All posts filed under “CALVIN’S COUNTRIES

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BULGARIA: Supa Topcheta (Bulgarian meatball soup) Супа топчета

BULGARIA: Supa Topcheta/Супа топчета

2014_11_soop_bulgaria-13Here’s what we learned about Bulgaria in  our research this week:

  •  Yogurt is extremely popular in Bulgaria and eating it is believed to give you a longer life.
  • Bulgarians shake their heads to mean yes and nod for no.
  • Bulgaria is the oldest country in Europe that hasn’t changed its name since it was first established in 681 AD.
  • Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) is named after his grandfather (Marko) who emigrated from Bulgaria in 1940.
  • Many believe that wine has been produced in Bulgaria since the stone age!

I had the great fortune to attend a singing workshop with the lovely ladies of Kitka Vocal Ensemble where I learned how to sing in the Eastern European style.  The technique involves a different use of my throat/nose than I had ever been exposed to and the harmonies are haunting.  Here is a gorgeous song by Kitka.  I honestly don’t know if it’s Bulgarian, but it sure is pretty.  And here is a Bulgarian group singing in traditional Bulgarian costumes.


Calvin found this recipe on pinterest and was sold the minute he saw the word “meatballs”.  We love us some meatballs in our house – from Italian wedding soup, to Vietnamese beef balls in our pho, spaghetti and meatballs – we love them all.  And now we have a new favorite meatball that is also GLUTEN FREE!!  Whoo-hoo!  In Bulgaria, they add rice to their meatballs instead of bread and, I’m telling you we will be doing the same henceforth in our house.  I was a little confused by all the recipes I found online because none of them told me whether the rice should be cooked or uncooked when adding them to the meatballs, so I rolled the dice and opted for uncooked which was correct.  Phew!

Supa Topcheta can be made about as many different ways as our own Chicken Noodle soup, so this recipe is an amalgam of various recipes found online with a few of our own ideas tossed in for good measure.  In the end, it was a winner.  All thumbs up!2014_11_soop_bulgaria-11Apparently, it was “everyone wear red” night at our house.  I didn’t even notice until processing the photos.  Funny.  Also, if you don’t like losing, never play Yahtzee with Calvin.  He is a ringer.  You have been warned.

2014_11_soop_bulgaria-1Supa Topcheta (Bulgarian meatball soup) Супа топчета
Serves 4-6


For the Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup white rice, uncooked
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon dried savory
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup gluten free flour (I used Pamela’s)

For the Soup

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small celery root, cubed into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (not fat free)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Prepare the meatballs by combining all the meatball ingredients EXCEPT the flour in a large bowl and mixing well by hand.   Allow to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes (more for better flavor) to allow flavors to meld. Once meat has rested, roll into 1 inch meatballs.  2014_11_soop_bulgaria-2
  2. Roll each meatball in gluten free flour and shake off any excess.  2014_11_soop_bulgaria-6
  3. Bring the water and beef broth to a boil in a large soup pot.  Add salt.  When water is boiling vigorously, add meatballs in batches – maintaining a solid boil.  Once all meatballs have been added, add carrots, celery root and tomatoes.  Reduce heat and simmer 20-25 minutes until the vegetables are tender.2014_11_soop_bulgaria-8
  4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk egg yolks until smooth.  Add yogurt and lemon juice and whisk well until smooth.2014_11_soop_bulgaria-7
  5. Add 1/2 cup of the hot broth from the soup pot in a thin stream – stirring constantly.  If you add the broth too quickly, the egg/yogurt will curdle, so make sure to go slow and steady as  you add the hot broth to the egg/yogurt.  Once you have added 1/2 cup of hot broth, slowly pour the egg/yogurt into the soup pot – again going slowly and stirring constantly
  6. Finally stir in the chopped parsley and serve.



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SOLOMON ISLANDS: Curried Coconut and Lime Gourd Soup

SOLOMON ISLANDS: Curried Coconut and Lime Gourd Soup


Here’s what we learned about the Solomon Islands in  our research this week:

  • There are around 1000 islands that make up the country and over 70 unique languages spoken.
  • It is believed that people have lived on the Solomon Islands for over 4000 years.
  • Due to global warming, the sea level in the Solomon Islands has been rising by eight millimetres per year compared to the global average of 2.8 to 3.6 mm
  • The Solomon Islands gained independence from Britain in 1978 – making the country younger than me.
  • While very dark skinned, 5-10% of Solomon Islanders carry a gene for blond hair!
  • I really want to go there someday.



