Q for Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is not an actual cereal, but a pseudo-cereal, a seed that belongs to the family Amaranthaceae, the same family as the amaranth, Swiss chard and spinach.

Quinoa is a plant which originated in the area surrounding Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia, in the Andes Mountains of South America. Quinoa was cultivated and used by pre-Columbian civilizations and was replaced by other cereals on the arrival of the Spanish, despite being a local staple food at the time.

Existing historical evidence indicates that its domestication by the peoples of America may have occurred between 3,000 and 5,000 years BCE. Before its domestication, the leaves and seeds of wild quinoa were used as food. The plants have been represented on early pottery from the region.

The quinoa plant is a very pretty plant with broad-leafed and grows to be 3 to 9 feet tall. IThe seed heads have beautiful colors ranging from red to purple, orange, green, black or yellow. The quinoa plant prefers cooler temperatures and short days and can handle mild frost. However, it is not very picky being able to grow in poor soil without fertilizer or irrigation. 

Qunioa was a sacred crop to the Incas who called it the mother of all grains or chisaya mama. According to the legends, it was a custom for the Incan emperor to ceremoniously plant the first quinoa seeds every year. 

A 400-year decline in the production of quinoa began with the Spanish conquest in the 1500s. While the Spanish colonists scorned quinoa as ‘food for Indians,’ they also felt threatened by this nutrition source, as Inca armies used a mixture of quinoa and fat, known as ‘war balls’ while they marched for many days. The Spanish destroyed quinoa fields in an attempt to weaken and conquer the population.

In more recent times, the ruling class told indigenous people that quinoa was not good for human consumption and should only be used as animal feed. The irony is that quinoa had literally gone underground and almost disappeared as malnutrition and poverty soared among the indigenous population in this region.

However, quinoa has been rediscovered. In the United States, it was first introduced commercially in 1982 and since then its popularity has grown. And it is noteworthy that the descendants of the Inca are now growling and selling quinoa while also consuming. South America, the cultural home of quinoa, contributes over 80% of the world’s supply. 

Quinoa is a complete protein. While rich in antioxidants, it also contains folate, iron, thiamine, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Most importantly, quinoa is a gluten-free option for people with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Once considered an alternative crop or a niche food, quinoa is now becoming increasingly common in North America. 

Quinoa comes in three colors: white, red and black. For today’s recipe of Quinoa and White Bean Soup, I have used a tri-color mix.

Quinoa and White Bean Soup


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 medium onions or one large, finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, trimmed and finely diced
  • 1 can (14½ ounces) cannellini or other white beans, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Tomatoes of any kind, to make up two cups when chopped
  • 7 cups vegetable stock
  • ⅓ cup quinoa
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, rosemary or thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Heat oil in a largish saucepan over medium heat. 
  • Add onions, carrots and celery, and sauté until tender. 
  • Add beans and garlic and stir for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Stir in chopped tomatoes and their juices, and vegetable stock. Simmer until tomatoes are cooked and well mixed.
  • Add quinoa, parsley and rosemary. Cover and simmer until quinoa is cooked, 12 to 15 minutes. 
  • Adjust seasoning. Serve garnished with chopped parsley and rosemary.

P for Peas

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old.

English nursery rhyme and a popular singing game.

Peas, in their infinite variety, have been consumed by humans since antiquity, the first archaeological discovery of peas dating back to around 5000 BC in the Nile delta area of Egypt. From there they spread across Europe and into Asia, over time. Romans were cultivating peas about 500 BC. During the middle ages, they became one of the staples everywhere.

Peas were originally grown by humans for the seeds, which could be dried and preserved for hard seasons when not much was available in nature. The main advantage was that they could be kept for a long time. 

Dried peas needed to be cooked for a long time and it was difficult to them to a specific doneness, as they turned mushy with the prolonged cooking. So they were mostly used for stews or soups.

They could be cooked with so many things to add to their flavor, most often ham bones, salt pork or bacon.

Though dried peas have been popular for a long time, it was only in the 17th century that it became fashionable to eat young green peas, freshly shelled, before they matured into hard seeds. Thomas Jefferson discovered them on a trip to France and brought multiple varieties back to America and planted them on his estate.

Another trend in modern days is to add fresh tender pea shoots to salads, adding a fresh flavor, crunch and nutrition to them.

Tom Thumb, Little Marvel, Tall Telephone and Mr. Big… these are names of varieties of peas.

Peas are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, thiamine (B1), iron and phosphorus. They are also rich in protein, carbohydrate and fibre and low in fat.

Today peas are commonly used in our daily cooking, one of their advantages being that you can always grab a can or a frozen bag, regardless of the season.

An interesting dish of peas is the pie floater from Australia, consisting of a traditional meat pie, placed upside down, sometimes submerged in a bowl of thick pea soup.

Today we are making a simple yet flavorful peas soup, green and refreshing. So suitable for spring!

