Et tu, Brunei?

October 3, 2015

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Brunei is an interesting place, a seemingly Middle Eastern-style Islamic pseudo-monarchy, way out far East and isolated on the edge of an island. This may come as a bit of a shock to you (as it did to me), to find out that Brunei, despite having a famous Sultan, is NOT in the Middle East. It’s funny because if you had asked me, I wouldn’t have known where to place it on a map, but certainly would not have guessed it was near the Philippines.

Located on the north side of the island of Borneo, in fact, Brunei really is all tucked away and easy to miss or forget about. Although Borneo (which takes its name from Brunei) is the 3rd largest island in the world, Brunei occupies just 1% of that area. Slightly larger than Delaware, it would be the 49th biggest state, and yet has been ranked as high as the 5th richest nation in the world. It is also that high in per capita purchasing power, largely due to the large deposits of petroleum and natural gas, which were discovered in the early 20th century.

The national language is Malay, as it is for Malaysia and Indonesia, who also share Borneo, and there are more speakers of this worldwide than of other popular tongues such as: French, Vietnamese, Korean, Urdu, and Italian. All would seem well aside from a brief 3 ½ year occupation by the Japanese post-Pearl Harbor attack, but there is more to it.

Despite a high standard of living, only behind Singapore in the region, and very much like them, law penalties are unreasonably harsh. When the revised law code was announced in 2014, many including the UN became worried at the list of offenses which could incur the death penalty such as: “Rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, insulting any verses of the Quran…,blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, and murder “. Although their legal system is based on the Britain’s, who had a heavy influence in molding modern Brunei, Sharia law can supersede many rulings or decisions. Stoning is also listed as an acceptable punishment in many cases, but to this date I do not believe any stoning or capital executions have occurred.

In addition, the aforementioned Sultan wields tremendous power in all facets of government. Despite having a parliament, all real power lies with the Sultan, and he and the royal family are sacrosanct. It is an absolute monarchy which no one questions and which has existed in a seemingly unbroken line since 1368. There was also a Sultan Muhammad Ali in 1660, which I had to mention because it’s awesome. And yes before you ask, there are both butterflies and bees on the island of Borneo.

Bruneian cuisine is very similar to that of Malaysia, Singapore, and other nearby countries.  Beef is expensive and thus avoided, as is pork due to halal restrictions. Fish and rice, as well as noodles and some types of indigenous deer are common. A peculiar and unique dish to Brunei is called Ambuyat. It is made from the trunk of a palm tree and is a sticky, slimy goop. Although this is the national dish, I did not make it and I will not apologize, go look up a picture of it.

Instead I made a Bruneian Beriani, which is a chicken and rice dish with a native spice blend. I used a mini food processor to grind the spices and nuts together but a mortar and pestle would also work well. The combination of the seasonings gave the chicken an amazingly earthy flavor and texture. The bright yellow from the turmeric was a nice visual and provided great contrast on the plate.

Turmeric keeps popping up in many dishes and I am beginning to develop quite a fondness for it. In its raw form it is a rhizome that looks like ginger. Long before it was used in cooking; it mainly served as a potent dye for obvious reasons. As a staple of herbal medicine, it has historically been used to treat many ailments of the stomach and liver. After recently injuring my back, I found it listed as an anti-inflammatory and whether it is a placebo effect or not, the times when I have eaten it do seem to be accompanied by an increased abating of symptoms.  You be the judge! As a side dish, I made coconut rice which was delicious and the creaminess from the coconut milk which permeates the rice was a perfect counter point to the spiced nature of the chicken.

I will see you next time in Bulgaria, where we will sadly not be eating bulgur wheat…




Bruneian Beriani

2-3 servings


2 tsp cinnamon

1/6 tsp clove

1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 cup shallot (or onion +garlic)

1.5 tsp salt

14 g (.5 oz) almonds

1/2 tbs poppy seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric

enough oil/butter to cook onions



  1. Cut chicken into pieces.
  2. Grind together garlic, ginger, chillies, poppy seeds, cashew nuts and almonds.
  3. Heat oil/butter and fry cloves, cinnamon, shallots.
  4. Add in the chicken pieces, 1 tsp salt, and ground ingredients.
  5. Stir to mix and cook covered for 10 minutes.
  6. Add in salt.


Easy Coconut Rice

3 servings


3/4 cup medium or long grain rice of your choice

1 1/2 cup coconut milk (I like reduced fat)

1/2 cup water



Follow the standard rice directions per your rice choice.

Make sure to add more water if needed to prevent from burning during cooking.

Use a lower temperature to cook the rice then normal to account for thicker liquid and

lower burning point.


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Do you hear that?! It’s getting closer… My God! Your hips… why are they moving like that… it must be… The Samba! Phew, don’t be alarmed, we are just in Brazil and that reaction is perfectly normal, I think.

