Meal 127: Norway

The Midsummer festival, which is celebrated in Norway with the rest of Scandinavia, is a bit of a misnomer, in that it's actually around first day of summer. But whatever, it does celebrate the peak of the year, when days are super long and gardens are finally abundant with fruits and vegetables. We held ours a few weeks earlier, which actually worked out in Portland's seasons because we got the new potatoes, strawberries and rhubarb at their peak. Certainly not all Norwegian food is colorful and zippy. The most representative aspect of the traditional Norse diet is porridge, called grøt — from which we get the English word "grout," to give you a sense of the texture. Its centrality is represented in the Great Porridge Feud of the 19th century, in which a debate over whether to throw in a handful of raw flour right before serving served as a proxy for the conflict between tradition and science.

I ought to point out that the nearby Ikea was very handy for this meal, with items such as the right kinds of mustard and coffee, herring, rye crispbread, and even a mix for bread. Another Swedish import that proved indispensable was our guest Erika, who sliced the gravet laks and in general was a handy consultant on the preparation and service of all the dishes. This is all to say that Norwegian food is similar to Swedish food, but don't tell any Norwegian I said that.

Joining us for this outdoor feast were Kim, Dave, Melia, Carmen, Will, Ana, Erika, Peter, Maya, Douglas, Kevin, Suj, Kyra and Annie.

Rabarbra Likør | Rhubarb aquavit | Recipe

Doesn't that look pretty? It takes as good as it looks, too, tart and flavorful, especially good when chilled. You could do some great cocktails with it, dilute with soda water, or simply sip it from a shotglass. (Don't shoot it, though, that'd be a waste!)

Agurksalat | Cucumber-dill salad | Recipe

Sweet, tangy, and extremely crispy and refreshing thanks to the ice-bath soak. As far as I'm concerned this is now my Platonic ideal of a cucumber salad.

Gravet laks | Salt-cured salmon | Recipe

So easy to make, and so impressive. A few minutes of plastering the fish with salt, sugar and dill (the name translates as "buried salmon"), turning it over once or twice a day in the fridge for a few days, and you're done. In fact, the most time-consuming and challenging part is the slicing, which Erika thankfully took care of. She shared a pro tip, that if you put the salmon in the freezer for a little bit, the firmer flesh is easier to slice. Relatedly, this dish freezes really well, just defrost and eat, so as long as you're making it you may as well make a lot. Oh, and don't forget to make the classic mustard-dill sauce to accompany.

Rekesalat | Shrimp salad | Recipe

There's more treats in the Norwegian sea. We had some little jars of various pickled herrings, and also this nice little shrimp salad, which in typical style features a lot of dill. This is a good opportunity to share an anecdote about why Norwegians traditionally don't eat predator fish: it's feared that any one of them have eaten part of a friend or relative who died at sea, so it's an abundance of caution to avoid being a second-hand cannibal.

Rabarbrasuppe | Cold rhubarb soup | Recipe

Just about the simplest way to eat this vegetable we treat as a fruit. Cook with water and sugar, chill, serve. It's a vibrant pink and exposes in the most essential way the complex flavor of this very cold-hardy late-spring treat. I tipped the leftovers into the ice cream machine and it made a fantastic sorbet.

Rømmegrøt | Cream pudding | Recipe

Heavy cream, sour cream, milk and buttermilk, totaling nine cups. And a cup of flour. This is one of the richest things I've ever eaten, and while more than a little tangy with that sour cream and buttermilk, it was pleasantly balanced out with cinnamon and sugar. It's the culinary opposite of Midsummer, and indeed it's best known as a Christmas Eve dish. You could see why someone would want to eat this in the middle of a dark and cold winter.

Nypoteter | New potatoes

A true new potato is so delicate you can rub the skin off an uncooked one with your thumb, and unlike most potatoes really ought to be kept refrigerated and hence is only available around the late-spring/early-summer harvest time. It has a texture that's both flaky and creamy, with a much brighter flavor than a typical potato. As far as I'm concerned there's only one way to cook new potatoes: boiled, drained, and tossed with butter and a bit of salt. Oh, and because it's Scandinavia, a healthy helping of dill too.

Kjøttkaker | Meatballs | Recipe

Compared to the more famous Swedish meatballs, these have more spices, and are a little bigger and flatter. The balls were as tasty as they look; the sauce was a lot of work and not my favorite, which is likely because of the brunost — a unique "cheese" that's actually made of caramelized whey.

Vafler | Waffles

I made so many dishes that I ran out of time to assemble the cake. I baked it, but just didn't have the time to make it up, so I froze it. And everyone wanted waffles anyway. Maya did a super good job of making them (unfortunately I've lost the recipes we used!), covering them with strawberries, and making everyone happy.

