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JAPAN: Toshikoshi – Soba Noodle Soup 年越しそば

JAPAN: Toshikoshi – Soba Noodle Soup 年越しそば

soop_japan_1114-8Here’s what we learned about Japan in  our research this week:

  •  Buckwheat noodles (soba) are traditionally eaten in Japan at midnight on New Year’s eve.    According to wikipedia, “the tradition started around Edo period (1603-1867) and there are several theories believed that long soba noodles symbolize a long life.”
  • A recent study revealed that approximately 50% of Japanese citizens eat toshikoshi soba on New Year’s eve.
  • While buckwheat is gluten free, many soba noodles are made with both buckwheat and regular wheat.  Check the packages carefully to find 100% buckwheat noodles if you eat gluten-free.

Here is a fun video showing you how easy toshikoshi soba is to make and how fun it is to say.


Remember back when Beckett chose Nsusu and Fufu because he could run around yelling those two words at the top of his lungs?  Anyone want to guess why we made toshikoshi soba this week? 

That only went on for 20 minutes or so.  No idea why schnitzel was part of his chant.  Anyway, our first attempt at toshikoshi soba was a complete flop and rendered utterly inedible due to the insane amounts of salt.  Luckily, we had also made sushi and, since Dungeness crab season just started, a cucumber crab salad, so we didn’t go hungry.  Plus, our friends arrived with fun Japanese sodas that had the kids so entranced, they barely noticed the food at all.soop_japan_1114-12Refusing to accept defeat, I retooled the recipe and nailed it this morning.    The fun part of toshikoshi is that you can add whatever floats your boat to the soup.  The first night (pictured here) included some leftover pork loin we had in the fridge, enoki mushrooms, and fish cakes.  This morning, we used shiitake mushrooms, spinach, and eggs (pictured at the bottom of this post).  The most important part of this soup is the broth and the noodles – the rest is just fun creation.  If you have kids who aren’t so sure about trying new “ethnic” foods, a nice way to introduce them to Japanese food might be to make toshikoshi and allow them to put in whatever toppings they would like (like taco night only with Japanese soup!).


Toshikoshi – Soba Noodle Soup 年越しそば
Serves 4


    • 8 cups water
    • 1 oz sliced dried shiitake mushrooms
    • 2 teaspoons HonDashi bonito soup stock granules *
    • 1/2 cup tamari (gluten free soy sauce)
    • 1/2 cup mirin
    • 1 tablespoon sugar (more to taste)
    • 200g package soba 100% buckwheat noodles
    • 2 large handfuls baby spinach leaves, optional
    • 2 eggs, soft boiled, peeled and cut in half lengthwise, optional
    • 4 green onions, sliced thin
    • 1 package Enoki mushrooms, ends trimmed and separated, optional
    • 6 ounce log fish cake, sliced into thin half moons, optional **
    • Cooked pork loin slices, optional
    • Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese pepper spice)


  1. In a large soup pot, bring water, shiitake mushrooms, and HonDashi to a boil.  Add tamari, mirin, and sugar.  Reduce heat to simmer and cover.soop_japan_1114-2
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the soba noodles and cook until al dente – approximately 8 minutes.  Drain noodles and rinse well under cold water to remove any excess starch.soop_japan_1114-5
  3. While noodles cook, prepare all garnishes.soop_japan_1114-3
  4. Prepare bowls by adding noodles and garnishes to bowls.soop_japan_1114-11
  5. Add spinach to broth and cook until wilted.  Gently ladle spinach and broth onto noodles and garnishes.  Serve with Shichimi Mogarashi if you like things spicy.photosoop_japan_1114-10

Cook’s Notes

*  HonDashi is a flavor additive that contains fish and msg among other things and gives a very rich umami flavor.  You can make your own dashi if you prefer or you can substitute the dashi with salt.

** Many types of Japanese fish cakes contain gluten.  Be sure to read the packages carefully.

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REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Muamba Nsusu and Fufu (Chicken and Peanut soup + Yams)

REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Muamba Nsusu and Fufu (Chicken and Peanut soup + Yams)


Here’s what we learned about Congo in  our research this week:

  •  Gorillas!
  • Pygmies!
  • Lonely Planet ranked Republic of Congo #6 in it’s 2015 countries to visit!
  • Republic of Congo is also called Congo Republic and Congo Brazzaville.
  • Brazzaville is the capital of Republic of Congo and sits directly across the Congo River from Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

This video is good for a sampling of what life is like in Brazzaville. You can even hear the singers talking about Fufu at one point!