Brazil is a huge country with a lot of people (5th in population and 5th in area), and although one of the largest energy consumers in the world, much of their power comes from renewable sources, including the largest hydroelectric plant in the world (Itaipu Dam). I’m going to assume you know basic facts like that it is the only South American country to speak Portuguese. Let’s start with a different part of its founding instead. So… which Age of Discovery conquistador claimed Brazil for Portugal? Henry the Navigator? Magellan? Da Gama? Nope… Pedro Álvares Cabral. Exactly, I have no idea who that is either. He was your run of the mill nobleman, military commander, explorer of the time, who was on the heels of Da Gama’s newly found route around Africa. In 1500, he took his fleet further West and discovered what is today Brazil. He has the distinction of possibly being the first human to touch four continents. To settle the claiming of South America between Spain and Portugal, the Pope famously drew a line down the middle, and the land to the East (Brazil) went to Portugal.

Unless you are a trivia buff or just memorized all the world capitals for no good reason, it may surprise you that Rio de Janeiro is not the capital. However, it was the temporary capital of Portugal after 1808 when the royal family fled Lisbon ahead of Napoleon’s invasion. Since 1960, Brasilia has been the capital, a city built at great expense for just this purpose.

When it comes to eating in Brazil, they love their beef. They overtook Australia as the leading beef exporter in 2003 and were only passed this year by India (yes…I know, India… apparently, India exports mostly buffalo which counts as beef in the rankings, but still). So you will be shocked I’m sure to find, not only no beef in my recipe, but no meat at all! This was a bit of a turn for me, but I feel like these dishes gave me a chance to alter the common image of Brazil.

So I made a creamy yam soup that actually does not have any cream in it, and what is affectionately referred to as “tasty sawdust”: Farofa. The yam or sweet potato soup is straight forward and delicious. By blending the yam all the way to the point of puree, the starchiness thickens the dish so there is no need for dairy. The Farofa… is interesting. That is really an understatement but true none-the-less. It is extremely dry and sticks in your throat, the flavor and texture are fascinating though. By using tapioca flour, it absorbs all the moisture from the butter, egg, and onion making a unique kind of paste. I took the dish a step further to farofa tropeiro by adding in some black beans. I’m glad we made it and it did taste good but I’m not sure I will ever get the feeling of that texture out of my mouth. But still, I encourage you to give it a try because you might get something different out of the experience and that is why we are all here in the first place.

I will see you next time in Brunei… the go-to place when you absolutley, positively need a Sultan immediately.




Creamy Yam Soup (Sopa de Cará)

6 servings


1 lb yam or sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
6 cups beef stock (or vegetable stock))
3 Tbsp Italian parsley (optional)



In a medium saucepan, heat the oil, then add the chunks of yam and cook for five minutes. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook for about three minutes, or until the onions are soft and starting to become clear. Add the stock, bring to a very slow boil, and cook until the yams are very soft and tender.

Rremove the yam chunks from the broth. Using a potato masher, puree the yam completely, then stir the puree back into the broth. Add the cubes of tomato and cook for a five minutes. Turn off the heat and let the soup stand on the stove for about 3 minutes, then serve in bowls or mugs, sprinkling chopped parsley on the surface if desired.



6 servings


Black Beans (optional)
1 onion
7 oz. tapioca/cassava flour
2 tablespoons of butter
2 eggs



  1. Melt the butter in a medium-hot pan, then fry the onion.
  2. Add the egg and mix for a moment or two.
  3. As the egg scrambles, add in the flour and mix well to make sure everything is buttery.
  4. Cook for a minute or two then remove from the heat.
  5. Season with salt.


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Botswana is a stable democratic country with a very high gross national income and the highest standard of living in sub-Saharan Africa, equal to that of Mexico or Turkey. Because of this, there really isn’t much to say about its history that stands out to me. After writing a fair number of these entries I am going to interpret that as a positive thing. Too many countries have gone through revolutions, invasions, and economic downturns over the centuries; an absence of that is a nice change of pace.

There are a few items of interest I came across: one good and one not so good. Botswana is home to the Orapa diamond mine, the largest by area in the world. Not only that, but it produces 11 million carats of diamond per year valued at roughly $1.6 billion, which also ranks first among world mines. Between it and its sister mine, 3000 workers are employed, which explains the onsite hospital and school system for children. And just in case you were curious, the return rate on the ore excavated is less than 1 carat for every ton of rock.

Cattle is also becoming an important source of income for Botswana, however this is leading to quickly deteriorating land and resources. Seventy percent of the country is in the Kalahari Desert, which makes water a precious and precarious commodity. But even greater than the risk of desertification and water shortage is the alarmingly high HIV rate. It is estimated that, as of 2006, approximately 25% of the adult population had the disease. However, through comprehensive prevention programs including free or cheap drugs, the mother to child transmission rate was cut from 40% to only 4%. It is hoped that over time this massive improvement will curtail the spread of the disease.

The most common dish that I could find is called Seswaa (which is a boiled then shredded meat served with a porridge) and because it seemed like every world food blogger cooked this one, I went in another direction. This one I found from the Botswana Outdoor Cookbook and features oxtail, which I just happened to have in my freezer! Over the last few years this is really one ingredient I am willing to splurge a little on. It’s not wildly expensive, but considering a lot of the weight is bone, you might pass over it when shopping at your local grocery store. If you have the time and patience to cook it long and slow, it will make a beef broth so luscious on the lips you might need to take a cold shower.