Meal 93: Lebanon

As I caught myself grumbling about having to clean my two food processors and the mixer with a meat-grinder attachment, I realized how it’s unlikely I’d take on this project without the aid of electric appliances. I shudder to think of how long it would have taken to mash the hummus, emulsify the garlic sauce, and grind or chop the meat with only the power of my arms. I wouldn’t have cooked nearly as many dishes if I’d had to do that!

Lebanese food is an incredibly popular cuisine. In fact, many of these dishes are extremely common throughout the Middle East, and it’s taken a lot of restraint not to make hummus and tabbouli for just about every Arab country’s meal. I was eager to throw in some variety, to explore Lebanese dishes that aren’t as familiar to our palate, but in talking with our dear friend Kate and our new friend Melia about what their Lebanese families would cook, it kept coming back to the classics. Authenticity isn't just what you make, but how much and how it's served, so we had a whole messload of mezze, sharable platters, to create a sense of abundance and a variety of flavors. (One might argue that authenticity also involves the cooking techniques, which my Cuisinart and I acknowledge but, frankly, often ignore.)

In addition to Melia, who was very generous with her time both in helping to plan the meal and also in cooking, we had her boyfriend Zef, as well as Laura, Laura (pronounced the Italian way!), Andrew, John, Alicia, Iris, Alley, Ana, Miguel, and Will.

Note: for dishes where recipes aren't linked, they were taken from a cookbook called Alice's Kitchen

Kabees | Pickles | Recipes: turnip, mixed

From what I read on multiple sites, the annual process of preserving the summertime abundance of fruits and vegetables in Lebanon, mouneh, is a cherished tradition. Naturally, then, pickled foods are commonplace on the Lebanese table, and I tried out two different recipes.

The one I was most eager to make was for turnips, stained pink by beets in the bottom of the jar, and kept crisp because rather than boiling to sterilize, I simply moved them to the fridge once they’d sat out for about a week in their vinegar brine. Sour, slightly sweet, slightly bitter, and with a dazzling color, I’d call these a big success, a great burst of flavor and crunch to accompany just about anything except dessert.

The other was a mixed quick pickle, featuring everything from cauliflower to green beans to carrots. I thought this one turned out okay, though to my taste there was too much sugar. Maybe I should have also left it on the counter to age for a few days rather than throwing it straight into the fridge.

Moutabal | Mashed eggplant dip | Recipe

Sometimes I find connections between faraway cuisines in the funniest way. While I was planning this eggplant dip, the chunkier and less creamy cousin of baba ghannoush, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I did an eggplant dip for the previous meal, Laos. But when I looked around the kitchen for a suitable vessel for mashing up the dish and logically arrived at my oversized African mortar and pestle, I realized that I’d used the exact same vessel for making an eggplant dip a few weeks prior.

Anyway, if you can get over the fact that the scraped-out innards of roasted eggplant have the appearance and texture of alien brains, you might enjoy this one as a more rustic alternative. It’s pretty simple ingredient-wise, though it does take some time to let the juice drain out of the roasted vegetable. Skip the food processor for this one, both because you don’t want a purée, and also because if you’re cooking other Lebanese dishes, that appliance is probably being put into service for another dish too.

Hummus | Chickpea-yogurt dip | Recipe

I like the Lebanese version of hummus: lower on the garlic, higher on the tahini, and a hefty dollop of yogurt to make things nice and creamy. I cooked the chickpeas from scratch, which is really very little work and just requires some advanced planning, and tastes so much better and makes an incomparably better texture, both smoother and fluffier, than if using canned. The one tweak I made to the recipe was one I learned for the Israel meal, using a bit of reserved cooking water instead of the plain warm water.


I was thinking of skipping this dish, as it’s really well known and I was trying to make a point of getting in some variety, but then I read that Lebanon takes its National Tabbouli Day really seriously, and Melia shared her family’s handwritten recipe.


A true Lebanese tabbouli should be mostly parsley, with just enough fine fine burghul wheat to hold things together, flecks of tomato for color and contrast, and oil and lemon to make it sing. A lovely, fresh contrast to all that dairy. Thanks to John for all that chopping!

Lebneh | Thickened yogurt | Recipe 

Lebneh, the simple yet incredibly addictive strained yogurt, came so close to taking off in the US. For a good while, Trader Joe’s stocked it, but unfortunately they gave it the unromantic name of “yogurt cheese.” With a name that makes it sound more like a health food than an the exotic, versatile food-with-a-story that it is, TJ’s dropped it a few years back in favor of the Greek yogurt craze that swept the nation like a very thick, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth wave.

