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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This little feast explodes with flavor because of the wildly contrasting tastes… the buttery rich umami seared scallops match perfectly with the spicy red curry, crunchy green haricot vert green beans and the bright sweet cherry tomatoes bursting with flavor, all contrasting wonderfully with the richness of the coconut cream and the savory fish sauce.
These crunchy juicy sweet red bell peppers were just asking to get stuffed and baked, so we obliged with lots of savory stuff like spinach seared in tons of garlic and Italian olive oil, smoked Cajun sausages and Italian sausages, lots of feta cheese along with three other cheeses like Pecorino Romano grated inside with smoked Provolone and Gruyere on top, 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 were recently interviewed as a guest on The Storied Recipe and our episode went live today!! Here’s what the host, Becky Hadeed, had to say about the episode and the highlights of our interview… “John and Rebekah are both Emmy-award winning screenwriters. They are parents to 4 children, doting grandparents, and absolutely passionate home cooks. In fact, I think they’re the most passionate home cooks I’ve ever met. John and Rebekah believe feasting together is the path to “creating family”. While Rebekah uses inspiration and solid know-how to use up leftovers in exciting, delicious ways, John takes a meticulously researched approach to his cooking. They combined their gifts, styles, and experiences to self-publish a cookbook titled Our Wild Savory Kitchen. Today, they’re sharing John’s jambalaya recipe, born one magical evening in the Bayou, perfected in long conversations with famed chef Paul Prudhomme, and now enjoyed together by Paul, Rebekah, and their children as a way of celebrating life and, as they say, “creating family”. Highlights •Home cooking is “making family” •How food brought John and Rebekah together and how they catered their own wedding •Memories from a garden •Cooking and the creative/writing process •John and Rebekah’s different approaches to cooking •A magical night in the Bayou followed by magical lunches with famed chef, Paul Prudhomme •A history lesson on Cajuns and Cajun cooking •John and Rebekah’s approach to sourcing the very best and most authentic ingredients You can listen to it several ways: From The Storied Recipe Website: In Apple Podcasts https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-028-time-in-kitchen-what-we-will-remember-always/id1482179289?i=1000478287502 Or simply search for The Storied Recipe in any podcast player Thanks for listening! John and Rebekah
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.
In many way, the Creoles of New Orleans may be the most quintessentially American society of all, the original American fusion. Comprised of the descendants of the French and Spanish who were born in Louisiana, it later came to include all races and cultures that shared this general background. They were always a highly sophisticated people, many educated in Paris. The Creole opened the French Opera house in 1859, and the city of New Orleans became the opera capital of America. When I think of this meal, Red Beans and Rice, I imagine the steamy languid Sundays of the Creole world of New Orleans in the 1800’s, ham on the table and French wine to accompany that. And then on Monday, which was called Laundry Day throughout the South, they used the scraps and bones from Sunday’s ham feast, tossed in some Red Beans and seasoning, and as it bubbled for hours, the tedious laundry work was accomplished along with a savory lunch.
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.
In India, on the western coast along the Arabian Sea, lies the city of Mangalore, with it’s ancient traditional cuisine of creamy spicy coconut sauces. I have very strong memories of watching cooks from that region, working as chefs in Los Angeles, throw whole mustard seeds into woks of smoking oils, seeing them pop and sizzle along with curry leaves tossed in and blackening, infusing the oil with powerful flavors. South of Mangalore is the state of Kerala, and all along the coast this Malabar Shrimp is a very popular street food and one of the local home cooks’ favorite meals. The proximity of the ocean with its fresh fish and seafood along with the spiciness from the pungent curry leaves and chilies highlight this traditional dish… and it’s beautiful to look at as well, because this little feast also has an amazing shimmering deep red color from the tamarind.
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 feast comes from the heart of the North Country pines… northern Minnesota, the place where I did my real growing up, from boy to man, hunting and fishing in the wilds. This iconic feast, legendary among the native peoples who live there, is the essence of wildness. When you prepare the ingredients, and then feast on it, you can almost hear the cry of the loons out on the lake, in the dusk… and again at first light, as you ease your boat into the lily pads, casting for large mouth bass and northern pike. It is so deep in my heart that every scrap of my DNA cries out to be there again, one day.
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…
This fabulous umami feast explodes with flavor because of the wildly contrasting tastes… the rich deep dark pink meat of the duck breast match perfectly with the spicy red curry, and the bright sweet taste of the pineapple and the tomatoes contrast wonderfully with the richness of the coconut cream and the umami fish sauce. It’s also addictive, like the best meals from Thailand, with the amazing fresh flavors of the lemongrass, Kiffir lime leaves, Thai basil, mint and cilantro.