Pomegranate Chicken with Eggplant and Figs


Weekend warriors take on many forms. In my case, I used to reserve the weekends for cooking projects. There will be a batch of Morado Jam in my near future as soon as the first Concord grapes hit the farmer’s market. Even if my once prodigious-to-me preserving has taken a bit of a backseat, can we reflect on the idea that cooking during the weekend looks a little bit different from weeknight meals? Perhaps the time is looser and not quite so structured. Maybe you regularly invite friends over for long, leisurely meals sobre mesa. I like that European ideal that the time spent at the table can linger without all of the weekday requirements. Good stuff happens over meals.

Katie Quinn Davies captures that sense of revelry and occasion in her latest cookbook, What Katie Ate on the Weekend… My first impulse upon thumbing my way through the book leapt out as surprise. Her popular blog, What Katie Ate was one of the early forerunners in blogging to really maximize moody photography where the shadows and darkness play as much of a role in the shots as the food itself. What Katie Ate on the Weekend is full of brightness, light dripping off of the pages. Some cookbooks I collect for the recipes, others for the stories. This cookbook is all about the photos.

Davies won a James Beard award for the photography in her first cookbook. So, it goes without saying that the photography will be enticing. And, it is. But looking at the cookbook as part of a larger package, the design choices are intriguing. Full page photo collages get splashed with modern chunky typography. The design and layout are key to bringing the sheer quantity of photographs spanning the pages of this cookbook. The design is busy and fun, even down to the bright pink and white polka dot grosgrain bookmark, and conceptually this design suits the book because Davies herself is busy and fun. While weekends may relish lounging around a table, they also welcome road trips and excursions.

She invites the reader into several weekend journeys around the world and brings them to the table with recipes featured in that excursion. The book acts as travelogue and scrapbook with imagery setting the scene of place scattered throughout the book, jettisoning the reader to places like Dublin and the Barossa Valley. The sections break out into the kinds of categories you would expect for gatherings like Party Food and Drinks. You get the impression she likes to throw fetes and wants you to join in on the fun since recipe yields tend to extend the party through larger sized results.

Several recipes stood out. Her Eggplant and Mozarella Lasagne (page 206) substitutes thin slices of eggplant for the noodle layer, which makes it like the best version of eggplant parm possible. My sweet side eyed the Self-Saucing Mocha Pudding (page 278)– my pudding affection is legendary in our house. But the recipe I kept coming back to, the one that made me pause over its brief method and easy assembly was the Pomegranate Chicken, which I lightly adapted.

Davies’ Pomegranate Chicken recipe calls for 12 pieces of chicken thighs, but instead I substituted a Japanese eggplant with its slender, long purple body and several yellow and green-striped tiger figs for roughly half of the chicken, opting to marinate the side accountrements with the chicken for a fuller flavorful meal. While her initial yield for the recipe serves 4 to 6, I changed that to 3 to 4 since there isn’t as much chicken. Trust me when I say you will devour the eggplant and figs right off the griddle. There’s a pretty good chance I’m going to make the marinade again and just marinate a heaping ton of eggplants and figs. I sweat the eggplant using the colander and salting method before tossing the rinsed eggplant chunks into the marinade. For the figs, I opted to use ripe tiger figs with jammy raspberry middles. You could also use black mission figs to great effect here too.

The idea behind the adaptation was to invite other Middle Eastern ingredients into the marinade, thinking their contributions would add to the party. Because isn’t that one of the beauties of planning soirees, thinking about the guest list and who might hit it off with whom, the kinds of conversations that might happen with the right conglomeration of friends? Indeed, the sweetness from the figs, lush softened eggplant and savory chicken combine with tart pomegranate molasses and frizzled mint leaves for a highly memorable meal. We served it with sliced beets, pistachios, and a relish of ginger, chive, and mint. All of the flavors melded together so well and started our weekend on a celebratory note.

Pomegranate Chicken Eggplant and Figs

Pomegranate Chicken, with Eggplant and Figs

Thanks go out to Penguin Random House for sending the book to review.

Adapted from What Katie Ate on the Weekend
Reprinted by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Katie Quinn Davies, 2015.

Serves 3 to 4

Pomegranate Molasses Marinade

2 ½ tablespoons olive oil

½ cup pomegranate molasses

Juice of 1 lemon

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 sprigs mint, leaves, finely shredded

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 pound skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat (5-6)

pomegranate molasses (optional), mint and pomegranate seeds, to serve

1 Japanese eggplant, large chopped

4 fresh tiger figs, halved


In a glass measuring cup with a spout, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, vinegar, mint with a dash of salt and pepper. Place the chicken, figs, and eggplant into a large zip seal bag. Pour the marinade into the bag and squeeze out any air, zipping it shut and jostling the chicken, figs, and eggplant so they are all coated. Place the bag in the refrigerator, ideally overnight.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat until hot. Working in batches, use tongs to add the chicken, figs, and eggplant to the pan to cook for six minutes on each side or until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. The eggplant and figs will cook faster than the chicken, so once they soften at the touch of the tongs, flip and cook the other side, removing from the heat once both sides have cooked through. Sprinkle the mint leaves and pomegranate seeds over the chicken, figs, and eggplant to serve.


Creamy Chickpea and Yogurt Casserole

Let’s talk about hummus. It’s a good place to start. When most people think about Mediterranean food, this dip perfectly scooped up by pita comes to mind. You could say it would be on the top five list for a Family Feud quiz. And who would disagree? The creaminess of chickpeas blending with garlic, just the right amount of lemon juice and tahini makes for that distinctive flavor profile.

Now, let’s move to Tissiyeh. This Creamy Chickpea and Yogurt Casserole might be the cousin to hummus. Like hummus, it includes chickpeas, garlic, lemon, tahini and salt. And yet, it goes so much farther. The toasted pine nuts and oil give the complexity characteristic of pignolas. The bright and creamy yogurt is a bit of a revelation and yet if you consider how much yogurt makes its way into Mediterranean cuisine, it’s not an altogether surprise. Oh, hummus lovers, you are in for a real treat.

Making the casserole perplexed me. While cooking through “An Edible Mosaic” cookbook, the photo and description enticed me enough to include it on a weeknight menu. But, how to serve it? Is it an appetizer? Is it a dinner entree? Is it just plain comfort food in the first order? At this point in our cook-the-book exploration, I trusted cookbook author Faith Gorsky enough to just go with it. Don’t get me started on how much we looked forward to her Fish Pilaf leftovers…

We modified the recipe ever so slightly to make it compliant with how we eat in our home. In place of  the flatbreads recommended in the Creamy Chickpea and Yogurt Casserole recipe, we heated up some gluten-free pizza crusts. I figured this substitution would still achieve the same textural goals of the original. This dish came together in such a short time and found it to be quite filling. Gorsky describes Tissiyeh as a traditional dish served in Damascus, Syria, where her family lives.

