Season

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In his first book, entitled Season, published in 2018, Nik Sharma writes the following.

“I take pride in incorporating flavors, techniques, and ingredients in new and exciting ways. This, my first book, celebrates diverse cultural influences and, I hope, helps to erase labels like “ethnic” and “exotic” in the West by shedding more light on some of these ingredients. Season is a collection of flavors from my two worlds – India and America.”

Sharma’s story is fascinating. Born in India to bi-cultural parents, he came to the USA as a young man to study molecular genetics. Eventually his love of food and cooking averted his career path and he started his now famous, award-winning blog, a Brown Table.

He also became a weekly food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, and is working on his second cookbook, entitled A Brown Table.

Reading Season (I love that title!) and studying the recipes was a fascinating experience for me. Sharma’s food truly is fusion food, but unlike the “let’s see how many weird ingredients we can put together” attitude that I find smug and pretentious of many chefs, Sharma’s approach obviously came from his love of foods from his homeland, blended with what he discovered after moving away.

Examples of such fusion dishes include Caprese Salad with Sweet Tamarind Dressing, Turmeric and Lime Mussel Broth, and Hot Green Chutney Roasted Chicken. But the recipe I wanted to make was Chouriço Potato Salad, using freshly made chouriço, or sausage from the Goan region of India. Goa is a state on the west coast of India, on the Arabian Sea.


According to Sharma, “This (salad) is great for breakfast with a couple of fried eggs, or in a taco, or by itself for lunch.”

Chouriço Potato Salad

8 ounces chouriço, (recipe below)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon thinly sliced chives
1/4 cup crumbled Paneer*
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1/4 fresh lime juice
1 lime, quartered, for garnish

Break the meat into small pieces and set aside.


Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and sprinkle with the salt and black pepper.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, 5 – 6 minutes. Sprinkle with the chipotle chile and paprika and fold to coat evenly.

Add the chouriço, and cook for another 4 – 5 minutes, or until the sausage is browned and cooked through, stirring frequently.


Add the pumpkin seeds and cook for 1 minute longer.

Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the contents to a large bowl. Cool for 5 minutes. Gently stir the chives, paneer, cilantro, and lime juice into the warm potatoes.

Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and serve warm or at room temperature with lime wedges, if desired.

I can’t describe well enough how wonderful this potato and sausage salad is, besides wonderful. The sausage along is exquisite, but with the potatoes it’s, well, magical.

You taste the spiciness immediately, the creaminess of the potatoes, the flavorful sausage, the freshness of the cilantro and lime, and the slight crunch of the pepitas.


*Paneer is easy to prepare, but the author recommended a swap of crumbled Cotija or queso fresco, which I happened to have on hand.

Homemade Goan-Style Chouriço

1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 whole cloves
1 pound ground pork, preferably with fat
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 – 1” piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon Kashmiri chile
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Grind the black peppercorns, cumin seeds, and cloves with a mortar and pestle and transfer to a large bowl.


Add the remaining ingredients and mix with a fork to blend well. Shape into a log, wrap with wax paper, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and preferably overnight.

Chorizo and Scallop Skewers

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My mother gave me the cookbook Charcuterie for my birthday. She knows me so well!
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The book is mostly recipes, but also contains a chapter on making charcuterie from scratch. I’m in awe of people who make prosciutto and pancetta, but I live in too humid of a region in the U.S. to hang hams in my basement.

The recipes are wonderful, mostly focusing on Spanish, French, and Italian cured meats. The first recipe that caught my attention was a simple skewer of scallops and chorizo. Simple yet total perfection!

If you can’t get your hands on Spanish chorizo, check out my favorite website, La Tienda, for chorizo and all other Spanish foods. If you scroll through chorizo, and you will discover so many different varieties – some for slicing, some for cooking, some for grilling.

The recipe in the book just referred to cubes of chorizo, but I got carried away and purchased Ibérico de Bellota Butifarra Sausage because it intrigued me.

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It is sausage made from Iberian pigs, which are supposedly fed acorns as babies. This raw sausage wasn’t quite firm enough to cube, and not red like authentic chorizo, but it was really good!

When we were in Spain many years, my husband and I would order both jamon Serrano and Ibérico (similar to Prosciutto) and we could not tell the difference. Maybe they just knew we were Americans and didn’t bother giving us the real stuff, I don’t know! But we gave up after a few tries, and stuck to the fabulous but much less expensive Serrano.

