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Samoan Tropical Salad

Summer can’t come soon enough – the heat of sun on my shoulders, the way my skin smells with sunscreen on, hot evenings under the stars. So today we’re going to Samoa. There’ll be drippy sweetness: papaya and cantaloupe. There’ll be richness, too – buttery avocado and moody – almost bitter – spinach. And to finish it all off? A puckering of lime juice – as bright as a Samoan seascape.   Typically known for rich, coconut milk-laden recipes, this Samoan salad is a healthier twist on island fare. The version I based mine on even won a Samoan recipe challenge! I chose this salad for sentimental reasons – something to set the scene a bit for the release of my new book Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness. I went to Samoa 2 months before I was born (as a real life stowaway, I suppose). Scientists believe our taste preferences can be affected by what our mother’s ate while we were gestating. I like to think I carry a bit of Samoa with me today. It was an …

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Almond Stuffed Date Balls

When I made the amazing Pistachio Date Balls for Iraq, I thought I’d seen the easiest recipe in the world.  It only uses two ingredients (third if you feel like getting extra fancy), and there’s no cooking. Well, today’s date balls are even easier: they don’t require a food processor. Boom! Even as simple as they are, the flavor is amazing – as though from a much more complex recipe. There’s a sweetness from the dates that transports me straight to Yemen… I mean, forget it. Let’s just lay under some Yemeni trees for a while, before we get around to making this recipe. Okay? Now, maybe this sunny afternoon in Yemen has you wondering: why include almonds and sesame seeds? Why not just eat straight dates? Well, you know how good peanut butter is with jelly? The balance of the nuttiness with the fruity date in this dessert is similarly satisfying. And addicting. Before I knew, I ate three of these. And to think. When I started this adventure, I (thought) I hated dates. …

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Venezuelan Fruit Punch | Tizana

Crack open just about any Venezuelan fridge and you just might find a pitcher of tizana. Tizana is as much a drink as it is a fruit salad. The fruity concoction keeps for nearly a week, which makes it perfect for impromptu scooping. Though perhaps not traditional, I’m guilty of digging into the pitcher at breakfast time, dessert time, and, of course, at midnight. I can see how having tizana in the fridge would be a great way to get my daily allotment of fruit, especially when in a hurry.   So how is it made? For starters, you’ll need about… an entire orchard. Chopped. The kinds of fruit varies, but most recipes seemed to include one or more kinds of melon, pineapple, grapes, bananas, and apples. More exotic fruit like papaya, passion fruit, persimmons, guava, and mango appear once in a while, too. The whole mixture is thinned with good ol’ fashioned OJ and a splash of grenadine. Some people like to add club soda or regular soda to the mix, too.   Seriously. If this doesn’t …

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Honey & Pistachio Stuffed Quince

Say “Quince” to an Uzbek lady, and you just might see her flush with delight. Though they aren’t eaten raw, baked quince are soft and tender, like a pear.  The taste is mild, something like an apple, but with traces of pear, too. Uzbekistan is the third greatest producer of quince, after Turkey and China. They include the fruit in plov, stir it into preserves, and they bake it up with honey, and sometimes even stuff it nuts… as we’re doing today. How to choose a quince: – look for white fuzzies on the stem end, which indicate freshness – a ripe quince is yellow, although slightly green fruit can be used for this recipe – it can be bumpy and odd-shaped, but there should be no scarring or other markings. Serves 4-6 Ingredients: 2-3 quince (or 3 large apples) 1/2 cup pistachios 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (or substitute more pistachios) 1/2 tsp cinnamon honey, to taste (1-2 Tbsp per person) For the baking dish: 1 cup water 2-3 slices lemon Method: Let’s go to …

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Martin Fierro

Recipes usually evolve over a long period of time, but today we explore a recipe that one man changed forever. In the late 19th century, José Hernández wrote stories about gauchos, freedom, and love from his home, in Argentina. Gauchos are like the equivalent of the American cowboy: men who’s spirits are forever roaming. His most famous character was Martin Fierro (so famous, in fact, that when the author, Hernández, died, the people announced that Martin Fierro had died, too). Though his stories spoke to the people, he spent much of his life as an exile in Uruguay. As much a creature of habit as any other man, the author became known for ordering the same dessert – one that reminded him of home, but that also celebrated the local ingredients in Uruguay: He always ordered a certain dessert modeled on the popular Argentinian sweet known as Vigilante, which consisted of slices of cheese and sweet-potato paste. The dessert’s curious name derived from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century policemen who ate cheese with sweet- potato paste because …

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All-American Apple Pie

Mom made apple pie all the time when I was little. It was my brother Damien’s choice for “birthday cake” several years in a row. He was born in October: it just made sense. Mom taught us how to cut the butter into the flour, to make a flaky pie crust, and she taught us how to add cinnamon and nutmeg to flavor it. (In her honor, I’ve labeled my cinnamon jar “sin,” just as she did then) Then I moved to Oklahoma, as far from New England’s familiar orchards as I could get. Every year about this time I start missing home – I start hungering for the bright, fall taste of apple pie. Of home. Use any firm baking apples you’d like.  This time I used pink lady, though many different varieties will do, as long as they are firm. Check with your grocer and see what crop they think would suit you well. While many insist on adding at least half granny smith, I prefer my pie granny-free. In the end, I …