Fortunately, lebneh is easy to make, but yet again takes some foresight: just take some thicker yogurt (Nancy’s works great, a pourable Bulgarian won’t) and strain it in cheesecloth. How long to strain is a matter of how you plan to use it: 2-8 hours to make a dip of varying thickness, or 24+ hours if you’re going to make intense, oil-preserved balls with a distinctive cheesy heft. I made both!

The dip, anointed with a pool of olive oil and a generous shower of za’atar spice blend, is just heavenly, simply scooped up with pita. Or use it as a spread in your sandwich. The balls were really thick, dry and dense enough that you could pick it up with your fingers — and remember, it’s nothing more than strained yogurt! — and hence would make for a great piece on a finger-food platter.

Toum | Garlic sauce | Recipe

If you’ve gotten kebab at a Middle Eastern restaurant, chances are it was accompanied by a pungent, unctuous snow-white sauce. It’s toum, a very close relative of mayonnaise, except instead of eggs, it’s garlic that holds oil and garlic in spreadable, well-blended suspension. So long as you’ve got a food processor, the hardest part of making this versatile, long-storing condiment is peeling all those cloves of garlic! I ended up making this with about 2/3 less oil than called for, so it was extremely strong, but still had the right texture.

Man’oushe | Za'atar flatbread | Recipe

Most spices you use a little pinch here, a dab there. Za’atar is best as a healthy dousing. This blend of thyme, sumac (a tart dried berry, apparently) and sesame seeds has a musty flavor and a fun little grit in the mouth that’s somehow excellent in large doses. There’s so many uses for it, but the most reverent presentation is mixed with olive oil as the sole topping for a flatbread.

I thought this recipe turned out great. It was quite sticky as warned, but as I kneaded and rolled, little dustings of flour helped keep everything from gluing to my work surface. I got a pizza stone and my big cast iron griddle really hot in the oven, and by gum, these things turned out just beautifully: a lightly browned crust, and a soft, dry, mild, toothsome interior providing just the right contrast to the oily, gritty, and bold topping.


I’m glad this wasn't the only bread I made, because I wasn’t too happy with these. Despite the evident care that went into a technique for using foil to get the right puffiness and avoid crisping, in the end my pita were, well, crispy and flat. It probably has something to do with the fact that a home oven just can’t achieve the blistering heat and correct humidity to make a bread that cooks almost instantly and puffs up before it can brown to make that lusciously soft, big pita like you get at a Lebanese restaurant. What I made wasn’t bad, it was just more cracker-like than a pita ought to be.

Kibbeh bil sanieh | Bulgur meat casserole | Recipe

The classic kibbeh is a torpedo-shaped ball of bulgur wheat stuffed with meat and typically fried, though many variations abound. For our Iraq meal we make a kibbeh with a shell of rice; you can also stuff it with squash, or serve it raw similar to a tartare, or, as we did, make a casserole. I chose this variation for two reasons: I’ve never had it before, and it’s way easier to bake and keep warm than batches of fried balls.

Good thing I have a meat grinder attachment for my Kitchenaid, because the beef needed to be ground several times to be super fine. Some of that beef was then ground up further in the Cuisinart, with the soaked bulgur. That’s right, both the filling and the “crust” have meat in them! If you don’t have a grinder, make sure to go to a butcher who can do the extra grinding for you. It makes an important difference in the texture.

I thought this was really tasty, though if I do this dish again I’ll be a little more generous with the spices — this one was light and delicate, but if there’s spices in my meat, I prefer them to be bold!

Warak inab | Stuffed chard leaves

Surely you’ve heard of stuffed grape leaves, a bundle of green filled with rice, herbs, etc. But what do you do when it’s winter and the vines are bare? Well, you can either use leaves that you pickled or froze, but like an idiot, I didn’t do that even though we have a great grape vine in our new back yard. (Yes, I could buy them, but what’s the fun in that?) Or, you can substitute with a more seasonable vegetable, like chard.

What a pleasant surprise! Earthy, bitter chard, slightly toothy even after a long simmer, balances the soft, bright, lemony filling so well. Give it a shot, just prepare for it to take longer than the recipe suggests.

Shourbat adas | Lentil soup

This was nice enough, and easy to make, but didn’t quite have the sort of rich, satisfying flavor I’ve enjoyed in some lentil soups I’ve had before. Maybe it’s that it’s a vegetarian recipe, or maybe it doesn’t have enough spice (definitely could have used more cumin). Not bad, but you can probably find a better recipe somewhere. Note the dollop of garlic sauce in the foreground — that sure helped!

Sfouf | Turmeric-anise yellow cake | Recipe

How exotic and beautiful, right? Spices we rarely encounter in dessert, with rich ingredients. and a fanciful name to boot. Well, sorry to say, this was a dense, bland disappointment. More sugar and spices would have helped, but I’d also look for a recipe with a bit more leavening. Unless this is just how it’s supposed to be, and I just wasn’t in the right mainframe or something.

