I had a close friend who was Cajun and he once took me to a small village in southern Louisiana where he grew up, not too far from the town of St. Martinville, famous for the statue of Evangeline, the High Priestess of myth and poetic legend among the Cajun and a powerful symbol of the Acadian diaspora. (The real person’s name was Emmeline Labiche, and the truth is better than Romeo and Juliet, but that’s a story for the next cookbook.) I had written about the Cajun people in a novel so I was familiar with their culture, food and society. One reason for my passion for Cajun food is that my mother’s side of the family has roots in the French Canadian community of Acadia and thus are the remnants of the Acadian people, who were cast out of their homes and lands by the English army in 1755 to wander unwanted along the Eastern seaboard of America for decades. They finally found a home in the bayous of Louisiana, so it’s completely understandable that traditionally the Cajuns are a people who wanted to be left in peace.
This beautiful and savory dish is served in most local restaurants in Spain, it is a national treasure of their cuisine. This intensely flavored dish is made with one single large cast iron or enamel pan, what could be more simple.
When you have boneless skinless chicken thighs the most luscious umami dish you can imagine is just a simple one pan recipe, taking only 25 minutes. An umami feast and so easy!
This is the perfect dish for using leftovers in the frig, especially rice, and staples in the pantry. This is our take on a street food legend… spicy fried rice!
Paella is the signature meal of Spain, a national pride, and yet almost no one fully agrees on how exactly it should be made. It is a controversial meal for many reasons… starting with the simple fact that it is a huge shallow pan loaded down with complex and expensive ingredients which completely vary from home to home, town to town, restaurant to restaurant, and from region to region in Spain. Paella in Madrid is very different from that in Seville. But at the same time, like Bouillabaisse from France, Paella is a classic meal so identified with the soul of the country that it naturally comes laden with emotion, memory, tradition, pride, and a sensory longing for the authenticity of the time and place of one’s upbringing.
This is a dish we love to make for its gorgeous look and amazing flavors. We use olive oil, Porcini mushrooms or cremini mushrooms, Giant Beans from Greece for their incredibly dense creamy flavors, red, yellow and orange bell peppers, Cara Cara oranges for their unique flavor, Spanish chorizo with its smoky paprika flavor, and we sometimes use Cajun Andouille sausage for it’s immense smokiness and depth of Cajun flavors.
The Cajun people of Louisiana have a long, proud and emotionally powerful history and tradition… and they are a strong part of my Mother’s side of the family. She was French-Canadian, and was born within the bloodline of the Acadian people.
This one is the umami bomb of Thai street food, the most exotic flavored and juicy lip smacking chicken ever put on a stick.
I grew up in a little town in Illinois, and my geographical boundaries were LakeMichigan, corn fields and factories. It was a time and a place where there wasalmost zero opportunity to experience exotic foods, flavors and cuisines. Butsince I was a boy, I just naturally craved the exotic… coconut, limes, mint, spices,and the smell of garlic and ginger. Thai and Vietnamese meals have all that stuff,and when I figured that out in college and beyond, those are the restaurants Iwould always seek out… and I learned from all those meals how to make them.
This bad boy is not your momma’s Sloppy Joe’s… no ketchup, yellow mustard or chili powder. This version is super umami, with wonderful complex flavors and by far the best one we’ve ever tasted.
Every once in a while we like to look back at some of our favorite savory homemade pizzas and share them. We love homemade pizza, it brings the family together like no other meal!
We have probably ordered this umami bomb dish more times than any other Thai restaurant meal. When it’s prepared authentically it is haunting.
The cloying sweet dish that you get in Chinese takeout restaurants called Orange Chicken, with a commercial nod to the American love of the “sweet” in the sweet/sour equation, is quite different from the home cooked orange chicken that is made in the homes of Szechuan (also spelled Sichuan) province. The Chinese characters for this meal literally translate as “dried citrus peel chicken”. That authentic meal is redolent with tart citrus flavors… as well as the naturally occurring sweet/sour umami flavors brought by Chinese black vinegar, Shaoxing wine, fermented broad bean chili paste, dark soy, and Szechuan peppers. In this feast we have attempted to reestablish the cultural bedrock, the touchstone of this legendary feast, which reveals and the Szechuan grandmothers’ savory traditions, where the flavors are all distinct, layered, complex and addictive.
