Smoked Herring – After and Before

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Flashback to Brooklyn’s West Indian Labor Day Parade where I picked up a mountain of goodies I had been yearning for in its absence (thanks again, COVID) – more than I could consume in a single sitting, so lots of savory leftovers awaited my post-parade machinations.

Smoked herring, a Caribbean fave, topped my list and there were a couple of vendors poised to satisfy my craving. The “before” photo (above) shows the herring, accompanied by (counterclockwise) breadfruit, festival (a sweet, fried, crispy outside, tender inside, oblong cornmeal and flour dumpling that you need to try if you ever see it) and fried bake (no, that’s not an oxymoron – the adjective distinguishes it from roast bake, but that’s a post unto itself) as secured on day one.

In the “after” photo (top), I sandwiched the remaining smoked herring with some pickled hot peppers and sweet peppers in the bake that remained and cobbled together some breadfruit salad – similar to potato salad but unique. (I first tasted breadfruit salad at a Garifuna festival in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where indigenous people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines were doling it out at multiple stands and I got hooked immediately.)

Late to post, I realize, but so good I had to share.


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There were a couple of dishes that were included in my recent four-part “Everybody Loves Dumplings” series that had never been featured in a post of their own.

Since I seldom order ravioli in an Italian restaurant (although I truly love it), I picked up a legit brand of frozen cheese ravioli for this photoshoot and topped it with my own bespoke meat sauce.

I’ve been developing and perfecting that grail of a recipe for more years than I can count (since I first got into cooking as a matter of fact) and frankly it’s one of the best creations I’ve ever come up with; I’m truly proud of it and seldom share the anchovy oil stained recipe with anyone. (Yes, that’s a hint.) As a matter of fact, I often have some in my freezer because it keeps incredibly well and makes for a quick, but impressive, meal.

I wasn’t certain that this post would be Instaworthy since it was partially based on something out of a supermarket freezer case, but I would ask you, please – consider the sauce.


New Section: Ukraine

I’ve created a new section on this site that highlights the cuisine of Ukraine. The prologue begins like this:

Odessa is a port city on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. It is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful beaches and charming 19th-century architecture.

In the latter half of the last century, many Odessites who emigrated to the US came to Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood, now known as “Little Odessa”. I took this photograph on that beach – and tweaked the colors, just a bit.

As a kid, I studied history from a book titled World Civilization; “civilization” was defined as the advancement of the arts, science, culture and statecraft. At the time, it seemed to me that statecraft had as much to do with waging war as anything else. History was something that was about 2 inches thick and had 537 pages.

When I was in high school, I would eavesdrop on my father reliving World War II in exhaustive detail with his buddy, Jack, over highballs; they had served together in the army overseas. I still have his captain’s bars and his Purple Heart. War became a little more real, more than just something you read about; war had certainly affected my father.

In college, we would watch television nightly, transfixed as Walter Cronkite narrated terrifying scenes from the war in Vietnam; I wondered if I would be drafted. War became even more real; war was affecting me.

But now, I know someone who actually lives in Kyiv and although I am fortunate to not be an eyewitness myself, the horrors of war have never been more real for me.

Her hobby is cooking; that’s how we met – through Instagram of all things. She loves nature in its beauty ardently, the flora and the fauna. We communicate on occasion, a genuine, personal one-to-one correspondence. She is very real.

And every time I hear the reports of the latest atrocities, I worry if she is well. If she is alive.

This corner of my website is dedicated to you, Olya. You and all the brave, stalwart, resilient, heroic, beautiful people of Ukraine.

Stay safe, Olya. Stay safe.

🇺🇦 Слава Україні! Героям слава! 🇺🇦

Over the years, I have enjoyed and continue to learn more about Ukrainian cuisine; I prepare it at home, and now bring people to visit Little Odessa in Brooklyn so they can experience it firsthand.

It is a small gesture, I know, but at least I can introduce others to a part of the vibrant culture of these resolute people who are giving their lives and losing their loved ones in their quest to preserve democracy.

