keep it summer, stupid

fish with parmesan and tomatoes

In the midst of summer, you want to spend more time outside, more time with people you love, and more time with foods that are light and energizing. A recipe for your success: keep it simple, let the freshness of summer produce and the transformative powers of the smoky grill do most of the work – and you can spend more time with your friends, your drink, and your loaded up fork. Super easy, minutes-to-the-table panko crusted flounder with ripe tomatoes and herbs can easily be adapted to the grill in a foil packet.

grilled veggiesFind your most appealing summer veggies and load ’em on skewers. Nothing more than some olive oil is needed.

avocado and romaine saladTake this virtuous avocado and romaine salad and add a sprinkle of cotija, feta or goat cheese for a piquant punch.

grilled shrimpPlump shrimp loves a bit of oregano and lemon to bring out its best and brightest flavors on the grill.

grilled zucchini with chili and mintLoad up your plates with grilled zucchini dressed with mint and chili, close the grill and open up the cooler – your night is just getting started.


rockin moroccan night

My big brother came to town to absorb some Cali culture and I had to have a flawless welcome plan. My brother lives in Singapore and has all of the amazing flavors of SE Asia at his doorstep, so I decided to draw from a cuisine that he probably doesn’t get too much of at home but is as bold, flavorful and complex as the cuisine of SE Asia to appeal to his palate: Moroccan. This grilled fish and veggie kebabs recipe allowed me to finally break into one of my favorite cookbooks, the gorgeous Modern Moroccan, and also to practice some more on the grill. The only specialty non-substitutable ingredients you need are preserved lemons and harissa, a spice mixture. You can easily make your own preserved lemons, but you’d have to do it months in advance.  Like me, you can buy the stuff at a specialty grocer (Whole Foods had some) or a Middle Eastern store.

The original recipe is for an appetizer serving of whole red mullet, but this recipe makes plenty (like, a lot!) for a dinner serving. I had originally wanted to use a firm white fish like halibut but salmon seemed like an easy way to grill fish without too much worry and the flavors worked amazingly well with this richer fish.

The chermoula is bright and fresh, and the stew of veggies with preserved lemons is a complex layering of acidic, umami-savory, briny, and tart. The salmon grilled in its skin turned out really moist and perfectly done to a flaky medium rare. I know there are skin-down and skin-up controversies, but I found leaving the salmon skin down and shutting the lid of the grill made a really moist fish that was not overcooked even despite varying thicknesses of fillets. It was simple to slide the salmon off the skins and then ladle the stew with veggies over the fish to serve family-style. You can serve this over fluffed up garlic infused couscous for a complete Moroccan meal. For my stew i added purple potatoes, rainbow carrots, and vibrant heirloom tomatoes off the vine for even more color.

The veggies have the Moroccan inflected flavor of tart lemon and aromatic cinnamon which is simply fresh and slightly subtle. The yogurt dip is perfect for dipping the grilled veggies in, or as we did, mixed into the couscous and salmon stew. Its a simple dip with a nice peppery kick from the harissa that would be great for other uses – pita chip dip, topping a baked potato – that makes it certainly worth hunting down a jar or tube of harissa.

summer vegetable kebabs with harissa and yogurt dip

instructions slightly adapted from a recipe in Modern Moroccan, 2008, Ghillie Basan

equal sized pieces of any or all of the following vegetables:



bell peppers

red onion

cherry tomatoes

vegetable marinade:

4 Tbsp olive oil

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp clear honey

1 tsp salt

harissa and yogurt dip:

2 cups Greek yogurt

2-4 Tbsp harissa

small bunch of fresh cilantro, finely chopped

small bunch of mint, finely chopped

salt and ground pepper

Preheat the grill on the hottest setting. Put all the vegetables in a bowl. Mix the ingredients for the vegetable marinade together and pour the mixture over the vegetables. Using your hands, turn the vegetables gently in the marinade, then thread them onto metal or water-soaked wooden skewers. Cook the kebabs on the grill, turning them occasionally until the vegetables are nicely browned over.