Muamba Nsusu and Fufu (Chicken and Peanut soup + Yams)

soop_congo_nov14-22I’ll admit it.  Beckett chose this recipe because he thought Muamba Nsusu was fun to say.  Well, first he actually picked fufu and ran around the house for several minutes shouting FUFUFUFUFUFFUFUFUFUFUFUFUUUUUUU before I could settle him down to pick what ELSE we should make seeing as how fufu is actually a starchy side sort of akin to our mashed potatoes.  He was set on having something as fun to say as FUFUFUFUFUFFUFUFUFUFUFUFUUUUUUU and therefore picked NSUSUNSUSUNSUSUNSUSUNSUSUNSUSUUUUUUU!

As luck would have it, it Nsusu a good pick.  I described it to our friends’ boys who weren’t so sure about the stew as “peanut butter soup”.  That pretty much nailed it.  Very common all over Sub-Saharan Africa, peanuts (called groundnuts in Africa) are used very commonly in various stews combining chicken and tomatoes.  This version uses red palm oil, another staple of Sub-Saharan Africa, which some argue is the best type of fat (better than olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados) you can ingest due to its high level of Vitamins A and E.

While the soup Nsusu was a culinary success in our meal, the fufu was, well, let’s call it an acquired taste.  Fufu is Sub-Saharan Africa’s answer to our mashed potatoes.  It is made many different ways using many different starches, but in Western Africa it is usually made from yams, sometimes combined with plantains.  We chose to get half traditional and make it with yams and one plantain, but used the food processor instead of the more traditional way to make fufu (as seen in the video below).  I’m not including a recipe for fufu in this post simply because there seem to be a gigazillion different ways to make it, so I’m going to encourage you to get out there and blaze your own fufu path should you feel like running around the house yelling FUFUFUFUFUFFUFUFUFUFUFUFUUUUUUU!!!!

Ahem.  Now then.  Traditionally, our fun to say stew would be eaten with your hands – more specifically your right hand.  Eaters would take a bit of fufu and some stew and quickly slurp it all up by sticking fingers directly into mouths.  Had we gone this route, I’m sure the boys would have been thrilled, but we opted for spoons this time.

Would we make it again?  Sorry Congo, but the fufu was not a hit.  The soup on the other, hand, while much too heavy for me was a hit with the kids… even Dracula.




Muamba Nsusu
Serves 8


    • 1.5 pounds skinless/boneless chicken thighs
    • 2 tablespoons red palm oil, divided
    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • 1 large carrot, chopped
    • 2 jalapeños, minced
    • 1 cup natural peanut butter (peanuts and salt only- no other ingredients)
    • 1 can tomato paste (6 ounces)
    • 1 teaspoon cumin
    • 1 can chopped tomatoes (14.5 ounces)
    • zest of one small lemon
    • 6 cups chicken stock
    • 1/4 cup peanuts


  1. Generously salt and pepper chicken thighs.  In large heavy soup pot, add 1 tablespoon red palm oil, then cook chicken thighs over medium heat until chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear. This should take 8 to 12 minutes. As the chicken cooks, turn it occasionally so it browns evenly. Once chicken has cooked and browned, remove it from pot and set aside to cool.soop_congo_nov14-14
  2. Add palm oil to pot and melt over medium-low heat. Sauteé onions, carrots and chilies (scraping up any browned bits from the chicken) until well caramelized.soop_congo_nov14-15soop_congo_nov14-16
  3.   Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine peanut butter, tomato paste and cumin with 1 cup of the chicken broth and stir to combine well.soop_congo_nov14-13
  4.  Add peanut/tomato mixture to the pot along with the tomatoes, lemon zest, cooking for a few moments until fragrant.  soop_congo_nov14-17
  5. Add  chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Shred or chop chicken thighs and return to the soup. Add peanuts.  Simmer until soup has thickened.
  6. Check for seasonings – adding salt, pepper, lemon, sugar, or cumin as needed.
  7. Serve with fufu

Cook’s Notes

Red Palm oil is available at Whole Foods and online.

