Meal 112: Monaco

Another beachside birthday party, another meal from a tiny, rich European country! The principality of Monaco is a Central Park–sized nugget on the French Riviera, whose Italian-sounding name is a giveaway of a linguistic, cultural, and culinary heritage that’s more closely connected to northern Italy than southern France.

For such a small place, there’s a surprisingly thorough culinary heritage, which is far better documented online than those of countries several orders of magnitude larger. Of course, it’s squarely within the Mediterranean flavor realm, though with its own twist.

Barbagiuan | Chard turnovers | Recipe

Nobody knows why these are called “Uncle John” in the Monégasque language, but these tasty, stuffed-dough, fried nuggets are the national dish. They’re stuffed with chard, which almost makes you think they’re healthy. Quite tasty, a great accompaniment to sparkling wine or rosé. Thanks to Ellen for prepping and folding the dough!

Oignons monégasques | Stewed baby onions | Recipe

This one was the crowd favorite. Small onions — you should probably use pearl onions but all I could find were little cipollini, which seemed to work too — are first sautéed, then gussied up with tomato paste, vinegar, and, intriguingly, raisins. A delicious sweet-and-sour appetizer.

Socca | Chickpea flatbread | Recipe

I’m figuring it’s a North African influence that brought chickpea flour to this corner of the world. With it,street vendors in the area whip up a sort of crêpe that’s eaten as a snack. Frankly, I found it pretty bland and thin, and I clearly did something wrong because I then had it at a restaurant and it was thicker and fluffier and a whole lot better. Also, I left the big heavy round skillet I used to bake them at the rental house, so it was frankly a doubly disappointing dish. (Maybe choose a different recipe to avoid my fate, but even that won't help you keep track of your cookware.)

Fougasse | Focaccia bread | Recipe

The fougasse for which Monaco is known is actually a dessert covered with sprinkles and studded with various dried fruits and spices like fennel. I didn't make that. Instead, I made this lovely herb-y bread, which all went very quickly toward sopping up the onion sauce.

Stocafi | Salt cod stew | Recipe (scroll to "Le Stockfish")

I saw a few different variations on the name, but all are local adaptations of the English work stockfish, which itself is a misinterpretation of the Scandinavian term for white fish dried on a stick. It’s not even true stockfish that’s used, but rather bacalao, or salt cod. (Stockfish traditionally has no salt, it’s purely the passing wind that dries the fish-on-a-stick into eternal preservation.)

Anyway, stocafi is a seafood stew with a very Provençal assortment of ingredients: tomatoes, olives, potatoes, plenty of garlic, and a generous dose of olive oil. The dish was nice, though nothing special. We didn’t do the optional anchovy-garlic-basil puree at the end, perhaps we ought to have.

Pogne au fruits | Fruit cake | Recipe (scroll to "Le pogne au fruits")

Laura wanted cherries, so cherries she got. This is a fairly simple dessert, just fruits pressed into a fairly rich flat yeasted dough. And tasty!

Meal 111: Micronesia

At 1 million square miles with only 100,000-ish people, the Federated States of Micronesia is both huge and tiny. (Obviously, almost all of that square mileage is ocean.) As with much of the rest of the Pacific islands, the traditional bland starches and simply cooked fish aren't the most stimulating cuisine. Micronesians have swung the pendulum far to the other side, with some really intense and novel uses of imported flavors. (Read below for what they do with ramen and Kool-Aid.)

There's precious little about Micronesian cuisine online. The two most useful sources I found were a few posts from this teacher's blog for traditional foods, and this astonishing account of some of the uses of modern foods on the island of Chuuk.

Along for the adventure were Emily, Jens, Molly, Will, Caitlin, Trish, Amy, Jordana, David, Michele, Emily, and guests.

Ramen snack "Recipe"

When I first saw that a common snack in Micronesia is dry ramen with its seasoning packet plus Kool-Aid, I thought it might have just been one person's crazy idea. But I read plenty more about the abundance of Kool-Aid, especially consumed in dry form, well, we had to try it. We tried various combinations: pork ramen with cherry Kool-Aid was best, and shrimp with tropical fruit was definitely the worst.

Kosrae soup

The island of Kosrae, where our friend Nathan did Peace Corps, is famous, at least throughout Micronesia, for its Sunday Soup. Below is a recipe, as given by LeiviaChenisa Situl in response to a Facebook post of Nathan's. You'll note from the photo that I included crab, because I saw clarified elsewhere that shellfish would work, and the crab was fresh at the market. Despite the simplicity, it was really quite flavorful.

Simple recipe. Boil your h2o first,bring up to boil then add the fish more better with bone for flavor for about 10-15 minutes and take fish out,make sure no bones in the stock and add on your uncooked rice cook all the way till rice cook and add on onions and salt and pepper and the last thing is coconut milk.