Some years ago Rebekah and I were in Paris, gathering ideas for new meals to make and to our surprise found inspiration in the ubiquitous French classic, the quiche. We had just left the Picasso museum and we found ourselves in a light drizzle, so throwing on our raincoats we headed out into the streets, but being hungry, we ducked into a nearby bakery right on the corner, that specializes in quiche. The glass case held six different styles, and they were sold by the slice. So we sat outside, under an umbrella in the warm gentle rain and dove into three or four different tastes… their version of the Lorraine, the St. Jacques and the Ratatouille, as well as other versions unique to their bakery. We were astonished at the tastes. The only word that fits the moment is savory. And, of course, romantic in a way that only Paris can be.
This is one of the most popular and beloved curry dishes of all, served in Indian restaurants around the world. It’s insanely creamy and luscious, with wildly aromatic spices many of which are probably in most kitchen cabinets. This is an easy dish to make and yet deeply savory and umami.
For us, this the most savory of all our chowders… combining caramelized salmon with the fresh corn cob kernels. The smoky burnt bits of the salmon are crazy good with the blistered cherry tomatoes and the intensely fruity and earthy flavors of the mushrooms… all in a creamy sherry and tarragon sauce.
Shakshuka isn’t just for breakfast anymore! This fabulous Middle Eastern feast is also a wonderful stuffing for grape leaves. Give it a whirl, these are the best stuffed peppers we ever had!
This feast, known as Kori Gassi in the Tulu speaking Bunt community of Mangalore, on the west coast of India, is a wonderfully pungent chicken gravy dish. This is a fabulous umami bomb from the Land of Spices… India.
This dish is the ultimate exotic feast from South Asia, combining fantastic spices and umami flavors into one wildly savory dish. We don’t find these flavor combinations in any other cuisine. When the spices of Malaysia and Persia were combined with the local Thai flavors like cilantro, lemongrass, garlic, galangal, wild onions or shallots, fish sauce, peanuts, tamarind, spicy peppers and coconut cream, a feast was created out of the fusion of culture, commerce and conquest… and the wild tastes that were created make this curry one of the most beloved in the world. Polls of culinary experts have rated Massaman Curry as the best dish in all the world. But within traditional Thai cuisine itself, it exists only in the south… and even at that, the unique combination of spices that are used in Massaman curry are not generally used in other Thai dishes.
In the tangled lush heart of the island of Jamaica, a tree grows abundantly that we call allspice, and which the Jamaicans call pimento. This tree is revered by the locals because it provides the essential flavor of classic Jamaican cuisine. The dried and ground berries become the spice we also know as allspice, and the Jamaicans often use the wood from the trees in their 55 gallon oil drum BBQs to grill and smoke Jerk chicken and fish. Even the leaves are used for cooking, tossed into the fire to flavor the smoke that penetrates the meats and vegetables, resulting in one of the greatest grilled feasts in the world.
Of the 14 regions in the city of Rome, my favorite area to wander around with Rebekah is Trastevere, arm in arm, taking our time… strolling within its maze of narrow winding cobblestone streets. We like to get lost there. First we go to the Coliseum, stare in awe, and then we head for Trastevere to eat.
This is a taste of rustic Italy, where we first learned the meaning of the word “abbondanza”. This is the Italy of our deepest memories, authentic and imposing, like the looming Medieval fortified hill towns of Tuscany.
For years we have returned again and again to this simple savory feast… it’s like an old trusted friend. We just tossed this chubby duck inside the clay pot along with tons of veggies, stuck it a cold oven, set it to 475 degrees and got back to the family fun. An hour later, time to feast. It’s that simple.
Over the years, Rebekah and I have probably made this easy evocative feast more than any other. One reason for that is that when I go out fishing on the ocean, I bring back light flaky fish which are perfect for this meal. Whether I catch Vermillion Red Rockfish (two filets are pictured on the black plate pic), or Ling Cod, Red Snapper, Sea Bass, or Halibut, or we buy them at the market, they all are very elegant, and in this meal, exquisite.
These crunchy juicy sweet red bell peppers were stuffed with lots of savory stuff like spinach seared in tons of garlic and Italian olive oil, smoked sausages, lots of feta cheese along with two other cheeses like Pecorino Romano grated inside with smoked Provolone or Gruyere on top, which got all melty and aromatic, held together with our own spiced Jasmine rice… all made really creamy with roasted red pepper and tomato sauce. They are crazy tasty awesome wonderful.