So when you’re in the mood for a light dinner, an interesting appetizer or comfort food in a bowl, whip up your own batch of Creamy Chickpea and Yogurt Casserole and leave the hummus for tomorrow.

An Edible Mosaic- Creamy Chickpea and Yogurt Casserole




by Faith Gorsky from “An Edible Mosaic”.
*Reprinted with permission and a minor adaptation

YIELD: 4-6 servings

2 gluten-free pizza crusts

2 16oz. cans chickpeas, reserve the liquid

2 cups water

2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided

3 1/2 cups plain yogurt

1/2 cup tahini

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons olive oil or clarified butter

4 tablespoons pine nuts

1 tablespoon minced parsley leaves (optional, for garnish)


Preheat oven to 250. Put the flatbread directly onto the oven rack and bake until brittle but not burned, about 15 minutes, flipping once. Cool the bread completely, and then break into bite-sized pieces. Line the bottom of 1 large serving bowl (or 4 individual bowls) with the bread and set aside.

Pour the chickpeas (and their liquid), water, and 1 teaspoon of cumin into a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Ladle a bit (about 1 – 1 1/2 cups) of the chickpea cooking liquid onto the dried bread to make it moist, but not soggy, pressing down with a spoon to help the bread absorb the liquid. If you add too much liquid, just drain off any excess. Remove 4 tablespoons of chickpeas to a small bowl and set aside, and spoon the remainder of the chickpeas onto the moistened bread.

Whisk together the yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, 1/2 cup chickpea cooking liquid, and the remaining 1 teaspoon of cumin in a medium bowl. Pour the yogurt mixture into the chickpeas and sprinkle the remaining 4 tablespoons of chickpeas on top.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat; add the pine nuts and cook until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly; set aside. Drizzle the pine nuts and their oil on top, and sprinkle on the parsley, if using. Serve immediately.




Saag Tofu




From “The Inspired Vegan” by Bryant Terry

Bryant Terry figured out a way to make a Palak Paneer or Saag Paneer that’s flavorful and not as heavy as the version I enjoyed in India. I’m a sucker for Indian food. The creamy and complex flavors coalesce into something that transports me back to a small walk-up restaurant during a visit to Delhi. This Saag Tofu dish mimics its namesake, Saag Paneer but swaps out the paneer cheese for cubes of tofu. While I wouldn’t say this is exactly light fare, it sets a high bar for one of my favorite Indian dishes that feels healthier. This recipe comes together pretty quickly, so it makes a good meal for weeknights. You’ll find the recipe for Terry’s Yellow Basmati Rice in The Inspired Vegan, though you could easily swap in brown rice instead.

TIME: Around 40 minutes
YIELD: 4-6 servings

1 pound extra-firm organic tofu

1 teaspoon cumin

¾ teaspoon turmeric

¾ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

coarse sea salt

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 pounds fresh spinach, washed and trimmed

1 small yellow onion (about 1 cup), chopped finely

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

2 small green chiles, seeded and minced

½ teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 large garlic cloves, minced

1 ½ cups unflavored rice milk


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the tofu cake on its side and slice in half. Lay the tofu down flat, keeping the layers together, and slice it, widthwise, into three even slabs. Slice each of those slabs into quarters widthwise, leaving you with 24 cubes. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine ½ teaspoon of cumin, ½ teaspoon of turmeric, ½ teaspoon of mustard seeds, ¼ teaspoon of fennel seeds and ½ teaspoon of salt and mix well with a fork. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and mix well. Add the tofu cubes and gently toss to coat with the mixture.

Gently transfer the tofu cubes to a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.

Roast for 30 minutes, gently turning with fork after 15 minutes.

While the tofu is roasting, combine 3 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of salt in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch until softened, about 1 minute, drain in a colander, and chill under cold running water. Squeeze the water out of the spinach with a clean kitchen towel, then chop coarsely and set aside.

In a medium-size saucepan, combine the onion with the remaining olive oil and the ginger, chile, coriander, and black pepper, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon of turmeric, ¼ teaspoon of mustard seeds, ¼ teaspoon of fennel seeds, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Saute over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft and browning. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Add the spinach and the rice milk to the saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat, covered for about 15 minutes, until the spinach is creamy. Add eight to 12 tofu cubes to the spinach, avoiding overcrowding the spinach with tofu, and simmer for 5 more minutes (reserve the additional tofu for later use in another dish). Season with additional salt if necessary. Serve hot.

*Reprinted with permission from The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry. Copyright 2012 by Da Capo Lifelong Books.




Mee Goreng

Who says the street food craze can’t be brought home? This recipe while it may look daunting requires time for prepping the ingredients and is easy to make for a weeknight alternative to take-out. I give you the insanely good Mee Goreng recipe. Yotam Ottolenghi has really outdone himself with this recipe. I made it three times in the span of just as many weeks which could either mean I’m someone on a mission or someone who needs to plan a trip to Malaysia where this street food is regarded with fondness. We recently discovered Mee Goreng on the menu of our favorite Thai take-out restaurant. Their version used thicker wheat noodles shellacked in a spicy sauce but missed the  stir-fried vegetables and garnishes that make Ottolenghi’s recipe shine.




Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi from his cookbook “Plenty.” Reprinted with permission. Published by Chronicle Books.

The original recipe in “Plenty” uses egg noodles (as pictured above) but I wanted to try a gluten free variation of this dish and after having tried it with egg noodles and then with rice noodles, found I preferred the rice noodles. I also substituted scrambled eggs instead of tofu and found that worked well texturally and flavor-wise. The original recipe also calls for 2 tablespoons of thick soy sauce and 2 teaspoons of light soy sauce. We opted to use the Liquid Aminos as that is a mainstay in our kitchen. Feel free to go the route that works for you. Lastly, I added sliced radishes as a garnish finding the crunch and slight zip of spice it lends to this already assertive dish one that is in good company. If you live in San Francisco and are looking to purchase sambal oelek, head over to New May Wah on Clement Street. Otherwise, purchase it online.

YIELD: 2 servings

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 onion, diced

4 eggs, scrambled hard

4 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut in half at an angle

4 ounces bok choy, cut into large chunks (both leaves and stalks)

11 ounces rice sticks (rice noodles)

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons sambal oelek ( or another savory chili paste), plus extra to serve

3 teaspoons Braggs liquid aminos

1 tablespoon water

2 ounces Mung bean sprouts

handful of shredded iceberg lettuce

2 tablespoons of thinly sliced radishes

1 tablespoon crisp-fried shallots

lemon wedges to serve

1. Set a wok or large pan on high heat. Once hot, add the oil and then the onion, and cook for about 1 minute to soften a bit. Add the sliced green beans and scrambled egg and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir gently so as not to break up the eggs into pieces that are too small.

2.In a large pot of hot water, place the rice noodles to soak. Drain after 5 minutes and then set aside.