Here, then, are a few dishes from my Ukrainian posts, with more to come….
Click here to see the new section and the cuisine. You can always visit as it grows by selecting Stories -> Ukraine in the top navigation bar. Дякую!

A Passover Dare

(Originally posted in April, 2019.)

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Previously on, I did a springtime post that included a story about someone who dared me to come up with an ethnic fusion Passover menu. I wrote:

Well, far be it from me to dodge a culinary challenge! So although obviously inauthentic, but certainly fun and yummy, here’s to a Sazón Pesach!

Picante Gefilte Pescado
Masa Ball Posole
Brisket Mole
Poblano Potato Kugel
Maple Chipotle Carrot Tzimmes
Guacamole spiked with Horseradish
Charoset with Pepitas and Tamarindo

And, of course, the ever popular Manischewitz Sangria!

It was all in good fun, of course, but it got me thinking about actually creating a Jewish-Mexican fusion recipe. It isn’t strictly Kosher for Passover, but I thought the concept was worth a try. So here is my latest crack at cross cultural cooking: Masa Brei!

Now you might know that Matzo Brei (literally “fried matzo”) is a truly tasty dish consisting of matzos broken into pieces that are soaked briefly in warm milk (some folks use water), drained, soaked in beaten eggs until soft, then fried in copious quantities of butter. Typically served with sour cream and applesauce, it’s heimische cooking, Jewish soul food, at its finest and it’s easy to do.

So I thought it might be worth a try to swap out the matzos for tostadas, the milk for horchata, the sour cream for crema, and the applesauce for homemade pineapple-jalapeño salsa. A sprinkle of tajín, a scatter of chopped cilantro – and it actually worked!

Happy Passover!
!חג פסח שמח


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Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about observing New Year’s Day in January or February or September, but you have to admit that it does seem eminently logical to herald the inauguration of a new year on the first day of spring, doesn’t it?

And that’s exactly what Nowruz is about: literally “new day” in Farsi, it’s celebrated in Iran and the Persian diaspora on the vernal equinox, around March 20. There is a multitude of holiday conventions practiced for Nowruz, some of which harmonize with universal rites of spring including “shaking the house”, a preparatory spring cleaning, and painting eggs in festive colors (sound familiar?) and of course a cavalcade of traditional foods.

Pictured here is my homemade fesenjan, a splendid dish often earmarked for special occasions. Fesenjan is a koresh, a thick stew, sometimes made with chicken, sometimes with duck like this one; the other two essential ingredients are walnuts and pomegranates in some form – my version uses pomegranate molasses although I’ve seen pomegranate juice pressed into service as well. It’s served here with saffron rice in a supporting but essential role. (And that’s my grandmother’s serving dish if you’re curious.)

But fesenjan is distinctly Persian and other cultures commemorate the holiday with very different foods. Stay tuned for more….

Ukrainian Borscht

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Home cooking from last summer – borscht, a refreshing, cold beet soup which, according to Wikipedia, is the national dish of Ukraine.

I posted it then because out here, we were all suffering through a hot day.

I’m reposting it now because out there, they are all suffering through a hot war.
🇺🇦 Sending prayers for peace to the resolute people of Ukraine. 🇺🇦

Ukrainian Blintzes with a Twist

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Although I can’t know for certain whether my grandmother was Ukrainian, she did make memorable blintzes and she made them often. When I was a kid and just becoming aware of concepts like heritage, I asked her over lunch where she was born. Her responses typically consisted of a single word, in this case, “Brooklyn.”

I pressed on. “Then where were your parents from?”

“Brooklyn,” she replied, tersely.

“Then where…”

“Eat,” she interrupted, setting another plate of blintzes down in front of me figuring that I wouldn’t ask any more questions if my mouth was full. I never did learn about her roots.

Years later, I tried to extract her special recipe: “How much flour should I use?”


You get the idea. Anyway, I reverse engineered it and I’ve been making them ever since. In a single word, “yum!”