Muhallabieh | Rosewater pudding

Now this was a winner in my book. I love the exotic fragrance of orange blossom and rose waters, and just a little goes a long way on a bright-white canvas of milk simply thickened with cornstarch. It’s super easy to make, so long as you do it enough ahead of time to let it cool, and you don’t need much per person since just a little dish is quite satisfying.

Arak | Anise liqueur

If you like ouzo, sambuca, raki, pastis, or any of those other anise liqueurs, you might like arak. If not, you won't. Incidentally, we've got about 3/4 of a bottle of arak on hand in case anyone wants some.

Meal 83: Israel

One way to look at cuisine is the interface between what foods are available and the cultures of the people who live there. We get a fascinating case study in the foods of Israel, a young country in an ancient land, with most of its population zero to two generations removed from some other place, whether near or very far. Israeli food is very much not what we think of in the U.S. as "Jewish food," for a few good reasons. I could get into ethnography and census counts, but this is a food blog, so just think to yourself whether matzo ball soup and brisket roasts sound good in a hot environment. Frankly, I don't blame Israelis, including those of Ashkenazi descent, for ditching the food of a poor people in a cold climate with short growing seasons, and instead preferring the abundance of the Mediterranean. There's a reason the Garden of Eden is placed somewhere around there!  (Incongruously, Israel has also developed a far less holy snack-food industry.)

Rather, much of the food in Israel comes from the Mizrahi, which essentially means Jews from places that aren't culturally European, including North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia — depending on who you ask this includes the Sephardim, those whose lineage goes back to Spain. It's unclear to me whether such staples of the Israeli table like hummus, falafel, and shawarma come from these immigrants or were borrowed (or appropriated, depending on your view) from the Palestinians; if anything, my guess is that both factors reinforced each other. That said, the Mizrahim brought other foods, like kibbe soup from Iraq, and the fish dish you'll see later. (Speaking of Palestine, as it's a permanent observing state of the UN, it'll get its own meal later on.) The last notable group is Ethiopian, though it doesn't seem like they have a huge impact on the standard Israeli table.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sarah, my buddy from high school, who now lives and works in Israel. She's an assiduous follower of the blog, and was a tremendous help in sorting through the menu, steering me in the right direction (turns out Israelis don't really make falafel at home!), and pointing out things I may never have come across because they're almost too obvious to anyone who knows the culture (minty lemonade!).

Our guests for the evening were Martyna, Russell, Jessica, Miriam, and Rob!

Limonana | Minty lemonade | Recipe

It's so goofy as to sound apocryphal: this most refreshing of drinks is not only an invention from within the past 25 years, but it came about as the invented subject of an ad campaign meant to prove the value of out-of-home ads (think sides of buses). Apparently enough people were enticed by the promise of a minty lemonade with a catchy name that they started asking for it at restaurants, who pretty quickly figured out how to make it.

Whenever and however it was invented, it's a shock this beverage isn't found anywhere in the world it gets hot. Tart lemon is refreshing, cooling mint is refreshing, and the addition of sugar and seltzer make them a delight to drink. In this version I made a simple syrup with mint, but you could just as easily muddle mint in the glass.

Sarah made it clear that to be a real Israeli summertime event, we ought to also mix arak, an anise liqueur similar to raki or ouzo, with grapefruit juice. As she had warned, we found it pretty vile.

Hummus | Chickpea dip | Recipe

While time-consuming, it's easy and cheap to make hummus from scratch. It takes an overnight soak and several hours of simmering, but the final step is a mere blitz in the food processor and you've got your own fluffy, creamy dip that's as garlicky, salty, tangy, or oily as you want it. For those of us who are, uh, sensitive to garbanzos, you may find that when you give the a long soak and a slow simmer, they're a lot more digestible than their commercially prepared counterpart.

Pita | Flatbread | Recipe

Respectable bakers say that when it comes to normal loaves of bread, bad bread should be eaten hot to mask the lack of flavor, and good bread should be allowed to sit for a bit. But I really like hot bread, so flatbreads allow me to indulge my taste and maintain my amateur-baker pride. Flatbreads are also generally pretty quick and easy to make, the only annoying part being frequently bending over and pulling things into and out of a hot oven. My trick is, whenever possible, to make flatbreads on a griddle on the barbecue, which makes access so much easier.

Unlike the thin and rather sparse pitas we most often see here, Israeli pitas are thicker and spongier. I found I got the right thickness by putting a ball of dough on a plate with slightly raised sides and using a rolling pin along the edges of the plate, making for about a half-inch-thick piece of dough. (I use a horizontally-grooved hand-carved chapati roller I bought for fifty cents at a Mumbai antique shop. You could also use a wine bottle.) Too much sauce soaks right through a normal pita, while this thicker variety is well-suited for sopping up all manner of dip and sauce, or for making your own little sandwich with. Yum.