3. Next, add the bok choy. When it wilts, add the noodles and carefully spread them in the wok using tongs. You want the noodles to get a lot of heat, almost to fry. Mix gently, cooking the noodles for about 2 minutes. Then add the spices, sambal oelek, liquid aminos, water, bean sprouts and toss carefully. Cook for about a minute or until the noodles are semisoft.

4. When ready, top with lettuce, transfer to serving bowls and sprinkle crisp shallots and radish slices on top. On the side, serve lemon wedges and a small bowl of extra sambal oelek.


PAIRING SUGGESTION: Try this with a chilled glass of Riesling.





costa rica recipe for gallos

On this particular day, we decided to head to Playa Guiones.

The sun felt like it had been high in the sky for hours as it poked through the slats of the wooden shutters at 8:30 a.m. Outside, the chitter and chirp of birds filtered in with the sunlight, letting us know morning had descended. We swung our legs out of the bed and pattered down the cool tiled staircase. Before settling into a bowl of yogurt and muesli, I assaulted the front door, my bare feet slapping the tiles. Costa Rica gives a cheery good morning in technicolor sight and sound. Breakfast tucked in, my book and I settled into the porch hammock, lazily swinging as my foot kicked off the sturdy wooden column. Soon, Nathan joined me on the porch, in a neighboring rocking chair with a cup of coffee and his book. Then came Tia Berta, Mama, Michael.

The first few days we stayed close to our house, venturing out to find the local internet cafe run by an Italian expat and his grandmother. Playa Pelada with its rock shelves to the west and gentle waves was a short walk from the house. We had found body-surfing to be our new beck and call, even as our skin went from sun-kissed to sun-sore. Out we would walk onto the graveled path, turning left and walking by a row of bright pink hibiscus bushes in bloom. On the left ran the large family farm with wild chickens and turkeys running the grounds, inside of the makeshift fence of barbed wire and cacti. Sometimes we’d find a black buzzard or two sitting atop the large communal garbage tins near the mouth to the beach, perched to dip down into the refuge. It was on this same path, we caught a sight of monkeys hurtling from branch to branch, deep in the treetop. That day, we had stopped to watch them scratch and call, their long tails wrapping around branches as leverage.

Through the mouth to the top of the beach, the roar of the surf invited us in. The sight was too beautiful for words, one of those heart-achingly beautiful examples of color and creation. Michael , a few days prior, had begun exploring the tide pools and proudly dangled a large slug on his forefinger as part of his findings, later to be replaced by a stick with an inky blue slug flecked with turquoise and goldenrod.

Here, we surrendered to those childlike tendencies to discover and be fascinated by the natural world. Here, we turned off the regular world and became appraiser and appreciators of all that we encountered.

And this day, we decided to go to Playa Guiones.

Just on the other side of our part of the island, this beach was known for its surfing, for its waves and the teeming humanity. Off we set with beach bag on shoulder, floppy hat on head tracing our way along Playa Pelada, past a popular tica soda and then past the more posh La Luna restaurant. We walked in the wet sand watching the black buzzards in the barren tree right before the secret passageway to Playa Guiones. It wasn’t really secret, but you sure had to look for the topsy-turvy rock steps cutting up the hill. Up we walked through a path in the middle of a field with flowering plants and tall grass. We continued walking until we caught sight of the surf through the low branches of the trees clinging to the sandy earth.  Days later, this would be my eye-foraging ground trying to capture on film the scuttling sand crabs with little success.

In the distance, we could see pinpoints of color, the peopled places to which we began walking. All of us commented how much busier this beach was in contrast to Playa Pelada. We set up camp inside a hut made of wooden planks and thatched roof of palm branches- a refuge for those not wanting anymore sun. Michael and I ventured out into the water with Tia Berta and found the water temperature at first startling, but soon comfortably warm. We jumped as the waves rolled our way, letting them carry us out further. For the larger ones, we dove into the wave, often feeling the power of their pull only slightly. I had successfully overcome my little known kid fear of open water, of what might be lurking underneath, wooed instead by the fun, becoming a salty girl.

The water, the people nearby also taking on the ocean surf contributed to my growing excitement of getting into the water, but part of it also included the conversations Michael and I had, that Tia Berta and I had. In the water, we spent hours talking and hopping up, letting the water wash us with round upon round of its own slobbery kiss as the sun shone down on us in assent.

At some point, our hunger became more than our need to stay in the water, so out of the ocean we walked, each step dripping into wet sand, then dry hot sand and into the soft brushiness of terry cloth.

Hat back on head, tunic covering up, we began our trek into the town off of the playa. We agreed that this part of the island was much more touristy as we began passing a stand of handmade wooden baubles an American expat put out to sell. The streets sprang up with dust anytime a car would careeen by on those uneven streets. We passed the Harmony Hotel, later a vegan cafe, a yoga clothing store, an ice cream stand. We found ourselves in a bustling expat haven. Up the road we walked toward a restaurant Tia Berta had heard about from an Argentine woman named Lucretia of the inky blue slug discovery the day before.

Many times in life, you’re headed one place and end up some place you didn’t expect. This was certainly one of those days. The sun at this time felt scorching in temperature and brightness. As our stomachs rumbled, the sticky clothing and my burned skin singed as a reminder to get out of the sun. Up ahead we saw a giant lodge to the right that boasted of its mixed drinks and to the left, we saw a small casual restaurant, Rosi’s Tica Soda with a friendly and somewhat Cambodian feel of a carved wooden roof. Our curiosity piqued, we headed toward Rosi’s to check out their menu. This open-air restaurant was small and populated with table upon table of plates of food that inspired our hunger to speak its approval in low rumbles. We sipped cool drinks and ordered our food from a woman wearing a smock and knowing smile as she listened to us ask our questions and point out our selections. On the menu, I found something called a “gallo” which means rooster in Spanish, but which she described as tortilla with your choice of filling, lettuce, tomato and special sauce. She had sold me.

When my gallo came out, it resembled a taco with more of a party inside. Two corn tortillas are required to hold the contents, and actually make it easier to hold than a taco with its typical dripping. In the Mission district in San Francisco, most taquerias serve tacos with two tortillas stacked on top of each other, small in size but juices dripping every which way, leaving fingers sauced. How ingenius to stack the tortillas slightly askew! I ordered the Gallo con Carne con Salsa and a Gallo con Pollo. I shared one of the Gallos with Nathan and found myself sufficiently full.

But not too full to take in a dip of homemade Chili Chocolate ice cream for the long walk back home. Playa Guiones did not disappoint and would call us back for more soon enough.

COSTA RICAN RECIPES- Gallos de Carne con Salsa Lizano




YIELD: 4 Gallos

  • Carne con Salsa
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 head of green lettuce
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • Salsa Lizano or Salsa Alfaro

1. Prepare the carne con salsa according to the recipe. Omit the potatoes when making your gallos. You can enjoy them on the side or at another meal.

