harissa tacos

grilled harissa shrimp

When I made that big batch of harissa a couple of weeks ago, I gave some of it away but kept a small jar for myself, even though I wasn’t sure what I would do with it. We had already planned to make grilled shrimp tacos that week (back when we were still having an unseasonable spell of beautiful weather and could reasonably eat outside), and Jon had the brilliant idea of bathing them in harissa instead of our usual lemon-garlic butter after taking them off the grill. The primary flavors in the harissa are chile pepper, cumin and caraway, so it works perfectly in a Mexican food context.

shrimp and cactus tacos

We built the tacos on flour tortillas with the grilled spicy shrimp, guacamole, sour cream, and lots of nopalitos (pickled cactus strips). It was delicious and I probably ate too much sour cream.

Rock the Casbah

the table is set

Another extremely wonderful supper club event! This time our theme was “Rock the Casbah!” which guaranteed that all of us had The Clash stuck in heads the entire previous week. And we got to eat a lot of amazing Moroccan food.

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cumin beef

spices and aromatics

Another recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, and this one is really a keeper. We were introduced to cumin lamb and beef at our old favorite (and much missed) Chinese restaurant Szechuan Bistro, and ordered it nearly every time we went there, but never tried to make it ourselves. Since the Greenwood arsonist burned the place down, we haven’t been able to get it anywhere locally. Now, well…I may not be able to reproduce their spicy green beans with tofu as yet, but at least I can have cumin beef. Any time I want!


Part of why this was so successful was the beef. The recipe suggested sirloin, so I hunted out a package from the freezer, from our half-cow from Skagit Angus. All of the beef we’ve gotten from them has been spectacular, but this was particularly excellent – chewy but very very tender, with a full beef flavor and a nice amount of fat marbled throughout. One of the best tasting pieces of meat I’ve ever had. Dumping a lot of cumin and hot chiles on it didn’t hurt it at all, though.

We served this on Japanese-style white rice, with a lot of stir-fried kale on the side to cut the richness of the meat. I also used some of the leftover beef to make a sandwich with roasted peppers, which I can also recommend highly. God,  I’m making myself hungry.

Cumin Beef

adapted from the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop


  • 1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt


  • 1 pound sirloin, cut into thin slices
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 hot green chiles, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tsp dried chile flakes
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • sesame oil

Combine the beef in a bowl with the marinade ingredients and mix well.

Original recipe instruction: heat 2 cups of peanut oil in a wok to 275°. Add the beef and stir gently. As soon as the pieces have separated, removed them from othe oil and drain well. Set aside. Pour out all but a few spoonfuls of the oil.

What I did: put a wok over high heat and add 1/4 cup of peanut oil. Add the beef in batches, stirfrying briefly until it begins to color and the pieces separate. Remove from the wok and set aside. Add a spoonful or two of fresh oil to the pan.

Then: Bring the wok back up to high heat and add the ginger, garlic, chiles, chile flakes and cumin. Fry briefly until fragrant, then add all the beef back in and stir well. When it’s cooked as much as you want (I left my beef a little rare), add the scallions, pour in a bit of sesame oil and serve with rice.



This is a favorite meal of ours for those nights when we don’t have a lot of time, we hardly have any fresh vegetables in the house, and we want something with a lot of flavor and a definite comfort factor. Kheema is like the Indian equivalent of chile con carne, or sloppy Joe mix, or spaghetti sauce. There are many different versions – probably as many as there are cooks who make it – and it can be tweaked to accommodate whatever you have in your pantry, as long as you have 1. ground meat 2. chile peppers (fresh or dried) 3. canned tomato and 4. spices. Onions and garlic are helpful, but not absolutely required.

My favorite kheema recipe for when we have no fresh chiles in the house is from Madhur Jaffrey’s first book, An Invitation to Indian Cooking. It’s warm with onion and whole sweet spices as well as dried red chiles, and tastes wonderful. But our current favorite kheema is from the Parsi cookbook My Bombay Kitchen. It uses whole slit green chiles as well as cayenne pepper, so it has a complex spiciness, and it can be made as thick or soupy as you like, depending on how you’re serving it. We usually ladle it over white rice, but the last time we made it I griddled some fresh chapati and we spooned the kheema into the breads with yogurt and chutney. It could also be eaten straight out of a bowl, maybe with tortilla chips. Why not? Not to mention the possibilities of using it for stuffing samosas, or topping pizza.


And for breakfast, I can recommend making a sort of huevos rancheros with leftover kheema and runny fried eggs over sourdough toast or chapati or tortillas. Oh, yeah.

A note about the recipe: there are a few odd ingredients here, but please don’t be scared off by them. We keep curry leaves in our freezer, but the kheema will be perfectly fine without them. And don’t worry about the dhana jiru or the sambar masala – we happen to have both of those, because Jon loves to make spice blends at home, but you can either leave them out, or do what I do, which is to look up the blend, see what the major flavors are, and just add a few of the more important-sounding ones. I’ve indicated a few possible options in the recipe.