To make the dip, put the yogurt in a bowl and beat in a tablespoon of harissa, making it as fiery as you like by adding more harissa. Add most of the cilantro and mint, reserving a little to garnish, and season well with salt and pepper.

serves 4

salmon with chermoula and preserved lemons

slightly adapted from a recipe in Modern Moroccan, 2008, Ghillie Basan

2-3 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped

4 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 1/2 cups fish stock or water

3-4 new potatoes, peeled and cubed

4 six-oz salmon filets

handful of black olives, pitted and halved or sliced

small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped

small bunch of mint, chopped

salt and ground black pepper


small bunch of fresh cilantro, finely chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

1-2 tsp ground cumin

pinch of saffron threads

4 Tbsp olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp crushed red pepper

1 tsp salt

To make the chermoula, process the ingredients together in a food processor then set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and carrot and cook until softened but not browned. Stir in half the preserved lemon, along with 2 Tbsp of the chermoula, the tomatoes and the fish stock or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer for a further 10 minutes, until they are tender.

Preheat the grill on the hottest setting and brush a grill pan with oil. Brush the fish fillets with olive oil and a little of the chermoula. Season with salt and pepper, then place the fillets, skin side down, on the pan and cook with lid closed for 10 minutes per 1 inch thickness.

Meanwhile, stir the olives, the remaining chermoula and preserved lemon into the sauce and check the seasoning. Slide a spatula to separate the fish from the skin and serve the fish fillets in wide bowls, spoon the sauce over and sprinkle liberally with chopped cilantro and mint.

serves 4


what i had for dinner: girl and the grill

Ever since I bought a grill I have had grill fever. I’ve never grilled stuff before so this technique of cooking is a complete mystery to me, thus I try to keep finding excuses to slap something onto the grill and practicing, practicing, practicing. Recently it was a good stretch of stunning weather so I found this awesome recipe for Korean barbecue-style grilled halibut, eggplant, and baby bok choy that looked easy and delightful. Of course, the evening of said grilling experiment was the foggiest, coldest, most miserable night in all of San Francisco summers and I was outside cursing the grill and the price of halibut and the sideways rain – but in the end, I’d have to say it turned out pretty great.

First off, I really don’t recommend grilling bok choy or baby bok choy as it became bitter and dry. However, I love eggplant and nothing is better than a the smokiness and smooth texture of grilled japanese eggplant. I also added some zucchini and they turned out quite moist and nicely charred. Halibut is kind of pricey so I’m pretty sure that any kind of firm white fish would work great, and I suspect even salmon would as well. The fish and veggies were perfectly complemented by the wicked delicious sauce/marinade. The marinade is ridiculously easy and just so umami-ful.  Because I had it on hand, I substituted gochujang for the fresh chili which probably made it more Korean but added that great sour layer to the flavor profile.  I served everything with sesame rice (rice, sesame oil, sesame seed, green onion and soy sauce) and we were quite stuffed – this recipe makes a ton of food!

For dessert, (I sent B out in the rain to the grill for this…..yeah, I punked out) we grilled stone fruit topped with a dollop of mascarpone and drizzled with butter rum sauce. Simply grease the grill grates and the peaches/plums with butter or canola oil or Pam. If the fruit isn’t ripe enough you can sprinkle the cut sides with brown sugar but be sure to monitor them even more carefully on the grill as they can burn. Then, grill the fruit cut side down for a few minutes and turn over for 2 minutes.

To make the butter rum sauce, melt equal parts butter and brown sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add a bit of dark rum and a splash of vanilla. The sauce will bubble up and smell freaking amazing – let it simmer for a few minutes, stirring, until its slightly thickened. Let it cool (unless you enjoy a burned tongue) and it will form a luxurious caramel.

Place the grilled stone fruit to a bowl, add a spoonful of mascarpone and drizzle with warm butter-rum sauce. Each spoonful is sweet, creamy, tart, warm and guaranteed to make you want to give your grill another go – even in the dampest, chilliest of nights.


pescado a la veracruzana

Have you noted a Mexican theme to the blog lately? Shrimp tacos and Mexican-style brownies and avocadotacos and such? Its not so much that I’m on a Mexican food kick as it is that the tangy, bold, sweet, juicy, punchy flavors I crave in the summer are perfectly embodied in the Mexican palate.  For a dinner party with my parents and B’s parents, I wanted to make something that reflected these flavors but know that my parents are not huge fans of cheese, corn, or heavy sauces that we sometimes associate with Mexican/Tex-Mex/Southwestern cuisine. Then, I remembered that when I went to Mexico, I had the most amazing fish plucked straight out of the water and bathed in stewed sweet tomatoes, salty tart olives, and fresh herbs – these are flavors my parents would love and so I looked to the coastal region of Veracruz for this dish with red snapper and shrimp.