2. Chop your lettuce into short strips and chop up your tomatoes.

lettuce and tomatoes
3. Gather your tortillas and begin warming them right before the Gallos are ready, keeping them covered by a folded napkin to keep warm. The trick to warming tortillas are several. Here are several I use with ease.

corn tortillas
a.) Microwave- if you have a microwave, get two paper towels and sprinkle them with a bit of water. Do not drench the paper towel with water, but you do want to make sure it is somewhat wet. Place your tortilla inside so the slightly wet paper towels are covering both sides. Heat for 30 seconds and you’ll have a pliable, steamed tortilla.
b.) Toaster Oven- ours has a toast feature that I turn onto medium toast, since we don’t have a microwave.
c.) Range top- you can always put your tortilla on a pan over medium to low flames. Make sure you’re staying attentive as the tortilla will start to smoke a little bit when it’s time to turn it over.
d.) Mama has a nifty grate especially for heating tortillas. The slits in it allow different parts of the tortilla to crisp. A little bit of steam or bubbling in the tortilla let you know it’s time to flip it to the other side and do likewise.

(See which of these work for you. You do want to stay vigilant though, so don’t wander away from your tortilla-warming. If you have a preferred tortilla-warming technique, please share it in the comments section.)

4. After the tortillas have been warmed, place the tortillas slightly on top of each other on a plate and then add either 1/4 cup lettuce strips down first or 1/4 cup of meat down.

gallos from costa rica

5. If you spooned on the meat first, then go ahead and add the lettuce and tomatoes. Don’t forget to drizzle salsa Lizano or salsa Alfaro on the gallos (or you can serve at the table).
6. Enjoy immediately.




Tita’s Carne con Salsa

MEXICAN RECIPES- Carne con Salsa

“My memories of Tita are unfortunately fuzzy.”

I made this comment to Mom as she drove me to the airport last weekend.

“I don’t think it’s that you’ve forgotten them completely, but you went through a lot early on in your life and sometimes that’s the body’s way of living through the difficulties. The memories will come back to you.”

I come from a long line of women who have learned to make lemonade from lemons.

My grandmother, Tita, which is short for abuelita in Spanish, stepped into her father’s role as director of the telephone company after he passed away, something rather unheard of at the time. While most women took care of hearth and home, she became a working woman. Yet deep inside of her, she longed to marry and have children of her own. And the story of this dream coming to fruition is for another day. When she and Tito journeyed up north to the United States, they found themselves in somewhat dire straits. Their story of survival and adjustment is probably woven into the fabric of most immigrant stories just as their sacrifice could be associated with that of most parents.

Mom, their eldest child was a bit of a terror. Headstrong and stubborn from a young age, she was every part the neighborhood rabble-rouser and leader of adventures and escapades. Not much has changed in that regard. She gave her parents a run for their money and Tito doted on Mom. I think in her he saw his own headstrong thread which bound them together. Living in South Texas during this period, the opportunities for immigrants were not many and they scraped by, living off of love and resourcefulness.

This carne con salsa recipe is testament to that plucky attitude of Tita’s. Mom told me Tita used to make this on a weekly basis. She would use whatever meat was stickered on sale as the foundation for this easy, filling entree. Recently when we were in Costa Rica, eating Gallos con Carne con Salsa, Mama remarked the flavor of it reminded her of Tita’s recipe.

If you think about the place taste holds in the memory, it might be the second most powerful way to remember after smell. That said, smell ties into taste as best evidenced when eating with a cold. One bite of this mixture of beef with tomatoes, of sweated onions and grilled peppers and Mom was transported back to a dinner table in a place not so far but quite different from this Central American lunch table.

My interpretation of Tita’s recipe actually doesn’t use peppers, though you can add one in if you so choose. In the few times that I’ve made this at home, Beck has gone back for seconds. That’s when I know I’ve found a keeper.

You’ll find this something easy to throw together on a Sunday afternoon and the flavors get better the next day as they coalesce. The sauce in my version is more sticky than a traditional salsa and I admit you could add in more water to get a thinner consistency, but the current version will have you licking the spoon for those errant stray bits.

carne con salsa recipe


Tita’s Carne con Salsa

  • 4 small potatoes
  • 1 medium Spanish onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons safflower oil
  • 8 ounces can tomato sauce
  • 1 pound meat (I go for grassfed & organic when possible)
  • Dash of cracked black pepper
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/3 cup water plus 1 tablespoon

1. Dice the onion and the garlic. Pour the oil in a wide mouthed pan and set on medium high heat. Add in diced onion, garlic, cracked black pepper and salt. Saute for 4 minutes or until onion begins to look translucent.

onion flower

diced onions & garlic
2. While the onion mixture is cooking, wash the potatoes in a colander. Then slice them into rounds.

sliced potato rounds
3. On another cutting board reserved for meat, slice the meat into bite-sized cubes.
4. Add the entire contents of the tomato sauce to the onion mixture.
5. Brown meat and half cook it for about a few minutes.

carne con salsa

6. Add in water and place a potato round atop each meat chunk. The steam will cook the potatoes. If you have extra potatoes and no more meat, just scatter the potatoes in the sauce below. Cover. Cook for 25 minutes over medium heat.

7. Serve with warmed corn tortillas.

~ Makes 4 servings


carne con salsa over mashed potatoes

Serving Variation: You could serve this over carrot puree or mash the cooked potatoes with stewed carrots & leeks for a tasty winter variation on a roast or stew. (Note the photo of the variation above used 1/3 cup water instead of 1/2 cup for a thicker sauce and slightly charred consistency. We liked it just fine, but you want to make sure you get the liquid proportioning to your tastes.)






International travel is a great way to delve head first into understanding a person better.

As one of our first major outings as a newly dating couple, Nathan and I headed down south to Mexico. I popped the question a few weeks into dating, not thinking it was a terribly big deal. The backstory is the invitation was to accompany me to a family wedding. This would be the first time for him to meet my mom and all my Mexican family. Again, this thought never crossed my mind. I have been to several Mexican bodas (weddings) and knew what to expect. I also knew they required a sidekick.

We flew into Mexico tired and hungry. After feasting on homemade delicacies, I took a nap. Nathan accompanied my Tio Eliud to the airport to pick up my mom. It didn’t make me nervous that they would meet for the first time without me present. I liked Nathan and knew he would go over well with the Mom and I was not disappointed.

The next day, we piled into a bus rented to carry all 60 immediate family members and a few friends that might as well be family members to head down to the coastal town of Tampico. Snacks were passed around and a cooler at the front of the bus held beverages. A movie began to play and we were off. All the cousins had already introduced themselves to Nathan, but would sometimes walk down that center aisle smiling and with a “knowing” look. We watched the scenery as the bus took us through neighboring small towns and deeper into the Tamaulipas area of Mexico. Off went one movie and on came another, “The Orphanage.” I got roped into watching this movie partly for its suspenseful story line and the accompanying eerie cinematography. My cousins and I yelped and groaned at the scary parts. As the bus approached the hotel, we made the bus driver do a few extra loops so we could catch the end. Everyone was deeply engrossed and on edge.