We are simply addicted to this savory spicy ramen feast, simmered in our own chicken bone broth and our own seafood broth from boiled down shrimp, crab or lobster shells. We add Vietnamese fish sauce (Red Boat) and lots of ginger, garlic, sesame oil and exotic Vietnamese flavors, with the addition of seared smoked Kielbasa sausage, colossal shrimp and a creamy soft boiled egg for fun. All piled onto our favorite ramen noodles, tasty chewy crazy curly Chuka Soba noodles. Enjoy!
It’s summertime… and the livin’ is easy. This is a down-home feast from one of the most soulful cities in heartland America.
This is the Chicken Roulade of our dreams, the one we first experienced in Florence and the hill towns of Tuscany… the extravagant chicken roll that incorporates every savory ingredient we ever wanted to include.
This feast is a charred meat umami bomb straight out of West Texas, originally made in the 1800’s with beef strip steaks… in fact sometimes cowboys were paid in meat and not money. Those were tough times, and it was a harsh rugged job. So if you want to cowboy up, or just enjoy a real fiesta, this is the real deal. This time we switched it up and used seared chicken! You can also use shrimp! Serve with tons of salsa, sour cream, cilantro, guacamole, hot sauce and warm tortillas. And several ice cold beers. Enjoy!
We have always been fascinated by the Basque people, not just for their unique soulful cuisine, but also for the fact that no one really knows for sure where they come from or even where their language originates. Whenever folks go looking for the Basque origins, it turns out they were right there in their Basque Country homeland in the Pyrenees mountains all along, bordering both Spain and France, long before the French or the Spanish even existed.
This meal is real soul food from the heart of central Mexico and very different from the familiar restaurant style Tex/Mex cooking. Rebekah and I have been making this little feast for at least twenty five years… I think a good portion of our four kids’ DNA is made up of this family favorite. We always make two or three casseroles at once, and it makes endless lunches and dinners, and if frozen in the glass casserole dish, is an easy dinner for four any time you need it. It is hearty, healthy, spicy, addictive and deeply satisfying, a comfort food that is a real protein bomb… in which the flavors are both separate and yet married in a magical way.
This deceptively simple South Central Mexican feast gets its intense flavors from the reducing of tomatillo and green chilis, and the patina that is formed by simmering chicken with this reduction sauce in a cast iron pan. We find tomatillo sauces very seductive, smoky and exotic, and they penetrate the chicken in a nearly magical way.
This is one of our favorite ways to prepare a whole chicken, a method which is incredibly savory and succulent.
This feast is your ticket to Umami City. This is a fusion feast, as if it were cooked by two lovers, a lady chef from the South of France, bringing her thyme, cream, bacon, duck fat, Dijon mustard, butter and Chardonnay… and her chef lover from Tuscany, with his Porcini powder, Marsala, olive oil and garlic. It’s a magical dish for all lovers.
This Vietnamese soup is easy to make, tasty, enticing, light, healthy, fun and addictive.
We first tasted this classic New England meal, appropriately enough, in the food hall of Harrod’s in London, many years ago. It was a revelation. This feast has a timeless wildness to it, that speaks of a life lived outdoors and long ago, and of the fireplace and hearth, the warmth of home in a rugged country. This is a meal created by rural working folks and those who hunted and labored in the outdoors and in the garden.
This little feast takes a very deep dive into the spicy umami world of Szechuan cuisine.
I’ve always thought of Yakitori as the Bad Boy cousin to Teriyaki. He rides a Harley and he isn’t sweet, except in a kind of dangerous complicated way. This feast is the bad boy of Japanese BBQ. These skewers of little umami bombs have a wonderful tension between deep soy flavors from the Dark Soy (we use the Chinese version of Dark Soy, less salt, more aging), the tasty fresh unique flavor of sake, the nutty sesame, and the complex layered sweetness of the mirin.