Half pot Fill 3/4 of the pot Fish- half fish or any meat 2 can coconut milk 1 onion salt n pepper with taste

Yapese taro salad

Picture a mayonnaise-based potato salad, but instead of potatoes, it's chunks of boiled purple taro. Pretty tasty, and the taro has a fun texture.

Rohtamah and kon | Pounded taro and pounded breadfruit with coconut milk | Description

The pounded taro with sugar and coconut milk, not pictured, was fine. The pounded breadfruit, pictured before being covered with coconut milk, was not. Never having had fresh breadfruit, I don't know if the overwhelmind blandness and mouth-drying texture came from being deep-frozen and potentially mishandled en route, or if breadfruit really is that unappealing. In any event, no more frozen breadfruit for me.

Sukusuk | Pounded banana with coconut milk

Straightforward and tasty, though yes, it's yet another mushy thing covered in coconut milk. The banana leaf made for a little variety in presentation.

Meal 107: Marshall Islands

For centuries, the fate of this Micronesian island group has been entirely subject to the machinations of much greater powers. Its very name, after an English explorer, was consecrated in maps by French and Russian explorers. It's been a territory of Spain, Germany, Japan, and the US. It saw major battle and deprivation in World War II, and was the site of enormous nuclear tests with all the destruction and long-term consequences you'd expect, and many displaced Marshallese who haven't moved to Arkansas (true story!) now live crammed on an island nicknamed the "ghetto of the Pacific." The Republic of the Marshall Islands is now an independent nation in "free association" with the United States, yet its future is very much out of its hands, as climate change now threatens to wipe these low-lying nations off the map in a way that war and nuclear testing couldn't. As you might expect from all this outside influence, the cuisine has absorbed some ingredients from elsewhere, but there still is plenty of food there that's stayed true to the place. It proved quite a challenge to figure out what to cook, since there aren't any Marshallese cookbooks or food blogs I could find, which is why you will see some of these recipes on discussion sites and other random places. This was actually a really fun one to research, as I learned a lot about life on these islands along the way.

Guests included Stephanie, Anna, Julie, Amanda, Terry, Geo, Bonnie, Audrey, and friends.

Banana coconut balls

I couldn't find a recipe other than vague mentions that this was a thing, so I simply mashed up some bananas with some sugar and coconut, and sprinkled more coconut on top. As far as I can tell this was roughly how it's supposed to be, and it tastes like you'd imagine: sweet, mushy, with the coconut holding it together.


Raw tuna. With onions. In...mayonnaise. Sounds gross, but actually tastes pretty darn good. The soft, fatty, slightly sweet and tangy mayo, the buttery and crumbly tuna, and the crisp and lightly pungent onion is the sort of thing you can really snack on while drinking a beer.

Roast pork Recipe

Pork is a pre-colonial fixture in Polynesia, and the traditional way to cook it is in an earth oven: dig a hole, line it with rocks, build a fire to heat up the rocks, let it die down, put leaf-wrapped meat on it, and bury it for several hours to let it cook through slowly. Now, I couldn't exactly go digging such a hole in our backyard, so I did this on the grill, and used a soy sauce and brown sugar marinade since that seems like the sort of thing that would go on. Only challenge was I couldn't find charcoal at the store, so I used straight up mesquite chunks. I don't know if it was supposed to turn out so smoky, but my goodness this beautiful, "barked" hunk of flesh turned out tasty.

Grilled fish

While Polynesian markets are spare in Portland (I know of just one), in the vicinity of SFO there's a gaggle of them. I happened to be in the Bay Area for work a few days before the meal with a bit of time on my hands and a rental car before heading home, so I stuffed my backpack with taro leaves and some other ingredients. Those leaves ended up wrapping some fish (I think I used mahi mahi) which I also threw on the grill.


I'm done with breadfruit, or at least the frozen chunks. They're just bland, dry, and mealy, with an unappetizing bit of crust, when I roast them as suggested. I hope to get my hands on a fresh breadfruit at some point, to see if that's really what it's like, or if I'm just making a mockery of this common food.

Rice-banke | Pumpkin rice |Recipe

Rice isn't a traditional food of Polynesia, but thanks to Asian influence (in the Marshall Islands' case, most likely the time as a Japanese colony), it's become quite popular. This dish, with steamed pumpkin and coconut milk, is one gloopy concoction, with a real stick-to-your-ribs aspect.

