Mediterranean Orzo Salad

I often find lunch to be a problematic endeavor. It usually catches me off-guard–there I am, typing away furiously, and lo and behold, its 12:34 pm and my stomach is growling.

During fieldwork, following Kashmiri norms, I cut out lunch altogether. Instead, I would eat a massive brunch of ghee-soaked parathas and yoghurt (not Kashmiri) until my tummy ached. “Lunch” consisted of coffee or tea, maybe a piece or two of toast if one of the doctors ordered some from the hospital canteen. Then, I’d rush home at 6 pm sharp, and a glorious mountain of sticky rice and hak (spinach) or other vegetables would be waiting for me. This, I would consume, with my hands, with half an eye on the banal Hindi serial on the telly. Now, I know this was not at all a healthy schedule (I am well aware of the six small meals a day thing, but really? who has time to cook six meals?) and I am not advocating the two huge meals a day routine. But, honestly, I miss the simplicity of that schedule, no lunch problem plaguing me.

Now, ready to start a new teaching term (tomorrow folks!), I find myself all too often in that stomach-grumbling phase and again, unprepared. Out of desperation, I will eat something on campus: packaged veggie sushi or tacos or a $10 salad and inevitably feel guilty. I’m determined to put an end to this mindless/unhealthy eating this term and am on the lookout for lunches that carry well, are easy to prepare, delicious, and healthy. Early career teachers also know about the stomach butterflies on teaching days that we must factor into the eternal ‘what to take for lunch’ question. If you have other good suggestions for office lunches that fit the bill, do share.

The following recipe, a sunny, bright, Mediterranean-inspired salad that I recently discovered, is ideal. It can jostle around in your bag all day (trust me, I tested), it’s lovely and refreshing at room temperature or cold, and its light and filling at the same time. I mean, chickpeas, olives, tomatoes, feta, parsley…these are really some of my favorite things. You don’t even need to worry about packing the dressing separately, because the orzo and vegetables soak up the flavor really nicely, all day long.

My Trader Joe's haul

You can easily prepare this in the morning before you dart out the door, while you are doing five other things. I recommend making a big batch and keeping it in the fridge. It will keep for a couple of days (although I recommend keeping your dressing separate if you are going to store for more than a day). This rainbow-colored salad looks beautiful and each bite is different. It makes eating lunch at your desk actually something to look forward to!

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2 big lunch portions (or 3 smaller)


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of one lemon

1 roma tomato chopped, with seeds removed, or 15 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 dozen, black, pitted kalamata olives, halved

1 bunch curly parsley, chopped

8 oz. or 200 grams chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 small red onion, chopped

3 oz. feta, crumbled (approx.)

1 yellow/orange bell pepper (optional)

1 cup orzo, cooked according to package instructions

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put about 8 cups of water to boil. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add salt and 1 cup of orzo. Stir the orzo occassionally and cook according to package instructions (about 9 minutes). When it’s done, drain the water and put your orzo into a big serving bowl and let cool. Note: your orzo will expand significantly after it cooks.Orzo1

Orzo: after

2.  While your orzo is cooking, prepare your dressing. Add lemon juice, one chopped garlic clove, salt, pepper, and olive oil into a mason jar and shake well until the dressing becomes creamy and a mellow yellow color. Set aside.De-seed and chop your tomatoes, olives, orange or yellow pepper, parsley, and red onion.

3. Open your can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drain out the water and rinse the beans well.

4. Time to assemble! Over your orzo, distribute all your veggies on top, with your parsley last. Crumble the feta over the veggies. Add the dressing and mix everything gently, but well. Note: if you don’t want such a robust onion flavor in your salad or, say, you have student conferences all afternoon, you can mix a bit of the red onion in with your dressing instead. The acid from the lemon juice will mellow out the flavor. Starting to look beautiful!