Salat yerakot | Chopped salad

It's really nothing more than tomato and cucumber with sumac, lemon juice, and olive oil, the sort of thing that's eaten pretty much anywhere those ingredients grow. But what makes it Israeli is how incredibly finely chopped everything is. Apparently it's a point of honor of Israeli chefs. I found it made things really watery as you can see, as every stroke of the knife squishes more juice from the tomato — was I supposed to drain some of it?

Chraime | White fish in spicy tomato sauce | Recipe

We can thank the Sephardic Jews of North Africa, many of whom emigrated to Israel, for this easy, simple, yet really tasty dish. The flavors play off so well, the tang and spice of the sauce with the oily-sweet, fleshy fish. And it's so easy to throw together: throw together ingredients you probably have on hand (including that humblest of staples, tomato paste), pop in whatever firm fish you happen to find (the recipe calls for sea bass but I had an easier time coming by swordfish thanks to Trader Joe's), and you're done. Tasty dinner in 20 minutes.

Yerakot kluim im daloreet, krooveet, ve'batzal adom | Roasted vegetables with tahini sauce | Recipe  

Sarah made it clear that adding cauliflower to the meal would lend a real sense of authenticity, and that Israelis love their roasted veggies, so that's how I made the cauliflower, along with butternut squash and red onions. Instead of roasting in the oven, I threw everything in a basket on the grill. The veggies got moderately charred, but the crowd didn't seem to mind, it all got gobbled up.

Kebabim | Ground lamb with pine nuts and tahini sauce | Recipe

In Israel, kebab doesn't mean meat chunks on a skewer, or a big ol' spit (that's schwarma in Israel, of course), but rather spiced ground lamb patties. Pine nuts add a bit of crunch and the mint is a refreshing balance to the rich lamb. I grilled them like hamburgers, then we doused them in a tahini sauce. They also worked well as a sandwich inside the pita. I ended up with way too much of the meat, which I then froze raw for future meals.

Yerushalmi kugel | Peppery caramel casserole | Recipe

This is one of the few foods I found that can be called historically Israeli, as in, invented by a Jewish community living there before the creation of the state. It's a curious dish, a noodle casserole that blends an oily sweet caramel with fresh cracked pepper, and bound together with eggs. With a long, slow bake, the top and edges get good and crispy, and the inside stays moist. Is this a dessert, a snack, or a light meal? It could be any of that.

Rugelach | Chocolate-walnut-jam rolled cookies | Recipe

For years I've heard stories of my ancestor, Fannie Danab, who was such a good cook that she never taught anyone her techniques, since she didn't want anyone to be a slave to the kitchen like she was. All the same, my grandmother worked to replicate her recipe for rugelach, the crispy little rolled-up cookies that, along with schniztel, are one of the few Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish foods to have become firmly implanted in Israel. The recipe here is, according to my mom, pretty close to what my grandmother would make, so here you have it, third-hand.

The secret to the flaky dough is cream cheese and of course butter; I decided to keep this meal kosher, so it was Tofutti and margarine here. I rolled out rounds (it's thankfully a pretty forgiving dough), spread out a really tasty strawberry-raspberry jam, sprinkled with chocolate and walnuts (not hazlenuts, because I used what I had), sliced into wedges, and merrily rolled them up.

Meal 76: Iceland

It's kind of astonishing that people have managed to live in Iceland for over a millennium. Trees don't grow there — for hundreds of years they could only make boats of driftwood — let alone much else, so its natural cuisine is quite sparse and based mostly on eating things that can survive on what's around, namely sheep, fish, and whatever random birds can be scrounged up.

While there's plenty of influence from outside these days, the traditional Nordic month of Þorri (pronounced "thorri"), which starts in late January, emerged several decades ago as the time when Icelanders focus on the most distinctive — some would say grossest — parts of their cuisine in an assortment known as Þorramatur. I elected to forgo such options as rotten shark, fermented ram's testicles, and blood sausage, but I did make two dishes from sheep's heads. Apparently these sorts of food are eaten at this time of year because it's at this point when all the good stuff has ran out, and you're down to the odd parts and long-lasting stuff while waiting for spring.

Our adventurous guests for the night were Jessica, Elsa, Chrys, Kate, Dan, Raven, and Cassie.

Áfengi | Drinks | Recipe for brennevín

We needed some liquid courage to steel ourselves for the adventures ahead. The traditional accompaniment to strongly flavored meats is brennevín, which means literally "burnt wine," or brandy, but is more precisely an aquavit. Not having found a local source for the stuff, I found a recipe and took matters into my own hands by infusing potato vodka with caraway seeds and a bit of sugar. After two weeks it turned a rich brown, and tasted quite a lot like taking a shot of a bold Jewish rye!