Lemony Peas Soup


  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed and thinly sliced (about 1½ cups)
  • ¼ cup vermouth or white wine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 fresh shelled peas (or frozen peas)
  • ¼ roughly chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ wedge of a lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sour cream, parsley and lemon zest for serving


  • In a largish pot, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the onion and celery, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.
  • Add the wine and garlic, and cook until the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. 
  • Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Add the peas and cook, stirring occasionally, just until tender, about 3 minutes. 
  • Remove from heat, and add the parsley.
  • Using an immersion blender, puree the soup to the consistency you like.
  • Squeeze a dash of lemon juice and adjust seasoning.
  • Ladle into bowls, and serve right away topped with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkled with parsley and lemon zest.

Note: If you are using frozen peas, make sure that they have not been sitting in the freezer for a long time. Freezer burn can destroy the flavor and texture of this soup.


Peas have made a great contribution to genetic sciences! Johann Gregor Mendel, known as the Father of Genetics, discovered the fundamental laws of inheritance after studying pea plants for a period of eight years. Mendel’s Laws of Heredity, published in 1865, was the first time gene structure and their dominant and recessive nature were defined and understood.

O for Oxtail 

There are well known versions of oxtail soup… British Jamaican, Indonesian, Korean, Filipino, Thai… all using flavors specific to each region.

Oxtail is one of those ingredients that is popular in all meat-loving cuisines around the world. 

Though a bony piece of meat it is very flavorful and most suited for soups and stews, or braised in a liquid like red wine. A dish made of oxtails contains plenty of marrow, which, according to traditional Chinese medicine, is good for health, contributing to its eater’s longevity. Also it provides plenty of collagen, good for skin nourishment.

Oxtails usually takes hours to cook on the stove top, but a pressure cooker, electrical or stove top can cut down the cooking time considerably. As they are very boney with little meat, oxtails are ideal for making flavorful stock.

Funnily enough, it had humble origins as a poor people’s food in most cuisines as they were seen as ‘throwaway cuts’. In recent times, as concepts like ‘nose-to-tail eating’ gained in popularity, it increased the popularity of cuts of meat like oxtails. And their price tags as well.

There are well known versions of oxtail soup… British Jamaican, Indonesian, Korean, Filipino, Thai… all using flavors specific to each region.

In Britain oxtail soup is considered a quintessential British comfort food, with humble beginnings, thought to have originated in London’s east end in the seventeenth century. The British version combines beef tails and vegetables in the soup.

Jamaica makes an oxtail soup that is brown and steaming, light with ginger and thyme, pungent with allspice and soy, a true taste of the Caribbean.

Indonesian oxtail soup (sop buntut) is another well-loved version. It features diced oxtail in a clear rich beef broth, with chopped carrots, celery and potato, and flavored with ginger, coriander, lime and chilies.

Kkori-gomtang, the Korean oxtail soup is made with garlic, salt, black pepper, green onions and other typical Korean flavors. The soup is simmered at low heat for several hours to soften the meat and make the broth bloom.

And then there is the Kare Kare, the well known Filipino soup, starring oxtail with peanut butter and fish sauce, and colored with achiote seeds.

We are going for a Thai version of the oxtail soup today, flavored with tomatoes, start anise, coriander, cumin and cinnamon, a perfect winter-warmer.

Oxtail Soup


  • 2 pounds oxtail
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 2 6-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 6 star anise
  • ⅓ cup soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground (or use ground coriander)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground (or use ground cumin)
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 or 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh red Thai chili or dried red chilies, crushed
  • ⅓ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish


  • If using whole coriander and cumin seeds, dry roast them in a pan, till fragrant and they begin to change color. (Better to roast coriander seeds for a minute before adding the cumin to ensure they are uniformly roasted.) When cool grind them using a spice grinder.
  • Place the oxtail pieces in a pot with water to cover and add tomatoes, cinnamon, star anise, soy sauce, along with coriander and cumin powders. 
  • Bring to a boil over high heat, then adjust the heat to simmer. Cook until tender, for about 2 hours, checking every 30 minutes to make sure there is sufficient water to cover the oxtail pieces, adding more if required.
  • Slice the shallots thinly lengthwise and fry them crisp in the vegetable oil. Drain on paper towels.
  • When meat is done, add chili and lime juice. Adjust seasoning. 
  • Spoon into individual bowls, and garnish with the fried onions and cilantro and serve hot.

Note: You can make the soup till the stage where the meat is fully cooked and refrigerate it for a few hours and remove any excess fat, if so desired. 

N for Noodles

Did you know… Egg is an essential ingredient in the noodles making process. In fact, according to federal law “The total solids of noodle products contains not less than 5.5 percent by weight of the solids of egg, or egg yolk.” You can read the entire specifications here on the FDA website.

The oldest evidence of noodles was from 4,000 years ago in China. Radio dating shows that noodles, discovered in 1999, among relics at the Lajia archeological site in Minhe County, Qinghai Province, were crafted and cooked four thousand years ago, during the early Xia Dynasty. However, this may not have been exactly the noodles we are familiar with today as they were shaped into little bits and not strands.

Noodles are made from many grains, mainly wheat, buckwheat and rice, while cellophane noodles are made from mung bean. Egg is an essential ingredient in the noodles making process. In fact, according to federal law “The total solids of noodle products contains not less than 5.5 percent by weight of the solids of egg, or egg yolk.” You can read the entire specifications here on the FDA website.

