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.
If you are a lover of classic American chowders, like Boston clam chowder, you will love this rich sumptuous Manhattan style.
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.
When we think of the Oktoberfest, we always think of Smoked Kielbasa, seared on the grill and then simmered in sauerkraut with caraway seeds. This is Grandmother approved as the real deal. On a hot buttered bun with mayo and/or mustard it is umami bombi. This feast causes a kind of crazy desire in the crowd for more… until food coma ensues. If the weather at your home is getting colder, rainy, blustery, snowy or just kind of lacking any sunny stuff… this is the ultimate comfort food. If you want to enjoy an October feast at home, this one is so much fun. Don’t forget the beer! Enjoy! Ingredients… 2 pounds Kielbasa sausage (grilled or broiled until charred)2 pounds sauerkraut (purchased in a glass jar or from a deli)1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (steamed or boiled until just slightly tender)1 tablespoon caraway seeds (slightly ground)1 tablespoon light brown sugar1 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon black pepper2 ounces unsalted butter Cooking… Steam or boil the potatoes until just slightly tender, cut into quarters and set aside. Grill or broil the Kielbasa sausages until charred and juicy, cut into halves or thirds and set aside. In a stockpot or large pan, on medium heat, simmer the sauerkraut until it just begins to bubble. (Please don’t drain or rinse the liquids that come with the sauerkraut, they are wonderfully tart and packed with nourishing probiotics and umami flavors.) Add the caraway seeds, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, butter, potatoes and the Kielbasa sausages. Simmer on low heat for at least 20 minutes, we prefer to simmer for a least an hour. This is how Grandma makes this legendary meal. She approves!
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.
I go deep-sea fishing in Key West just about every year and that’s where we first discovered one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth… the Cuban Sandwich. Since the 1800’s, there were a great many Cuban workers in Key West in the cigar factories, and this was their favorite go-to lunch. And since Cuba is only about ninety miles away, families sailed back and forth with ease to Kew West for more than a hundred years. Most folks in Key West claim the Cuban sandwich originated right there, although the folks in Tampa and Miami would probably beg to differ. But one thing is for sure… I often heard an old expression… “the Cuban sandwich was born in Cuba and educated in Key West”.
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.
Imagine yourself at a beautiful two person mosaic tiled table, in a Greek cafe, leaning back against the cool of the white washed plaster wall, in the shade, away from the blazing sun. There is a glass of ice cold crisp local white wine in your hand, or maybe some tangy ouzo… and across from you is the love of your life. You turn slightly and look out at the turquoise blue sea, the briny air penetrating and clean… carrying the scent of the wild thyme and mint on the hillsides. The waiter with the white apron brings two plates of the house specialty, octopus marinated in red wine vinegar, olive oil lemons, garlic and oregano… and then grilled on searing hot charcoal. And on the side, marinated gigantes beans and seared arugula. Sometimes life is perfect.
We usually wolf down our po’ boys right there in the kitchen near the stove, hot and spicy, the oysters crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, and the tartar sauce all over our fingers.
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.
This is an authentic fiesta from central Mexico, it is not Tex/Mex in origin. This deceptively common meal takes its inspiration from the varied dried chilies, spices, fresh vegetables, jungle fowl and wild pig (peccary) perfected by the Aztec Empire. The spices they treasured are actually closer to the exotic and aromatic spices of India than the flavors from the beef culture of West Texas. Coriander, allspice (the taste of cloves), oregano, anise, cinnamon bark, wild onions and garlic vine were all available to the Aztec people, and they cooked over a smoldering fire, which made their chili perfectly smoky as well.
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 all the regions of Italy, the further South you go, the more things heat up. Our hearts are always with Tuscany, but other regions of our bodies and souls are more South, finally arriving at the epicenter of a dizzy feeling of ardor… Sicily. This dish, Shrimp Puttanesca, is ground zero in sexiness.
This dish is a real classic and very popular in restaurants all over the world. As always with Italian dishes, Scampi requires the highest quality ingredients to be really memorable. Here in our wild savory kitchen, we are always looking to find the most umami flavors possible, along with the most authentic ingredients. We have always felt that the usual Shrimp Scampi you would be served in a restaurant… which is generally just lots of butter, garlic and Italian parsley… wasn’t explosive enough in taste. We wanted to make a memorable version… and this is it.
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 extravagant and decadent umami bomb feast is simple and quick to prepare but fantastically savory… for us, this is the ultimate comfort food. We have combined the cheesiness of Au Gratin with the creaminess of Scalloped Potatoes, along with smoked meats, wild mushrooms, and herbs of Provence like tarragon, thyme and rosemary.