In any case, in spite of not having used real chorizo, these scallop and sausage skewers were wonderful. I will paraphrase the recipe from Charcuterie because it’s so simple.

Chorizo and Scallop Skewers

12 – 1″ cubes chorizo or firm spicy sausage
12 scallops, approximately the same size
Olive oil
Ground paprika
Coarsely ground pepper

Heat a small amount of oil in a cast-iron or other heavy skillet. Brown the cubes or slices of sausage on all sides, then lower the heat and cook thoroughly. Place them on paper towels to drain.

Using the same fat from the olive oil and sausage, sear the scallops in the hot oil, then lower the heat to cook through. Place the scallops on paper towels to drain.

Let the chorizo and scallops cool, then skewer them together, with the scallop first, followed by the chorizo.
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Sprinkle on a generous amount of paprika and ground pepper.


I used a mixed peppercorn combination.
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These hors d’oeuvres are best served warm. They could be prepared ahead of time if they were gently re-heated so as not to overcook the scallops and dry out the chorizo or sausage.
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I will definitely be making these again with real chorizo, but I can really see the scallop pairing with just about any kind of sausage!

note: For a handy comparison chart on Spanish vs. Mexican chorizo, check out this website.

Queso Chile Verde

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According to my Spanish dictionary, queso means cheese in English. I checked just to make sure. Because for a while now I’ve noticed that a queso can imply a warm cheese dip that’s often served with salsa and chips at Mexican restaurants. It’s usually somewhat gelatinous, tasteless, and just plain awful. Why wouldn’t it be? They’re not going to put a lot of money into something that they’re giving away.

There is an American version of queso that’s popular, made with Velveeta. Now if you’ve followed my blog for any time now, you know that I abhor this cheese “food.” In fact, it’s what my mother and I used to use on our hooks when we went fishing. It wasn’t until I got married that I learned that people actually ate the stuff!

Velveeta “queso” is made from a giant block of Velveeta, plus some canned tomatoes that contains green chilies. And I think that’s it. The only positive with Velveeta is that it melts well, so the dip if smooth. I don’t care how smooth it is. I won’t touch it.

But Mexican quesos, if they’re not giving away the stuff, can be way more interesting. Those cheese dips can be really flavorful when they’re made with good cheese. If I come across a good queso at a Mexican restaurant, I always have my husband, who’s fluent in Spanish, ask the waiter what kind of cheese they use, out of curiosity. They invariably tell me queso blanco, which translates to white cheese. Now, I think they’re either pulling my chain, or they just don’t know. But there’s no Mexican cheese called queso blanco. But I’ll continue asking until I get a good answer!

So you might be wondering why I wrote a post on Southwestern-inspired food last week, and mentioned that I was going to be surprising everyone with exactly that – something inspired by Southwestern cuisine! Well this is it! I’m making a queso, but not an awful American one, nor a gloppy Mexican variation.

I give you queso, chili verde style. You might be familiar with hearty Pork Chile Verde, a version of which is on this blog. It’s what I used for inspiration!

This queso is Southwestern style, because I’m using a combination of jalapenos, poblanos, tomatillos, and cilantro, all of which are chile verde components. And for the queso part, I’m using Oaxaca cheese, which melts just as well as Velveeta. Plus I’m throwing in some chorizo.

So here’s my Southwestern version of a queso, chili verde style!

Queso Chile Verde

1 pound tomatillos
1 large onion
4 jalapenos
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 Poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, de-seeded, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup crema, or sour cream
14 ounces Oaxaca cheese, coarsely chopped
Mexican chorizo, cooked and drained, optional
Chopped fresh cilantro, optional
Tortilla chips

Place the tomatillos in a skillet large enough to hold them in one layer. Mine were fairly large so a regular-sized skillet worked well. Turn on the heat to high, and roast the tomatillos a little, moving them around constantly. This will actually help remove the papery peels.

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Let them cool, then remove the peels. If you’d like, you can rinse the tomatillos in warm water to remove some of the natural stickiness. I didn’t.

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Turn on the roast setting on your oven for 425 degrees F, or turn on the broiler.

Get out a jelly-roll pan. Finely chop the onion and place the pieces on the pan. De-stem the tomatillos and place those along with the onion on the pan.

You need to remove the stems and seeds from the jalapenos. I always wear a glove on my left hand to avoid getting jalapeno juice in my eyes.

