Uttapam – Fermented Whole Grain Pancakes from South India

IMG_4971I’m fast becoming a fan of fermentation, friends.  There’s something magical about mixing ingredients together and letting it independently bubble to life.  I’m also a huge fan of eating whole grains, although it’s hard to find ways to easily slip some of them into everyday meals – the Ninja still won’t come around to brown rice, the fool!  So when I ran across the concept of Uttapam on Cake Maker to the Stars – savoury pancakes made from fermented urad dal and rice – I was on board immediately.  Especially these ones from Kathy Hester‘s The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for your Instant Pot, which are made entirely from a blend of four whole grains & legumes.  Holy gosh, my millet and mung beans* finally get to jump out of their jars and play? Continue reading

Making Pizza Without an Oven / Have Blue Flame Will Broil


There are only a few foods that I miss from my homeland, and none of them very complex.  I would lunge for a piece of grainy goats’ cheese, or a good corn tortilla, a piece of exciting chocolate, real whipped cream or prosciutto, but not if I had to knock anyone over, and the vista of kaleidoscopic tastes at my disposal wins out over nostalgia almost every time.


That said, pizza is a damned fine and alluring food memory, and the bf and I missed the stuff enough to look for it.  Alarmingly, this city has been known to use ketchup in place of real sauce, and it only took a few surprisingly disappointing deliveries with cake-y crusts to make it clear that we had some kind of crusade to acknowledge and that we had to attack this problem at home.


Home, by the way, does not have an oven.  But no matter!  We’re pirates.  We’re pizza pirates!  We’ll figure it out, or die trying covered with olive oil and basil flecks (kinky, but possible).  Thankfully it didn’t come to that (to the relief of whoever would have found our bodies I’m sure) and a gas range produces the best results I’ve ever gotten.  I was as surprised as you probably are reading this!  But I’m not joking, and I’m grateful to Kenji at Serious Eats for figuring it out.


First, make the best damned pizza crust recipe in the world, or even better double it and keep half in the freezer.  Then, make a New York style pizza sauce that’s just slightly sweet, blessed with a pat of butter, and if there’s an onion and some basil floating around in there, all’s the better (both recipes below).  Then, scatter a heavy skillet on medium heat with cornmeal, stretch the dough to fit, and tuck it in there, adding a lid so that it will steam and puff for a minute or two.  After the dough is mostly cooked, flip it over and finish the other side.


Then, turn the heat off and brush olive oil on the puffed side of the outer crust, and carefully, hang the oiled crust over the edge of the skillet and turn the flame back on.  Singe/blacken the rim to satisfaction, then put the pizza back in the pan, right side up, and turn the burner off.  Add toppings… now.


When that’s all done, turn the heat back to medium low and put the lid on, slowly letting the cheese melt and ooze… it will take a few minutes.  Be patient and don’t turn the heat up, and you’ll eventually be rewarded with a liquid lake of cheese and a perfectly crisp bottom.  If it’s not brown enough, just leave it in there a bit longer and turn the heat up a bit more – easy.


If you can, letting it rest for 2 minutes will prevent topping-slide and make for clean slices and fewer burnt mouths, but I can’t say we were good like that all the time.  Nom.

Crisp & Chewy Pizza Dough

recipe from Ina Garten

  • 1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110 degrees F) water
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Cornmeal

Combine the water, yeast, honey, and olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add 3 cups flour, then the salt, and mix. While mixing, add 1 more cup of flour, or enough to make a very soft dough. Knead the dough on low to medium speed for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with flour, if necessary, to keep it from sticking to the bowl.  (You can also do this by hand, it will take longer, about 20 minutes)

When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic, like bubblegum. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it several times to cover it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes, or up to overnight in the refridgerator (a slow rise in the fridge will allow for better flavour and development)

Divide the dough into 6 equal parts and roll each one into a smooth ball. Place the balls on a baking sheet and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours, or wrap in oiled plastic and freeze for up to 3 months.

If you’ve chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature.  Shape it into the diameter of your pan, and use immediately for thin crust.  For puffier crust, let it rise for 10 minutes before adding toppings.

New York Style Pizza Sauce

recipe from J Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats

  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes OR 2 lbs fresh ripe tomatoes, seeded.
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, grated on microplane grater (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 six-inch sprigs fresh basil with leaves attached
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and split in half
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Process tomatoes and their juice through food mill, pulse in food processor until pureed, mash with a masher, or puree with hand blender. Texture should not be completely smooth, but should have no chunks larger than 1/16 of an inch. Set tomatoes aside.