Also, yams are kind of hard to peel – says Beckett.soop_congo_nov14-18


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SWEDEN: Ärtsoppa + Pannkakor med Sylt Lingon (Yellow Pea Soup + Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam)

SWEDEN: Ärtsoppa + Pannkakor med Sylt Lingon (Yellow Pea Soup + Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam)


Here’s what we learned about Ärtsoppa in  our research this week:

  •  Ärtsoppa (EHRT-soh-puh) is traditionally eaten on Thursdays in Sweden.  It’s said that even the King of Sweden eats this on Thursdays.  This tradition dates back to the middle ages.
  • The Finnish eat this same soup, but with green peas.
  • In Sweden, ärtsoppa is served in schools, the military, hospitals, government offices, and many restaurants on Thursdays.
  • It is traditionally eaten with Swedish pancakes and lingonberry jam.  Also, these pancakes are not eaten for breakfast, but rather as a lunch/dinner item.  That said, we had the leftovers for breakfast the next day.  😉
  • The traditional beverage that accompanies this meal is a liqueur called Punsch.  It is not easy to find, but I HIGHLY recommend you seek out a bottle.  It is low alcohol, sweet, and complex.  It’s fantastic alone, over ice, served hot, with sparkling water, with lemon squeezed in, in your coffee… you get the point.  Here’s more about Punsch.  If you can’t find it in a store near you, there’s always online: K&L Wine Merchants has it available.
  • “When it rains soup, the poor man has no spoon” ~ SWEDISH PROVERB


Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 10.22.24 AMWhat an exciting night in Casa SOOP.  Not only did the SF Giants win the game that will send them to the world series (sorry Cardinals fans), but we got to have pea soup, Swedish pancakes, Swedish punsch, AND we got a visit from the fire department.  As it turns out baseball games, liqueur and making pancakes don’t go so well together.  (Quick shout out to my local fire department:  thank you for responding so quickly!  Next time, I will not walk away from a browning Swedish pancake to watch a home run hit!)soop_sweden_oct14-25

Okay, so deviating a bit from our traditional Sunday SOOP, we ate this soup on a Thursday as it is done in Sweden.  Frankly, I did not give the soup enough time to cook (the recipe has been adjusted to reflect an increased cooking time), but since it was a school night, we forged ahead and just ate it a little crunchy.  Even still, it was a hit.  I have said my whole life that I don’t like split pea soup (sorry mom), but this recipe converted me.  As it was cooking, I was pretty much grumbling under my breath about how it smells like split pea soup, but my boys all kept talking about how great it smelled, so I figured at least 3 people would like the soup.  Turns out I liked it too.

Every thumb up!  Ärtsoppa  + Pannkakor med Sylt Lingon + Värmlandskorv (pork/potato sausage)

Every thumb up! Ärtsoppa + Pannkakor med Sylt Lingon + Värmlandskorv (pork/potato sausage)

A trip to IKEA will yield you not only Swedish mustard and lingonberry jam, but also all kinds of fun chocolates, cookies, and other Swedish goodies.  Maybe that’s why the kids were so excited about dinner last night!  Do hunt down the Swedish Punsch too.   There is a non-alcoholic version as well where you can add your own gin to make a fab cocktail.  The boys got to have some of the non-alcoholic mixed with elderflower juice from Ikea.  Happy campers.

This is the liqueur you want to try to find.  If you don't like it, don't worry - I'll drink it for you.

This is the liqueur you want to try to find. If you don’t like it, don’t worry – I’ll drink it for you.

Scratching off Sweden!

Scratching off Sweden!

Serves 6


  • 2 cups dried yellow peas*
  • 1  large smoked ham hock**
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 carrot, chopped small (I cheated and used Trader Joes’ shredded carrots)
  • 8  cloves
  • 2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, plus a few stalks  for garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon – 2 teaspoons salt depending on how salty your ham hock is
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Whole grain mustard***


  1. Soak yellow peas for about 12-24 hours – discarding any impurities.

    Before soaking overnight on the left; post soaking on the right.  Huge difference!

    Before soaking overnight on the left; post soaking on the right. Huge difference!

  2. Prepare small onion by spiking it with the 8 cloves.
  3. After soaking, rinse the peas and add them to a large soup pot along with 6 cups water, ham hock, chopped onion, carrot, cloved onion, and thyme.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover.
  4. Cook with the lid on, stirring occasionally, until the peas are soft enough approximately 6 hours****.soop_sweden_oct14-14
  5. When it is tender, remove the meat and cut into small pieces and return meat to the soup – discarding bones, fat and gristle.soop_sweden_oct14-29
  6. Remove and discard cloved onion.  If desired, use an immersion blender to puree soup (we did).
  7. Check for seasonings – adding more salt or pepper.soop_sweden_oct14-24
  8. Serve with whole grain mustard – each person adding as much as they like to their tastes.