5. Add a little more parsley and/or feta for garnishing if you desire. Bon appetit!


Late summer cucumber and poppy seed salad

cucumber7Summer is on its way out in much of the US, but here in southern California, it rages on. I’m so excited to be back in the kitchen (a new kitchen) after the tumult of packing, moving, leaving, mourning…but finally I feel settled in my new pad and I promise I will be blogging more regularly.

One of my favorite summer foods is the cucumber. I love cucumbers in gazpachos, Indian style, with a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and in this salad, where they gain a sharp, sweet pickled quality and are a wonderful accompaniment for a barbeque, burgers (veggie/not), or with a sandwich for lunch. This salad is from one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks (Ottolenghi), which I turn to on a regular basis to shake things up. I love the way the ribbons of red chilli look in the bed of green.

It’s bright, punchy, and easy. Also, it keeps for a day or two, particularly if you separate the dressing from the cucumbers until you are ready to eat.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Serves: 4


6 small cucumbers (Persian if you can find them – they are crunchy, seedless, and delicious)

1 red chile/red chili (depending on where in the world you are) – remove seeds if you don’t want the heat

3 tbsp. coarsely chopped cilantro

4 tbsp. rice wine vinegar (substitute white wine vinegar if you prefer)

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. poppy seeds

2 tsp. superfine sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Wash then chop off and discard the ends of the cucumbers. Cut them in half lengthwise and slice them at an angle. I like the pieces to be a bit chunky, about 1/2″ thick. Add the chopped chile/chili.cucumber2

2.  Mix together the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the cucumbers and gently mix everything, making sure that the cucumbers are well-coated with the dressing.cucumber53. Taste – the cucumbers should be sharp and sweet, pickle-like.

4.  Serve immediately, or if you are refrigerating, drain off some of the liquid and save it in a separate container. Then, just before serving, pour it over the cucumbers.


Happy eating! PS–I missed you.

Mango and Arugula Salad with Balsamic Mustard Seed Dressing

arugulumango5Summer is officially here! My mum is visiting from Delhi, and today’s recipe is hers (although she says it’s not really hers, but she doesn’t remember where its from).  It’s a salad I’ve eaten many times while visiting my parents in Delhi, and it seemed perfect for the humid, sweltering day we had in Durham today.  Luckily, my mum agreed to model for me (those lovely hands in those photos, hers!), so today’s entry is truly collaborative.

For Indians, nothing symbolizes summer more than the appearance of mangoes in the market.  A sweet, juicy, dripping mango is what makes summer bearable, many would say.  This recipe is all about celebrating those incredibly sweet, ripe mangoes of summer, but contrasting them against some peppery arugula and two different dressings, one sweet and one sour.   You do need ripe, sweet mangoes for this recipe, so in the grocery store, look for mangoes that are a little soft and that give a little when you squeeze them (just like a ripe avocado).

You should prepare the different components of the salad separately: (i) the mango and arugula; (ii) the balsamic dressing; (iii) and the mustard seed dressing.


arugula1I love the way this salad looks: the bright marigold of the mangoes, with dots of black, against the green.  And it couldn’t be easier. I hope you’ll try it! x

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4


2 ripe mangoes, cubed (discard the center portion with the seed)

1 bag washed arugula (about 8 cups)

For the balsamic dressing:

3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. honey

Pinch of salt and pepper

4 tbsp. olive oil, whisked in

For the mustard seed dressing:

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds

12 curry leaves (approximately)

  1. Wash the arugula and dry it with a dish towel.  Put it in a large bowl leaving a hole in the center for the mangoes.  arugula2
  2. Cut the mangoes into cubes – they don’t have to be exactly the same size.  Place in the center of the bowl with the arugula and set aside.mangoes3
  3. Make your balsamic dressing: add balsamic vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper in a bowl and whisk in about 4 tbsp. olive oil.  Taste and set aside.
  4. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a small saucepan on medium-high heat.  When the oil is very hot, add the mustard seeds and allow them to sputter for about 30 seconds.  mustardseeds1Add the curry leaves, but be careful, the oil will sputter, so be sure that you are not too close to the stove.  When the curry leaves become crisp and fried, turn off the flame and pour the mixture immediately over the diced mango.
  5. Pour the balsamic dressing over the arugula leaves.  Mix everything and serve immediately.arugulamango2