In our wild savory kitchen, we are always searching for new flavor combos, creating dishes which explode with umami tastes that are unique. This simple little feast is a mashup of different cuisines, like worlds colliding in your mouth.
For us a pot of clams and pasta brings a certain serenity. Living along the coast of the Monterey Bay, we are always amazed at the abundance of the ocean… but at the same time, shellfish makes us ravenous. Sweet, meaty, briny… they embody the taste of the sea. Toss in some chewy spaghetti or some hair fallen from an angel to soak up their natural juices released when steamed, some tomatoes for a summery freshness, each chubby clam simmering in the lemon/garlic/butter/wine reduce sauce… and you have a little feast that is both simple and extravagant.
Some meals are simply perfect. This light pasta is amazing on a lazy summer day with ice cold champagne, or a romantic warm evening with rose. Actually, it’s wonderful any time and any place on Earth, because this little feast will make it a special event.
Cuban hash, called Picadillo, is one of the most popular dishes in Cuba and after making this little feast several times, we are also head over heels in love. Most often we prepare this little feast with pork, but sometimes we use ground turkey thighs from free range and air chilled birds.
Black bean sauce is very deep in our memory, a passionately held love affair from all the fabulous meals we enjoyed in the Chinatowns of Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. They were seafood dishes filled with authenticity and gravitas, and packed with Umami. This little feast brings those extraordinary dishes into our own wild savory kitchen.
Imagine yourself at a beautiful two person mosaic tiled table, in a Greek cafe, leaning back against the cool of the white washed plaster wall, in the shade, away from the blazing sun. There is a glass of ice cold crisp local white wine in your hand, or maybe some tangy ouzo… and across from you is the love of your life. You turn slightly and look out at the turquoise blue sea, the briny air penetrating and clean… carrying the scent of the wild thyme and mint on the hillsides. The waiter with the white apron brings two plates of the house specialty, Greek Shrimp, fresh from the sea. And on the side, marinated gigantes beans and seared arugula. Sometimes life is perfect.
For us, the intensely fruity and haunting flavors of this wild mushroom called Chanterelle, which we hunt for in the mountains, combines magically with the fresh corn cob kernels and the smoked bacon umami flavors. And then we add the sweet briny rich crab taste of the sea, all in a creamy Sherry and Tarragon herb broth. It’s one of the most savory and umami packed chowders we’ve ever made.
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.
Pasta e Fagioli translates as Pasta and Beans but this dish is so much more than that. It’s a feast! This classic Italian dish is perfect when there is a bite to the air, and the dry leaves are blowing past the door. Build a fire in the fireplace and sit down to this classic rustic comfort food at the weathered kitchen table. This is an authentic Italian umami bomb, so rich and savory, often served with rosemary and garlic focaccia, or toasted Kalamata olive bread with cheese, and a rich red wine to stand up to it all.
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.
Of all the fabulous dishes from the Middle East, this is one of our absolute favorites. Packed with exotic spices and savory flavors, it makes a perfect brunch on weekends and a fun breakfast for the whole family. What brings the gravitas is the Middle Eastern spices, and here is where the magic happens.
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.
For Rebekah and I, this dish is our most intensely romantic meal… it was the meal that began everything for us as a couple.
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.
We love wild Sockeye salmon for its intense flavors and deep orange-red color. Happily, with this Yakitori feast, Sockeye filets are just the right size for pineapple planks and the wonderful full flavor stands up well to the intense umami flavors of the Yakitori sauce. And the bright crisp tropical flavor of the pineapple is a perfect contrasting flavor sensation to the salmon and the intense Japanese sauce, causing a delicious tension in the taste. With the pineapple salsa piled on top, it’s a really delightful feast.
This unique and gorgeous dish is one of the top fish meals we have ever had in our lives. That covers a lot of ground and many years of cooking and a life lived fishing on the ocean. The story begins with a restaurant in Hanoi that is legendary. It serves only one dish… this dish… Cha Ca La Vong, which is Turmeric Fish with Dill.
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.
Anyone who enters the fray about which region in America has the best Pulled Pork is in dangerous territory. Passions run high about BBQ and smoked meats, and from region to region, there is fierce competition. That being said, we’ll dive in anyway! We’ve always liked salty sour tangy flavors more than sweet, so we’re naturally drawn to the vinegar based marinades and rubs of Eastern North Carolina versus the sweeter stickier tomato based BBQ sauces of Kansas City or Texas.
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.
This is our favorite banana bread, hands down. Spicy, exotically fruity, crazy tasty, it’s just like the spice island we call Jamaica. Totally unique, haunting, sexy, and irresistible. And perfect for holidays, family gatherings and special events!