We sipped tamarind margaritas by the pool before dinner. This became my drink of choice that weekend as it featured a cumin and chili dusted salt on the rim that complemented the tangy sweet cocktail. Later that night, after dinner 20 of us sat around the hotel lobby drinking beer and telling stories. The mother of the groom Normita, proudly danced with her son, Hector showing such excitement at this rite of passage. A few drinks in and hours in, some calls were made for one of my favorite Mexican traditions: the serenata.

Hector had found a mariachi band for hire to serenade his bride the evening before the wedding. All 20 of us piled sardine-style into several cabs and headed nearby the bride’s house waiting for the mariachi band to arrive. A beat-up maroon van crawled to a slow stop and inside we saw spangled white uniforms. The mariachis had arrived on the tails of their last gig. All 20 of us followed them down the small neighboring street, trying to keep as quiet as 20 people can and trying also to not arouse suspicion from neighbors or notice from the bride. I suppressed multiple giggles as I considered the folly of us walking down that street- this large mass of people intending to surprise the bride. We filed into the carport behind the mariachis. Their stark contrast to the pitch of night in their white sombreros and white uniforms only escalated the delicious anxiety of the moment.  And then just like that, such a noise erupted from the eight piece band that made the dogs howl and the humans no longer contained their laughter, ourselves included. The bride’s father came out, looking a bit bedraggled but smiling, happy to see our merry group celebrating this occasion No bride, and on the mariachis played with the horn popping off bursts of  bright noise. We waited until she came out, fully clothed and made up- the surprise on us.

Through the house we walked, out into her family’s plaza-style garden, as we listened to the mariachis play songs the groom requested while we held his soon-to-be-wife close. Long after Nathan and I had returned to California, this memory remained the highlight of this trip- his first initiation into the Mexican boda.

The next day, some of my cousins swam and relaxed poolside before the big event later that evening. My mom, Nathan and I decided we wanted to explore Tampico. We started out at a café in downtown Tampico known for its good breakfasts. As we were getting up from the table, a man motioned to me and asked if I was an actress on television. I responded saying I wasn’t but he was convinced he’d seen me on TV. It was a funny moment. Off we went scavenging the streets of the downtown, walking past stores and restaurants, walking through flea market-style booths. We ventured into the local cathedral, noted for its interesting tiled floors. Outside we bumped into the Tias and Tios out to the downtown salon to get their hair done for the evening and picking them up, respectively. Nathan, Mom and I climbed onto the bus headed for the beach. Since we were on the coast, we couldn’t imagine not going to see what their beach looked like. A slow, bumpy and circuitous bus ride I spent in between two of my favorite people.  Once we arrived, the hour was late, so we snapped a few photos, sandals in hand and toes dredging their way through sand. We hailed a cab and sped back to don our fineries.

Now, if you’ve never been to a Mexican wedding you may want to think a bit about snacks. In fact, I don’t think it would be too bold to say that Mexico is a nation of food-minded people, resourceful in the ingredients proffered by the land and available at hand. Of the weddings I’ve been to, they have all started at 9:30 p.m. We ate a quick bite before getting dolled up. The wedding was beautiful and the reception stunning. Dinner at 11:30 p.m., we knew we were in it for the long stretch. Course after course arrived. The dance floor flooded with people eager to move their bodies to the rhythm and tempos of the live band. A Mexican wedding embodies celebration: on the plate, on the dance floor, in your ears. The bride and groom looking equal parts exhausted and exultant. Nathan and I would be flying out in the wee hours of the next morning so we did not brave it with the party all night brigade. But here’s what you need to know as my other favorite tradition of Mexican weddings. At 3 a.m., if people are still celebrating, out come the chilaquiles.

Food. Fiesta. Family. Can you really ask for anything more at a wedding celebration?

One night when I was visiting my mom’s home a year or so later, I couldn’t sleep. My brain whirred and hummed, making me acutely aware of its refusal against slumber. I wandered into my mom’s room and lay on her bed. She had heard me pacing in the other room and knew I couldn’t sleep- neither could she. It had been a little over a week since my dad had suddenly died and I had flown back for the wake and funeral. She tried to coax me into talking about it and eventually her gentle nudges let the doorway to the insomnia-riddled anxieties out. After about an hour of talking and listening, she said, “If we’re still awake in an hour, I’ll make chilaquiles.”

And wouldn’t you know it that did the trick better than counting sheep.

Chilaquiles Recipe




Chilaquiles have become very en vogue as of late. My mom mentioned that people put eggs in their chilaquiles or even chorizo, but I’m giving it to you as a I remember them from my youth, simple and unadulterated. After conferring with my Tia Berta, we’ve stumbled onto this recipe which will give you crispy chips drenched in mouth-watering salsa. These do not keep well and are best enjoyed right when prepared. Buen provecho!

YIELD: Makes 2 servings

  • Full order of homemade chips
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Crema Casera (you can find this in Latin American groceries)
  • ¾ cup Salsa Verde or Salsa Roja (your preference)
  • ½ cup Oaxaca cheese or Mozzarella cheese, shredded (you want a melty white)

chilaquiles ingredients

chilaquiles ingredients

Place oil, salsa and cheese in large pan over medium heat.

making chilaquiles

chilaquiles sauce

Stir until cheese is fully incorporated into salsa. Add chips to the pan and quickly turn them over until all chips have been coated with salsa mixture. Remove from heat and serve. Garnish with some Crema Casera and chopped onions if you like.




Homemade Tortilla Chips- Baked & Fried Variations

Who doesn’t like tortilla chips? Okay, maybe people who are allergic to corn or just avoiding it. In our household pantry, they are a staple. In our refrigerator, you can always find tortillas. Recently, Nathan stocked up on some from Chavez in the East Bay. The tortilla chip is humble and yet crunches and crackles its way into many a party.

Making them is a snap and really there might not be anything better than making them fresh when you want them, and deciding if you want to go the healthy Baked Tortilla Chip route or the more indulgent Fried Tortilla Chip route. Both methods are too easy to not pass along. Making them from scratch inevitably also saves money as the bagged tortillas in your grocery Latin food aisle usually come stacked high and priced low.

I’m trying something different here that I’ve been mulling since following a trussed chicken recipe by photo. Inspired by Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s roasted chicken recipe and more recently, friend Irvin Lin’s chocolate magic shell recipe, I give you the Homemade Tortilla Chip Recipe by Photo: done 2 ways.

Stay tuned this week for recipes that make these baked and fried bad boys shine beyond the nacho plate or dip platter.