“Burmese” Curry Noodles with Tofu, Baby Bok Choy and Carrots

Last night, I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show, The Layover, in which he spent a dizzying 30 hours in Singapore and ate his way through something like 8 meals. His last meal before he boarded his 17 hour flight back to New York was a heavenly-looking laksa, a spicy Peranakan noodle soup, for breakfast. Watching him patiently standing in line, sweating through his expensive shirt on an ordinary, humid morning in Singapore, made me long for that bowl of goodness.

So, here it is: a hot, spicy bowl of noodles and curry to simulate being in or around Singapore, minus the fascism. Since laksa usually involves some meat, it was merely a jumping-off point. In fact, once I started cooking, I went more in a Burmese direction – this is a modified khow suey, really, from the Shan state in Myanmar/Burma – than a Malaysian one (all references being very loose here). It doesn’t really matter; what you’ll find are big flavors and a balance of spiciness, sourness, and sweetness. Best of all, this dish is entirely vegan and vegetarian (simply omit the boiled egg as condiment).

This is a great dish for a dinner party—not only because its easy to scale up—but because all the condiments look so pretty laid out on the table, and everyone can personalize the curry to their liking. There’s something very nice about allowing your guests to engineer their own magic. What makes it super fun to eat are the condiments: a bit of egg, some fried garlic and shallots, fresh coriander, some green chili and lime.  Worth every bit of extra effort.


A note about cooking:

Everything cooks up pretty fast, so make sure that all your veggies are chopped and ready to go before you start cooking. OR, if you are multitasking, chopping while your garlic and shallots are cooking, make sure to keep a close watch on them, so that you don’t burn them (I often have to make two batches)! You will have several things on the stove at once; at times, this feels like you’re creating music, with different melodic and rhythmic lines coming together, but it can also feel a bit chaotic. I’ve tried my best to show what kinds of multitasking work best here and when you really might want to do things one at a time.


babybokchoytofucarrotPrep time: 40 minutes (with some multitasking)

Serves: 2


1/2 lb. egg noodles/Canton noodles/spaghetti (all work well in this)

5 oz. five spice or other pressed tofu (if you cannot find pressed tofu, use extra firm)

1/4 cup canola or sunflower oil

1 can coconut milk

1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste

1” ginger, to grate

Two cups of baby bok choy (green beans or other greens work very well here too), washed

2 carrots, peeled and chopped in rounds

6 cloves garlic, sliced as thinly as you can

2 shallots, sliced with a mandolin or as thinly as you can

1 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. cumin seeds

2 green chilies, chopped (or dried red chili is fine too)

1 tsp. red chili powder

Juice of one lime

Peanuts, for garnish

Cilantro, for garnish

2 eggs, hard boiled

Limes, for garnish

1/2 cup of warm water

Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. If using the five-spice tofu, cut your tofu into cubes and cut the carrots into rounds. Add the ginger-garlic paste and turmeric and mix everything well. (If you can’t find pressed tofu and are using tofu in water, drain your tofu well, cut it into cubes, and fry it in 1 tbsp. of sesame oil, to sear it. See: for more detailed instructions)  tofucarrots
  2. Steps 2, 3, and 4 can be done at the same time. In a large saucepan, bring water to boil for your noodles. Keep an eye on the time and remove them a minute before what the package instructions say. Set aside.
  3. Place two eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring this to a rolling boil, turn off the heat and cover the eggs. They will be ready in 10 minutes and will be hard boiled but still a bit creamy. Once done, chop your eggs and place in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. At the same time, heat the sunflower oil in a saucepan on medium heat.  Slice your garlic and shallots (you can use a mandolin if you have one). When the oil is hot, fry the garlic and turn down the heat to medium-low. Keep your eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t burn. In the meantime, place a paper towel on a dinner plate. When the garlic turns golden brown, remove it with a slotted spoon and place it on the paper towel. Fry your shallots in the same oil until they are crispy and brown (not black!) again making sure not to burn them.  Set aside on a paper towel. shallots

