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Vegetable Biryani for my “Rickshaw Girl”

Cooking a pot of Biryani can be deer-in-the-headlights overwhelming – so much so, most people wouldn’t consider getting the spiced rice dish anywhere but a restaurant. But – ah! I recently learned a few tricks that make cooking this party dish less like facing an oncoming semi-truck, and more like conducting a well-orchestrated fireworks show. A lesson in perseverance Real talk: The first time I made biryani I crashed, burned, and vowed to never make it again. Though you can also find the recipe in India and other nearby countries, I first got the idea of tackling biryani while reading Rickshaw Girl with my daughter. This empowering Bangladeshi chapter book features a young artist who wants to help her struggling family. Though the little girl can’t make money with her Alpana drawings, she hatches a plan to drive her sick father’s rickshaw to supplement the family’s income. Though men traditionally earn the money in her community, she perseveres, proving that girls contribute as much as boys. When the girl’s family shares a platter of biryani on International Mother Language Day (February 21 – “to promote the …

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Smoking Bishop from “A Christmas Carol”

Twice a month I head up the road to a 1920’s mansion where I meet with several writers (many 25 years my senior). For two hours we laugh and ramble. Brief critiques soon devolve into spirited discussions about the good old days (most of which were well before my time). Writing exercises, often based on bizarre photos from the 1890’s, are read aloud. These displays of wit and absurdity often leave me in tears. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Seuss, and Chretiens de Troyes get equal billing, but not by all members. In an era of masterminds and conferences, this little Writer’s Group does not provide a leg up nor much in the way of pretense. At least one third of the attendees dismiss Facebook and have no idea what a tweet is. We’re a motley crew bound only by our love of the written word. And we’re not entirely productive. But goodness, it’s fun. We just had our annual holiday party, which required I bring something hot, boozy, and – for extra credit – bookish.  I’m making a vegetable lasagna but that …

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Baharat

I’m craving a little excitement. A little spice. In my younger years, I might have stayed out all night clubbing, I might have found a new crush,  or I might have packed my bags and drove off into the sunset without checking a map. Even worse, I might have done all three. Today, I think, I’ll settle for something simpler. Something more manageable. Baharat is a popular Middle Eastern spice blend which often makes its way into kebabs and other meat preparations. There are countless recipes from Turkey, all the way down to Iran, but one thing is for certain: in Syria, you can count on a hefty amount of black pepper to give your meat delicate heat. All you need for this recipe is a coffee grinder or spice mill and a handful of spices. I say double the recipe and give some to a friend. It’s the perfect “thinking of you” gift. Who knows, they might be looking for the Spiced Life, too… or, at the very least, a little sparkle… Ingredients: 1/4 …

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Massalé Spice Blend

The spice drawer is the most sensual part of any kitchen. On the inside seemingly innocuous  dry, brittle seeds rattle around, each with the power to take our minds from continent to content, country to country. All we need is a little warmth to coax their magic out and something like a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Today’s daydream takes us the Seychelles where they enjoy this haunting spice blend called “massalé” (a variation on Indian garam masala)  in coconut fish curries. The heat is fairly mild, but can be quite hot if you add more chili powder. As always, spice blends make great DIY gifts. And, really, what better way is there to “heat up” Valentine’s Day? (Don’t answer that)   Makes about a 1/4 cup Ingredients: 3 Tbsp coriander seeds 1 Tbsp cumin seeds 1 Tbsp black peppercorns 8 cardamom pods 1 tsp whole cloves 1 small cinnamon stick, cracked into pieces 1 tsp chili powder, or more to taste 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg Method: First, get in the mood by setting …

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5 Step Mole Poblano

I’ll be honest. On the onset, learning how to make Mole Poblano sounded a lot like learning how to knit a wedding dress. Outrageously epic, but not entirely something I had the skills for. In case you’ve never heard of it, we’re talking a Mexican recipe from Puebla that has a million, gazillion ingredients (ok, really just about two dozen), many cooking phases, and centuries of history behind it. Yikes. After staring at dozens of recipes, drinking several cups of tea, and more than a little sleep lost, I broke mole poblano down into 5 basic steps. Deep sigh. Smile. This feels better. Five steps are manageable. So, my goal today, is to make you Mole happy. To encourage you to give it a try. Because if you do, you’ll be in Mexico with every bite. NOTE: This Mole Poblano is vegan, although you can serve it on whatever you’d like – veggies, meats, etc. Traditionally it is served with turkey and made with turkey stock. Makes 6-7 cups Ingredients: These ingredients get toasted: 1 Tbsp …

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Lithuanian Honey Spirits | Krupnikas

The holidays are over. We stuffed our wrapping paper back into the closet and swept the confetti into the trash, right on top of the party hats that say 2012. The cookies and the friendly buffets of family favorites are long since gone, replaced by soulless detoxes and way-too-skinny drinks. I know some of us are even thinking about spring – scanning the frozen ground, vainly hoping to see some stray spot of green, willing a warm gust of air to come our way, instead of a moveable wall of ice. But can we just… pause for a second, in the interest of good planning? Would you be very mad if I asked you to make a few presents for next year? Right… now? Hear me out. They say Lithuania has the largest collection of amber in the world – known as the gold of the baltics – but I uncovered a far more enticing “gold” in their liquor cabinets: Krupnikas, or Honey Spirits. This boozy drink tastes like heaven on fire – a sweet, fragrant blend that …