But then Dan and Raven turned up with a bottle of artisanal Icelandic brennevín that a friend of theirs brought when passing through Reykjavík. This one had about a quarter of the caraway pungency, but also the moderately bitter balancing from angelica seed. More complex and easier drinking, but I'm a bit partial to my punch-in-the-face version!

Iceland also marked the kickoff of Laura's project to come up with cocktails to match each meal. She went with the Midnight Sun, which is made with Icelandic lava-filtered vodka, hearkens to Iceland's traditional flavors with rhubarb, evokes the late-night summer glow with a haunting pale from violet liqueur, and makes it all tasty with blood orange liqueur and lemon. The drink was a hit, nicely balanced, so popular that we went through a whole vodka bottle's worth!

Midnight Sun
Adapted from Creative Culinary
2 oz Reyka vodka
1 oz Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette
1 oz Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
Half a lemon's juice
Dash of Brooklyn Hemispherical rhubarb bitters

Sviðasulta | Sheep's head cheese | Recipe

Well, I guess when you're trying to make use of every last bit of the lamb, this is what you do with the heads. (Which, I'll note, I got for the bargain price of $3 apiece, including slicing in half.) I removed the brains, singed the skin over an open flame, boiled the heads for about two hours, and picked off all the meat (which took quite a bit of effort, especially extracting the eyes). The chopped meat, plus some of the boiling water, set in the fridge overnight, and presto! You're the proud owner of a loaf of weird meat parts.

I have to say it tasted better than I expected, and the texture was no worse than I feared, but I can't say I'll be going through all the work to make this sort of thing again.

Rugbrauð | Steamed rye bread | Recipe

If you live in a land blessed with abundant geothermal energy, why would you bother to turn on an oven when you can instead steam your bread in a hot spring? Alas, I have no volcanic pools at my disposal in Brooklyn, so I used the next best thing: a crock pot. As you might expect, a steamed bread has zero crust and is pretty dense, but this sweet, moist, richly flavored loaf was a good balance to the head cheese, especially with a smear of butter!

Flatkaka | Rye flatbread | Recipe

These look and taste surprisingly similar to Indian chapati. The idea's basically the same: an unsweetened, unyeasted dough mixed with water, rolled out like tortillas, and toasted on high heat with no oil. These do have a smidge of baking powder which makes them a tad cracker-like when they come off the pan, but a sprinkling of water and a rest under a damp towel keeps them soft. (The recipe says to "dip in water," but I think that's a concept that might have been a bit lost in translation. Think anointing, not baptizing.) They bread is fairly bland but with that characteristic nuttiness of rye, and is a nice way to sop up some soup.

Kjötsúpa | Lamb soup | Recipe

This was supposed to be a roast leg of lamb, but as I went to add a cup of liquid to the dish in the oven, I forgot the one inviolable rule of using glass bakeware: no sudden temperature changes. With a shattered casserole and shards of glass all over the oven, it was time to find inspiration in the Icelandic tradition of resourcefulness, and make do as I could. I slices off all the exposed surfaces of the leg lest there be any glass embedded, chopped the rest into pieces, and threw together what turned out to be a quite decent, if unexcitingly flavored, lamb stew. The texture was a bit interesting, with the novel addition of rolled oats to thicken it up and add some body.

Fiskibollur | Fishcakes | Recipe below

The waters around Iceland teem with fish, and the Icelandic culinary repertoire has figured out just about everything to do with it, from broiling to pickling to letting it dry on a stick in the wind and the sun for several weeks. But the recipe I saw most frequently was for balls or cakes, ground up and made into a batter, then fried. The most reasonable fish at the farmer's market was hake, which I passed through the meat grinder and made into a pasty mush with various liquids and starches. They took longer to fry up than I expected, but the result was quite nice, like a really fresh and tasty and fluffy version of Gorton's fishsticks

adapted from The Icelandic Cookbook by Hulta Emilsdóttir

2 pounds firm, white-fleshed fish fillets. I used hake; cod would be maybe even more appropriate. Pieces or scraps are OK. 1/2 small onion, chopped 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon pepper 2 teaspoons salt 2 eggs 1/2 cup milk (I ran out of milk, so I used a splash of cream plus some water) 1/4 cup flour 2 tablespoons cornstarch oil for frying (I used corn oil, plus some tallow that I rendered from extra fat from the lamb)

Start heating the frying oil. Put fish, onion, and spices in a food processor and grind, or for a fluffier texture do as I did and put through a meat grinder. Add eggs and milk, then flour and cornstarch, mixing with your hands. When the oil's good and hot (test with a little fleck of the fish batter), form into cakes (I essentially made a ball in my hands and flattened it a bit) and fry until golden brown on each side, maybe 15-20 minutes total.