This recipe is straight forward and at first not very different from perhaps a southern European stew. What really changed it for me is the addition of the butter beans. It is a subtle and delicious element which also thickens the soup and provides protein and a textural contrast. I almost always drain and wash canned beans when cooking, but this is one case where that starchy liquid left clinging to the beans works as a thickener so you don’t have to worry about cornstarch, arrowroot powder, or any other thickening agent.

What continues to strike me after only 25+ countries is how much of the world eats soups and stews. It makes sense: they are easy to cook, able to include whatever is around, and can be a communal meal option. I just can’t help but thinking that the last thing I would want, especially in the heat of the summer in some of these countries, would be a bowl of hot soup. Then again, the desert gets mighty cold at night, so what do I know.

Next time we meet in Brazil, or as I like to call it, “the answer to the trick question about what is the largest Portuguese speaking country in the world?”… here’s a hint… it’s not Portugal…




Botswana Oxtail Stew

4 servings


oxtail + 1 lbs stew beef

1 onion sliced

1 clove garlic minced

1/2 tsp paprika

1 can butter beans (almost all the way drained)

2.5 carrots sliced

1.5 lbs potatos peeled and cut up

6 oz green beans cut up

1/2 tsp ground cloves

3 bay leaves

2 TBS tomato paste

beef stock



  1. Put the oxtail in a large pot and add just enough water to cover it. With the lid off, cook the meat for about 30 minutes until the water has evaporated. At this point, the meat will start to brown in the fat released by the oxtail. Turn the meat so that it browns on both sides.
  1. Once the meat has browned on both sides, add onions,garlic, and carrots and mix well. Add the oxtail add a cup of stock, add bayleaf and spices, Cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for about 2 hours, until the meat is soft.
  1. Check the meat once in a while to make sure there is still enough liquid in the pot to cover it. Add more if necessary. Add the potatoes and cook till ready, add the beans and cook until the vegetables are soft (about 30 minutes).


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So…Bosnia and Herzegovina… yet another place I am woefully ignorant of. The name Bosnia most likely comes from a nearby river, but I find its partner’s moniker more interesting. It stems from the German hereditary title of Herzog, which is the equivalent of “duke”. Thus, it is a dukedom, which it was early on in its history. In antiquity, it was part of the large region of Illyria (the setting of Twelfth Night) which essentially mirrored and rivaled the length and breadth of Italy on the opposing eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. And as with most forces who were allied with and then turned against the Roman Republic, it was conquered and dissolved into local kingdoms, and those regions which were in opposition were…“taken care of”.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s histories are ultimately not happy ones: marred by large scale ethnic conflict resulting in genocide and war crimes. And even before that there was something called…World War I? Isn’t it weird that they would name it that at the time, almost like they expected more in the future…humm. And of course the long and complicated series of political dominos that ended in war began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip.

Rather than get into all that detail (which you can look up pretty much anywhere), I will simply say that there are many ethnic groups living within the same borders (Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, etc). Following WWI and the fall of the Ottoman Empire (which lasted much longer than the Roman Empire…I’m just saying, we’ll probably address that when we get to Turkey…in a few years…), the large Austro-Hungarian Empire was divided into many of the Balkan countries we know today.

So often in our history, land was divided up seemingly appropriately at the time, with less than adequate regard for where certain ethnic groups ended up. This notion of separation is so accepted, one of the houses of government is the “House of Peoples”, with five representatives each from the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats. Can you imagine if in America congress was divided between the Irish, Italians, Germans, English, etc? This is still progress, as prior to the acceptance of this format, certain peoples were being subjugated and discriminated against for centuries, and given enough time… genocided against. The ethnic cleansings of the 1990’s forced NATO to carry out two bombing campaigns in ’95 and ’99. The first was named “Operation Deliberate Force”, which I feel is a little a less subtle then these titles usually are. But what do they eat???

I’m glad you asked; sometimes I forget this is a food blog. The cuisine of this region is actually very interesting. It is situated perfectly between East and West, North and South, and has been ruled by the European Austrians and the Arabic Turks. It would not be uncommon to see Baklava and Kefir, which are so heavily associated with the Middle East, next to potatoes and other continental fodder. The dish I picked is amazing. It is a Creamy Zucchini Soup… with no dairy. That’s right… a creamy soup with NO dairy. I’m not one of those adamant proponents of eliminating all dairy from one’s diet, but I have to say, the less dairy I find myself eating, the better I generally feel, so there is probably something to that.

