all over, as well as into the cracks and crevices. Refrigerate the duck for 1 or 2 days.

3. Preheat oven to 325 F and cook the duck, breast side down, for about 1 hour. After cooking, the duck should have released a fair amount of fat.

4. Reserve about 3 tablespoons of the duck fat, turn the duck and baste thoroughly with the fat.

5. Cover the duck with foil and cook for 2 more hours.

6. Remove the foil, baste the duck again, then dot it with the remaining garlic and curry spring.

7. Increase the heat to 375 F and cook the duck for another 45 minutes, or until nice and crisp.

8. Carve the duck and serve with roasted potatoes.

Turmeric, Thyme and Bay Leaf Roasted Potatoes

Turmeric, Thyme and Bay Leaf Roasted Potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Turmeric, Thyme and Bay Leaf Roasted Potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

A beautiful, simple and very flavorful rendition of roasted potatoes, this makes a perfect side dish for almost any meal. If you are making this with my roast duck recipe, add in the reserved duck fat; if not, simply add in another tablespoon of coconut oil.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes (mostly unattended)

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

15 to 20 small red-skinned baby organic potatoes (or use a multicolored medley)

2 tablespoon coconut oil

2 tablespoons reserved duck fat (from recipe above) or 1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme, plus more to garnish

2 to 3 bay leaves

Fresh lime juice to finish

Directions

1. Cut the potatoes in half and toss with the coconut oil, duck fat, salt, ground black pepper, turmeric, thyme and bay leaves.

2. Place in a 350 F oven and cook for about 40 minutes.

3. Remove from the oven and garnish with extra thyme and sprinkle with fresh lime juice to finish.

Anglo-Indian Shepherd’s Pie

Anglo–Indian Shepherd’s Pie. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Anglo-Indian Shepherd’s Pie. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

When I first tasted this dish, I was unaware of its more traditional cousin, the cottage or shepherd’s pie; it had simply been presented to me as pie. I fell in love with this deep, seductive version, which offers layers of pure indulgence and flavor. The flavorful mashed potato topping, scented with garlic and rosemary, adds to the magic of this deep and flavorful dish.

My filling has loads of vegetables and can very easily be transformed into a vegetarian dish by swapping the meat for finely diced shitake mushrooms.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

For the mashed potato topping:

4 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic

4 tablespoons sour cream or Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon freshly minced rosemary

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup broth or low-fat milk

Chopped chives

For the filling:

2 tablespoons oil

2 medium-sized onions, diced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 large stick cinnamon

6 to 8 cloves

3 to 4 pods cardamoms

1 medium-sized sweet potato, diced

2 medium-sized carrots, diced

1 or 2 golden beets, diced

1 cup ground turkey or lamb

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 cup tomato sauce

1 cup port wine

1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Directions

1. Cut the potatoes in half and boil in plenty of salted water until they are soft but not mushy. Cool and peel the potatoes and place in a mixing bowl.

2. Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan and add in the minced garlic and cook until fragrant.

3. Pour the seasoned oil over the potatoes, then mash.

4. Mix in the sour cream or yogurt, rosemary, parmesan cheese and broth and mix in until smooth. Set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 350 F.

6. Heat the oil for the filling and add in the onions and ginger and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until soft and wilted.

7. Place the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom in a spice bag if desired and combine with the sweet potato, beets, ground turkey or lamb and salt. Mix well and cook until the meat is no longer pink.

8. Add in the tomato sauce, port wine and cayenne pepper and cook for 15 minutes, or until the sauce is about half the original volume.

9. Stir in the all-purpose flour to thicken further.

10. Pour this mixture into a casserole dish (I find a loaf pan works well) and top with the mashed potatoes.

11. Bake for 30 minutes or until the topping is beginning to turn golden.

12. Remove from the oven, garnish with chives and serve.

Main image: Anglo-Indian Shepherd’s Pie is a traditional holiday dish for the author. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

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