There is precious little to be found about soups from the Solomon Islands online.  I tried reaching out to resorts on the islands for guidance, but finally found what I was looking for by browsing the online menus of the various restaurants of the many resorts on the islands.  I saw a few soups repeated – vegetable curry and pumpkin curry – so I ran with that idea.

Since everything I could find about the cuisine of the Solomon Islands talked about fish, fish, and more fish, I used fish stock in my soup, but this could be vegan by using vegetable stock.  The real key to this soup is the Madras curry powder (which also happens to be SUPER good on popcorn).  I found it at Safeway, so I’m guessing it should be pretty easy to find.  It contains salt, so if you use a different curry powder, you’ll probably want to add some salt to your soup.


So, I worked sans sous chef today.  Here’s the math:

  • Sleepover + Sensitive/temperamental child= Sleep-deprived grumpy kid
  • Sleep-deprived grumpy kid + Homework packets = Epic battle
  • Epic battle + First time trying out the word “sucks” = Banishment to room until said homework packets were completed and a reflection about the kind of language we use in our family was written
  • Banishment to room until said homework packets were completed and a reflection about the kind of language we use in our family was written + Need to make/eat soup = No sous chef

He did, however, manage to smile just once yesterday… but only because I told him to do so and (for the only time yesterday) he did what I asked.   That smile, while it looks so genuine, disappeared immediately when I put down the camera and the “you’re the meanest mom in the world” routine continued.  Sigh.  His big brother, on the other hand, was thrilled with flying under the radar for the day, but not so thrilled with the soup.  As he put it, “Mama, I’m just not a gourd guy.”    Duly noted.

soop_solomon_nov14-5Okay, so parenting challenges aside, I thought this was outstanding.  By using Trader Joes’ pre-cut & pre-peeled butternut squash cubes the hardest part of this soup was mincing all the shallots & the ginger.  If I wanted to REALLY wanted to speed this up, I could use my mini food processor and throw everything in there to mince and this recipe would REALLY be a snap.  This took about 30 minutes from start to finish and hit every mark for me – comforting, bright flavors, ever so slightly spicy, healthy, quick, easy and unique.  We served it garnished with jalapeño and basil with grilled fish and jasmine rice on the side.  I could eat this for lunch every day and be a happy, happy camper.


Curried Coconut and Lime Gourd Soup
Serves 8


    • 2 tablespoons canola (or other neutral) oil
    • 1 cup shallots, chopped (approximately 4 large shallots)
    • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
    • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 4 lbs butternut squash, pumpkin, or other orange fleshed gourd, peeled and chopped*
    • 4 cups fish stock or vegetable
    • 2 cups water
    • 3 tablespoons Madras curry powder*
    • 1 can light coconut milk
    • juice of one lime


  1. Warm the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cool until softened- approximately 3 minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant  being very careful not to allow the garlic to burn – approximately 1 minute.soop_solomon_nov14-2
  2. Add the gourd, stock, and water and bring to a boil.  Then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the gourd is tender when pierced with a fork – approximately 30 minutes.soop_solomon_nov14-3
  3. When gourd is tender, using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender puree soup until smooth.soop_solomon_nov14-4
  4. Stir in curry powder, coconut milk and lime juice.  Adjust seasoning – adding more salt if necessary – and serve topped with cilantro leaves, basil leaves, jalapeño slices or anything green and pretty.

Cook’s Notes

Trader Joes carries butternut squash already peeled and chopped into 1″ cubes.  Crazy convenient.

Madras curry has salt added to it.  If you use a different type of curry powder, you will need to add salt to your soup.