One of the goals of this undertaking has been to familiarize myself with global ingredients. This is a task that would not have been possible even 20 years ago. The selection and assortment of imported spices and other foods is truly a wonder if you think about how far they have traveled to get to your plate. So when I saw Vegeta listed as an ingredient two things crossed my mind: “Oh man, I really need to go back and watch Dragon Ball Z it’s been too long”, and “where am I going to find a Croatian spice blend in central Ohio?” Now I should add the words “easily” and “affordably” to that sentence because I am doing my best to cook within our means and not spend a lot for one ingredient for one dish. This is especially true when the recipe even points out that you could use vegetable broth instead. But I always try.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I found a canister at my local supermarket. It is now my go-to bouillon base when I need to make vegetable broth or season any dish, it is flavorful and unique and kicks regular vegetable broth’s butt. So next time you are at the grocery store, poke around and see if you can find it, you might be surprised. Ingredient interlude over.

This recipe is beyond easy and the only tool you need is a stick blender (though I guess any kind of blender would work on low). It is a one-pot wonder and has practically no fat, two criteria for my favorite dishes. I will say that in other recipes I might leave the bacon garnish off, and of course that is an option for anyone, but I do feel that in this dish, with the otherwise lack of meat, it is well worth it for the accompanying flavor and texture. You don’t have to use a lot to get a huge improvement overall and the same goes for the feta on top. I know I will be making this many times next winter: a giant steaming bowl of creamy goodness.

Bosnia and Herzegovina. I’ve typed it so many times in writing this and still can’t seem to spell it right and that is my cross to bear. I will see you next in Botswana which is roughly the size of France… so I assume their culinary history is just as impressive…




Bosnian Creamy Zucchini Soup

4 servings


1 large Zucchini, peeled and diced (about 4 cups)

1 Onion, chopped
2 large Carrots, diced
1 Garlic clove, minced
3 large Potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoon olive Oil
1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Paprika
Goat Cheese (optional)
4 -5 cups Vegetable Broth (can be substituted with water and 1 tablespoon Vegeta, Bosnian spice mix)
Salt and Pepper
a little crumbled Bacon (optional)



  • Heat the olive oil and paprika in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Add onions, garlic and carrots and saute until onions start to lose opaqueness
  • Mix in diced potatoes and vinegar and saute, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are translucent.
  • Add zucchini and enough broth to just cover the vegetables then bring to boil. Lower the heat and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked.
  • Using an immersion blender blend the soup until creamy, you can leave some potato and zucchini chunks for texture if you want.
  • Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.  To serve, top the soup with feta and some bacon bits.


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Bolivia…that one South American country you always forget is there (at least that I do). This is really a shame, aside from being one of the only two that are land-locked, it is named for Simón Bolívar, the rebel and freedom fighter who played a huge role in the independence of so many of the South American countries. He was an interesting guy and yet in the US we are taught very little about him or his namesake land. Let’s change that…

First of all, Bolivia’s coat of arms has an alpaca on it, so, right there, it’s better than everyone else’s. If that wasn’t enough it has a lovely palm tree AND a Papa Smurf hat!!! Although, I think the coat of arms predates the Belgian comic…yea that’s right, the Smurfs are Belgian, it didn’t come up when we did that country and now I kind of regret it…but I digress.


The hat in both instances is actually a Phrygian cap which dates to antiquity. It represents freedom and the     pursuit of liberty, so very appropriate for a country named after Señor Freedom Pants. Bolívar is still a polarizing figure due to his political beliefs. Although he admired American Democracy, he believed it would not work in South America. He thought only a president for life with a firm ruling hand could keep the region under control.

During the Spanish colonial period the country was known as Upper Peru. Its history is littered with instability and the loss of territory to other neighboring countries. Over half of the original lands have been lost. Regardless of its current size, it has the second highest natural gas reserves in South America and has a long term agreement to sell to Brazil. They also produce a lot of coca leaves…for medicinal and religious uses of course. The Pope denied taking some recently to help him cope with the altitudes of the capital… La Paz, not Sucre… Sucre is also a capital…it has two capitals… just deal with it. Instead he said that he opted for nice Mate tea…did the Pope lie??? You be the judge!

Tonight we dine on wrapped up little boys…and no, this is not from the Jonathan Swift cookbook. Niños Envueltos is a really tasty, if difficult to assemble, dish. You are basically using swiss steak/cube steak as the wrapper to put around a host of ingredients. If done correctly, it can be a visually stunning dish and very impressive, and even if not, it still tastes great. The one thing I would do next time would be to pound out the beef even thinner, and make sure it has been out of the refrigerator for some to warm up and make the meat more malleable. Well I just ran out of “M”s after that sentence so I think I will call it a day in Bolivia.

