Just like those shows where one has to make a recipe based on unknown ingredients, cooking at home during the time of COVID, is like. I had forgotten how creative cooking really can be. At the start of the ‘stay home’ time, I organized my food by expiration date. I have been eating it in that order, sort of (sometimes instant noodle is just the fastest way to get some food made). But, as my local kiosk, bodega, has a daily supply of onions, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, and ready made meals, some days, I’ve made brunch (eggs, potatoes, and toast, or French toast with home fries).
Many years ago, people asked me to write a cookbook. I don’t like measurements and have never really measured except when baking. I include here a basic recipe for spinach Parmesan dip. It’s cooking without a recipe but try it! For measurements, I would just go by eye (or gut!). Or google it (I did not invent this recipe).
Spinach (chop it and make sure to squeeze the liquid out of it)
Add garlic, cayenne, chili, paprika, pepper to taste.
Mix it all and bake in oven until golden brown.
For those who live in the U.S., these are all ingredients that they most likely have at home.
When done, place in good north light and photograph in an artsy manner before eating.
A classic potato dish in Lima is “causa” which translates as the “cause” or fight. But, it can also mean “buddy.” I took some photos while a buddy of mine and her mom made “artisanal” causa… as in homemade (which is one of the points that mega-phone of Peruvian cuisine, Gaston Acurio champions, although you can follow his recipe here). It took them more than three hours. Here is the recipe (sort of) as the grandma making the dish doesn’t use measurements (hence the artsy part of this) and it took so long that I went off to take a nap.
4 large chicken breasts
24 large Peruvian Yellow potatoes
a cup of celery
a large carrot
2 white onions
yellow Peruvian chili paste
salt & pepper
pitted black olives
Cook the chicken in water with chopped onion, celery, and carrot, and a pinch of salt (large pieces are fine). Boil until chicken breasts are cooked (40 minutes). Pull out chicken breasts and let cool.
Boil yellow potatoes. When boiled, drain and peel as soon as you can as the peel is easier to remove when the potato is hot.
Remove the strings off the celery and chop very fine.
Chop half a white onion very fine.
Chop/pull the cooked chicken breast.
Mix the chicken meat with mayonnaise, salt, pepper, onions, and celery.
Crush by hand the cooked and peeled potatoes. Crush until they are smooth and have a creamy texture. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, lime juice, and chili paste. Keep tasting it until it tastes right.
In a large lasagna pan (or use a glass, whatever), build your causa. Bottom layer is potato, then the chicken salad, then avocado, then tomato, and then another layer of potato. Use a fork to make a design on the top and decorate with parsley, red pepper slivers, and black olives. Eat straight away or keep in fridge until it “settles” and gets even tastier.
There are other types of causa with crab, shrimp, egg, but chicken salad is typical in Lima. The Lima thing to do is to eat this as an appetizer and then follow with “aji de gallina” which is rice with stewed chicken, another classic dish from Peru.
Of all the places I’ve been in the last year, I’d say that visiting small town Alaska was the most exotic place by far. Even the language was foreign to me. Take for example, the phrase, “We will jar silvers.” I rarely ever hear jar used as a verb and even more rarely hear silver used in the plural.
It turned out to be simple. The semi-dried silver-bellied salmon needed to be pickled for the long Alaskan winter. And they were. My contribution was to photograph the process. Seven hours later, I had the opportunity to taste the pickled salmon. Pickling takes much longer than I expected. A pressure cooker has never been so closely watched!
As I said, one of the most unusual experiences of the last year.
Thanks to Paloquemao market, I’m able to find “Asian vegetables” to make Asian food. This includes kimchi.
In Dhaka, I organized Korean cooking lessons and it was possible to buy Korean goods at the Korean mart in Dhaka (and I had my special Korean place in Dhaka to supply me). In Bogota there is no Korean supermarket with ready-to-eat small dishes (other than Maki Roll restaurant which has a few items for sale). Also, I haven’t found my kimchi source (Casa de Coreana‘s is the best in Bogota, in my opinion), so I decided that I would have to make it myself.
The recipe is easy to find on the Internet (Maangchi is one of favorite) and I used her easy recipe involving fish sauce. I made it and it was delicious!
As I am no longer in Bangladesh, I cannot afford a personal chef, so I took a cooking class, which is the next best thing. There is nothing like cooking with a world class chef to remind you of how superb food should taste. Jan Van Haute of Haute Saison Catering is Belgian, but this particular cooking class was in Portuguese food. The cooking class was at a private residence of an expat/international type in DC which was fitting as Jan has a fancy curriculum vitae (he was the Belgium Ambassador’s chef, he cooked for the Belgium royal family, won prizes, worked in Michelin starred restaurants… Despite this, he’s extremely laid back and down to earth — and no, he did not pay me to endorse him!).
Our cooking class was a small group of five and it cost $60 per person. For that we got a lovely setting, three course menu, wine, and food to take home. The cooking class was not a regimented class with chopping exercises, and for those of us (ehem, me) who wanted to take photos and drink wine, no chopping was expected of us. Just my sort of class!
Here’s what we made:
“Pão de queijo” or Portuguese Brazilian cheese bread
“Salada de Bacalhau a Grao-de-bico” or salt cod, chickpea, and egg salad
Octopus rice stew
“Pastal de nata” or Portuguese egg custard tart
First we made cheese bread (actually, first we had a glass of wine), which reminded me of the Colombian “pandebono.” While these were in the oven, we made the salt cod chick pea salad. Then we sat down to eat these while the octopus cooked. Then we returned to the kitchen for to make the next two courses. Finally, we returned to the elegant table and chatted. It was much like a dinner party. The owner of the house had been to Bangladesh which I should have guessed as she had a “nakshi kantha,” or Bangladeshi embroidery, on her wall.
A few words about octopus: The octopus looks quite scary to many people. It is slimy. It is rubbery. But, not that night when cooked properly. The flesh was soft like conch meat. Seriously surprisingly tender and sublime.
The evening and the cooking class ended with us packing leftovers to eat the next day. As part of his philosophy of sharing good food, Jan offers these private cooking lessons. But, as they say in the bread business, “get it while it’s hot!” As his business grows (it just started a few months ago), he may not have time for these small classes. I really hope so because experiences like this are what life can be… plus, it was just so much fun. By the end of the class, I felt more like I was in the company of friends.
The food was revelatory and Jan made us feel totally capable, and at ease, which made for a stellar evening. Wonder what’s on the menu next time?