Combine butter and oil in medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until butter is melted. Add garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and large pinch salt and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil sprigs, onion halves, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to lowest setting (bubbles should barely be breaking the surface), and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by 1/2, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt. Allow to cool and store in covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Gingersnaps, Ethereal Pear Muffins, and Honey-Mustard Glazed Carrot Soup

It’s autumn here in Vietnam, but you wouldn’t know it, to the extent that we’re going to the Tam Dao mountain region this weekend to escape the heat.  But!  I know it’s properly autumn somewhere, so the least I can do is offer a few seasonally appropriate (for temperate regions) recipes to cozy up to.  They’re all from Mark Bittman’s impossibly useful cooking apps, How to Cook Everything, and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian – both of which are great in that the recipes are simple, but the techniques are sound, and the adaptations are numerous and truly inspired.  I don’t mind being out of wifi zones anymore, because I know I can make virtually any taste of home just through a quick search on my iPod.  Brilliant.

So, the honour of being the last proper cookie I made (properly baked cookie) goes to a gingersnap that embodied within it’s tiny wafer-small body the whole of what a proper gingersnap is, was, and should ever be.  It was snappy.  Not crisp, but it broke like a piece of hard wood and then dissolved into ginger-hot crumbs that stuck in my teeth like anything made with a whole cup of molasses really should.

I had to savour it.  Oven-less at the moment, I have no way to make more.  But back home I made a whole arsenal of these little perfections for about as much trouble as it takes to mix a few things in a bowl, make a log, and then slice it – the easiest kind of cookie ever.  It’s the kind of thing that brings to mind elder relatives – in the best way – and my gratitude goes to whoever Aunt Big is and her recipe that has ended my search for the perfect gingersnap.

Aunt Big’s Gingersnaps

from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
  • 31/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger (or more)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt

Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses until smooth. Mix the baking soda with 2 tablespoons hot water and beat into the dough.

Combine the flour, spices, and salt in a bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the dough and beat well. Shape the dough into 2 long logs, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight (or wrap very well in plastic and freeze indefinitely; you can proceed to Step 3 with still-frozen dough).

Heat the oven to 350°F. Slice the cookies as thin as you can and bake on ungreased baking sheets until golden around the edges, about 10 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to several days.

* * *

These muffins were so incredibly light, so innocent tasting, barely sweet but toasted outside and feathery delicate inside, with sinful caverns of gooey milk chocolate and moist from shredded ripe Anjou pears – I could only imagine them improved with some cliched scene of enjoying them at an old-world writing desk with a mug of hot pomegranate tea big enough to drown all your erased sentences in (starkling bright window view of trees and birds probably necessary).

Featherlight Pear & Milk Chocolate Muffins

adapted from Mark Bittman’s Muffins, Infinite Ways, in How to Cook Everything 

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup shredded juicy pear
  • 1/3 cup chocolate pieces

Preheat your oven to 375 and lightly grease a muffin tray.  (If you want to use paper liners, I would recommend spraying them with spray oil).

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Beat together the egg yolks, milk, vanilla and melted butter in a medium bowl.

Whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry.  Add the egg yolk and milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until almostcombined, then fold in the egg whites.  The batter should lumpy and moist – add more milk if necessary.  Then, scatter the chocolate and pear over top and fold them through with two or three strokes.  Spoon into muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until nicely browned on top and set in the middle.

* * *

By glazing the carrots first, this soup gets a surprisingly deep flavour, and is super creamy without using dairy at all.  It’s a celebration of carrots!  And just a bit spicy from the mustard… a bit wild from the honey.  Best afternoon snack ever.

Glazed Honey-Mustard Carrot Soup

adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey (strongly flavoured is good here)
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, chervil, or spring onion, for garnish

Put the carrots, butter, mustard, 3/4 cup water, and the honey in a soup pot and turn the heat to high.  Sprinke with salt and pepper, then bring the mixture to a boil.  Cover, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook for about 5 minutes.

Uncover and raise the heat a bit.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the carrots are cooking in the butter.  Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are very tender, about 10 minutes more.  If they start to stick or brown, add a a tablespoon or so of stock.

Add the stock and turn the heat to high.  Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the syrup at the bottom of then pan.  Lower the heat so that the stock gently bubbles and cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens slightly, about 10 minutes more.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pan or cool the mixture slightly, pour into a blender container, and carefully puree.  (The soup may be made ahead to this point, cooled, and refrigerated.  Serve cold or gently reheated.)  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  Serve, garnished with a sprinkle of something green.

* * *

On handling a raw Fertilized Fetal Duck Egg. (+ a recipe for Vietnamese Pork & Mint Meatballs)

Warning: some of the images in this post may be disturbing.  