shallotsfrying5.  Take 1 tbsp. of the oil from the fried garlic and shallots and pour into a medium or heavy bottomed pan on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and green chili. Once the cumin starts sputtering, add the marinated tofu and carrots into the pan. Let the tofu and carrots cook for 30 seconds, and then add in the coconut milk with the warm water. Gently scrape the bottom of the pan, to get any bits of ginger or garlic. Turn the heat down to medium-low and bring the curry to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes. burmesecurry16.  While your curry is simmering, heat a small saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the peanuts and roast until they are brown (3-4 minutes). Shake the pan occasionally to make sure they roast evenly. Set the peanuts aside in a small bowl.

7. Chop your condiments – the cilantro/coriander leaves and lime wedges.  Place your peanuts, shallots, and garlic, in separate small bowls. Once the curry has been simmering for about 10 minutes and the carrots are softened, add in the baby bok choy, along with 1 tsp. red chilli powder, salt and juice of one lime. Grate 1” piece of ginger into the curry. burmesecury38.  Add your noodles and gently ladle the curry on top. Let everything simmer for another 2 minutes, until the baby bok choy is tender, but still firm. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

9. Turn off the heat. Serve your bowl of curried noodles with your accompaniments: wedge of lemon, scallions, green/red chili, cilantro, peanuts, fried shallots, fried garlic, and egg.


burmesecurry7Oh, and did I mention that it’s finally spring?


Nani paneer (paneer with half moons)

onion11The name of this recipe is not a poor translation, but is my way of making the original name of this recipe, paneer do pyaza (or “two onion” paneer) sound more appealing. I’m not sure if I succeeded. 

Monikers aside, this is one of my favorite paneer dishes, something my Nani enjoyed, and which I will always associate with lunches in her house.  Although heavy on the onions, this is not a pungent dish.  Rather, the onions are slowly caramelized and intended to impart a sweetness to the dish, which goes very nicely against the black pepper.  I also love the way these onion skins look in this boat shape.  For those of you who hate chopping onions, the shape of the onions here mean very little chopping, and hopefully, few to no tears.  This recipe is delicious with naan, paratha, or roti.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Serves: 2


For the onion half moons:

1 tsp. canola oil

1 yellow onion, cut into quarters (like so), and then each layer of skin removed.

onions1 tsp. sugar

Pinch of salt

For the paneer:

1 tsp. vegetable/canola oil

2 green cardamom pods

1 bay leaf

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 green chilli, chopped

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 roma tomatoes

1 tsp. coriander powder

1/2 tsp. turmeric powder

1 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. red chili powder

1 tsp. black pepper (preferably freshly ground)

100 gms (3 oz.) paneer (preferably home made), cut into cubes

1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste (or 2 garlic gloves and 1″ ginger, mashed in a mortar and pestle)

1/4 cup warm water

Handful of coriander leaves (for garnish)

Salt to taste

  1. First, start on the onion half moons. Place a saucepan, with 1 tsp. oil, on low heat.  Chop one yellow onion into quarters and remove the skins.  Place the skins into the pan, along with a pinch of salt and 1 tsp. sugar and let the onions soften on low heat.  Shake the pan occasionally to make sure that the skins don’t burn.  Once the onions are softened and gently charred on the edges, turn off the heat (about 10 minutes).onions2
  2. In the meantime, chop 1/2 a yellow onion and one roma tomato. onions3
  3. In another pan, add 1 tsp. oil. and put the pan on medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds, cardamom pods, and bay leaf.  When the cumin seeds start sizzling, add the green chilli, half the chopped onion, and the ginger-garlic paste.  Add a pinch of salt and cook the onions for about two minutes, until softened. onions6
  4. Add the chopped tomato, along with the spices (turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder, black pepper and garam masala).  Stir everything well.  When the mixture starts getting dry, add 1/4 cup warm water and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the spices are well blended.   onions7
  5. Add in the caramelized onions and mix everything together. 
  6. Cut the paneer into cubes and gently fold them into the onion and tomato gravy.  Mix everything well.onion9
  7. Garnish with coriander leaves.

onion10Serve and enjoy!