Pandan coconut ice cream | Recipe

Readers of previous posts will be familiar with my description of pandan leaf as the "vanilla of Southeast Asia," and this nutty-green leaf also flavors dishes across Oceania. (They also use the fruit of the tree for food, but good luck finding that in the US.) I'm not sure how common pandan ice cream actually is, but it's sure tasty, especially when you avoid artificial pandan extract (sold in Asian markets) and take five minutes to make your own with the leaves (also sold in Asian markets). Anyone who knows a vegan knows that coconut milk is a successful dairy substitute for ice cream; mixed with dairy, it takes on a more complex mouthfeel. This was a tasty one that went so quickly we forgot to take a picture!

Meal 71: Grenada

Until Hurricane Ivan wiped out most of the nutmeg trees, this little speck of a 133-square-mile Caribbean island country was the world's number two producer of the spice. It's become so important to the culture and economy of Grenada that there's a nutmeg on the flag. Beyond the focus on this spice, Grenadian food is closely related to that of its neighbors, with a strong focus on root vegetables and the greens that they produce. Our guests were Rachna, Lisa, Patrick, Linda, Sarah, and Megan. Thanks to the inevitable fall weather, it was our first indoor Nosh at this apartment. I'm glad I got all the cooking done before guests showed up, because the dining table is in the kitchen!


Like the rest of the Caribbean, rum is the main drink of Grenada. They make nutmeg syrup and even a nutmeg liqueur, but I couldn't find those, so I made some nutmeg-infused rum by smashing a few whole nutmegs and letting them sit in white rum for a few days. I threw together some ginger juice (blend ginger with lemon or lime and a bit of water, strain, add simple syrup and more water); the sorrel (aka hibiscus) juice was a bit more complex. That's all we'd had planned for mixers, but while taking our dog on a walk we ran into a sweet potato punch stand run by a Jamaican woman, who agreed that her drink would go well with what she termed "adult beverages." My favorite was half-ginger and half-sorrel, with dark rum plus a splash of the nutmeg rum.

Callaloo soup Recipe

Various spinach-like greens are used for this soup, the Grenadian version of which involves okra and some coconut cream. When I'd shopped for the DR Congo meal exactly a year prior, I'd found a green called "callaloo" at a market in Harlem. I looked for the same thing this time in Crown Heights, and couldn't. On further research, what I'd found before was probably amaranth, and that I could have used the dasheen leaves I saw everywhere and ended up using in the next recipe.

Not having seen anything called "callaloo" fresh, I bought two cans with that label -- which on further reflection were probably just canned dasheen! Be that as it may, this soup was actually, surprisingly, really tasty. The coconut cream and okra, though in small enough quantities to not overpower with flavor, made it so thick that, even after the addition of extra water, that it held a shape after being ladled out. But it was soft and had a lovely flavor of thyme and these intriguing canned greens. Though let's admit it, the salt in the cans probably helped a lot too.

Oil down Recipe

This is so indisputably the national dish that the official government website unhesitatingly declares it such. There's a logic to the weird name: throw starchy vegetables, salted meats, and dasheen leaves in a pot with coconut milk until all the oil from the milk goes down into the vegetables, i.e., there's no liquid left. It's traditionally made with breadfruit, which I've seen before in the markets but simply wasn't to be found in Crown Heights this time around, so I substituted eddoes, a root vegetable closely related to taro. That said, I was able to find the preserved pig tails, which actually added a lot of flavor (and salt!) to the pot.

I will note that this is a pretty poorly written recipe: some items in the ingredient list don't show up in the instructions, and vice versa. But it doesn't much matter, because from what I can gather this is really a "throw in what you want" sort of dish. In this case, I left out the dumplings and added half a pumpkin instead, and also put in more greens than called for.

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting this dish to taste like, maybe sorta coconut-y with the nuttiness of root vegetables and squash, but this was different. Maybe it's the long cooking, and quite likely some of it is due to the generous dose of turmeric, but the flavor felt more like a subdued richness, almost in the direction of caramel.

Black bean and corn salad 

Lisa brought this refreshing salad of black beans, corn, onions, and tomatoes. The crunch of the vegetables and the tang of the citrus-y dressing were a nice foil for the soft, rich oil down.

Sweet potato pudding | Recipe

I really enjoyed this dish during the meal, but didn't much like the leftovers, and I just figured out why: it's a lot better warm. The aroma of the spices (including nutmeg, of course!) is released, the texture is softer, and the whole experience just more satisfying. It's a really simple recipe, just prepare all the ingredients, mix them together, and bake at medium heat (around 350) for about an hour and a half. I grated the sweet potatoes with a food processor, but maybe I should have done it by hand to get those thinner, wider shreds that a box grater provides, for an overall softer texture. And one final note: the sweet potato most commonly used in Grenada's neck of the world has a purple skin and a white interior, but I bet this would be as good if not better with the sweeter and more readily available yellow variety.