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SOMALIA: Oat + Goat Soup (Shurbad)

SOMALIA: Oat + Goat Soup (Shurbad)


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

  •  Somalia has a huge nomadic population and they eat primarily goat and camel meat.
  • The northern part of Somalia declares itself independent as Somaliland, but is unrecognized by most of the rest of the world.  That part of Somalia was ruled by Britain until 1960.
  • The southern part of Somalia was ruled until 1960 by Italy.  Therefore, pasta is incredibly popular in Somalia – some even suggest that pasta is the national dish of Somalia!
  • Somalia is 99% Muslim – the vast majority being Sunni.
  • Ramadan is observed throughout Somalia whereby fasting is observed during daylight hours for close to a month.  Upon breaking the fast, many Somali families eat a very filling and hearty soup of goat and oats.
  • Doing a Google search of images of “Somalia kids” is not advised unless you (a) have tissues at hand, (b) are prepared to answer a lot of questions from your kids about starvation, and (c) can stomach it.
  • The recipe we chose would traditionally be eaten with hands by using a pancake like bread to grab little handfuls.  I couldn’t find (and honestly, didn’t have the gumption to try) a gluten free version of this bread, so we went with rice instead.  If you can eat gluten, here’s a great looking  recipe!


So, it turns out that finding a Somali soup that can be verified to be a true and traditional soup of Somalia was quite a challenge.  There are many wonderful Somali cooking blogs out there, but I couldn’t find a “official” source of Somali recipes to cross check any of the recipes I found online.  Which led me into an interesting line of thinking about how the internet works and what people find online tends to be taken as gospel truth simply because it was found online.   And I then realized that once I post this recipe out there on the interwebs, I will, in fact, be just as much an authority on Somali soups as anyone else who has ever put a recipe for Somali soup online.  Wacky.

Anyway, I finally settled on two recipes I could vouch for the authenticity of and gave Calvin a choice between lamb shoulder stew and goat + oat stew.  I was surprised when he chose the goat + oat, worried about how it would come out, and nervous about our friends coming over to join us with their two little boys.  I should not have worried:

soop_somalia_oct14-25The enthusiastic response was immediate and all 4 boys went in for 2nds and one went for 3rds.  Plus, my two boys had leftovers in their lunch boxes yesterday and both ate every bite while bragging to their friends (and intentionally grossing out the girls) about eating goat stew.  Which reminds me… you don’t have to use goat.  It is the traditional meat for this dish, but you could also use lamb or beef if you desire.  If you’re really not into goat, don’t let the goat stand in the way of making this incredible soup – go ahead and use a different meat.  I won’t tell anyone.

This soup is simultaneously simple and complex; hearty, but not rich.  It is easy to make (once you’ve made the spice mix) and quick enough for a school night dinner.  We served it with Somali rice, spice encrusted goat, and a DELICIOUS coconut hot sauce.  For a quick an easy dinner, I might make a simple salad of cucumber and tomato to eat with this soup and call it a night.  We will be making this one again for sure.soop_somalia_oct14-30

Oat + Goat Soup (Shurbad)
Serves 4-10 depending on whether served as an appetizer or main


    • 2 tablespoons canola oil
    • 1 pound ground goat meat (you can use lamb instead if you desire or beef if you don’t like goat or lamb)
    • 1 small onion, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon salt
    • 1 cup diced tomatoes
    • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon xawaash spice (see recipe below)
    • 2 boullion cubes (preferrably HerbOx)
    • 8 cups water
    • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats (Trader Joes and Bob’s Red Mill have gluten free versions)
    • Juice of one lemon


  1. Heat oil in large soup pot.  Add goat meat and brown.  Add onion and cook until the onions are translucent.  Add garlic, tomatoes, and xwaash bariis- stir for 2 minutes.soop_somalia_oct14-19
  2. Add water, boullion, and oats.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring frequently.soop_somalia_oct14-20soop_somalia_oct14-21
  3. Using an immersion blender or a regular blender blend soup until smooth.soop_somalia_oct14-23 soop_somalia_oct14-24
  4. Add lemon juice and check for seasoning adding more xawaash bariis or salt as needed.  I mixed a little olive oil and xawaash bariis to make a sauce I could drizzle on top for a little color.

Cook’s Notes
All adults and 2 of the kids at the table though the coconut hot sauce (recipe below) brought this recipe to the next level.  Feel free to use a different meat if you desire.  I won’t tell anyone.