This dish would work well with any kind of white fish (tilapia or cod would be delicious), and the shrimp are optional but I think their sweetness is greatly complimentary to the briny sauce.  You could add or subtract to the tomato olive sauce as you like – add bell peppers, remove the anchovies – but all together it is a rich, flavorful yet still rather light and fresh tasting stew.  You can make everything through step 3 a little earlier and then pop it into the oven to cook just before dinner.

Martha Stewart’s cilantro-lime rice is verdant and subtly piquant, but you could amp it up with more lime to Chipotle’s rice levels. I made a hyuuuuge batch of this for a taco party for 22 people and it was great with these black beans. Its super convenient to make the dressing beforehand with a whir of the food processor, then stick the washed rice into the cooker so that all you have to do is toss the cooked, fluffed rice with the dressing right before serving.

Joy the Baker’s avocado orange salad is juicy, crisp, creamy and kinda perfection. I adore salads with bits of tangy, juicy citrus and personally, I don’t think you could go wrong with avocado in anything. The only changes I made were adding a second orange (because, yes please) and I didn’t do the raw egg in the dressing but used a spoon of yogurt instead. The dressing was easy to make ahead of time and I think it’s my new favorite (sorry Green Goddess, we’ll always have 2011).

Veracruz-Style Fish and Shrimp
Mexican, 2012 – Better Homes and Garden Special Publication

six 6oz fillets    fresh or frozen red snapper fillets (with or without skin)
12-18                  fresh or frozen shrimp, deveined and peeled
1/4 cup               fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons  olive oil
1/4 teaspoon   salt
1 cup                  white onion, finely chopped
4 cloves             garlic, thinly sliced
2                          canned anchovy fillets, chopped
1/3 cup              dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
one 28oz can   diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup                   seafood stock or chicken broth
12                        whole pimiento-stuffed green olives
1/4 cup               sliced pickled jalapenos
2 tablespoons   capers, drained
1/2 teaspoon    crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon    dried oregano, crushed
1/4 cup               italian flat leaf parsley or cilantro, roughly chopped


1. Thaw fish and shrimp, if frozen. Rinse fish and shrimp; pat dry with paper towels. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 3 quart rectangular baking dish with cooking spray or oil.

2. Using a sharp knife, score fish by making three shallow cuts about 2 inches long through the skin (or flesh, if skinless) of each fillet; place fillets in prepared baking dish. Add lime juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the salt to baking dish, turning fish to coat. Arrange fillets skin side down and place 2-3 shrimp on top of each fillet; set aside.

3. In a large saucepan heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and anchovies; cook for 3 minutes. Stir in wine; cook for 1 minute more. Add tomatoes and juice, stock or broth, olives, pickled jalapenos, capers, crushed red pepper, and oregano. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Immediately ladle mixture over fish and shrimp. Cover baking dish tightly with foil.

4. Bake for 13 minutes then remove foil and bake uncovered for 5 more minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with fork. Sprinkle with parsley or cilantro. Serve with rice or  roasted potatoes.

Serves 6


turkey fish

My final post on Istanbul focuses on two of the aspects of Turkish food culture that I was really looking forward to enjoying: the incredibly fresh seafood and the historical markets. One of my favorite seafood dish was a sizzling shrimp casserole with mushrooms and onions, karides guvec. Julie and I tried it at many different places and each slight variation was still consistently comforting and flavorful.  The sophisticated spicing reminds me of the Silk Road, intermingling tastes the Middle East and Europe with a touch of India.

At restaurant 360, we indulged in a fabulous view of the Istanbul skyline and its equally glittering Beautiful People. To start we had circassian cheese-stuffed calamari – the thought of squid and cheese together was intriguing, and was actually a winning combination.