Cook’s Notes

* Nordic yellow peas are not the easiest thing to come by.  I found them at a Scandinavian grocery store in Berkeley.  They do mail orders.  Nordic House has the whole yellow peas which are more traditional, but split yellow peas can be used if you can’t find the whole yellow peas.  If you use split yellow peas, you do not need to soak the peas over night – just begin soaking them the morning you plan to make this soup.  Bob’s Red Mill carries split yellow peas.

** This can be made vegetarian by omitting the ham hock.  Since a lot of the salt/depth of flavor comes from the ham hock, please replace the ham by adding a vegetarian bouillon cube.

*** Ikea sells whole grain mustard that is unlike any mustard we’ve tasted before.  It’s almost like a cross of dijon, honey mustard, and gouldens.  It is quite spicy, but sweet at the same time and was absolutely delicious in this soup.  If you don’t live near an Ikea, I’d recommend dijon with a little bit of honey stirred in as a substitute.  Beckett found it a little too spicy for his liking, but found the lingonberry jam quite delightful.
soop_sweden_oct14-19 soop_sweden_oct14-22

**** Split yellow peas will take at least half the time.  Next time I will use split yellow peas.  😉

Pannkakor med Sylt Lingon  | Gluten-Free Swedish Pancakes with Lingonberries
Makes 12 pancakes depending on the size of your frying pan.

  • 6 eggs
  • 5 cups of milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour*
  • 4 tablespoons of butter, melted
  1. Preheat oven to “warm” or lowest setting and place a plate or cookie sheet in the oven.
  2. Whisk the eggs and add in the milk- continuing to whisk until blended. Add flour, salt and melted butter and mix together until thoroughly combined.  Batter should be fairly thin – about half as thick as traditional American pancake batter.
  3. Spoon 1/2 cup of batter into a large buttered frying pan at medium-low heat and spread the mixture around by tilting the pan as you would for a crepe.soop_sweden_oct14-20
  4. Brown the pancake on one side – watching for bubbles to form on the top.  Before flipping, take a peek and make sure bottom side is browned.  Flip your pancake over and brown on the other side.soop_sweden_oct14-17
  5. Once browned on both sides, place in oven to keep warm while you make the rest of the pancakes.
  6. Serve with a generous spoonful of lingonberry preserves (this can be found at IKEA)

* THIS is my go to all-purpose GF flour.  It hasn’t let me down yet.  I make a big batch of it and use it in everything.  It was truly hard to tell that these pancakes were gluten-free.

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COMOROS: Sweet Pea Soup & Le Me Tsolola: Goat + Plantain Stew

COMOROS: Le Me Tsolola: Goat + Plantain Stew

soop_Comoros_oct14-55Here’s what we learned about Comoros in  our research this week:

  • Comoros exists.
  • It is pronounced  KOHM-uh-rohs
  • It is a group of 3 (or 4 depending on who you ask) main islands in the channel between Mozambique and Madagascar.  The 4th island is Mayotte which voted to stay a part of France in 1975, but many Comorans still claim it as one of theirs.
  • It gained its independence from France in in 1975 and has had over 20 coups since then.
  • It is one of the poorest countries in the world where the average daily wage is just over $1.
  • Each island has it’s own cuisine.
  • There is very, very little to be found online about the food of Comoros, but what can be found suggests African, Arab, Indian, and French influences.
  • It is proper to say “bismillah” (thanks to Allah) before eating.
  • Though there is no legal drinking age in Comoros, alcohol is not considered proper according to Islam (the dominating religion), but it is served in most European restaurants.  (Note: If I ever go to Comoros, you’ll know where to find me.)

Here’s a fun video showing Comoros from a tourist’s perspective.  Check out that rain!



When we drew Comoros from the cup, I asked my Facebook community for a suggestion and my friend Joanne, a native South African now living in Australia, recommended Sweet Pea as a traditional Comoran soup (I hope I have represented it well Joanne!), but my research (what little of it there is to see) kept mentioning a stew called Le Me Tsolola (or Leme Tsolola).  As I’ve mentioned, James thinks of soup as an appetizer instead of a meal, so for Comoros, that’s exactly what he got… a soup appetizer and a stew meal.  SOOP-o-rama.

Our friends braved the bridge to join us, but not before I sent them on a wild goose chase for jackfruit on Clement street in San Francisco.  I had read that jackfruit was commonly eaten in Comoros and thought it would be fun for the kids to experience eating something that looks so, well, terrifying for dessert.  I had hunted all over the east bay – Oakland Chinatown, Koreana Plaza, Berkeley Bowl, 99 Ranch – without luck, so I sent our friends to scour San Francisco.  When their search left them empty-handed, we learned that jackfruit goes out of season in September.  Oh well.   To the right is what it would have looked like had we found it fresh (keep in mind that this is the size of a large watermelon covered with spikes.