Next time we rendezvous in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I’m sure we’ll have a mouth full no matter what…




Niños Envueltos

3 servings


6 swiss/cube steaks

1 cup of frozen green peas, defrosted

1 cup carrots, cut into matchsticks

3 eggs, beaten well (mix in a little grated cheese or milk if desired)

1 medium onion (chopped)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 TBS tomato paste

1 tsp paprika

1 bay leaf

Canola oil

1 cup beef broth

1 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste




  • Cook carrots in pan or microwave until slightly tender, set aside.
  • Cut onion in half then slice into quarter inch slices; set aside.
  • In a large fry pan cook the beaten eggs. Don’t scramble the eggs, let them cook as one large thin sheet.
  • Slice the cooked egg into half inch wide strips; Set aside.
  • Season steaks with salt and pepper.
  • Top each steak with a layer of each ingredient starting with the egg, then carrots and peas.
  • Roll the beef and fillings up into a roll and secure meat with toothpicks to prevent unrolling.
  • Brown the beef rolls on all sides in pan with oil.
  • In a pot large enough to accommodate all beef rolls, combine onions, garlic, tomato paste, paprika, beef stock, and one cup water; mix well to dissolve the tomato paste.
  • Add beef rolls to pot; bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover and cook until beef is tender and cooked through.
  • Adjust seasoning by adding salt and pepper to taste.
  • Turn off heat; remove bay leaf; move beef rolls to a platter.
  • Blend remaining liquid and onion mixture with stick blender/food processor/blender until it becomes a smooth sauce.
  • Top beef with sauce.


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Bhutan. A mysterious land in the East… because I’m pretty sure we never learned about it in school. Isn’t it by Indi…Chin…yes… the answer is yes. It is right in the heart of it all. So much so that half the world’s population lives within a 2500 mile radius of Bhutan. And yet due to its location at the end of the Himalayas (or as my friend Anshula from college would lecture me, the him-AH-lee-uhs), it remained largely isolated from the rest of the world until the mid 20th century.

It’s not a big country (slightly larger than Maryland), and it’s not a populous country (same number of people as North Dakota), but it often ranks as the happiest country in Asia and in the Top Ten happiest countries in the world. Why is this? Well there are a lot of things to be happy about if you live there. Population density is one of the lowest, so there is space to breathe, the government has been stable and is the only Buddhist kingdom in the world supporting the faith with substitutes, and the ecosystem is simply wonderful. Due to prolonged isolation and remarkable pro-active conservation efforts, Bhutan’s lush plants and safe wildlife make for an idyllic, secluded, mountain kingdom. Go look up pictures, I’ll wait… really…just google images “Bhutan”…………………I KNOW RIGHT… when can we go!? Also the royal family is the House of Wangchuck… and that name is just too good.

I made a beef and mushroom Tshoem, which is “curry” in Bhutanese. Curry is of course the word meaning sauce and not always indicative of what we in the West think of when we think of the use of curry powder such as in Indian cuisine. This dish is one of my favorites so far (I’ve been saying that a lot), savory, sweet, and almost buttery. Using fresh ginger and oyster mushrooms are a must and they make the dish what it is. I even think adding more mushrooms would have been great, you can never have too many!

Our side dish was Kewa Datshi, which is potatoes and cheese. Datshi is the word for cheese and is featured in many dishes including the national dish Ema Datshi. I found this so interesting as you don’t often find cheese in Asian cuisine. The trick here is that you want to use a white farmer’s cheese; I used a Queso Blanco from the local Mexican grocery. It is not a highly seasoned dish, which is why it complements the Tshoem so well.

Next time you see me…we will be in Boliva… if you can bolieve it.




Tshoem (Beef and Mushroom)

2 servings


  • 1 large garlic clove (peeled)
  • Fresh ginger, peeled and cut into a 3/4-inch cube
  • 2 TBS stick unsalted butter
  • ½ pound boneless beef chuck, cut into 1 –inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium yellow onion (diced/chopped)
  • 1 medium fresh green chili peppers (seeded and cut into julienne strips)
  • 1.5 oz fresh oyster mushrooms
  • Freshly ground black pepper




Chop the onion coarsely in a food processor (a few pulses). Set aside. Drop the garlic and ginger through the feed tube with the motor running and chop finely, about 10 seconds.

*you can of course use your knife skills instead of a food processor if you don’t mind slightly larger bits.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the beef, onion, water, and salt and simmer over low heat until just tender, about 1 hour and 50 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and remaining ingredients and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes.


Kewa Datshi

4 servings


  • 4 Potatoes (any kind other than russet – gold for a little mushy – red for firm)
  • 1/3 cup of cheese, (farmers or almost any kind of white cheese)
  • 1/4 cup of chopped red onions
  • 1 tbs oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (vary amount according to your tolerance)



Cut potatoes into small pieces. Put the potatoes along with some oil and salt in a saucepan or pot. Add 1 and 1/2 cup of water. Cut the cheese into small pieces and when potato is almost cooked, add the cheese. You can add some chopped onions and tomatoes to taste. Don’t forget the chili powder. You don’t want too much water in this dish but don’t let it dry up completely either. Add little water every time it gets low.

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So… Bermuda is not a country, it is a British territory. I think deep down I knew this, but in my haste to bring you a continued stream of top notch factoids and culinary ventures…I forgot. So as a compromise (and because I already made the dish), let’s settle on an abridged entry.