Baked Homemade Tortilla Chips

Fried Homemade Tortilla Chips


homemade corn tortilla chips

DIY RECIPES- Making Tortilla Chips From Scratch




Jose Maria’s Gallo Pinto


Have you ever stalked an ingredient before?

This is what it must feel like to be the hunter: to crane your ear toward the direction of the prey and listen for a rustling- to look with eyes that see beyond the veneer of branches and blades of grass for what moves among that which doesn’t – to be poised and ready.

It’s been a little over two months since we visited Costa Rica. Over the course of our two weeks there, we became intoxicated by the tranquility of Nosara and elated at making new friends with Jose Maria and Francisco from an old connection, my Dad, in San Jose.

If a dish existed that personified that place it might be Gallo Pinto. Such affection bubbles up in the national conscience for this humble yet tasty combination of rice and beans that is thoroughly Tico. We noticed it on menus early on in our stay and had an opportunity to try Gallo Pinto on different occasions. I knew this one would be packed safely in my luggage to be enjoyed on many occasions by the mister and I as recipes are duty free and not given to customs searches.

Back to the elusive ingredient- as we waited in the San Jose airport, I wandered. I tend to do this when in airports unless deeply sunken into a book. One of the few stores I walked into had shelves upon shelves loaded with tchotchkes. I smiled and considered taking a photo of Gallo Pinto in a can. Somehow this didn’t seem like the penultimate way to enjoy this national dish. Close to it was a bottle of Salsa Lizano, which we’d seen don the tables at the restaurants we’d visited akin to a bottle of Heinz in the United States.

Now pay attention. I remember picking it up and thinking how novel it was to find this salsa in this airport tourist trap (more like Worcestshire sauce than the Mexican variety, as salsa means sauce). I set the bottle back down on the shelf, sampled one of the chocolate covered pineapple bits on the counter and walked back to our gate.

A few days in and with curiosity piqued, Jose Maria kindly shared his recipe for Gallo Pinto with me. He exclaimed the absolute importance of Salsa Lizano to this dish and the crucial Costa Rican flavor that makes this Gallo Pinto, hoping it would not be difficult for me to find now that I was back in San Francisco. Inside I scoffed thinking, this is San Francisco, a mecca for foodies, not at all concerned about locating this small Tabasco sized bottle of sauce.

The hunt was on!

Off I went on two buses to Fisherman’s Wharf one Saturday and the World Market. Sadly, I exited the automatic doors sans salsa and sorely wondering how the store could live up to its name. Next, I chided myself for not going to the granddaddy of search and hopped online onto google. Much to my growing dismay, I found a forum online dedicated to salsa lizano and trying to conceive of a recipe to make it frequented by people who could not find it stateside but had to special order it in bulk. Not for me. On a hunch and slim suggestion, I headed to El Chico in the Richmond, praying as I began perusing the aisles past produce. My eyes strained as they looked for that familiar label and swooped typeface of Lizano. After a double check and a confirmation check with one of the employees, I left empty-handed. This didn’t thwart my mission, to the contrary, it upped the ante. I put the escapade on hold for a week knowing my search would next take me to the Mission, which now had a whole new meaning for me as a neighborhood. Surely there, in the borough of Latin American fusion might be space and interest enough on the shelves for bottles of this Tico salsa.

Nathan and I drove out to the Mission the next Saturday and meandered one of my favorite streets: 24th Street. En route to the Mission district’s El Chico Produce Market, we strolled hand in hand taking our time and taking in the sights. We passed windows to a panaderia with homemade Conchas beaming from inside the glass case. Taquerias dotted both sides of the street in stoic invitation of messy burritos and tortas. A hipster coffee house with next to no lights on inside winked its wary welcome. Yet on we walked with a bounce in our steps- sometimes there is such joy in just being together and experiencing the world around.

As we entered El Chico, I had a good feeling this was where we would find this Salsa Lizano. A panoply of Mexican cheeses in the case to the right, both sides of the aisle piled high with produce, we walked ever closer to the salsa aisle. And what a salsa aisle it was! We were like two kids doubling over with anticipation. Beck grabbed a few bottles of our mainstay in Salsa Verde and Casera. I pulled down a can of chipotle peppers in adobo, but try though I might, not a single bottle of anything that even vaguely resembled Lizano. I politely asked the checker if they carried it, thinking maybe I hadn’t looked carefully enough (the four times I roamed the aisle) and he replied that they used to, but no longer. After purchasing the groceries, we exited. I was disappointed, but having such fun with Nathan that it was to a minimum. I started concocting the semblance of a Plan B.

And then kitty corner across the street, I saw Casa Lucas. Just for grins I told Nathan I would try there, maybe fourth time was a charm. Something felt very different inside this mercadito. A woman was bottling crema in the back of the store. Another, flipping corn tortillas with bags of freshly steamed tortillas perched on her table. If nothing else, I found myself immensely intrigued. I turned the corner from one aisle to the next until I’d made it to the aisle where they kept their salsa and found myself in eager excitement at finding canned flor de calabaza (squash blossoms). This new discovery almost eclipsed what sat only a few short products away on the shelf. A knock-off of Salsa Lizano!

salsa alfaro

I asked the teller if they had the actual Lizano salsa instead of the Salsa Alfaro, to which she confirmed my suspicions that this was basically the same thing. To be sure, I checked the provenance of the salsa on the back of the bottle. Sure enough, it read, “Made in Costa Rica.” This wild goose chase had landed us in a day that stood out as the embodiment of pura vida, where we drank in the moments slowly savoring them.

Nathan and I walked down 24th for coffee and a Guinness doughnut from Dynamo Doughnuts before heading home and out of the drizzle that had begun to dampen the sidewalks and edifices.

So lesson learned: if you see bottles of sauce that you think you might need when you get home, you might want to suck it up and buy one. You’re a tourist after all. Or leave yourself to the whims of adventure and the fancy of the elusive ingredient- the hunt makes the meal taste that much better…


Jose Maria’s Gallo Pinto

I’ve tried to stay as true to his recipe’s translation as I can. Eating this makes me feel a little bit closer to living Pura Vida.

YIELD: 3 cups

  • ½ cup long grain white rice
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 medium Spanish or yellow onion, minced
  • 1 red jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 ½ tablespoon safflower oil
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 2 tablespoons salsa Lizano or Alfaro
  1. Wash your rice three times as this does affect how the rice tastes once cooked. (If you’ve never washed rice before, pour water so it covers the rice. Then drain the water out without losing any of the grains of rice.)
  2. Add 1 cup of cold water and bring to boil.
  3. Cover and set to simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. When the rice is getting close to being finished, in a large pan, sauté the onion and jalapeno in the oil over high heat for five minutes.
  5. Add the black beans to the jalapenos and onion mixture along with 1 cup of your cooked rice and the Salsa Lizano (or Salsa Alfaro).
  6. Break up the rice and mix all the ingredients together. Simmer for 10 minutes and stir frequently.

chopped onion for gallo pinto recipered jalapeno for gallo pinto recipe

jalapeno and onion for gallo pinto recipe

Gallo Pinto Recipe

Costa Rican Menu Idea: Serve with a side Ensalada de Palmito (side salad of hearts of palm, tomatoes and avocado, topped with Lagarta Lodge dressing.)

gallo pinto recipe variation

Variation: Let’s say you don’t have any fresh jalapenos handy. Shop the Latin American aisle at your local store and pick up a can of pickled carrots and jalapenos. Drain the pickled carrots and jalapenos and dice them. Then substitute 2 tablespoons of them into the onion saute as it is almost finished with the edges charring slightly. Saute like this for 1-2 minutes and then follow the rest of the recipe as cited above.




