Somali Yellow Rice and Braised Goat

When I worked as an interpreter, one of the best things about it was eating my coworkers’ food. That’s how I discovered many dishes from all over the world – and how I put on many unwanted pounds…but that’s a story for a different blog. This post is dedicated to one of my favorite people – Layla Guled – and her mouth-watering braised goat and yellow rice.

After asking Layla for the recipe and getting the all-too-common “I don’t have a recipe,” I asked her to let me watch her make it.

We met in my kitchen a couple of Fridays ago. It was 6 p.m. and we were just getting started. I knew it was going to be a late night. She brought some kebabs from Cheema’s for an appetizer and made Sambusas (which I will include in a future post). Because Layla is Muslim and doesn’t drink alcohol, I drank for the two of us. And because the goat took so long to cook, I was plastered by the time we sat down for dinner. Continue reading

Making Spanakopita by Heart

Christos Floros is 89, has a vegetable garden, a foul mouth, and makes great Greek food. He’s a man after my own heart. He lives down the street from me in an old house with a gated front yard, where, for the past few years, I’ve seen him tend to his vegetables, grapevines, apple tree, and flowers. The other day I asked him if he liked to cook, and he said, “are you kidding, I’ve owned four restaurants.”

“Will you teach me to make something Greek?” I asked.

“Yes. What do you like?”

“Spanakopita,” I said, resolutely.

“Come in then.”

“Now?”

“Yes, now.” He then paused and added, “but there’s one rule. You cannot write anything down. You must just use your brain to remember.”

I was a little taken aback by this rule; it seemed so random. But as our conversation over the next couple of hours would reveal, learning by watching and trusting yourself to be capable of excelling at anything has been the secret to Christos’s success. Continue reading

Peruvian Quinoa Soup

You should have seen my face a couple of months ago when my boss told me I had to travel to Peru for work. It was a happy face – too happy, perhaps. It was the face of someone who won the lottery. Why? Because I love Peruvian food. And because I’m a food hedonist. And that’s what Peruvian food is to me: pleasure, joy, and excitement. So I added a few personal days to the trip.

I started out at a hostel in Cusco. On the first morning at breakfast, I waited until every guest had left and approached the chef. Her name is Doris, and she taught me how to make quinoa soup. Continue reading

The Power of the Pupusa

It’s hard to say pupusa with a straight face. It’s like saying pupu platter without giggling a little. But funny words notwithstanding, this tasty soft tortilla stuffed with cheese and pork and served with pickled cabbage and tomato sauce is an explosion of flavor. It’s got great texture. It melts in your mouth. And it’s a lot of work to make. But the experience justifies the labor that goes into preparing this typical Salvadoran dish.

Ever since I ate my first pupusa in Somerville almost 20 years ago, I’ve wanted to learn how to make the real thing from a Salvadoran cook. My opportunity came just a few months ago, when my coworker José told me that his Salvadoran wife Janneth makes the best pupusas. So I asked him to have me over for dinner. Continue reading

Parmjit’s Secret Vegetable Pakoras

Sometimes when I interview people for this blog, I get so immersed in their stories that I forget to think about what recipe I want them to share with me. That happened again a few weeks ago, when I was sipping chai with Punjab Palace owner Parmjit Singh and he asked me what I wanted to cook. I couldn’t think of anything fast enough, so he got up from his chair and told me to follow him into the kitchen. The moment I walked in and smelled the pakoras frying, I knew what I wanted. Continue reading

Nepal’s Best Exports: Ambikaji and Her Momos

If you’ve never tried Nepalese food, you’re missing out. So do yourself a favor and try a momo – or a “Nepalese empanada,” as I now call it – a dumpling with a variety of delicious fillings, often vegetables or minced meat, that can be steamed or stir-fried and is often served with spicy dipping sauces.

Sound good? I learned to make momos from a Nepalese lady who is a maverick in the kitchen. Her name is Ambika (but I respectfully call her Ambikaji), and she makes the most mouth-watering, velvety momos you’ll ever try. Here’s the best part: she didn’t just share a recipe with me; she showed me how to make them in person. Continue reading

My Love for Eggplant Realized

The eggplant has a devout group of followers, and I’m happy to count myself among them. I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember – from the vinegar pickled ones my grandmother used to make during season, to the crispy and tangy eggplant parm I request every time I visit Mom. I love this vegetable in all its forms. So, when on a recent trip to India I tasted Achari Baingan for the first time, I was immediately smitten. I asked to meet the chef. Continue reading