Instead, our jackfruit looked like the below:soop_Comoros_oct14-53

Since it was a hot October (summer in San Francisco) night and we had TWO hot soups to eat, we cranked up the Nawal (the voice of Comoros) and hit the deck (not literally, of course).   I was quite nervous for this meal because not only was it utterly unlike anything I’d ever made before, but also our friends who joined us are outstanding cooks and I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of them.  I’d only found a couple of recipes on which to base my creation and I worried that it simply wouldn’t work.

I should not have worried.  This was FANTASTIC!  The pea soup had a nice refreshing gingery flavor and was a great foil to the coconut richness of the goat.   The only change I would make (noted in the recipe) is that the goat was a bit grisly, so next time (and there WILL) be a next time, I will grind the goat in my cuisinart to make it easier for everyone to eat.  Of course, this will be completely nontraditional, but it will taste very good.  soop_Comoros_oct14-58

Oh – do not make this without making the Poutou (chili relish) and do not fret when you make it that it is too spicy because the spice will mellow out considerably after a couple of days .  It really completes the flavors of the meal – the kick and the acid in the sauce take it over the edge into pure divine.  I can also happily report that the relish is fantastic on eggs, tossed in with quinoa and arugula as a fun side dish, and over pan-fried fish.  Say hello to your new little friend Poutou.

This was rich, flavorful, zesty, complex and just overall delightful.  I wasn’t sure about the cayenne pepper for the kids, but they all at it like crazy.  There may have even been some bowl licking….


…. which was a good thing because just as the sun went down, the lights went out and we cleaned up the kitchen in candle light.  The plates that were licked were a lot easier to clean.


I forgot to take any photos of the Coconut Punch (probably because of the Coconut Punch), so I can’t show you how pretty it was, but imagine a nice glass of eggnog that with a bright yellow rim and a stick of vanilla in it.  At first sip, our friends shouted out “Tropical Eggnog!”,  I may make this at Christmas this year instead of traditional eggnog.  It is quite thick and very sweet, so it was maybe not the best drink for a hot night, but regardless, nary a drop was left by the end or our 90 degree day.  8 thumbs up.

soop_Comoros_oct14-32Sweet Pea Soup
Serves 8 as a small appetizer


    • 4 tbsp olive oil
    • 1 small yellow onion, minced
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 pound frozen peas (thawed)
    • 1/2 pound tomatoes chopped
    • 3 teaspoons ginger, finely minced
    • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 1 can light coconut milk, 3 tablespoons reserved for garnish
    • 4 cups water
    • thinly sliced lime wheels for serving


  1. Remove peas from the freezer and place on a plate on the counter to thaw while you do your chopping.
  2. Meanwhile, over medium-low heat, heat olive oil in a large pot a 4 quart saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Gently cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until onions have softened.soop_Comoros_oct14-33 soop_Comoros_oct14-38
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the coconut milk) and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.  soop_Comoros_oct14-39 soop_Comoros_oct14-40soop_Comoros_oct14-41
  4. Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender), blend soup until smooth.soop_Comoros_oct14-52
  5. Add the coconut milk,raise to a simmer just to warm coconut milk.  Do not allow it to boil.


    Calvin – today’s sous sous chef.

  6. Serve by drizzling reserved coconut milk over the top in a spiral pattern and adding a lime wheel. (Or you can use a small medicine syringe to make intricate patterns and decorate with basil leaves and flowers torn from the garden.)soop_Comoros_oct14-57

Le Me Tsolola: Goat & Banana Stew
Serves 4


    • 2 teaspoons canola oil
    • 1 1/2 lb goat stew meat, cut into 1″ pieces (next time I would grind it in a food processor as it was fairly grisly)
    • Salt
    • Cayenne pepper
    • 2 onions, finely chopped
    • 4 tomatoes, chopped
    • 2 medium green plantains, peeled cut into 1″ pieces
    • 1 can coconut milk + 1 can full of water
    • salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
    • 1 lime, cut into wedges for serving


  1. Season goat with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.  Heat pan to medium high and fry the goat in a little oil until well browned on all sides.  Remove from the pan and set aside.soop_Comoros_oct14-46 soop_Comoros_oct14-43
  2. Add the plantains, onions and tomatoes to pan and stir until softened.soop_Comoros_oct14-48
  3. Return meat to pot. Pour-in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer.soop_Comoros_oct14-49soop_Comoros_oct14-50
  4. Cover and allow to simmer for an hour (add a little water or more coconut milk if it becomes too dry).soop_Comoros_oct14-51
  5. Season to taste with additional salt or cayenne pepper.
  6. Serve immediately on a bed of white rice with pepper sauce (recipe below) and lime wedges on the side.