Bermuda was first discovered by Spanish captain Juan de Bermudez in 1503. The island was surrounded by dangerous reefs so he did not actually go ashore. This is important to keep in mind, because 106 years later those reefs would save the lives of 150 English sailors including Pocahontas’ future husband John Rolfe. The ship Sea Venture was lost in a hurricane on its way to deliver much-needed relief to Jamestown colony. As it was a young ship, the timbers had not set fully and it began to take on water. The next day, land was spotted and the crew crashed the ship against the reefs to make it to shore. 350 to 450 people died, among who were Rolfe’s first wife and child, and those who made it were marooned for over 9 months.

This is widely believed to have been the basis for The Tempest by William Shakespeare, which was written within the following 2 years. Eventually, many of the survivors built a few boats and made it to Jamestown, where they found conditions far worse than they were on the island.

Bermuda marks the northern most point of the Bermuda Triangle and is in the middle of Hurricane Alley, which causes many of the phenomena attributed to the mysterious occurrences… also aliens. During the War of 1812, the British naval base of operations was Bermuda and where the attacks on Washington D.C. were planned.

The dish I made was a fairly straight forward Fish Chowder (say it Frenchy!). Although the recipe called for Red Snapper, I did some research and found that catfish would be an acceptable substitute and is probably easier for a lot of people to find at their local megamart. The real key to this soup is the clam juice. I cannot stress this enough, it will not be the same without it. You can buy this bottled at most supermarkets, or like I did, drain some cans of canned clams (using the meat for another application). This is a quick, easy dish and very flavorful, you just can’t go wrong!

Next time…we travel to Bhutan.




Bermuda Fish Chowder

3 servings


1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1.5 stalks celery, chopped

1 carrots, chopped

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1.5 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cups clam juice

1 potato, peeled and cubed

1/2 (14.5 ounce) can peeled and diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 bay leaf

1/2 pound red snapper (or catfish) fillets, cut into 1 inch pieces



  1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add celery, carrots, onion, green pepper, and garlic; saute about 8 minutes.
  2. Stir in tomato paste, and cook 1 minute. Add clam juice, potatoes, canned tomatoes with juice, Worcestershire sauce, jalapeno pepper, bay leaf, and ground black pepper. Simmer until potatoes are tender, stirring about every 30 minutes.
  3. Add fish. Simmer until snapper is easily flaked with fork, about 10 minutes.


Benin. Just admit you have no idea where it is. That’s ok, it is in the under part of the part of Africa that curves out at the top

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image courtesy of

left… you know? Ah, just look at a map. It is a small country, roughly the size of Florida.

The area was previously known as the Kingdom of Dahomey (insert early 90’s joke here), and was a heavily militarized society. This militarization included both men and women, and an all-female regiment often called the Dahomey Amazons (named by Europeans of course) was remarkably similar to that of antiquity. Human sacrifice was practiced, but eventually the kings decided to sell their captives into transatlantic slavery rather than kill them, thus amassing great wealth.

It was briefly a Marxist state from 1975 to 1990, and has since become a multi-party system. French is the official language of Benin, but others including Yoruba are widely spoken. Interestingly enough, Yoruba is the liturgical language of Santeria, the Caribbean religion started by West African slaves. For more on Santeria please consult the internet, or that one song by Sublime.

I think the country looks like the 3D model of the Velociraptor’s voice chamber from Jurassic Park 3…

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…others have pointed out it is more like a house key, the Statue of Liberty’s torch, or my favorite, a turkey leg from the Renaissance festival.

While the royal palaces at the former Dahomey capital of Abomey (where 12 kings succeeded each other from 1625 to 1900) is a UNESCO world heritage site, Benin in general is not the best place to live. It has one of the most heavily agriculture dependent economies in the world, with little industry diversification. Almost half the country is 14 years old or younger, and close to 40% of the population lives below the poverty line; these factors ultimately result in increased human trafficking.

But the food…the food is good! They do a lot with corn particularly, as well as peppers. I made a traditional Beninese dish called Amiwo (red paste), this version with chicken. Meat is often very expensive in Benin so I tried not to make it the focus. The preparation of this meal is in two parts, the chicken and the cornmeal. I used coarse Italian polenta cornmeal but I think any cornmeal would work the same. To make the dish easier and economical I also used leftover meat from a grocery store rotisserie chicken, torn up and shredded.

There is no word for this meal other than delicious. I continue to surprise myself with how much I can enjoy green peppers in the right application. The polenta/cornmeal made with the tomato incorporated was fantastic and I never thought to infuse any flavors like that before. The overall flavor palate has a lot in common with Spanish or Caribbean cooking and that is not surprising based on shared heritages. Overall it was a nutritious and filling meal, and tasty to boot; what else could you ask for?


A NOTE ON POLENTA: If you are a fan of polenta, grits, or cornmeal in general, I highly recommend buying online. On you can get a 5 lbs sack which will last you quite a while, delivered to your house for $14.


They have different grain sizes, although I have only used the coarse, maybe trying the fine or medium is in my future. I never like the look of that premade mush in tubes in the supermarket, it just… doesn’t seem right.