There are many ways to deal with jalapenos. I’ve even tried two different jalapeno de-seeders and neither worked. So here’s how I do it:

Slice off the stem and hold the jalapeno perpendicular to the cutting board. Slice along the outside of the jalapeno from top to bottom, again and again, until all you have left is the seedy core. This is very similar to avoiding the seeds in a green pepper, if you do it this way. You’re left with lovely strips of jalapeno flesh, which you can simply chop for your purposes.

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For this recipe, finely chop the jalapenos and add them to the onion and tomatillo.
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Drizzle on the olive oil and add a little salt and pepper. Only a little salt; the crema and the Oaxaca cheese are both salty to me.

Roast the vegetables in the oven, taking care to not over brown them. They should look like this:
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If you used a roasting setting, keep the oven on. If you used the broiler, turn it off.

Meanwhile, add the tablespoon of oil to a skillet on the stove. This skillet is also going to be my serving vessel, but it doesn’t have to be.

Saute garlic in the oil for just a few seconds over low heat, then stir in the chopped Poblano peppers.
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Then add the roasted onion, tomatillo and jalapeno to the skillet and stir everything together.

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Add the crema and stir it in well.

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Reduce the mixture for about 5 minutes.

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Then stir in the oregano and cumin.

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Add about half of the chopped cheese to this mixture and stir it in.
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Then top the mixture with the remaining cheese.
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If you’re using the broiler setting on your oven, turn the broiler back on. When it’s ready, place the skillet under the broiler. It should just take a few minutes for the cheese to melt and brown.
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Alternatively, if you want the dip in a nicer serving dish, place everything in it first. Just make sure the dish can withstand heat from the broiler.

For the chorizo, I cooked up the crumbled sausage first, and let it drain on paper towels before starting on the queso.
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To serve, I put the chorizo in the middle of the queso; it also could have been stirred in to the dip as well.

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And at the last minute I sprinkled chopped cilantro over everything.

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Make sure to serve this queso hot, or the cheese will get a little rubbery if it cools. In fact, using a Sterno set-up with this queso would work really well, so it stays hot over time.

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I’m a cheese lover, but I don’t like rubbery, cold cheese!

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I served the chili verde queso with Pacifico, one of my favorite Mexican beers. It went really well. My husband stuck with Guinness.

verdict: I am very proud of this queso, which utilizes many of my favorite Southwestern flavors and ingredients. Although there are Mexican chile verdes, I was influenced by the very popular pork chile verde from New Mexico, utilizing their famous Hatch chile peppers. It was delicious!!!

Shrimp and Sausage Soup

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It was when I first prepared Creole and Cajun cuisines that I learned about pairing proteins together that I hadn’t discovered before. I mixed chicken and ham in a étouffé, shrimp and chicken in a gumbo, and ham and Andouille sausage in a jambalaya. All of these pairings go so surprisingly well together, that when I decided to make a soup today, I decided on the combination of shrimp and sausage, inspired by these cuisines.
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Now, this sausage could have been Andouille, Italian, or even Chorizo, but I chose Polish sausage, otherwise known as Polska Kielbasa. I goes well with beef, chicken, and seafood.
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I had no real plan when I started this soup, and it could have gone many different directions, but I’ll share what I did because it came out so wonderfully! And even though it’s summer, the shrimp and the veggies lighten it up.

Shrimp and Sausage Soup

Olive oil or bacon grease, about 3 tablespoons
1 purple onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 pound Polska Kielbasa, sliced
1 – 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 yellow squash, chopped
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Chicken broth, 2-3 cups
1 heaping tablespoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
Ground cayenne, optional
1 pound shrimp, cleaned, sliced in halves
Cayenne pepper flakes

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. You want to sauté without any caramelization. Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté for five minutes.
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Then add the Polish sausage and turn up the heat. You want some browning on the sausage.

Then add the can of tomatoes and the squash. Add enough chicken broth to make it soupy, 2 cups at least.
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Then add the spices. Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 20 – 25 minutes.
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Add the sliced shrimp and cook just until they become opaque.

just after the shrimp was added to the soup

just after the shrimp was added to the soup

right when the shrimp are cooked they become opaque instead of translucent

right when the shrimp are cooked they become opaque instead of translucent

To serve, sprinkle soup with some cayenne pepper flakes. If desired, you can also serve the soup with avocado slices.

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note: You could certainly make many variations of this soup. I chose the yellow squash because I have an overabundance in my garden at this time. And it could be definitely made more Southwestern with the addition of chorizo, chipotle peppers and lots of cilantro. Corn would be nice as well! And, black beans….