But I told you that story so I could tell you this one: The other day when I was in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood developing a revised itinerary for the upcoming revival of my Little Odessa food tour, I spotted a pint-size deli container filled with an obviously store-made creamy white mass in the dairy case of one of my favorite markets. The home spun label read Sirkovaya Massa (likely a romanization of Сырковая Масса in the surprising absence of Cyrillic characters). I recognized the first syllable, Sir- (Сыр-), as the word for cheese; a closer inspection revealed a list of ingredients: cultured milk, vanilla, sugar, and raisins and I divined that this “Cheese Curd Mass” would probably taste like an Eastern European take on cannoli cream, but more cream cheesy than ricotta based. It was sweet, rich, and absolutely delicious. But what to do with it? Spread it on a bagel? Serve it with fresh fruit perhaps? And then it hit me: combine it with an equal part of farmer’s cheese and make blintzes with a twist! This is a photo of the result, decked out with blueberries, blueberry syrup and sour cream – note the blue and yellow theme. (Next time, I’m might try adding mini chocolate bits to it for a real cross-cultural treat.)

How were they? In a single (Ukrainian) word, “ням!” Grandma would approve.

C’est Mardi Gras!

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C’est Mardi Gras! Laissez les bons temps rouler! (Ou en anglais, it’s Fat Tuesday! Let the good times roll!) The “fat” descriptor signals the last chance to consume indulgent, rich, high-calorie foods before the spartan Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday. Needless to say, New Orleans pulls out all the stops for its annual celebration with a virtual parade of Creole and Cajun culinary delights on display.

This is homemade Jambalaya, a rice dish that typically features spicy andouille sausage along with other meats or seafood. I’ve used chicken as the supporting player here, but in the past I’ve made it more traditionally with shrimp – that was back when you didn’t have to take out a mortgage to buy it. The Creole version contains tomatoes, the Cajun style that I’ve prepared here does not, but both incorporate a significant measure of spice. I start with a base of diced onions, celery, and bell peppers known as “the trinity” in Cajun cooking; it’s akin to mirepoix in French cuisine which consists of onions, celery, and carrots, or sofrito in other cultures where ingredients vary by geography – but whatever the provenance, it’s all about that base.

On the side, I made another popular Louisiana specialty, maque choux, a mélange of fresh corn, bell peppers, onions, celery, and tomatoes cooked up in bacon fat with more Cajun spices and a little cream at the end to ensure the proper degree of decadence.

Tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday post will feature a Lenten delicacy (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?) that’s bloody delicious! Stay tuned….

Ukrainian Banush

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I’ve got Ukraine on the brain and if you’re following the news, you probably do too. I don’t delve into politics on this platform (although I certainly do elsewhere) but I feel the need to shine a little light on Ukraine, at least through a culinary lens.

I lead a food tour through Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach area, also known as Little Odessa; Odessa is the third largest city in Ukraine and a major center of tourism. On that ethnojunket, we sample delicacies from Russia as well as Ukraine and other Former Soviet Union satellite countries like Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Sputnik – you know, the satellites.

There’s considerable crossover among the cuisines, but in this post I’m highlighting a dish I prepared that’s dear to the hearts of Ukrainians, banush (бануш, aka banosh, банош), a cornmeal porridge, first cousin to Romanian/Polish/Moldavan mamaliga and Italy’s polenta; the Ukrainian style is made with sour cream – make it with water and you’ve got Cousin Mamaliga or Zia Polenta. Most recipes I’ve seen call for cutting the sour cream with water but I use chicken broth instead plus the addition of a little butter for richness and bacon fat for a hint of smokiness.

It’s typically served with a sharp sheep’s milk cheese like bryndza crumbled on top and bits of bacon or salo, sometimes with mushrooms as well. I’ve plated it alongside grilled kovbasa on a bed of caramelized onions with sour cream on the side. Just one example of Ukrainian soul food.

🇺🇦 It’s no coincidence that I’ve chosen a blue plate for this yellow dish. 🇺🇦

Sending prayers for peace to the resolute people of Ukraine.