Brúnaðar kartöflur Caramelized potatoes | Recipe at end of post

adapted from The Icelandic Cookbook by Hulta Emilsdóttir

2 lbs potatoes. Best is small new potatoes; if they're medium or big, cut them up. 1 cup sugar 1 tablespoon water

Boil potatoes, drain, and put back into the warm pot. Put sugar in a frying pan big enough for all the potatoes (but don't add potatoes yet). Heat on high, and using a heat-resistant rubber spatula, stir constantly. It will seem like it's not doing anything, then cluster up into chunks and brown a bit, and then liquify. When it liquifies, remove from heat and carefully add a few drops of water at a time while constantly stirring. Don't add more than a few drops at a time, and don't forget to stir, otherwise it'll chunk up again. Put potatoes in, toss to coat, and keep warm until serving. If at any point the sugar re-hardens, just heat and stir.

Pönnukökur | Fluffy crêpes (or thin pancakes)

adapted from The Icelandic Cookbook by Hulta Emilsdóttir

3 tablespoons butter, plus more for frying pancakes 3 eggs, separated 3 cups flour 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2-1/2 to 3 cups milk whipped cream jam (I simmered a bag of frozen blueberries with some sugar)

Melt butter in a crêpe pan (or a frying pan if that's all you've got) and let cool slightly. In the meanwhile, whip the egg whites. In a separate bowl, perhaps a 2-quart measuring cup with a spout, combine the dry ingredients, then add the butter and enough milk to make the batter fairly runny, like a crepe batter. As you reheat the pan, fold the egg whites into the batter. Once the pan is good and hot, pour about a quarter cup of batter into the pan, and swirl around to cover, pouring any excess back into the batter. Put whipped cream and jam inside of the pancake, fold up, and devour. Note that the pancakes can be successfully made in advance and reheated in the microwave before serving.

The playlist for the meal was surprisingly familiar. Betwen Björk, Sigur Rós, and Of Monsters and Men, this Virginia-sized island with a population smaller than Anaheim has made an outsized dent on the American music scene!

Meal 72: Haiti

Have you ever pondered what would have happened if something went differently at a given point in history? Compared with the rest of the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is sort of a real-life example of contrarian history. The crux is a slave revolt against French colonial masters that, incredibly, led to independence in 1804. The slave system was ruthless and required a constant influx of slaves, which had the silver-lining consequence of a strong syncretic culture quickly developing that combined French and West African influences — ranging from language (Kreyol is mostly French vocabulary but has strong West African grammatical influence) to cuisine to religion.

Our meal fell directly on fet gede, a Vodou celebration blending the Catholic traditions of All Souls' Day with West African-derived spirits and beliefs. To get into the mood, we made an altar with some of the traditional elements, including an offering of our own ancestors' favorite foods. The meal, while not unique to this holiday, is one that would be appropriate to the festivities, particularly because the spirits related to death love spicy food. To bring a little bit more of Port-au-Prince to Brooklyn, we turned out the lights and ate by candle, since most folks only get electricity a few hours a day, if any.

Joining us for this adventure were Lisa, Alex, Samantha, Johan, CJ, and Rachel. Alex spent a month in Haiti, whereas CJ recently lived there for a year.

Kremas | Rum cream | Recipe

The drink par excellence for fet gede is pikan, hard liquor steeped with scotch bonnets. CJ brought some that she'd made for last year's, so you can imagine how pungent it was — all you need is the tiniest sip of this truly firey water.

For the rest of our Haitian-style drinking, we drank this cordial that's pretty much the opposite — an unctuous, sweet, spiced blend — with the only part in common is the alcoholic strength, thanks to being made with overproof rum. Between the spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg) and the thickness of the liquids (condensed milk, evaporated milk, cream of coconut), this drink was quite reminiscent of eggnog, just a whole lot stronger. While all enjoyed the flavor, some found the thickness too heavy to indulge in more than a glass, but I quite happily managed to have several.

If you choose to follow this recipe, just note two things: you should use more than a quarter-cup of water to make the simple syrup, and this made two liters in total (and I only used a 750 ml bottle of rum, rather than 1L), so be prepared to give plenty of it away. Oh, and it's extremely important to look people in the eye when toasting. Goodness knows you don't want to get on the wrong side of the spirits.