Paella is the signature meal of Spain, a national pride, and yet almost no one fully agrees on what it is or how is should be made. It is a controversial meal for many reasons… starting with the simple fact that it is a huge shallow pan loaded down with complex and expensive ingredients which completely vary from home to home, town to town, restaurant to restaurant, and from region to region in Spain. Paella in Madrid is very different from that in Seville. But at the same time, like Bouillabaisse from France, Paella is a classic meal so identified with the soul of the country that it naturally comes laden with emotion, memory, tradition, pride, and a sensory longing for the authenticity of the time and place of one’s upbringing.
This is one of Rebekah’s signature feasts and one of our absolute favorites. Everything about it is sumptuous and savory and exotic, even the clay vessel it’s made in. The word “Tagine” is used for both the vessel and the meal itself, and a Tagine can be made in a myriad of ways, depending on the available ingredients. This recipe calls for chicken but we have also made it with rabbit and lamb, both of which are fabulous. Rebekah cans the Meyer lemons in wide mouth pint jars and stores them in the refrigerator for about six months, or up to a year, before use. Over that time, as they preserve, the Meyer lemon skins become butter soft and creamy, and the salted juices thicken, developing an ethereal but penetrating aromatic liqueur which has the consistency of syrup. Along with the saffron, green olives, ginger and roasted peppers, they fill the house with an intoxicating fragrance.
Jambalaya is illusive at its heart. It is, in essence, a rice meal… but that’s just the canvas the Creoles and the Cajuns use to paint one of their masterpieces. The rice is there to absorb all the umami juices of the meats and shellfish and seasoning, and in some ways, this meal is the coming together of the two traditional factions of the Cajun people, the Rice Cajuns and the Bayou Cajuns. The Rice Cajuns are those folks who, early on in their resettlement, were able to acquire slightly higher land in the interior, on which rice flourishes. For the folks living on these farms, pork and chicken were just as likely to be on the dinner table as Mud Bugs, turtles and shrimp, which the Bayou Cajuns netted for a living. So Jambalaya is a meal that combines all the traditional strengths of the Cajun people, and finding the authentic ingredients is crucial.
This beautiful Sicilian dish is amazing in its simplicity… one big cast pan is all the gear you need! This amazing feast speaks to us of rustic lands, blazing sun, and a robust full of life people with a reverence for tradition and the family harvest table. When our family and friends feast on this Sicilian chicken, folks say it’s like being transported to that rustic sun drenched soulful island, with all the umami tastes of seared lemons and olives, and the patina of chicken thighs simmered in virgin olive oil and capers. A bunch of our friends who have tasted this umami bomb have asked for more info about the history of this feast, since historical context is a big part of our blog and cookbook… so let us tell you about the Moors who created this dish.
Piccata is an Italian style of cooking in which either veal or chicken is pounded flat into cutlets, dipped in egg whites, dredged in flour and Parmigiano cheese, and then pan fried. Like all Italian cooking, very fresh and high quality ingredients are the secret. We find that Parmigiano Reggiano that has been aged two to three years makes a big difference, as well as extra rich chicken bone broth, free range air chilled chicken thighs (much richer tasting than chicken breasts), and high quality virgin olive oil. The combination of creamy young artichoke hearts and a lemony butter sauce make this meal a crowd favorite. And if that crowd is your family and close friends, this meal will be the one they barge back into the kitchen for… to ask for seconds and thirds, and most of all, for more sauce.
With all the startlingly fresh and evocative flavors of the best Thai street foods, this festive tasty feast will easily feed a crowd, who are likely hovering around your incredibly aromatic kitchen. Seared over flames, whether gas BBQ, charcoal or wood coals, or you own oven and broiler, these meatballs are literally packed with all the ingredients that make Thai food so irresistible… lemongrass, coconut, mint, fish sauce, lime, peanuts, cilantro, ginger and garlic… and rice noodles to soak up all that goodness. They are umami bombs wrapped in crunchy lettuce. Basically Bangkok in the backyard and your own wild savory kitchen.
We searched many years for a stuffed grape leaf that was mind blowing… and we never found one. We wanted Dolmathakia that was exploding with the flavors of Greece… lemon, dill and garlic, Greek oregano and mint from the hills above Santorini, and spicy sausage that tasted handmade. One day our son Tyler came home from having dinner with his buddy down the street, and he spoke with wonder about the stuffed grape leaves he had been served by that Lebanese family. So of course we went straight over there and asked the cook for the secret of her grape leaves. She reluctantly revealed the secret ingredient, after much imploring…