Paneer from scratch

It’s hard not to love paneer–the Indian ricotta–unless you’re vegan of course, in which case you have my eternal gratitude for making the world a better place.  While paneer is readily available in most Indian groceries, it comes frozen and loses some of its texture by the time it gets to you. By contrast, homemade paneer is remarkably soft, silky, and fresh. I’m a huge fan. It’s also very easy and quick to make, requiring just a couple of ingredients: a muslin cheese cloth, some white vinegar (or lemon juice) and whole milk (preferably organic). The photos for this are not going to be very pretty, but the results will be! This recipe makes about 200 grams of paneer (about 7 oz).  What you don’t use, you can wrap in plastic and keep in the fridge for up to a week.


Prep time: 20 minutes


1 cheese cloth

A large strainer

½ gallon whole milk (preferably organic)

1/3 cup lemon juice or distilled white vinegar

A pinch of salt

Heat the milk on high heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir occasionally to make sure that the milk doesn’t stick to the bottom. In the meantime, fold your cheese cloth in half and place on top of a strainer.


When the milk starts bubbling and rising up, turn the heat down to low.

Add the lemon juice, pinch of salt, and stir once or twice.  Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes. You’ll see curdles or chunks forming as the whey and cheese separate.


Strain everything into the cheese cloth, letting the whey drain out, preferably in a pot under the strainer (There are many uses for leftover whey and its packed full of nutrients, so you could keep it, if you want.   Here are some ideas:


Squeeze out any excess water. Place a heavy pot, such as a dutch oven, on top of the cheese cloth and let sit. Leave this to sit for another 10-15 minutes.


Gently squeeze out any water from the cheese cloth and gently flip over the brick of paneer.  Its ready to use!



Ful medames (Stewed fava beans)

Driving home one day from a cafe, my partner and I noticed a new Middle Eastern market which has opened up in what is fast becoming the Durham Muslim community’s hub (yay! finally!).  It was spring break, and with time on our hands, we decided to stop and browse.  My partner, who lived for some time in Jerusalem, was thrilled.  Though the selection of fresh vegetables was limited, we loaded up on lots of other goodies: a sturdy jug of Lebanese olive oil for $10, bulgur wheat (in lots of different sizes), fava beans, eggplant spread, pickled labneh, tahini, fresh pita…. There is also halal meat available, for nonveggies. 

I’ve been having a Middle Eastern spell lately, and this morning, I created my version of Ful Medames – a super easy, fast, delicious, and healthy breakfast.  It takes about 10 minutes and is fantastic with some pita bread, warmed and slightly crisped in the oven, and some soft or hard boiled eggs.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2


1 can fava beans, drained and rinsed

1 clove garlic, grated or mashed

Juice of half a lemon

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. cumin powder

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Bunch of parsley, finely chopped

  1.  Drain and rinse the fava beans well under cold running water.  Place the beans in a pot and cover them with water (there should be at least 1″ more water than beans). Bring the water and beans to a boil on medium heat.  Let the beans boil for about 8 minutes, until soft.
  2. While the beans are boiling, mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl.
  3. Transfer the beans into the bowl and mix well.
  4. Using a fork, lightly mash the fava beans, making sure to leave some unmashed, so that you have different textures.
  5. Serve with pita/bread and/or some eggs!