Pikliz | Spicy pickled slaw | Recipe

Growing up in California, taquerias were a core part of my childhood, and at some point my dad taught me the awesome trick of picking out the carrots from amongst the pickled japaleños at the salsa bar, to get the spice infused from the surrounding peppers while also getting more of the vinegar flavor. I feel like pikliz takes this concept to a marvelous extreme, with just a few extremely hot scotch bonnet peppers seasoning a whole jar of shredded cabbage, carrots, and whatever other veggies you throw in, by bathing together in spiced vinegar. And then there's whole cloves thrown in there to add a little more exotic flavor. I threw all the vegetables through the Cuisinart's shredding disc, but next time I would probably use the thin slicer for the cabbage to keep it in larger pieces.

Pikliz is such an essential part of the cuisine that everyone who'd been to Haiti whom I told about this meal asked if I'd be making it, and there's even an expat website called So, if you're doing a Haitian meal, don't leave this out, and be sure to start this a few days in advance to let that spice from the peppers migrate over to the vegetables! And then throw it on just about everything, as there's little on the Haitian table that won't go well with some vinegary crunch-n-spice.

Tasso cabrit | Fried goat | Recipe

This was, hands down, the tastiest goat I've eaten in my life. What it's lacking in visual appeal, it way more than makes up in flavor and texture.

It started with a trip to the Fertile Crescent, where the butcher cut stew pieces of meat to order, including the super-tasty rib bits. Then to Bed-Stuy where I had to pop into a few markets to find the elusive sour orange, a green fruit with thick skin, a ton of square-ish seeds, and appropriately named flavor that's just excellent as a marinade. The night before the meal, I squeezed up the oranges, mixed with a bunch of other ingredients including lime, ground clove (there's that spice again!), hot peppers, etc.

Some recipes call for a simple vinegar marinade and then boiling with all the flavors; other call for a rich marinade and then a simple boil. I find it hard to let go of good flavors once you've got 'em, so the next afternoon I dumped the whole bowl, meat and marinade alike, into a pot, added water to cover, and then let that simmer for a good two hours or so. The recipes say to boil, but tough meat always enjoys slow heat, and my tweaks were vindicated by a really tasty and tender meat.

But wait, there's more! Once I finished frying up the plantains, I turned up the heat and threw the goat in the same oil, adding a lovely crisp to all the edges. Once served, these tasty chunks lasted approximately five minutes on the table. The only challenge was successfully navigating all the bones by candlelight!

Sauce Ti-Malice | Tomato and onion sauce | Recipe

This sauce is pretty much soupy sautéed onions with hints of other ingredients. I saw it mentioned on pretty much every site I visited, but I'm not sure I get it. The rest of the cuisine has such vibrant flavors and textures, while this came across as kinda bland and watery. Did I do something wrong?4

Diri ak pwa | Rice and beans | Recipe

Doesn't that look like an exotic, perhaps African, name for this dish? Actually, it's the Kreyol transformation du riz au pois. Highlighting one face of the large American presence in Haiti, this recipe comes by way of a missionary.

I'm fascinated by how many ways there are to cook rice and beans. This one has you boil the beans (which I'd pre-soaked), adding some coconut milk and parsley toward the end, then re-introducing the bean broth and the beans and then finally the rice, with a heavy unlidded boil and then finally a slow simmer with the lid on. It was a lot of work and required a lot of attention, which proved quite worthwhile, with a great semi-moist texture on both the rice and the beans, and a nice richness thanks to the coconut milk. (I actually made coconut milk from scratch, by cracking, prying, and shredding coconuts, adding water to the shreds, and squeezing to extract the milk. Maybe that made a difference, but it was probably hardly worth it.)

I made a whole ton of it, using a pound of little red beans and five cups of rice; three nights of leftovers later and we've still got plenty left! Fortunately, it tastes great when crisped up in the frying pan with the addition of extra veggies and some pikliz!

Banan peze | Twice-fried green plantains | Recipe

For all the fried ripe plantains I've made, this was actually the first time I've fried the unripe version. Known as tostones or patacones in Spanish, these bananes pesées — weighted-down plantains — are fried once, smashed, and fried again. I can't find confirmation online, but my suspicion is that if the edges would burn before you managed to cook it all the way through, so smashing after the heat softens it makes all part of the slice close to the surface. Or maybe it's just that more surface area means more crispiness. Anyway, yum. Even though I have a deep-fryer, I made these in a frying pan so I could get more of these flat things going at a time.

Bonbon siwo | Molasses cake | Recipe

This cake-like dessert can be pretty honestly described as a fluffy brownie, but with molasses and spices instead of chocolate. I thought it was OK, but on the dry side. (The first recipe I found called for a ridiculous four sticks of butter, whereas this one has one stick, perhaps the truth and beauty lies somewhere in between.) However, it was an excellent supporting actor for a scoop of the nutmeg ice cream left over from the Grenada meal!

Post-dinner lingering, by candlelight