One of the eggs I took home started bleeding.  Bright red arterial blood that pooled out from an impact crack like a horror-show wellspring from a vampire’s touch.  I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn’t, not really.  Aghast, and intrigued in a kind of art-school-meets-biology class sort of way, but not surprised.  Now, I understand, eggs don’t usually bleed, but these were special market mystery eggs, and so expected the unexpected therein, right?  The vender who sold them to me had done so with wide eyes and gesturing hands, begged me to take some safe brown chicken eggs, and loosed a flurry of instructions (warnings) that did not nothing to dissuade me from my purchase.  Ironically, after all that I was soundly convinced that I needed the two ovoids, heavy as river stones.  The surprising part is that I didn’t guess what I had actually bought until the blood came out, considering this is Vietnam and all…

Balut in the Phillipines and Malaysia.  Trứng vịt lộn in Vietnam.  毛蛋 Máo dàn – “feathered egg” in China. Pong tia koon in Cambodia.  Fertiized fetal duck egg.  It’s a kind of protein-rich and slightly gruesome snack that’s about as common as hot dogs around here.  Usually, it’s boiled till it’s cooked through, then enjoyed just like it’s regular non-corporeal cousin with a bit of salt and pepper.  In Vietnam, they like them pretty developed, too – recognizable as ducks, about 19 to 21 days old.

Here’s what I can tell you about handling them.


1. The taste is pretty normal.

I was expecting a flavour that matched the appearance (Dante-esque?), but it turns out that a half-formed duck tastes exactly like duck.  And egg.  Some mixture of the two.  There’s a kind of guilty aftertaste that no amount of soy sauce can cover, but is it in any way worse than the way we usually treat ducks?  Or any other animals for that matter?  At least this one never felt pain or fear.

2. The texture is flipping weird.

Everything is flipside down and upways out, texture-wise.  The white is nearly solid plastic.  The yolk is firm, chalky, and laced with small veins.  And the fetus itself is poultry but delicately so.  Sacs and membranes abound.  This would be easier to take with a large – very large – ice cold beer.

3. Lược means boil in Vietnamese, and it’s good cooking advice.

It really does have to be cooked, lest it bleed all over your counter.  Ewwwww.

Granted, I boiled the first one, but the second I cracked straight into a pot of bubbling water, for the purposes outlined in point no. 4.

4. It makes a damned fine soup.

The flavour is intense and nice, and if you chop it up fine, it disperses right away into liquid and you’d NEVER KNOW it was once ever anything weird.  I made one of the best soups I’ve ever had by adding some carrot, chayote, fennel seeds, ramen noodles and some meltingly tender pork meatballs laced with fresh mint.

Just for the record, here is the recipe for the meatballs:

Vietnamese Pork Meatballs with Fresh Mint

from the Wishfulchef

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (I used AP flour to good effect)
  • 2 teaspoons agave nectar or sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • a drizzle of vegetable oil if the pork is lean

A damned fine soup.

In a bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly with your hands. Roll into about 30-40 meatballs and place on a plate.  Bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes or until cooked through and not pink in the middle.  Or, have a pot of soup at a rolling boil and drop in the meatballs.  When they float to the surface, they’re done.


Neapolitan Meatballs // Polpette alla Napoletana

It’s only recently that I discovered a love affair with ground meats. I’d never found much reason to use them in my adult life, probably due to childhood burnout – I think it was the only meat I remember my father cooking (via meatloaf, hamburger helper, chili, goulash, hamburgers, tacos, spaghetti sauce, and so on), and my mom was no stranger to it either. It wasn’t my fave then, but now, NOW I’ve discovered meatballs.

It’s like a culinary door has been opened in my head. You mean I can alter the texture of this stuff, make it meltingly tender and spherical, and studded with little fruits and nuts and vegetables that are infused with meat-juice? Oh, there is no way that this could be bad. And the flavour possibilities are endless! Suddenly it’s like a canvas, already turned into a mix-able format for you, ready for all possible variations! I’m excited about this stuff, yes? I’ve already winged my own breakfast sausages (remove breadcrumbs, add a reasonable about of brown sugar or syrup and take the spice level way up), and am mad excited to properly explore the world that is DUMPLINGS.

But this is important – this is the first meatball recipe I tried and I loved. I must admit that I added soy sauce to the mix because one of the most talented cooks that I know is a Filipino woman who does just that to hers. Oh, and green onions, because I like a little green punch sometimes. Okay, all the time. Plus it tastes good.

And still… pretty darned Italian.

Polpette alla Napoletana (Neapolitan Meatballs)

recipe from Mario Batali’s cooking app, Mario Cooks

Yield: 6 servings

  • 3 cups day-old bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (or a mix of beef and pork)
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup pecorino, grated
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/4 cup
  • 1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin (optional)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted for 2 minutes in a 400 degree F oven
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (optional – using 1 tablespoon of salt would be more traditional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, bring tomato sauce to a fast simmer.

In a shallow bowl, soak the bread cubes in the milk.

In a large bowl, combine the bread, beef, eggs, garlic, pecorino, parsley, pine nuts, salt, soy sauce and pepper and mix by hand to incorporate bread into meat – about 1 minute. With wet hands, form the mixture into 12 to 15 meatballs, each of a size somewhere between a tennis ball and a golf ball.

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil until almost smoking. Add the meatballs, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan, and cook until deep golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Serve warm or at room temperature, note that Italians would rarely serve meatballs with pasta.  (but we did, because we’re super gauche like that, and the Ninja was making the best tomato sauce in the world.  It was rad!