Somali Spice Mix (Xawaash Bariis) 
Makes about 1 cup



    •  1/4 cup cumin seeds
    • 1/4 cup coriander seeds
    • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
    • 1 small cinnamon stick
    • 24 cardamom pods
    • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1 tablespoon turmeric powder


  1. Add all ingredients except last three to small frying pan and heat, stirring constantly, for 4-5 minutes until very fragrant.  Cumin seeds will burn quickly if not attended to.soop_somalia_oct14-13
  2. Place all ingredients in a spice grinder (I use a coffee grinder) and grind into a fine powder.soop_somalia_oct14-14
  3. Pour into a glass jar and add ginger powder, nutmeg and turmeric powder.  Place lid on jar and shake until all spices are well incorporated.

Somali Coconut Hot Sauce (Basbaas Qumbe)
Makes about 2 cupssoop_somalia_oct14-16


    •  1/3 cup dried coconut, unsweetened preferrably
    • 3 large jalapeños, stemmed (seeded too if less spicy is desired)
    • 2 large cloves garlic
    • 1 small onion
    • 1/4 cup white vinegar
    • 1/4 cup canola oil
    • 1/4 cup water
    • 1 tablespoon salt


  1. Soak coconut 15 minutes in boiling water to remove any sweetener and soften coconut; changing water at least once. Drain well.
  2. Add all ingredients to blender and blend well.

Xawaash Encrusted  Goat Meat (Hilib Ari Duban)
Serves 6-8


    •  Goat shoulder or leg (approximately 3 pounds)
    • 3 tablespoons xawaash spice
    • 3 tablespoons canola oil
    • 4 large cloves garlic
    • 2 tablespoons salt


  1. Preheat grill or oven to 300 degrees (we used a Traeger smoker grill).
  2. Mix oil, xawaash, garlic and salt in small bowl.  Spread mixture all over goat, making sure to get spices into every crevice.
  3. Wrap goat tightly in aluminum foil at least 4 times – making sure every seam is well closed.  (If steam escapes, meat will not cook properly.)
  4. Allow goat to rest and marinate at least one hour.  Marinate in the refrigerator overnight for best flavor.
  5. Put on grill (with door closed), traeger, or in oven for 3-4 hours.  Because all the moisture stays inside the foil, it is nearly impossible to over-do it.
  6. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 20 minutes before opening foil.
  7. Pick meat off bones and serve.


    Sorry there is no before photo… the problem was it smelled so insanely good when it came off the grill that all 4 adults dove in before I remembered that we needed a photo. Oh well – we’ll just have to make it again.


Somali Spiced Rice (Bariis Iskukaris)
Serves 8 as a side



    •  2 cups basmati rice
    • 4 tablespoons ghee (or olive oil)
    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon xawaash spice
    • 3 large cloves garlic
    • 1/2 cup peas, more to taste
    • 1/2 cup chopped carrots, more to taste
    • 2 1/2 cups water
    • 2 tablespoons salt


  1. Rinse rice thoroughly until water runs clear.
  2. In large pot that has a properly fitting lid, melt ghee over medium heat and fry the onions until they begin to caramelize.
  3. Add xawaash, garlic and vegetables and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant – 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add rice, water and salt.  Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer and cover pan.
  5. Simmer for 15 minutes then turn off stove (do not remove lid!) and allow rice to sit in covered pot another 15 minutes.
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HUNGARY: Sertéspörkölt (pork goulash)

HUNGARY: Sertéspörkölt  (pork goulash)


Here’s what we learned  in  our research/kitchen time this week:

  •  There are actually 3 Hungarian stews made from onions, meat and paprika: gulyás, pörkölt and paprikás.
  • The dish called pörkölt (pronounced PURR-colt) is what we Americans call “goulash” (thick meaty stew).  Gulyás is a soup and paprikás is similar to pörkölt, but only made with chicken.
  • When chopping onions, if you chew gum at the same time, you will not cry.
  • Speaking of onions, do not be scared off by the amount of onion in this recipe.  Rather than making the stew bracing, they actually caramelize down to bring a wonderful sweetness to the stew.
  • The Rubik’s cube was invented in Hungary (and none of us can solve it).
  • This dish matches the colors of the Hungarian flag: red, white, & green.

If you’re curious to hear how Hungarian sounds as sertéspörkölt is being made, here you go!  He makes his a little differently from how I make mine, but the recipe is fairly similar.