Moroccan Stew with Butternut Squash and Chickpeas

Despite never having been to Morocco (something I hope to remedy soon!), I love Moroccan food. This stew is warming and hearty on a cold winter day.  Funnily enough, yesterday’s New York Times just featured a similar stew as well, so apparently, I’m not the only one who craves Moroccan food on a cold day.

This vegan stew is wonderful when you want to enjoy complex flavors—but also need something  quick and easy to prepare – my cooking mantra! Often I find that recipes for Moroccan food—at least the ones I have found online—overdo the sweetness, which comes from cinnamon, and often apricots and/or raisins as well, while foregoing other spices.  I prefer the stew to be more balanced, with the sweetness from the cinnamon and apricots balanced against the spicy harissa and red chillies.  However, since this is a one-pot meal, which simmers for a while, only gaining in flavor as it does, feel free to adjust to your own tastes. I love this served with some couscous or quinoa, but it is also perfectly good with any other grains or rice.


To cook couscous: take 1 cup of couscous (serves 2) and pour 2 cups of boiling water over it. Cover and leave for 15 minutes. Fluff the grains with a fork and serve.



Prep. time: 40 minutes

Serves: 2 (with leftovers)


1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic

1″ knob ginger

1 stick cinnamon

2 cardamom pods

4 cloves

1-2 dried red chillies

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. harissa

1 tbsp. cumin powder

1 tsp. coriander powder

1 tsp. turmeric powder

6 dried apricots, chopped

3 cups warm water

1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans or half a cup of dried chickpeas soaked overnight (with draining liquid)

16 oz. butternut squash

1/2 preserved lemon (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Handful coriander leaves for garnish

  1. Heat olive oil in a deep pan on medium heat.
  2. Once the oil is hot, add the dried red chilli, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom pods.
  3. Once you can smell the aroma of the spices, add the onion and garlic along with a pinch of salt.  Saute for 2-3 minutes, until the onions have softened.  If the pot gets too dry, add a sprinkling of water.
  4. Add the spices: the cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric, and harissa.  Saute for another minute, making sure that the spices do not burn (again, add a bit of water if necessary).
  5. Add three cups of warm water and bring to a gentle simmer.
  6. Add the squash and let simmer until cooked, about 15 minutes.  Grate your knob of ginger directly into the pot.
  7. Once the squash is cooked, add your chickpeas and the draining liquid into the pot.  Add the apricots. 
  8. Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Adjust spices if necessary.
  9. Simmer for another 5 minutes.  Add your preserved lemon, if you like.
  10. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve.

Avocado, orange, and radish salad with poppy seed dressing

Its been too long.  Despite having pretty good reasons for the hiatus (job applications and interviews and whatnot), believe me, I’ve seriously missed having the time to write out recipes, cook, photograph, and leisurely eat said goods. These last few weeks, I’ve haven’t had much energy to cook, except to throw some lentils into the pressure cooker for a quick dal.

To make up for all that, today I did double duty and cooked all afternoon. It was so good to take a day off and be completely unproductive and selfish.  This salad is perfect for when you need a palate cleanser after a weekend of hedonism (what’s that?) or just a simple but nourishing appetizer or light lunch.  This salad is crisp, fresh, and what is crucial in my book for a good salad: it keeps you interested because every bite is a bit different.  On another note, I was watching a hilarious Portlandia skit in which Fred Armisen’s character develops an addiction to pasta, which they analogize to a drug or alcohol addiction.  In an interview, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein described how the inspiration of the skit was the thought that on our deathbeds, none of us is likely to say that we’re so glad we ate so many salads.  Anyway, this salad is one of those that you won’t regret so much.

PS–If you want to make the dressing vegetarian or vegan, just omit the egg.

Fruity bedfellows
Is there anything more satisfying than cutting open a ripe avocado and scraping that creamy goodness out with a spoon?