I had the sea bass which were perfectly grilled, just look at that char! I could have done without the lincoln log potatoes, though.

Aya had the mustard glazed salmon (sorry the picture is so iffy), a classic that was benefited from excellent technique.

Julie went more Turkish, successfully so: filet of dorade wrapped in vine leaves,  with grapes and raki sauce (the local anise-flavored liquor).

In the Kumkapi district along the Sea of Marmara are some the city’s best fish restaurants with the freshest seafood in town – here’s today’s catch at Fener restaurant. The fat roundish dorades are a white fish that tastes like snapper.

After choosing your fish, the preparation is elegantly simple to bring out its essence of the fish: scored, grilled, salt, and lemon.

Of course we couldn’t get enough of the shrimp casserole with its delicately spiced juices bursting with flavor from tomatoes and peppers – perfect for dipping hot crusty bread.


fresh juiceHeading over to the spice bazaar (also known as the Egyptian Market in Istanbul) you can’t help but linger at all the enticing food vendors offering fresh pomegranate juice…


roasted chestnutsor the ubiquitous hot roasted chestnuts.


spice bazaarOnce in the spice bazaar (a maze of tunnel-like galleries of stalls and shops), all of the spices and teas and dried fruits and nuts you stuffed your face with are awaiting your suitcase for the trip home.

spice bazaarPick out your favorite treats and the vendors weigh it, bag it, and vacuum-pack it into a little flat packet safe for your baggage.

spice bazaarRare and prized goods are easily available in the second oldest bazaar in the city – here since the 17th century.

spice bazaarIstanbul was the gateway to the Silk Road and it’s readily apparent in the bazaar overflowing with spices from all corners of the Middle East and Asia.

teasEverywhere you go as a tourist, you’ll be offered sweet and tart apple tea and beautiful blooming pomegranate tea. You can find both here along with maybe a hundred other kinds of tea that I’d never seen before.

buying turkish delightYou can get a selection of your favorite Turkish Delight cut to order.

spice bazaar treatsAnd along with other treats, goodies and sweets – you can find all your favorite Turkish flavors here in the spice bazaar (mine were pomegranate, pistachios, and rose).  The only thing that was missing was a Turkish cookbook to put it all together – luckily, I found a gorgeous and well-researched one right in the airport. Hopefully I can recreate some of the aromatic flavors of my favorite Turkish dishes and share them with you soon.

Did you miss the other posts on Istanbul food? You can find all the desserts you can handle here, and how to be a vegetarian in Turkey here.


bengali bazaars

Winter in Bangladesh means harvest season for vegetables – and the markets are bursting with the fresh bounty of the fertile lands. As we traveled through the countryside in the North, we passed perfectly neat square fields of squash, spinach, and eggplant.  A meal in the village is pretty much from the earth straight to your plate.  Back in Dhaka, a trip to the muddy, rowdy fish market offered a glimpse into a staple of the Bengali diet. Bangladesh is basically a giant delta where massive rivers from the Himalayas meet the clear blue Indian ocean at the Bay of Bengal.  As a result, all kinds of fish large and small, as well as the famous prawns, are a part of most meals.

in the village, a sea of cauliflower at the wholesale market

eggplant straight from the fields

tidy plots of veggies and rice

spring onions bundled for delivery

and off to market the shallots go

packing up the morning’s cabbage

before it is packed, here’s how it arrives from the farm

Bogra is famous for its new potatoes

curry 101: ginger, garlic, chilies, shallots

across the street from the wholesale market, you can buy all the veggies you need

across the street from the wholesale market, you can buy all the veggies you need

and get a couple of kilos of rice

from giant piles

or free range eggs

in the city, the fish market is bustling early in the morning as the catch comes in

so many types…

…that I don’t even know all their names

get your fish cut expertly on the bonti – a long flatcurved blade mounted on wood

if you can’t get to the market, it comes to your door

finally, you know you’re in the subcontinent with sweet plantain-like bananas and coconut

I hope you enjoyed this brief journey through the delicious markets of Bangladesh, and I will not soon forget the memories, the aromas and the people.

Click here for part one of photo-journaling through Bangladesh.