Calvin researched Hungarian soups for about 4 seconds before pointing at a photo of Pörkölt and saying, “that’s it!  Let’s make that!”  Okay kid.

It took me a few tries to get this recipe right – it was good the first night, but kind of a pain to make, so I retooled the recipe and made it again the next night.  Everyone agreed that not only was the stew better, but it was WAY easier and produced many fewer dishes!

Calvin was eager to help my chop all the onions required for this dish because I’d told him about a theory that chewing gum keeps you from crying while chopping onions.
The verdict: it works!

The big issue with this meal was my attempt to make a gluten-free version of traditional Hungarian nokedli which are basically spaetzle.  My first several attempts were actually laughably bad, but the last version (a modified version of THIS recipe) actually worked okaaaay, but I didn’t think it was good enough yet.  We all liked the pörkölt better with the pasta, but just to prove that I made my own nokedli (no matter how bland they were) here is photo proof!


Okay, so side aside, this is a TOTAL keeper recipe.  Even after eating it for dinner two nights in a row, everyone agreed that this should go into regular rotation.  Even my soup-reluctant husband said I should make it again.  This is the PERFECT fall/winter dish that will simply simmer all afternoon and make you feel all warm and cozy when you eat it.  Next time, completely divergent from traditional pörkölt, we will make a gremolata (chopped parsley, fresh garlic, and lemon zest) to bring a little zing to the finished product.  Oh, and the pepper relish from Comoros (poutou) was pretty stellar with this dish too.  Hungarian/Comoran fusion cooking…. coming soon to a kitchen near you!

Finally, though this would have been stellar with a red wine, the only Hungarian wine we could find this Irsai Oliverweekend was a fantastic white from the foot of the Mátra mountains.  This description from the importer nails it:

Originally crossed in 1930, the parents of this native grape are Gewürztraminer and Muscat Ottonel. Not surprisingly, it’s incredibly perfumed and floral. That said, its not fat and weighty on the palette like Gewürztraminer can often be and has there’s no detectable residual sugar either. The finish has a mineral, almost saline quality that balances out the Muscat heavy aromatics. And while the style is decidedly reductive, it opens up right away and jumps out of the glass even when chilled. While it can easily stand alone as an aperitif, it pairs beautifully when fruit and salt play off of each other. Prosciutto and melon is a classic, but we’ve also found that Indian food (especially chutneys) pairs extremely well.

You can get  wines from along the Danube from these guys including the Irsai Oliver we loved this weekend.


Sertéspörkölt (Hungarian Pork Stew)
Serves 8


  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat or lard
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 pounds pork butt shoulder, trimmed of bones and fat and cut into 1 cubes
  • 2 medium banana peppers*, cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1 large tomato*, chopped or one 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons sweet Hungarian* paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole caraway seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped parsley for garnish (optional)


  1. Heat large dutch oven or soup pot over medium low heat.  Add bacon fat or lard to pot and render.  Add onions and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until onions are beginning to caramelize and have changed from white, past opaque, to deep tan.  Go slowly so onions don’t burn – this is the most important part of the whole meal.  This step should take at least 30 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and pork, increase heat to medium and stir constantly until pork is cooked on all sides and beginning to release its juices.soop_hungary_oct14-7
  3. Add chopped pepper and tomato.  Combine well.  Add 6 cups water paprika, caraway and marjoram, stirring gently to combine.  Simmer, uncovered,  until most of the liquid has boiled down and sauce is a thick gravy (approximately 1.5 hours though you could go all day so long as you make sure there is enough water in the pot).soop_hungary_oct14-8
  4. Check pork for tenderness.  If it is not quite tender, add another cup of water and simmer longer until sauce is desired consistency.  Once pork is tender enough to be cut easily with a fork, add salt and season with pepper to taste and serve over a bed of pasta.soop_hungary_oct14-9

Cook’s Notes

* If you can’t find a banana pepper, yellow gypsy peppers or yellow, green or red bell peppers would work.  We used red pepper and chopped it small to hide it from our boys who think they don’t like peppers.

* Unless you are in the middle of tomato season, use canned tomatoes as they will have much more flavor that the flavorless winter tomatoes.  We used dry farmed tomatoes which are possibly the most delicious thing on the face of the planet.