I encourage everybody to make a soup today. Once you get the hang of it, you can make soup in your sleep. Trust me!

Cuscuz de Galinha

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I fell in love with this Latin American dish, not just because it’s so pretty, but because of the peasant nature of it. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Essentially it’s cooked, meat-filled cornmeal layered with peas, that’s then topped with hard-boiled eggs, hearts of palm, tomato slices, and olives. Then the whole thing is steamed before it’s served. I just had to try it.

The origin of this recipe, which translates into “Molded Steamed Chicken, Cornmeal and Vegetables,” is Brazil. The Feijoada I made also originates from Brazil, and interestingly enough, is also served with orange slices. The fanciful nature of this dish makes me wonder if it’s one that is served on a special holiday, but I couldn’t find any info on that.

The recipe I used is from the Time-Life series Foods of the World – my old stand-by cookbooks. This one – Latin American Cooking. I made a few necessary changes, but nothing that compromised the dish. I will type the recipe up exactly how I did it.

Truthfully, the recipe pushed me a little out of my comfort zone just because I’m not used to doing such fiddly presentations, but I challenged my patience and just stuck with it. The good thing? This is a fabulous dish!!!

Cuscuz de Galinha

Chicken:
6 chicken breasts*
1/4 cup white vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 large tomato, chopped, seeded
1 cup chicken stock

Line the bottom of a large skillet with the chicken breasts, then add the next seven ingredients.

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Place the skillet in the fridge and marinate the chicken overnight.

The next morning, cook the chicken in the marinade for about 10 minutes, using tongs to move the breasts around. Then add the chopped tomato and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes.

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Transfer the chicken to a plate, and strain the marinade, keeping the juices in a large bowl.

When the chicken has cooled, slice it up into narrow slices, and add to the juices, tossing to moisten the chicken.

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Chorizo:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, crumbled

In another skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat, then add the sausage and cook them until they have browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Place the sausage on some paper towels to drain.

When they have fully drained, add the chorizo to the chicken mixture.

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Cornmeal:

4 cups yellow cornmeal, medium grind
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1-2 tablespoons hot sauce (optional)

Place the cornmeal in a large pot and add the salt. Add the boiling water, and stirring constantly, incorporate the water into the cornmeal.

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Then stir in the butter, olive oil, and parsley.

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Add the chicken and chorizo and some of the juices if you think the cornmeal needs a little moistening.

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Preparation:

3 tomatoes, seeded, sliced about 1/8″ thin
hearts of palm from a can, rinsed, dried, sliced about 1/8″ thin
4 hard-boiled eggs, cut crosswise into 1/8″ slices
Pimiento-stuffed green olives, cut crosswise into 1/8″ slices
1 cup thoroughly defrosted peas
Oranges, for serving

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Grease the inside of a large colander, the finer holes the better. If you’re using large tomatoes, center a tomato slice in the middle bottom of the colander. If you’re using smaller tomatoes, just be as creative as you can be with the design. Build the design outward, using the hearts of palm, eggs, more tomatoes, and olives.

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When you are done with lining the colander, place one-third of the meat and cornmeal mixture in the bottom of the colander and press down lightly. Try to lay the chicken slices horizontally, so you end up with a layered effect. Top with half of the peas.

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Continue with one-third of the cornmeal mixture topped with the remaining peas, then press the remaining cornmeal mixture on top, smoothing the top.

Cover the colander tightly and place it in a large pot; the bottom of the colander should be above the bottom of the pot. Add water to within about one inch from the bottom of the colander, then cover everything tightly, either with foil or a tightly-fitting lid.

Proceed to steam for one hour, making sure the water doesn’t completely evaporate.

After one hour, let the dish cool slightly, then turn it over onto a serving plate.

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To serve, carefully slice a wedge, and serve it with orange slices.

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* I used chicken breasts because a certain person who eats my food only eats breasts of chicken. But if I had my way I would have used thighs, or a whole chicken, cut into pieces.

note: The name cuscuz is interesting, and the origin is intriguing, although this isn’t a wheat couscous like in the Middle East. However, the “grains” of cornmeal stay separated like a couscous, but maybe because I used a medium-grind, whole-grain cornmeal.

Verdict: I will probably never make this dish again, but not because it doesn’t taste good. I would actually make a deconstructed Cuscuz de Galinha in the future, because all of the components are really good. It was fun to try.