Spiced Moroccan Chicken

The air was thick and moist. As Raju, our rickshaw driver pedaled onward, the slight breeze felt recompense to the Indian summer.

On this day, my translator Vinay was unavailable and my study partner Todd, back at the hotel with digestive distress. Today, my pregnant friend Laura and I arrived by my usual escort the smiling rickshaw driver Raju. Children pooled around the periphery of the slum, their home, eager and excited to see us. We meandered the narrow corridors, passing one slipshod home after another. My blue dupatta covered my head out of respect and I covered my mouth with another swath of it.

The cobbled path ended up outside the home of newfound friend Dolly, finding her hanging laundry. She invited us to sit on the cot outside her one room house and asked if we wanted sodas. We declined and yet she pressed on, soon dispatching a small child with the coins needed for Limca sodas for Laura and I. On this particular day, the sun beat down on us from the heavy-lidded monsoon sky. The sticky sweetness of that lime ginger soda washed away my thirst as sweat pooled along my temples. We sat together, as Dolly talked about her village and getting married at the age of six. Her neighbors stood nearby as children lounged, all intent on these Western women raptly listening to their friend. With the men at work, the women conducted the affairs of their homes and found pockets of time to congregate, enjoying each other’s company.

Dolly sang for us in her village language, a spirited song that trilled up and down. I noticed an old man stumbling down the lane. He looked like he would continue on his way until he saw Laura and I, and changed direction. He began meandering our way. The stench of alcohol was pronounced as was the pitch of his voice. He asked animated questions of us in hindi. He continued approaching and Dolly quickly ushered both Laura and I into her one room house. She locked the door. Outside we could hear her yelling at the old man. Laura translated that the man refused to leave until we came back out. His harassment continued unabated. I surveyed the room, trying to take my mind off of the crazy man now banging on the door separating us from him.

Several years ago in graduate school, we headed to India to conduct ethnographic research. Our small cohort of students set off to learn about the people and culture through the people themselves. We collected information, learning the semantics of the people in our community, learning about industry, relationship and belief.

If you want to understand a lot about a people group, find out whom they will eat with and whom they will marry. This detail reflects the fluidity or brittle nature of people far more than whom they will do business with. The community we learned about that summer consisted of a slum in East Delhi that at the time held around 44,000 people. As American students, we set off in pairs, accompanied by a translator. My partner that summer, Todd, had a rather weak constitution. Often, he would remain in the hotel and I would set off dressed in my salwar kameez and dupatta with my translator Vinay.

Often, people would speak to me in hindi and while flattered they thought I looked the part, humbly shook my head, “no.”

On this specific occasion, Laura and I had gone looking for songs and stories, not expecting a crazy man to interrupt our time with our new female friends. Eventually, he took off. Eventually the door was unlocked, but the camaraderie had changed. The spirit had lifted and moved on.

Hospitality takes many forms. Sacrifice: Limca sodas for two guests. Protection: Locking a door and keeping two guests safe. Out of the abundance of our friend Dolly’s heart, she showed us true hospitality and gave above and beyond her means. The following summer I returned to India and visited Dolly. She pulled the letter I’d written to her, along with a photo of the two of us from a tin box like a treasure.

I look back on that summer that almost wasn’t and consider how easily my steps could have led to Morocco but instead, I found myself in India learning hospitality in its varied forms.

Nathan and I have made a priority to practice hospitality. We believe there is power in the hospitable gesture and try to make a point of being good stewards with what we’ve been given. We have had the pleasure of cooking this Spiced Moroccan Chicken with Onions and Prunes recipe to rave reviews from a visiting filmmaker friend and parents. The sauce will make you want to lick every utensil that’s crossed its path. If you’re looking for leftovers- this is not your recipe. If you’re looking for a meal that will bring hospitality to your guests in the guise of tantalizing aroma and flavors to entice your tongue’s different taste zones- you’ve found it.


Spiced Moroccan Chicken

adapted from the Bon Appetit Cookbook

YIELD: 4 servings

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup pitted prunes
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • Chopped fresh cilantro

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté until brown and just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer chicken to plate. Add onions and garlic to same skillet. Saute until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Mix in flour, ginger, cinnamon, and cumin; stir 1 minute.

Gradually whisk in broth. Add prunes, lemon juice, and honey. Boil until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking occasionally, about 8 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Return chicken to skillet.

Simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer chicken and sauce to platter. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

GLUTEN-FREE VARIATION: Substitute Gluten Free AP flour. Instead of serving this over cous cous, serve over rice.




Lagarta Lodge Ensalada de Palmito

COSTA RICAN RECIPES- Lagarta Lodge Ensalada de Palmitos

A former roommate of mine, Lisa, first introduced me to hearts of palm years ago. Picking my way through eating all during childhood, I missed a lot. When I first caught sight of the heart of palm in one of her salads (Lisa has the gift of salad-making), I was skeptical. Perhaps downright dubious. I didn’t know what the white flecks were and bet I wouldn’t like them. But that night, she made me a believer in the beloved palmito. I might even want to name a son after it. Then again, I’m not sure how Nathan might feel about a son named “Heart of Palm” (though it sure sounds cute in Spanish). Palmito. Maybe it could be the name of a bird instead…

While celebrating the arrival of the new year with family at the Lagarta Lodge in Nosara, Costa Rica, I spotted Ensalada de Palmito on the menu. Nathan and I split this salad and wiped the dressing bowl that accompanied it, clean. I have given it my own spin by adding in the avocado, though now I can’t imagine the salad without it. Did I mention that all of us who ate heart of palm salad at Lagarta Lodge practically licked the bowl of dressing clean. Think cat to the milk bowl. This dressing is so good, you might find it becomes your new secret sauce.

The recipe makes a lot of dressing and I have a hunch it would be a fantastic twist to any of the typical prepared salads: tuna, chicken, potato or egg salad. Heck, go crazy and combine them.

A word on Palmito, compliments of my scavenging at all places, the Fancy Food show. From a piece of collateral picked up at the La Cima booth:

“In Costa Rica, it was consumed by indigenous people before Columbus even reached the continent… The heart of palm is in itself the new leaf of the palm in its formation.”