Poutou (Comoran Pepper Relish)
Makes approximately 3 cups
Recipe adapted from The World Cookbook: The Greatest Recipes from Around the Globe, Revised Edition
By Michael Ashkenazi
    (Dear Santa, this book, a vitamix blender and world peace is all I want this year!)soop_Comoros_oct14-30


    • 1 small fresh red chili (habañero is traditional – I used a red jalapeño), roughly chopped
    • 3 medium tomatoes, quartered
    • 1 organic* lemon, quartered
    • 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
    • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled, halved
    • 2 tablespoons salt


  1. Place all ingredients (including the peel and pith of the lemon) in a blender or food processor and blend until ingredients form a chunky salsa.
  2. Refrigerate at least 24 hours to allow flavors to blend.  Fear not, the spice will mellow out considerably after a few days.

*An organic lemon is important becaue you will put the peel into the relish.  Standard lemons are often coated with wax and pesticides.soop_Comoros_oct14-31


Comoran Coconut Punch (Punch Coco)…. Tropical Eggnog
Serves 4 
(Again, alcohol is not allowed according the the laws of Islam, so this would most likely be served sans alcohol in Comoros.  Feel free to use the rum or not according to your own desires. Also – apologies… I completely forgot to take any photos of this, but it was very pretty and very delicious)


    • 2 cans light coconut milk
    • 1 small can (5.8 oz) condensed milk
    • juice and grated zest of 2 large limes, rinds saved
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
    • 3 tablespoons honey
    • 1 pod vanilla, seeds scraped out and reserved, then split lengthwise into four long sticks
    • 1 package Trader Joes dried jackfruit, ground to a powder in a spice grinder or food processor, divided (2 Tablespoons goes in the punch, the rest goes on the rim)
    • 4 ounces dark rum, optional


  1. Place all ingredients (including the vanilla seeds, but excluding the vanilla sticks)  except the rum in a blender.  Blend well until smooth.
  2. Meanwhile, run emptied lime rinds along rim of 4 glasses to wet rim and dip rim in Jackfruit powder
  3. Pour punch into glasses. Top with a float of 1 oz rum (or more if you’d like)  in each cup (if using) and garnish with vanilla sticks and a sprinkling of cinnamon
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SOUTH KOREA: Beef Seaweed Soup with Clams (소고기 미역국)

SOUTH KOREA: Beef Seaweed Soup with Clams / Sogogi Miyeok-guk (소고기 미역국)

The moment we drew South Korea we called our good friend Beau, who just moved back to the USA after spending the last 10+ years in South Korea, and asked him his advice. Without hesitation, he suggested Miyoek-guk. Actually his words were “Oh dear… um… Korean soups are really complex.  There’s a great one called Miyoek-guk. Miyoek = seaweed. Guk= soup. Seaweed slightly fried with soy sauce, sesame oil and tiny bits of pork. Then put into an amazingly savory soup often with tiny clams….” and then he fell silent with a dreamy look on his face. Okay, so we have our soup because Beckett heard the wistfulness, seaweed, savory + clams and he was sold.

Researching South Korea

Miyoek-guk is quite famous in Korea and is referred to as “birthday soup”.   It is the first food that new mothers eat once they give birth and people traditionally eat it on each birthday to commemorate their day of birth – hence the nickname.  According to legend, many, many years ago Koreans observed whales eating seaweed after giving birth and adopted the same technique for postpartum recovery.  It’s no wonder whales eat it: seaweed, one of nature’s superfoods, contains amazing amounts of iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B12, and is purported to assist with healthy immune systems, proper thyroid function, and healthy blood pressure.

But wait!  There’s more! Apparently, seaweed is also really great for brain function and is often given to students before exams.  (Note to self:  remember this!  In order to do so, please eat more seaweed!) 