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Coconut Banana Fritters

I don’t usually pick my Friday afternoon snacks based on Prince William’s and the Duchess’ eating habits, but this week I couldn’t help myself. The royal couple were fed these amazing fritters during their stay in Tuvalu. What an endorsement. If they’re good enough for royalty, they are good enough for me. Trust me on this: each bite will transport you to magical Tuvalu, way out in the Pacific, where the sun shines brightly, the water sparkles like a smile, and every day feels like a vacation. They are indulgent in the most unapologetic way possible. The fritters contain many local ingredients, most notably coconut and bananas. Not just any bananas, my friends. These are nice, ripe, bananas. After a quick dip in bubbling oil, the fritters emerge soft in the middle and crisp and nut-brown on the outside. A heavy dusting of powdered sugar later and they become the perfect tropical doughnut. Makes 8 large, 12 small Ingredients: Vegetable oil, for frying 2 ripe bananas, rough chopped For the batter: 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 …

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Watermelon Jam

Imagine living in a place that has a National Holiday called “Melon Day.”  You could be surrounded by more than 400 kinds of melon, including some 50 varieties of watermelon.* The cool, sweet flesh would fill your belly and spirit. Eating it would definitely make you smile. And spreading it on bread? Even better. If any of this appeals to you, you might want to consider moving to Turkmenistan. These lovely people have celebrated Melon Day since 1994, and they don’t plan to stop eating the sweetness anytime soon. When I read in The World Cookbook for Students that Watermelon Jam is a thing in Turkmenistan (particularly when served on toast with tea), I knew we had to try it. I made a nice batch of jam from half a regular watermelon. Tastes like jarred sunshine. What a great gift to share with friends and family! Perhaps with a spot of tea… NOTE: I used Pamona’s Universal Pectin because it allows me to add less sugar to the mix (just 2 cups). I found Pamona’s at Whole Foods, though …

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Taiwanese Shaved Ice Treat | Bào Bīng

I don’t use curtains in my bedroom; I don’t need them – someone would have to climb over our 8 foot fences and face our “attack cat,” Malky  in order to see inside my bedroom… and we all know that would pretty much ruin any possibility for us to be friends.  Instead, I use half shutters, which allow me to see the moon at night and the birds during the day. It’s my favorite space in my house. So peaceful. Anyway, the other morning I cracked open my eyes to discover the entire room was glowing orange; it felt like a giant hug. An absurdly bright hug. Rather like this mango. “It’s 8 am,” I thought, noticing the height of the sun in the sky, pleased that I had slept that long. I glanced over to the clock out of habit. That’s when I read the shocking truth: it was only 6:30 a.m. Friends, the dazzling array of sunlight is eager these days. I’ll be honest. I temporarily reconsidered my position on curtains. But then a …

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Green PawPaw Curry

It’s just as important to be frugal in times of plenty as it is in times of hardship. As my mom likes to say “Waste not, want not.” In the Solomon Islands, when Papaya trees hang heavy with more fruit than locals know what to do with, they don’t let it rot and fall to the ground. They don’t let the monsoons sweep the fruit away, either. Oh, no. Instead, they make use of the papaya at every stage of growth… ripe or unripe… which is how PawPaw Curry makes its way onto the dinner table. While the sweet flesh of ripe papaya is grand (perhaps baked with sweet coconut cream?), pawpaw curry is made with the mild, firm flesh of an unripe papaya. A green papaya. Unlike the deep orange interiors of their ripe sisters, green papayas are pastel on the inside, just barely dawning with orange.  The flesh is mild in flavor and takes on the personality of whatever ingredients they are cooked with. In this case, curry and coconut milk makes for …

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Blueberry Bublanina | Bubbly Cake

From early springtime all the way into the deep heart of fall, Slovakia’s mountains and hills burst with nature’s bounty. For those who search, a perpetual harvest reveals herself. Here, trees swoon with the weight of delightfully sour cherries, juicy, grapes, apricots, and apples. There, bushes bloom with blueberries, woodsy and sweet. This land, surely, is magic. When there is more fruit than can be gathered in an apron, Slovakia makes Bublanina, a.k.a. Bubbly Cake. Just one secret makes this slightly sweet cake light and fluffy: whipped egg whites. Fruit, sliced, chunked, or left whole, is scattered across the foamy surface and, as the cake puffs up in the oven, it bubbles around the fruit. Some fruit sinks down. Some fruit does not. Once out of the oven, the whole thing is covered with a cloud of powdered sugar, until even the air around it tastes sweet. It’s all kinds of whimsical and the perfect way to ring in the hope of spring (I promise it’s coming – I even witnessed a few daffodil leaves …

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Creamy Coconut & Banana Tart

Imagine sitting by the sea one lazy afternoon, focused on the tattered nets of nearby fishing boats, when something big and hard bumps against your foot. When you look down, you see a giant, two lobed coconut has washed up, onto the sand. From end to end, this coconut is as long as your forearm, with tufts of hair poking out between the brown, oblong lobes. She would have traveled hundreds (thousands!) of miles to reach you, all the way from the Seychelles. And you’d know she came from there, because it is the only place where these incredible coconuts grow. Once you saw her, you’d never forget her.  She’s called Coco de Mer, or coconut of the sea. And she really is quite… shall we say… graphic. I had the awkward pleasure of sitting next to one this week, hand delivered from the Seychelles by my friend Barry. Weighing in at 40-50 pounds, these are the world’s largest coconuts, stars of countless legends and pirates tales (one of which we’ll hear from Barry in a …