Already the indigenous people knew what it would take the rest of us so much longer to figure out: palmitos are good for you! The fiber, protein, potassium and calcium are reasons to add palmito to any salad.

One word of caution though, you might find you want to somehow add it to every salad. I would suggest moderation, if not for this reason alone, from La Cima: “The cultivated culture of Hearts of Palm diminished the exploitation of wild Hearts of Palm which year after year has devastated the forests of the tropical lands. This indiscriminate exploitation led to the extinction of some species of palms.”

That is no bueno. So as you’re shopping for palmito,  perhaps check the source. We are in an age of wanting to know, again, where our food comes from.  And maybe this salad below will have you envisioning yourself frolicking in the tropics.



Lagarta Lodge Ensalada de Palmito

YIELD: 4 servings


  • ½ cup white onion, minced
  • 5 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 6 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced


  • 1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • 12 grape tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 hearts of palm, halved and then sliced
  • 1 avocado, halved and then sliced

Mix dressing ingredients together. Set aside. Chop the lettuce and put about 1 cup on each salad plate. Add the equivalent of 3 chopped grape tomatoes per plate along with a quarter of avocado per plate. One heart of palm, halved and sliced is sufficient to add onto the salad per plate. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of dressing on each salad and serve.







It’s what someone might say of a couple replete with smooches and rings on the left hand. They’re casado. Married. Nathan and I said our vows in a rustic church filled to the hilt with family and friends from all over the globe. When planning the wedding, it was important that it feel like us. I jokingly said multiple times, if the wedding had a theme, it was “it takes a village.” We wanted it imbued with as many of our closest people doing what they do best: singing, playing piano, baking cake, hand-making caramels… the list could go on.

We wanted it to feel like us. Nothing too gussied up, but full of texture, language, color and flavor. Yes!

The morning started quietly. In the silence of a new apartment, I padded around barefoot, drinking it in, contemplating the weight of the day ahead, excited with a pep in my step. And then breakfast, photos and ceremony threaded together to find me at the pivotal moment.

Will I promise to love Nathan in sickness and in health? I will.
Will I promise to love him until death do us part? I will.

So much leading up to this moment of transition: casados.

We had the happy occasion to travel on a family holiday trip to Costa Rica right after Christmas. We rang out New Year’s Eve and walked into the New Year trolling our local beach with sand dusting our toes.

A few people at work asked upon my return, “How was your honeymoon?” This tickles me as I try to imagine inviting anyone other than Nathan to a honeymoon, but I’m polite, and say, “Fantastic!” Come to think of it, the woman seated next to us on the HOU – SJO leg of our trip asked if we were newlyweds. It must be something impermeable. Perhaps it’s the starry eyed look or our need to tuck our heads into each other’s neck nooks like ostriches. We are that couple.

See, we’ve decided to stay on honeymoon permanently. One of the best pieces of marital advice we’ve gotten is from his parents to “plan adventures with each other!”

Trust me, if they’d seen:

  • the commuter airplane that hoisted us cross-country to the coastal town of Nosara chug noseward up-
  • the canopy tour with its pully system and the directive to “Jump!” off the mountains-
  • us staring into and separating darkness from darkness, craning our ears and eyes for Olive Ridley Turtles come to shore to lay their eggs and then set off again-
  • the two hour pitch black trek from one beach to a mini mart “cross beaches” rather than “cross-town” in search of lotion, shampoo and a green vegetable-
  • hand-to-hand combat with the warrior locust to usher it back outside

We are living up to that bit of advice.

Food is always a bit of an adventure. (At least in my kitchen it is). If another culture doesn’t first enter through my ear, then it sure does through my stomach. The food section on my last blog was even called puerta de la panza (doorway to the stomach). Much to my delight, the Costa Rican’ national dish* happens to bear the name of my newly cemented status, casado. When in Costa Rica, you will see this as a menu item in most soda ticas, bars and restaurants.

I spoke with new friend Isabel to get a better idea of what a casado actually is.

casado consists of rice, black beans, salad and a choice of protein including chicken, fish or bistek en salsa, meat in sauce. Some casados include plantains and some don’t. Further inquiry (on wikipedia) revealed a possible reason for the name: businessmen said they wanted to be served like those who are married because the implication is married men eat this kind of meal in the home for lunch or dinner. I’m taking it with a grain of salt, though maybe that is its origin.

Casado- Rosi’s Soda Tica

While we were in Costa Rica, each of us had casados at different restaurants and each gives it their own flare. One evening in San Jose, my mom ordered the Casado and it came not only with plantains and the usual fare, but also included Fajita chicken and a picadillo of squash and carrots. Yummy. When we were in coastal Nosara, the casado at a local popular soda tica did not include plantains.

Casado- Soda Vanessa

I think the casado is aptly named. It brings a smattering of individual parts onto a plate and from the many ingredients comes a hearty dish with variety that can be personalized by venue or person. And it appeals to my personal sense of order: each ingredient has its own quadrant of plate. Beans over here. Rice to the right of the beans. Plantains nestled up against the rice. Chicken nudging the plantains. Salad in its own corner. Unlike, Nathan who prefers all things mixed together, I like to build the perfect bite. See, casado: something for everyone!

We returned from Costa Rica in early January and find ourselves hankering a bit for the simplicity and beauty of those environs, not to mention the warm temperatures and sun in place of the living room heater cranking for a short burst to cut through the old building cold. Then again, we are casado…

Heater turned off, oven turned on, we get started.




  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon ground roasted coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Mexican lime, quartered

Place chicken breasts in milk bath and refrigerate for an hour. Blend spices together in a small side bowl. Set aside. Once ready to cook chicken, place olive oil in pan over medium high heat. Remove one chicken breast and sprinkle both sides with spice blend. Cook on each side for 4 minutes or until cooked through.


  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 1 1/2 cup water

Rinse rice two times. Then add 1 1/2 cup water and bring to slow boil. Once boiling, set to simmer and cover for 20 minutes or until cooked.


  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium parsnip, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup peeled and diced celery root
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • Salt to taste

Steam the diced veggies for 5 minutes. Remove from water. Combine oregano, salt, chicken stock and oil. Add to pan and turn heat onto medium high. Sauté veggies for 2 minutes.


  • 1 can black beans, drained

Heat up black beans on stovetop until warm.


  • 2 plantains
  • 1 cup canola oil

Peel plantain and discard peel. Cut plantain into 1/4 inch chunks. Coat bottom of pan about 1 inch deep with oil. Heat oil over high heat but take care to not let it begin bubbling. Place plantain sections in oil and turn every 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.


  • ½ head of iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes, diced

This can be the final step for your casado to keep salad cool and ingredients in fridge until everything else has cooked.

Think of your plate by quadrant, when plating a casado: every ingredient gets its own home. Our casado will have a part of the plate dedicated to the beans, another to the rice, the plantains immediately next to the rice, then chicken and lastly salad.