* Hungarian paprika is very different from the standard paprika you can find at the grocery store.  It is not expensive and totally worth seeking out.  It comes in “sweet” and “hot”.  Here’s more about paprika.

Traditionally, this would be served with a spaetzle-like pasta called nokedli.  I tried 4 different times to perfect a gluten-free version of nokedli and finally gave up and served it over Jovial’s gluten free egg tagliatelle.


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USA: Chicken Noodle Soup

USA: “Hangover” Chicken Noodle Soup


I was a little chagrined when Calvin drew USA so early in the game, but so be it.  And the obvious answer to “what is the classic soup from the USA?”?  Chicken Noodle, of course.  But, let’s face it; everyone and their mother has a chicken noodle soup recipe.  So for this week, I can either try to find the most traditional recipe ever or off road a little bit and reinvent the wheel perhaps.  So, being the, er, quirky gal I am, I’m off-roading.  Without further ado, I present you with the chicken noodle soup I cooked in undergrad whenever I had a hangover.  (Since this is for and with the kids, I won’t mention how frequently I cooked this soup.)

It all started with a hangover and the need/desire for something comforting to my brain and my stomach.  Opening the fridge revealed standard chicken noodle soup fixings (except the carrots which I didn’t have) and as I had been fairly unkind to my body the night before I decided to  throw in a little bit of everything green I had in there.  And “hangover soup” was born.  It’s a little bit crunchy, a little bit tangy,  a lot of green, and a lot of good.  Oh, and it works. Hangovers (or colds for that matter)  be gone!soop_USA_sept14-33

“Hangover” Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves 4


    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1.5 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs
    • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
    • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
    • 4 stalks celery, sliced into 1/4″ half moons
    • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1 tablespoon fresh black pepper
    • 8 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
    • 1 cup dried pasta of your choice (we used Jovial gluten free fusilli)
    • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley (including stems), minced
    • 1 cup celery, minced
    • juice of 3 limes
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • lime wedges to serve


  1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil on medium. Generously salt and pepper both sides of chicken thighs. Brown chicken until both sides are browned, about 5 minutes a side. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.soop_USA_sept14-34soop_USA_sept14-35soop_USA_sept14-1
  2. In the same pan add onions and saute on low until translucent. Add garlic, celery, and herbs. Saute  for about 8 minutes. Add chicken broth and let simmer for 15 minutes.soop_USA_sept14-13
  3. Meanwhile shred chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add meat and any juices that may have settled in the plate to the simmering broth. Once chicken has been added and is cooked through, allow another 15 minutes of simmer time for flavors to merge.soop_USA_sept14-4
  4. Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to directions – removing it from hot water when it is quite al dente.  (We did a taste test of various GF pastas and found that Jovial’s brown rice pasta held up wonderfully and was everything we wanted in our chicken noodle soup.  Trader joes’ brown rice/quinoa pasta was a close 2nd.)soop_USA_sept14-7
  5. Add fresh parsley, celery, and lime juice.  Season with salt and pepper as needed to taste.  To serve, add pasta to bowl and top with soup.

    You see that jersey Calvin is wearing? Balotelli is and Italian soccer player nicknamed Super Mario by fans because of his surprising actions on and off the field. Like Balotelli, like Calvin. I think we have a new nickname for him.


    Pre-meal taste testing gets two thumbs up and a tongue.


Nearly 9 years ago, when I was heavily pregnant with Calvin and Beckett was only 18 months old, I was still working as a wedding photographer and was having a hard time keeping up with life.  I posted an ad on craigslist for a mother’s helper and an angel responded.  Auntie Edie walked into our house and hearts and our life has been so much richer ever since.

So, when Calvin drew the USA, I posted on facebook asking my friends for the best ever chicken noodle soup recipe and Auntie Edie responded with how she makes hers.  Today’s soup version is an amalgam of my hangover cure made with her grown up technique (aka: a technique I never could have accomplished in undergrad – especially not with an hangover).  When I was in school, I just used canned chicken stock and boiled chicken breasts in the broth before shredding it.  It was good, but Auntie Edie’s technique of browning chicken thighs in the pan first made our soup so much richer and more umphy (my made up word of the day to describe good).  Thumbs up Auntie Edie – this version is sure to become a staple in our house. soop_USA_sept14-17

Thanks for joining us Auntie Edie and for making our lives so much more umphy!