Next up, a mini-entry on the British territory of Bermuda because, who wouldn’t want to stop there…




Amiwo Chicken

4 servings


  • 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1.5 onions
  • 4 tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1 green pepper (strips)
  • 3/4 cups polenta/corn meal
  • 3 cups water (2 + 1)
  • 2 bouillon cubes
  • 9.5 oz pre-cooked boneless Chicken (shredded/torn)



Polenta Directions:

  • In a pot – heat some oil and add 2 chopped tomatoes- then one 2 cups water and 1/2 boullion cube.

Simmer covered for 10 minutes, then add salt, pepper and one garlic clove (chopped)

  • Add a 1/2 boullion cube and simmer covered for another 10 minutes.
  • Increase heat and bring to a boil then add polenta, stirring constantly. Lower heat and continue to stir until polenta is desired doneness (taste until grittiness is mostly gone – keep adding boiling water if necessary).


Chicken Directions:

  • Simmer the remaining two tomatoes with one cup water, onions, one garlic clove (chopped), salt and pepper and the last bouillon cube until vegetables are tender, add water if needed, stir in chicken, cook on low-med heat for 5 minutes.


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I’m sorry.

So, I felt like getting ambitious. It was well intentioned but did not go as I had planned. I apologize Belize, you deserved better. But let’s start at the beginning…

Belize was known as British Honduras until 1973 based on a series of claims involving the Spanish and the British dating back a few hundred years. The country was kind of like a child in a divorced home, not really knowing…or caring sometimes… which parent was in control. This uncertainty did eventually matter, as there would be a dispute with Guatemala, stemming from certain recognized and unrecognized British treaties. Guatemala essentially says that Belize belongs in whole or in part to them, and Belize of course differs in opinion. This has been such a major point of contention over the years, that many Belizean prime ministers proclaim it as their number one priority. To get by there is basically a neutral zone which seems to prolong any decisions on the subject.

But on to the IMPORTANT stuff… Belize is the only Central American country whose official language is English. And the most important contribution Belize has made to the whole of human civilization… GUM. Remember Chiclets? Come on, you remember… those little squares of gum which the hard shell on the outside…they were good and fun in an old-timey way? Well… the name is derived from the word “chicle” which is the natural gum harvested originally in Belize from trees similar to the way rubber and latex is collected. Ok… not the best visual I get it… “chicle” is the Nahuatl word meaning “sticky stuff”. Where would we be in this world if we didn’t have gum… I don’t want to think about it.

Speaking of sticky stuff… I decided (because I’m smart) to try tackling tamales for the first time. I found a few Belizean recipes… and attempted to “wing it”. It did not go well. I got some good Masa from the local Mexican Grocery (finding out later it was at the supermarket as well, though no employee could locate it). Once combined with water/oil it is very difficult to handle, I had a hard time and the end result was… edible but not ideal.

So I apologize Belize, I will post the picture of what I made, which amounted to a very thick and dryish tamale. I will say that the technique of cooking them wrapped in parchment paper instead of banana leaves worked very well, so that was a positive. I will come back later and re-attempt this or a similar recipe and update at that point, I just didn’t want the blog to be held up on it.

Next? Benin… and one of my favorite recipes to date…



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Belgium…is…complicated.  This is going to be a long post…just a heads up. If European countries were superheroes, Belgium would be a C-lister at best…maybe France’s sidekick. But everyone knows things about France’s history: Charlemagne, The Man in the Iron Mask, Marie Antoinette, stuff from Les Mis, and that they have the dubious reputation for always surrendering. You might surrender, too, if you shared a border with Germany in the early 20th century, I’m just saying. What is overlooked is that each time Germany wanted to invade poorly-defended northern France, how did they get there? The answer was inevitably: through Belgium.

A recurring theme when examining Belgium is “division”. The country is the physical divide between Latin and Germanic Europe. The country’s population is deeply divided culturally, and linguistically, between two groups: the Walloons and the Flemish. And when, in World War II, the Germans wanted to divide the Allied Forces, it was into Belgium they had to go.

The Flemish people originated in Flanders, in the north of Belgium, and speak Flemish, which is a form of Dutch and therefore a Germanic language. The Walloons hail from Wallonia in the south and speak a Romantic language which is from the same family as French. After the country gained independence in 1830, the Walloon population held much power and thus the following century and beyond exhibited the Flemish peoples trying to gain equal status in language and political influence. Despite progress, even to this day there is much social friction between these two groups.

Having just seen The Imitation Game about Alan Turing and attempts to break Axis communication codes during WWII, some parts of history stood out to me as I read about Belgium. So this is going to be heavy on the war history, sorry if that doesn’t interest you; I will get to the food eventually.


As I said earlier, Belgium presented a gateway into a weakly defended part of France. Because of this, the Germans launched three campaigns aimed at this area, one in WWI and two in WWII. This was such an important tactical location going back to the time of Charlemagne, due to the Ardennes Forest. A large, heavily wooded, almost 3 million acre area, which could conceal anything. In August of 1914, at the early days of the First World War, the Germans and French battled resulting in a German victory and roughly 22,000 French casualties. The subsequent years of occupation are referred to as “the rape of Belgium”, due to the large amount of violence carried out against the civilian population. But at least everyone learned a valuable lesson about the forest so it would never happen again….wait….they didn’t?!