Serves: 2

Prep time: 15 minutes

1 ripe avocado

1 orange, peeled and segmented

2 red radishes, sliced

1 bunch rocket or arugula leaves

For the dressing:

1 egg

1 tsp. poppy seeds

2 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 glug of olive or rapeseed oil

2 tsp. sugar

½ yellow onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

  1. Peel and segment the orange.
  2. Slice the avocado and arrange it and the orange over a bed of rocket or arugula leaves.
  3. Slice the radishes and arrange them on your bed of greens.
  4. Blend together the ingredients for the dressing: the poppy seeds, red wine vinegar, onion, egg, sugar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
  5. Pour over the salad and serve.


Malaysian Coconut Curry (with okra chips)

I don’t know about you, but no matter the weather, my craving for Southeast Asian food – sweet, sour, hot, and spicy flavors – is always strong. There’s something about being jolted out of the dullness of the heat and humidity with a bowl of steaming pho or, in this case, being warmed up on a cold winter day with a spicy, sweet and sour Malaysian curry.

Malaysian cuisine, highly underrated and woefully absent in the US (at least outside of urban centers), is usually described as a mix of Chinese, Indian, and Thai flavors. However, there’s nothing derivative here; the fact that this curry is balanced and entirely distinctive speaks to its sophistication. Believe in the harmony of turmeric, tamarind, coriander powder, and soy sauce!  Having said that, I have no idea how “authentically” Malaysian this curry actually is. My dear and talented foodie friend, Tim, first gave me this recipe, along with Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. However, I have made several adjustments, mostly to turn up the flavors.

This thick, delicious, golden curry is perfect with a bowl of white or brown rice.  Today, I paired it with okra chips, which were a perfect complement (recipe here).  My friend stef, who is vegan, gave me a photography lesson today and joined us for lunch–so plus point, both recipes are also vegan. These photos are a product of their gentle but precise direction.




Serves: 2
Total prep. and cooking time: half an hour


2 tbsp. vegetable/canola oil
½ red or white onion, sliced in half moons
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 tbsp. ginger
1 can coconut milk (400 ml. or approx. 13 oz.)
1 cup warm water
1 box firm tofu (preferably pressed or the firmest you can find)
1 tbsp. tamarind paste (you can add more after tasting)
1 tbsp. light soy sauce
2 tsp. Madras curry powder
2 tsp. coriander powder
2 tsp. red chili powder
1 tsp. turmeric powder
2 tsp. light brown sugar or palm sugar
1 roma tomato, chopped
1 scallion stalk, finely chopped
Chopped cilantro (a handful)
1 lime, cut in wedges

  1.  If using tofu that is in water, remove the tofu from the container and using a few paper towels, gently press down to release any extra water. Cut the tofu into 1” cubes.
  2. Put 1 tbsp. of oil in a pan on medium heat.
  3. Once the oil is hot, slide your tofu cubes into a sauté or sauce pan. You want to gently sear or brown them on both sides. After about 2-3 minutes, check to see if they are browned and turn them over to sear them on the other side. (If you are using pressed tofu from an Asian grocery store, you can skip this step).
  4. In a wok, add 1 tbsp. vegetable oil.  When the oil is hot, add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook, until the onions start to brown (about 2-3 minutes).
  5. Add the garlic and the white parts of the scallions to the pan with the onions and saute for 30 seconds.
  6. Pour in the coconut milk along with 1 cup of warm water. Once the mixture starts boiling, turn down the heat slightly, to a gentle simmer. Add the tamarind paste, sugar, Madras curry powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and red chili powder. Add the seared tofu as well.
  7. Using a grater or zest, grate about 2 tbsp. of ginger directly into the curry.
  8.  After about ten minutes, add in the soy sauce and chopped tomatoes.  At this point, taste the curry and adjust the spices as per your taste. Add more tamarind if necessary.
  9. Cook for another 2 minutes, until the tomatoes soften slightly, but they should still look fresh and brightly red against the golden, thickened curry.
  10. Add the green part of the scallions and chopped cilantro. Turn off the heat.
  11. Serve with brown or white rice and a wedge of lemon on the side.