A hangover is not required to enjoy this soup.  Hangover soup freezes really well.  Just leave out the pasta and make some fresh when you defrost the soup.  This soup is also really great with rice, quinoa, or no grains whatsoever.  I will occasionally also throw in a handful or two of spinach, baby kale, or chard if I have it on hand.  You can’t go wrong really – just toss in whatever veggies you love.

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NEPAL: Chicken Thukpa

NEPAL: Thukpa


Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 2.21.51 PM  When my husband and I spent a dreamy month in Nepa before we got married (15 years ago!), our favorite meal was also (luckily) the meal we ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner: Dal Bhat*.  Dal Bhat, a lentil stew served with rice, is every backpacker’s staple fare and the national dish of Nepal.  Hearty, filling, and warming, it hits the spot after a long day of trekking.  We love(d) it so much it also hits the spot about once a month in our house.  SO, for our SOOP project this week, S is in charge of picking the soup and when I suggested Dal Bhat, he said “No way!  We have that allllllll the time.  I want to pick something different.”  Per the rules I made for myself for how this whole project will work, the boy who picks the country out of the cup also gets to pick the soup.  And pick he did.  The boy loves spring rolls and picked Thukpa because he says it sounds like spring roll soup.

*Dal Bhat is insanely delicious and Sasha over at Global Table Adventure has a fantastic recipe that is quick, CHEAP, really close to how it tastes in Nepal and vegetarian.  We eat it with basmati rice, roasted cauliflower florets that have been tossed in olive oil and curry powder, and usually a green salad.  Mmm.  Now I’m hungry.  Might have to make this for dinner tomorrow!

Thukpa, traditionally a Tibetan soup (the name translates from Tibetan as ‘noodles’),  has crossed the border into Nepal with wild abandon and is now popular all over Nepal as well as northern India.  It consists of spicy broth, long thin noodles, vegetables, spices, and is found vegetarian and with every meat you can imagine (in fact, I think we may have eaten this with yak meat in Kathmandu).  For our version, S chose chicken, rice noodles (to remain close to his spring roll vision), and carrots and cilantro.  I threw in the red pepper and bean sprouts (both traditional additions) for color and texture.  A few of the spices are a little hard to come by, but we’re fortunate to have many places to scoop up ethnic goods around us and we grabbed asafoetida and szechwan pepper at Oaktown Spice Shop in Oakland, but you can also find the spices online at Penzeys and Kalustyan’s.

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1999 Mustang, Nepal Trek Day 7: Marang (Chogo) La Pass – 13,878 feet / 4,230 meters. I hiked in a skirt to be more respectful of the local culture. I looked goooood didn’t I?

During our month in Nepal, we spent many long hours with our guides learning about Nepali cuisine, culture and language and teaching them important things like the game of spoons and various card tricks.  A few of the phrases we learned have stuck with us through the years and my husband is known to say to me as I approach some arduous task (hiking up a steep trail, folding the week’s laundry, getting the kids in the car on time in the morning), “Lahk bahk, didi.  Lahk bahk!”  (Translation almost there, big sister.  Almost there!).  Another phrase we use all the time is “Ookus mookus”.  It means, essentially, I am so full I am about to explode.

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From the left, the King of Mustang, our government liaison, us, and our guide Bhim Bahadur Lama. Jigme Palbar Bista, the last king of the remote kingdom of Mustang in Nepal’s Himalayas, was born around 1930 in Lo Manthang, once the capital of the former Tibetan kingdom of Lo. The youngest son of King Angun Tenzing Tandul, he inherited the throne in 1964. He likes orange Tang and is most grateful if you bring him some when visiting.

So, friends, with that we’ll get to cooking and (hopefully) by the end we will all be Ookus mookus!  To really get in the mood, create a Pandora station with the artist Udit Narayan or download THIS album.  We bought this album on the streets of Kathmandu and listened to it during both of our boys’ births and groove out to it all the time.  I hope you like it as much as we do.

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1999 Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu and rain clouds in the background. We got very wet that day.