Nutmeg ice cream | Recipe

I love making frozen desserts that play on the flavors of the country we're cooking, so I was delighted to see nutmeg ice cream suggested as a Grenadian treat on several sites. The base custard of this recipe differs a bit from what I'm used to: rather than cream and milk in a 2:1 proportion, and use of yolks only, this goes for 1:1 and whole eggs. The result, made with milk and cream from the farmer's market, and nutmeg freshly grated on a Microplane, was a bit denser than my preferred texture, but held up very well when scooped directly on top of the warm pudding. Oh, and the flavor was great, a wonderful way to accent the mystery and complexity of a spice we normally don't give a second thought!

Our next meal is Haiti, which will coincide with fet gede, the Day of the Dead!

Meal 56: Equatorial Guinea

8466392548_9ce90d5c57 Despite its name, none of the country lies on the Equator. Most of its land mass is on the African mainland, but the capital's on an island. Its colonial language is Spanish, but French and Portuguese are official languages too. It's the richest country per capita in the continent, thanks to a recent oil discovery, but most of the population lives in poverty.

That's a lot of contradiction for a very small country — its population is barely 700,000. But improbably, we know someone who spent three years living there when his father was the US ambassador to Equatorial Guinea. Stephen was an excellent guide to the culture, politics, and foodways of a country few people have even heard of. The food was pretty much reminiscent of other nearby countries — peanuts, palm products, etc. — though with a bit of Spanish flair and probably more spice.

Our guests on this decidedly un-tropical, post-snowstorm night were Rafi, Laura, Craig, Marcy, Stephen, Chrys, and Jeremy.

Vino de palma | Palm wine

This mildly alcoholic (~2%) beverage is brewed not from coconuts, but rather the same fruit that is pressed for palm oil. It's pretty sweet, almost like a cider, except with that distinctive palm-y flavor. This sort of thing is typically homemade, but Stephen managed to find a bottled version from Nigeria. Since we were out of space in the fridge, we turned to the great outdoors refrigerator to keep them cold — an incredibly incongruous technique given that the temperature never gets below the 70s there.

Pescado con dos salsas | Fish with two sauces | Recipe

All manner of fish, big and small, is thrown on the grill in Equatorial Guinea. By using small mackerel, I split the difference: the mackerel has the rich flavor of a bigger fish, but the small aspect makes for a faster, crisper grilling, reminiscent of Spanish-style sardines. I cut slits in the skin to let the chili-garlic-lime marinade seep in and also to ensure more even cooking. To prevent sticking and to add flavor, the recipe calls for painting the fish with palm oil before grilling. Barbecuing in freezing weather was a bit of an adventure, and I had to clear the snow off the porch to do it, but it was well worth the effort.

Salsa verde | Spinach sauce

Apparently it's common to serve sauces along with grilled fish. The recipe suggested three; I skipped the peanut sauce because that was accounted for with the chicken. Another sauce is a moderately spicy green sauce, traditionally made with a local vegetable for which spinach was a suggested substitute. While the flavors were fine, it was definitely too watery; if you choose to make this I'd cut down on the liquid by half or so.

Salsa de aguacate | Avocado sauce

I found the avocado sauce more interesting and tastier. Avocado is one of those foods that is treated very differently around the world. In the US and in Mexican cuisine it's treated as a vegetable, always eaten raw. In Brazil and several other tropical countries, it's thought of as more of a mild fruit, frequently mixed with sugar and maybe milk into a drink. But in Equatorial Guinea, apparently they cook it! This dish was essentially a gently simmered guacamole, and surprisingly the texture of the fragile avocado held up.

Contrichop con arroz | Chicken in peanut sauce over rice | Recipes: Chicken, rice

This is far from the first time we've had chicken-in-peanut-sauce, but this one has a bit of a twist. The chicken itself is very mildly cooked; this is the most elaborate recipe I found and even so it's little more than onions, chicken, and peanut butter. (Once again, I think it had too much water; in the end I removed the chicken and cooked down the sauce to get it to gravy thickness.)

The spice came not from the sauce, but from the rice — which is cooked in a risotto-like way, by first dry-frying the rice and then adding in water a bit at a time. As with risotto, it makes for a mushy mass. Perhaps this is a technique to have the rice absorb more water and therefore be more filling? Or maybe the cooking culture just doesn't like lids? Hm.

Kongodo | Peanut brittle | Recipe

Turns out, peanut brittle is really easy to make. Essentially you toast peanuts in a dry pan, pour in some sugar mixed into water, and stir constantly until it caramelizes. This recipe adds a tropical twist with "a few drops of lime juice," I used half of a half of a lime but couldn't taste it at all, so if you try it, use more! We enjoyed this sweet treat with a papaya, mango, and guava salad.

Next we're heading to somewhere more appropriate to the chilly weather we've been experiencing...Estonia!

Photos by Laura Hadden, whose favorite part of the meal was a post-dessert donut from the fridge.