Fast forward 26 years to 1940. After their defeat in WWI the Germans are back and this time…it’s personal. So Hitler thinks, “Well it worked last time”, and moves a huge amount of troops and tanks through the Ardennes. Although the Belgian army was sure this was coming and even had intelligence to prove it, the French General dismissed the maneuver as not possible, despite the beliefs of many of his own commanders. It, of course, did happen; the Germans had a decisive victory and broke into France. Less than a month later, France surrendered and this time the body count for the Allies was closer to 185,000. But it would NEVER happen again…………… you have got to be kidding me.

It is four years later…December 1944 and the Allies have momentum after the D-Day landing and subsequent quick movement towards Germany. Hitler desperately needs to separate the British and American forces in northern France. So…of course…because it has worked every time in the past, he will launch a Blitzkrieg assault directly through the Ardennes with immense armored forces. The attack completely surprised the Allied Forces. The attack…completely SURPRISED…the Allied Forces. Are you…kidding me?!

This was the infamous Battle of the Bulge.  It occurred in spite of information which emerged later that several intercepted German coded messages alluded to an operation, but were not given merit or acted upon. The name of the battle was colloquially given as the Allied line bulged after being struck by the Blitzkrieg. This was the costliest battle of the war for the United States, suffering roughly 75,000 casualties. Had it not been for Patton’s near impossible maneuvering of the 3rd Army 90 degrees and breaking the siege of Bastogne, thus stopping the German offensive, it could have been much worse. But it will never happen again?…Right?

Ok, history lesson over. Let’s talk about endives! They are a member of the Chicory family and the Belgian variety is arguably the best in the world. It is a very unique vegetable, leafy, tangy, but crisp and flavorful. They can be steamed, baked, boiled, or stewed. Filling them with seafood is also a common preparation. I chose to use them as the signature ingredient because, while so much of Belgian cuisine is close to French, I found them to be part of the Belgian identity. These were prepared au gratin and wrapped in ham- I just went to the deli counter and asked for very thick slices of black forest ham (probably about 1/8” thick).

The crisp earthy flavors of the endive melted perfectly with the cheesy and salty combination surrounding it. I would recommend them as a good vegetable to use for those who don’t like strong, bitter green flavors. Plus the beautiful floral white/pink colors look gorgeous.

As a side dish I made Stoemp aux Poireaux/met Prei (mash pot with leeks), which is a hearty seasoned mashed potato and root vegetable dish (turnip, parsnip, leek, etc). Once again illustrating the division of the culture, the dish is titled with both the French and Dutch word for leeks. This would not be something you would find on a menu for high dining. This at-home comfort food is delicious, versatile (use any root vegetable you like), and made to hold you through those long winter months. I also drank a Belgium amber ale recently and it was…not terrible. That is high praise from someone like me, who only drinks stouts, and that is usually only during the World Cup… and I still think beer is disgusting.

I particularly had a lot of fun making…and eating…these dishes. Belgium is somewhere I would like to visit someday, and certainly a difficult place to truly understand.

Next we go to Belize whose motto is “Under the shade I flourish”…I think I’m going to like it there…


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Belgian Endive au Gratin

4 servings



Belgian endive, trimmed

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided
  • 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, or amount to taste
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 slices deli-style ham (at least 1/8″ thick slice)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley



  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Place the endives into the water. Cover, and cook until tender, 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Place the butter into a saucepan, and melt over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, and stir until the mixture becomes paste-like and golden brown. Gradually whisk the milk into the flour mixture, whisking constantly until thick and smooth. Stir in 3/4 cup Gruyere cheese, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper until well blended. Cook gently over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Preheat an oven broiler (on low if possible).
  • Drain the endives. Wrap each endive with a slice of ham, and place into the prepared baking dish. Pour the cheese sauce over the endives. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Gruyere cheese and parsley.
  • Cook the endives under preheated broiler until cheese is golden brown and sauce bubbles, about 10 minutes.



Stoemp aux Poireaux/met Prei

2 servings


  • 2 12 large potatoes, peeled (russet or yellow)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 12 cup cream/milk (I used 1%)
  •  1 small onion, finely chopped
  •  1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 medium leeks, finely sliced (don’t use the very dark green bits)
  • 14 cup stock (vegetable, chicken, beef, whatever you have)
  • 12 to taste salt and pepper
  • 12 to taste ground nutmeg



  • Cook the potatoes until they are just tender (you can cube them which will speed up the cooking time). Drain well and mash.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, melt the butter in a large frypan over medium heat.
  • Add the garlic and onion, and cook until just softened, then add the leeks and saute until everything is just translucent.
  • Add the cream/milk and stock. Simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
  • Drain the onion mixture but reserve the liquid. Put the liquid back into the pan and reduce by half. This will take 5 minutes or so.
  • Once the sauce is reduced mix the onions and potato mixture together. Then return to the pan and stir the sauce through until well combined. Season to taste.
  • If the mixture is too dry add more milk very carefully.