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Warm Mango and Cloves

Welcome to my weakness. The mango. If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed I make a lot of recipes with this heavenly fruit. Quite possibly I’ve made more mango recipes than anything else. Everything about the mango is perfect. Sweet. Golden. Juicy. And, right now, totally in season. So, go find one (or five hundred). Rain or shine. In Liberia they like to chop them up and cook them with cloves. About four cloves will give the mango an alluring, but not overpowering flavor – reminiscent of pie filling. If the mangoes are perfectly ripe, they don’t even need sugar. Otherwise, a spoonful should do you. Cook for just ten minutes and serve this as-good-as-pie-filling with a big dollop of whipped cream. The whipped cream melts just a little from the heat of the snuggly-warm mangoes… Good luck sharing this with anyone else. I ate the whole thing by myself. Ava was napping. Keith was working. And I, … well, I have no regrets. Here’s how you do it: Serves 1-2 Ingredients: 2 cups …

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Machboos

Certain times call for celebration. Babies. Birthdays. Finding the love of your life. Daydreaming about the love of your life. When a light turns green at the exact right moment, before you have to apply the brakes. For those times, I present Machboos. Take a dive off the deep end with this beloved Kuwaiti dish that boasts warm hits of cinnamon, turmeric, saffron mingled with sweet caramelized onions and raisins. We made ours with chicken, but you can also make it with fish or lamb. If you get a big enough chicken it can feed a happy collection of people (about 4-6). For our version the traditional preparation involves simmering the chicken in fragrant water (which is then used to make the rice). Next, we rub the chicken with more seasoning and pop it in the oven to brown. All kinds of flavor goodness. It took me to happy town, and it can take you there, too. Ingredients: To simmer the chicken: 1 whole chicken 2 bay leaves 1 cinnamon stick 3 cloves 3 cardamom pods …

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Dreamy Homemade Garam Masala

Makes about 3 Tbsp Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Imagine you’re in India. Having trouble? I can help. Let’s make some Garam Masala. Garam Masala is possibly the most well known spice blend from India. Grandmas all over the northern region grind up fresh batches of this earthy goodness for dinner every day. They’ve got the right idea. Grinding whole spices as needed is the secret to bold, flavorful dishes. You, too, can fill your home with the warm, sweet smell of India. And then you’ll be able to visualize. To travel. With nothing more than your imagination. Ingredients: 1 Tbsp coriander seeds 1 Tbsp cumin seeds 1 tsp peppercorns 2 cinnamon sticks 10 seeds from green cardamom pods 10 whole cloves Method: Let’s take a stroll over to an Indian spice market. Forget the car. Parking isn’t really worth the trouble. But the spices are. While we’re there, let’s gather a bounty of spices. We’re going to make a ritual out of delicousness. Buy spices you recognize and spices you don’t. Breathe in the …

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Homemade Curry Powder

Makes about 1/4 cup Curry powder isn’t just for India anymore. Fijians, all the way in Polynesia, also love the golden goodness. I took a look at Mark Bittman’s curry recipes (he has three different ones in The Best Recipes in the World), and made a version which combines the best of his fragrant curry and mild curry. The result? An all-purpose curry that will taste great on almost anything. Except maybe ice cream. This version ended up quite a bit different than Bittman’s, most notably because of a little extra cardamom and a bit less fennel seed. I’m just not that into fennel. If you’d like more heat, try mixing in extra cayenne until you get a blend you like. If you want bonus points, toast and grind each spice individually – you’ll be able to toast the spices more evenly and you’ll also have better control of the grind. You know… unless you have a little Miss Ava to keep up with. Ingredients: 2 tsp black peppercorns 2 tsp ground turmeric 2 tsp coriander seeds …

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Berberé |Hot East African Spice blend

Berberé is a spicy and savory spice mixture used all over Eritrea and Ethiopia. This blend goes well with chicken, beef, or lamb, and would also be great with lentils and other legumes. I’ve used it with our Doro Wat (chicken stew) and Awaze Tibs (lamb stew) recipes. A few sprinkles would also be great in our Lentil Wat. Makes about 1/4 cup Ingredients: 3 cloves 1/2 tsp coriander seeds 1/2 tsp  fenugreek seeds 1 tsp cumin 1 Tbsp paprika 1/4 tsp peppercorns 1/4 tsp ground ginger 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 1/4 tsp ground turmeric 5 whole allspice balls 1/4 tsp cardamom seeds (removed from pods) 1/8 cup chili powder Method: Heat the spices in a clean, dry skillet to toast them. Once cool, grind them in batches. Keep going until most of the stragglers get ground up! Hey, that’s my sister! Enjoy. Votes: 0 Rating: 0 You: Rate this recipe! Print Recipe Berberé is a spicy and savory spice mixture used all over Eritrea and Ethiopia. This blend goes well with chicken, beef, or lamb, and would …

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Skoudehkaris

Serves 4 Suffering from 1 digit weather? Ice, snow, and rain? What about sleet? Let’s warm things up with Skoudehkaris. Known as the national dish of Djibouti, this heavy stew is a spicy, comforting treat. The bonus? It’ll make your house smell amazing. Ingredients: 1 lb lamb, cubed 1 onion, chopped 1-2 Tbsp ghee or vegetable oil 1 tsp cumin 1/4 tsp cloves 1 tsp cardamom 1/4 tsp cayenne (or to taste) 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes 1 cup water, plus extra as needed 1/2 cup long-grain rice salt & pepper Method: Put on your beret – today you are going to be an artist, painting flavor with spices.  (Trust me, the beret is totally appropriate: Djibouti has been heavily influenced by France – it was French ruled until 1977) So.. like I said, get out your beret. Here is your palette… the warm colors of cumin, cloves, cardamom, cayenne, and cinnamon. Heat it up in a large pot or skillet with lid with ghee (or oil) and onions. Cook until soft …

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