Based on recipes online, it appears that Korean “birthday soup” can be made with beef, pork, clams, or vegetarian.  For our version, we opted for beef + clams.   soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-13

Beef Seaweed Soup with Clams
Serving: 8-10



  • 2 teaspoons of Korean soy sauce* (guk-ganjang)
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced (approximately 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper


  • 1/2 lb lean meat such as brisket or flank steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 lb small clams**
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 oz (30g) dried seaweed (miyeok) (approximately 2 cups), cut or broken into 1-2″ pieces
  • 10 cups water
  • 4  tablespoons  Korean soy sauce* (guk-ganjang)
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce, preferably Korean anchovy
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced very thin
  • 1 green onion, sliced very thin

* Gluten free Korean soy sauce is available online. I found it on Amazon.
** If you can’t find good fresh clams, many asian grocery stores carry packages of small clams in the frozen section.


  1. Prepare the marinade by mixing all ingredients in a medium bowl. Add beef and allow it to marinate while you complete the next steps.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-2
  2.   Prepare clams by placing them in a large pot and cover completely with 10 cups cold water.  Bring pot to a boil then reduce heat to low.  Skim any foam.  Boil 20 minutes.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-1
  3. soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-3
  4. Strain clam broth through a cheesecloth, reserving both the broth and the clams, but discarding all impurities.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-7
  5.  Drain the seaweed then massage with 3 tablespoons of salt until seaweed is evenly coated.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-5
  6. Rinse salted seaweed with cold water 3 to 5 times until it no longer foams and all dirt and salt is removed.  Pull apart and discard any extra thick or stringy pieces of seaweed.    Squeeze out any excess water.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-6
  7.  Heat a medium-sized pot on medium heat.  Add 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and sauté the marinated beef for 2 minutes.  Add chopped seaweed and sauté on medium for 5-10 minutes until most of the moisture of the seaweed is gone.  Be sure to stir frequently so seaweed does not burn.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-9soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-10
  8. Add clam broth, clams, soy sauce, fish sauce,  garlic + green onions.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer, cover and simmer for at least 1 hour (soup develops more flavor the longer it cooks)soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-11.

We tried several different kinds of seaweed and there was a definite winner.  If you can find this brand, you’ll be pleased you did.  Some of the others we tried were extra slimy, overly fishy, or simply fell apart.  This seaweed retains its crunch and delicate flavor.  Thumbs up.

The Meal:

Well, the Miyeok-Guk was not a huge hit with the kids*, but the adults all enjoyed it quite a bit once we put in extra hot sauce and kimchee.  We served it with egg custard (gyeran jjim), kimchee, bulgogi, rice, seaweed salad and Trader Joes’ Korean veggie pancakes (pa jeon).  Everyone left full and hopefully a little smarter thanks to the seaweed superfood.


*My theory on why it wasn’t a hit with the kids: we didn’t use the good seaweed and didn’t put enough soy sauce in the first batch.  When I tested the recipe again the next day with the good seaweed and more soy sauce, it was wolfed down.   The recipe above has been adjusted to reflect that modification.

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UKRAINE: Red Borscht


My borscht came out a little more red than I had planned, so I increased the amount of beet in the recipe below.

UKRAINE: Red Borscht

With nearly as many variations on the recipe as good old chicken noodle soup, it’s tricky to nail down an “official” borscht (also called borsch) recipe.  Only a few things are certain: borscht contains beets and Ukrainians claim that this popular Eastern European soup comes from Ukraine.  This version is an amalgam of recipes found all over the interwebs and in various cookbooks.

For a fun history of Borscht and its effect on Ukrainians, take a gander at THIS blog posting.  And to keep it traditional, consider sipping on ice-cold vodka while cooking and eating.

Let’s get started shall we?  My afternoon sous chef,  Beckett, and I gathered all the ingredients we needed to get ourselves started, turned up the radio and got to it.


Ukrainian Borscht
Serving: 8-10

  • 1.5 pounds pork butt shoulder or boneless beef chuck (I used 2 cuts of osso buco – totally not traditional, I know, but the cuts were reasonably priced and it worked wonderfully)
  • 1 Tbsp salt + more to taste
  • 4 medium beet roots, washed, peeled and grated
  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 2 parsnips, grated
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar
  • 1Tbsp sugar
  • 2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp minced parsley stems
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 5-6 black peppercorns
  • 4 small russet potatoes, washed, peeled, quartered and sliced into 1/4” pieces
  • ½ head of green cabbage, sliced very thin
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 2 large clove garlic, minced, divided
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt + sugar to taste
  • 0.15 – 0.25 lb salted salo*
  • 4 sprigs fresh dill
  • Garnish: sour cream and lemon wedges



  1. Cut the meat into 1” pieces and place them in a pot filled with 12 cups cold water and1TBSP of salt. Bring to a boil and skim off any fat/crud on the surface. Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer 45 minutes – 1 hr, periodically skimming off any crud that rises to the top.

    mmmm... yummy... scum!

    mmmm… yummy… scum!