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homemade chili oil

hot chiles

chili oil

Homemade chili oil is one of the those things where once you’ve made it, you wonder what on earth was stopping you making it. It’s so easy, and so good. All you need is a saucepan and a decent thermometer, and you can adjust the flavorings however you like.

ground red chili

We used to make flavored oils more often, but would make too much at once and have them go rancid when we couldn’t use them up in time. We’ve learned our lesson now, I think – small amounts only. It’s not like it’s hard to make more.

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ma po tofu

ma po tofu

We had been doing so well on our self-imposed mission to eat tofu once a week. Not that I really think soy is particularly beneficial (the jury still seems to be out on that one), but we do eat a fair amount of meat, and I try to work in other sources of protein when convenient. Besides, tofu is cheap. We recently discovered silken tofu in boxes that keeps on the shelf for several weeks, so now we can stock up and have it ready to hand. Lately, though, we’ve slacked off on our tofu consumption.

tofu soak

After a few weeks of somewhat disorganized menu planning, I remembered that there was a box of silken tofu in the cupboard getting past its sell-by date, and a recipe for Ma Po Tofu in our Sichuan cookbook that hadn’t yet been tried, so that’s what we had for dinner one night after work. It was incredibly quick and easy, so I suspect we’ll have it again before too long.

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pork vindaloo


white lilac

It’s been a fragrant week around here.

First, I was walking home for lunch, and was waylaid by a neighbor who was engaged in cutting down several large white lilac bushes that had been attempting to take down some powerlines behind her house. The lilacs were in full bloom, and she insisted on cutting me a large bouquet to take home before they wilted on the downed shrub. I put them on the kitchen table, and every time the evening sun hits them the room fills with the scent of lilac.


Then, of course, the daphne odora is in bloom by the front porch steps. It’s old for a daphne, and beginning to list alarmingly to starboard (I may have to attempt some pruning this year), but when it blooms the smell is an astonishing sugary explosion, drowning out all other scents within a fifteen foot radius.

And finally, we made pork vindaloo. The house smelled wonderful for days.

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Turkish vegetables


A couple of months ago we had a nice splurge at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks. One of our more exciting acquisitions was a copy of Greg Malouf’s Turquoise, a gorgeous production that immediately made me want to go to Turkey (not something that had ever happened to me before). Despite its beauty, I had completely failed to make anything out of it until this week, when I was suddenly feeling adventurous.


We decided to try two new side dishes during the week: a salad of grated celery root, peppers and mint, and a dish of baked mushrooms and chiles in a paprika sauce. I thought they both sounded interesting, and used vegetables that are at least somewhat in season.

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spicy pork buns

baked bao

We made our periodic pilgrimage to Uwajimaya last weekend, partly to shop for tacky Christmas presents but mostly to restock our supply of noodles, tea and chile-garlic sauce. We went to Samurai Noodle for lunch (the new Extra Pork Fat option is astonishing), then spent the next two hours battling our way through all the other people milling around trying to figure out which small red jar might hold the correct form of soybean paste or pickled turnip, or stampeding through the narrow aisles between the Hello Kitty stickers and the Daruma keychains.

chile bean paste

The funny thing is, we came home with all this new stuff, all jazzed up about doing some new Chinese dishes or something Indonesian, and the dinner we ended up making didn’t use any of it. How silly. We were going to make a side of stirfried ong choy (water spinach), which we haven’t found anywhere else, but it started to compost itself before we could cook it (drat). We had to have plain spinach instead. And for dinner I made bao, one of my favorite things to eat in the world, with a new filling out of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty, which turned out to be the easiest bun filling I’ve ever made and used ingredients we already had around. Go figure. But never fear, we’ll get around to the soybean paste and pickled mustard greens later this week. Stay tuned!

steamed bao

Concerning bao: I love pretty much any kind of bread or dumpling with a savory filling, and bao are even more wonderful made fresh at home than they are off a street vendor’s cart. Continue reading

a Peaceful lunch


We managed to slip out of town for a day last weekend, and spent a happy afternoon in Vancouver, B.C. It’s strange that we can live so close to Canada, but make it up there so seldom. Every time we go, we tell ourselves “We should do this more often!”

This time we took advantage of the opportunity to get some good Chinese food. Skagit Valley is a pretty good place for many kinds of food, but good Indian or Chinese restaurants are just not happening. Vancouver, on the other hand, has amazing Asian food of all possible kinds. I wanted to find a place with good noodles, and according to the Chowhound boards, Peaceful is one of the top spots.

Peaceful Restaurant

When we walked in, it was still early in the day, and the place was mostly empty. We quickly emptied our first pot of hot, weak tea and enjoyed being in out of the rain while we studied the rather huge menu. Everything looked fabulous, which made things difficult. We finally settled on an order of the Peaceful beef rolls, a plate of cumin lamb noodles and some Szechuan stir-fried string beans, then settled in and watched the restaurant fill up. Continue reading