Nepalese Thukpa
Serving: 4-6

Spice paste

    • 1 small onion, chopped
    • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric
    • ¼ tsp ground Szechwan pepper
    • 1 pinch asafoetida powder
    • 1-3  jalapeño chili, deseeded, chopped (depending on how spicy you want it)
    • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
    • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
    • 1 large tomato, chopped


      • 1 tbsp ghee
      • 8 cups chicken stock
      • ½ lb skinless/boneless chicken thighs
      • 300 g rice noodles
      • 1 large carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
      • ½ red bell pepper, thinly sliced
      • 1 cup mung bean sprouts
      • 1 tbsp lemon juice
      • salt and pepper, to taste
      • chopped cilantro, to serve
      • nepali chili sauce, to serve (recipe below)


      1. To make the spice paste, combine all the ingredients, except the tomatoes, in a blender or food processor and process until minced. Then add the tomatoes and process again until combined into a rough paste.soop_nepal_sept14-21soop_nepal_sept14-28
      1. Heat the ghee in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the spice paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, until quite aromatic and the paste becomes soft.soop_nepal_sept14-29
      1.     Carefully pour in the chicken stock (it may sizzle at first) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chicken thighs and simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the stock and roughly shred.soop_nepal_sept14-35
      1.  Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to boil. Add rice noodles and cook for 2 minutes or until al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water. Drain again and set aside.soop_nepal_sept14-32soop_nepal_sept14-34
      1. Add the carrot, bell pepper, and mung bean sprouts to the soup and simmer for 2–3 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender.soop_nepal_sept14-39
      1. Add lemon juice and season to taste – adding more salt or pepper as necessary.
      1. Divide the noodles between bowls (for pretty presentation, mound the noodles all on one side of the bowl) and top with the shredded chicken. Ladle the stock and vegetables over the noodles and top with chopped cilantro. Serve with chili sauce.soop_nepal_sept14-38

* Asafoetida and Szechwan pepper can generally both be found in spice stores online as well as local Indian markets. The traditional pepper used in Nepali Thukpa (timur) is currently unavailable in the United States, but Szechwan pepper provides a similar tongue tingling spice. Traditionally, it is served with a vinegary chili sauce.  Here is the one we made and used:

Garlicky Red Chili Hot Sauce (pictured above with the ingredients for Thukpa)
Yield: 2 cups (aka: enough to last you a very, very, very long time)
Recipe by Melissa Clark printed in the NYTimes 8/25/10

    • 4 hot red or orange chili peppers, such as habañero
    • 2 red bell peppers (3/4 pound), roughly chopped
    • 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
    • 3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
    1. Wearing rubber or latex gloves, roughly chop the chilies. Combine all ingredients in a small pot over medium-high heat. Once mixture is simmering, reduce heat to low, cover and continue to simmer until peppers are tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Do not inhale vapors; they will sting.
    2. Transfer mixture to a blender and purée. Pour into a medium jar and allow to cool uncovered. Cover tightly and refrigerate for three days. Keep stored in refrigerator; sauce will last for several weeks or months.


This is officially my first favorite soup.  It was quick, flavorful, filling, inexpensive, and fun.  We found that the Chili sauce was absolutely necessary for the tongue tingling fun.  If you don’t have the time or the desire to make your own, sriracha would be a nice option.

Our good friends joined us as we blasted Bollywood tunes, and slurped noodles to our hearts content.  Our thukpa was served on the metal plates we picked up years ago in India with basmati rice, melon, and a chopped cauliflower that we roasted in the oven with a couple boxes of Trader Joes’ frozen chana masala (chickpea curry).  It’s one of my favorite Trader Joe’s dinner hacks.  Our meal got 3 thumbs up and one medium thumb (perhaps because it was his brother who made it and he simply can’t approve of anything his brother does right now) so I’m going to say it was a success!



soop_nepal_sept14-44After dinner, we pulled out our slide projector and, once we finished answering the questions about what a slide projector is and how our photos are on the little pieces of plastic (called film),  ran through some of the hundreds of slides we took in Nepal.  What a wonderful way to cap off the night – the boys learned more about Nepal, about our trip, and about the history of photography.


Oh, the irony. We covered our TV with a white sheet to be able to show our slides. We are so retro that way!