  2. While the meat is cooking, grate beets, carrots and parsnips (keep the beets separate from the carrots and parsnips) on the large grater holes (you can use a food processor if you have one). Prepare all other ingredients – cut potatoes, slice cabbage, dice onions, etc.soop_ukraine_sept14-4soop_ukraine_sept14-6
    While it's not Ukrainian vodka, it is vodka, was straight out of the freezer, and was delicious.

    While it’s not Ukrainian vodka, it is vodka, was straight out of the freezer, and was delicious.


    You may notice the tomatoes in the background. They have been omitted from the recipe because they didn’t add anything to the dish, in my humble opinion.

    Caught red-handed!!

    Caught red-handed!!

  3. Place the beets in a large heavy-bottom skillet with 4 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp vinegar and sauté for 3 minutes, then reduce heat to med/low and add 1 Tbsp sugar and 2 Tbsp tomato paste. Mix thoroughly and sauté until starting to soften, stirring occasionally (about 10 min). Remove from pan and set aside.soop_ukraine_sept14-14
  4. In the same skillet (do not wash after the beets), sauté onion in 1 Tbsp butter for 2 min. Add grated carrot, parsnip + tomato and sauté another 5 min or until softened, adding more oil if it seems too dry.soop_ukraine_sept14-15
  5. Once the meat has been cooking at least 45 min, skim any crud off the top, scrape marrow out of osso bucco bones, and remove bones and tendon.  (Give bones to dogs, if you have them once they’ve cooled to make sure your dog will love you forever and ever.)  Place bay leaves, peppercorns and sliced potatoes into the soup pot.  Add beef broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 min.
  6. Add cabbage, sautéed beets, onion, carrots, parsnips and parsley stems. Cook another 10 minutes or until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.soop_ukraine_sept14-21
  7. Add chopped parsley and 1 clove of minced garlic then stir them into the soup pot. Immediately cover and remove from heat. (Over-boiling borscht will affect the soup’s color; bringing it from bright magenta to dark brick-red).soop_ukraine_sept14-22
  8. Check for salt and sugar flavors and add more of either if desired.
  9. Cut the salted salo into small pieces**. Add the remaining minced clove of garlic. Grind them together in a deep bowl with a wooden spoon (or blend in a mini food processor) until it forms a rough paste.  Stir into the cooked borscht. Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes before serving so the flavors can meld.soop_ukraine_sept14-18
    My pal, vodka, lending a hand here.

    My pal, vodka, lending a hand here.

    This is how it looked post food-processing.  It melted into the soup like a champ and gave a wonderful depth of flavor.

    This is how it looked post food-processing. It melted into the soup like a champ and gave a wonderful depth of flavor.

  10. To serve, top with a tablespoon of sour cream and a small sprig of fresh dill.  Serve lemon on the side for those who desire more acidity in their soup.soop_ukraine_sept14-24

* Salted Salo is a traditional Eastern European food consisting of cured slabs of fatback. It has little to no meat and is quite similar to Italian lardo. If you cannot find salo or lardo, Trader Joes’ bacon ends and pieces can be used in a pinch by cutting off the meat and using just the fat.

** If possible, ask your butcher to slice the salo, lardo, or bacon into thick bacon slices and store it in the freezer until you are ready to chop it.  Chopping frozen fat is easy-peasy.

Once our borscht was simmering away, we were lucky to lure our BFFs (and luckily, neighbors) to join us for our feast which we completed with (a not insignificant amount of) vodka and a salad of quartered tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, fresh dill, and cannolini beans all tossed in sour cream.  Oh, and for my oenophile friends, a crisp rosé paired quite nicely with the borscht once we moved away from the vodka.soop_ukraine_sept14-23


The people have spoken: 2 thumbs up, 1 middle thumb, and 1 thumbs down (but with a smile).


Thanks for sharing our first adventure in SOOP you brave, brave souls.

Enjoy and as they say in Ukraine, Budmo! This means approximately ‘shall we live forever!’ Usually, one person says ‘Budmo!’ and everybody at the table/party answers ‘Hey!’ (the meaning is straightforward). This repeats for up to 3 times depending on the mood of the crowd. Only then, everybody empties their glasses.