Wheat noodles in Japan (udon) were adapted from a Chinese recipe as early as the 9th century. ramen was introduced to Tokyo by way of Yokohama’s china town, around 1910. Japan has over 30,000 ramen-only shops across the country.

The first instant ramen noodle was created in Japan. This invention of instant noodles and their mass production greatly changed the noodle industry, funnily enough, making instant ramen one of the most popular food items in college dorms!

It used to be believed that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from China in the 13th century. However, this has been proven to be a myth. Pasta, in many forms existed long before Marco Polo in Italy, though it may not have been documented. 

Currently food historians believe that pasta’s origin was in the Mediterranean countries as there are mention of it in many books starting with the 2nd century. From where the Arab traders brought it to Italy where it took strong roots.


The Yokohama Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama, Japan, is an interactive museum and according to the museum, is designed to stir the creativity and curiosity within every person and provide a rich educational experience.

Noodle Soup with Chicken and Mushrooms


  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, sliced, plus extra julienned ginger, for garnish
  • ¼ cup rice wine or any type of white wine
  • 4 ounces fresh button or any other variety mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 6 ounces dried ramen noodles
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Heat 2 tablespoons sesame oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and add to pot, skin-side down, along with sliced ginger. Cook, turning, until the chicken skin and ginger slices are golden, 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Add the rice wine and continue cooking until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. 
  • Add 6 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook covered, until the chicken is fully cooked, about 25 minutes.
  • Remove chicken from the pot and transfer to a bowl and set aside. 
  • Strain the broth, discarding the ginger. Adjust the seasoning and set aside. 
  • When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and shred the meat. Return the shredded chicken to the broth.
  • Bring a saucepan of water to boil and cook ramen noodles according to package instructions.
  • Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a pan and add the sliced mushrooms and sauté till wilted and the liquids are almost dry.
  • To serve, add the cooked noodles to bowls and top with the broth and chicken. Sprinkle sautéed mushrooms on top. Garnish with sliced scallions, ginger juliennes and more sesame oil and serve hot.

M for Mushroom

Mushrooms are a universal pleaser; I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t like them. Their delicate subtle flavor and agreeable texture contribute to their popularity.

Mushrooms are commonly called fungi, but they are only the fleshy sporophores or the fruiting bodies of fungi. While most mushrooms are edible, some varieties are highly poisonous.

Mushrooms as food have been known to humans probably since pre-historic times.

Most common mushroom varieties available in the market are portobellos (button mushrooms, cremini, and baby bellas) and shiitake.

The morels are difficult to cultivate and hence highly prized. Truffles, though they do not resemble mushrooms are considered as such.

The edible mushrooms are free of cholesterol and contain small amounts of essential amino acids and B vitamins. 

By fresh weight, the common commercially grown mushroom is more than 90 percent water, less than 3 percent protein, less than 5 percent carbohydrate, less than 1 percent fat, and about 1 percent mineral salts and vitamins.

While a majority of mushrooms consumed are cultivated, foraging for wild mushrooms is popular in regions where they are available. However, it takes some expertise to identify the edible varieties. Poisoning from mushrooms may be fatal or produce merely mild gastrointestinal disturbance or slight allergic reaction. And hence their role as means of murder in so many detective stories!

The most prevalent superstition about identifying a poisonous mushroom is to cook it in water to which a silver coin is added or stirring with a silver spoon. If the spoon turned black it was supposed to be proof that the mushroom was poisonous.

Some mushrooms are used in spiritual rituals as they have mind-altering effects. Some recent studies have shown that psilocybin, the chemical in the magic mushrooms could help treat depression in some people.

Fresh mushrooms don’t hold up well for long. They can be stored in the refrigerator crisper, in a paper bag, for two or three days. And never wash a mushroom in water; just wipe them clean, multiple times, with wet paper towels.

The mushroom soup presented today is simplicity itself, but tastes delicious.

Mushroom Soup


  • 2 ounces dried mushrooms (like cremini, shiitake, whatever is available)
  • 4 tablespoon butter
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme 
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms like shiitake or button, sliced (a variety is nice)
  • ⅓ cup sherry 
  • 5 cups liquid (chicken stock, mushroom-soaking liquid or a combination)
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup cream (optional)


  • Soak the dried mushrooms in 3 cups very hot water for a minimum of 15 minutes. When they soaked, drain and chop them roughly. 
  • Add enough chicken stock to the water in which the mushrooms were soaked to make up 5 cups. 
  • Heat butter in a largish pot. Add the thyme leaves and chopped onion. Sauté till onion is softened without starting to brown.
  • Add the garlic and sauté for a minute.
  • Add both the sliced fresh mushrooms and the chopped soaked mushrooms.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir together and cover and cook on medium heat, for 20 minutes.
  • Add the sherry and deglaze. 
  • Add the stock and mushroom soaking liquid and mix thoroughly. Cover and cook on simmer till mushrooms are fully done, for about 15 minutes.
  • Using an immersion blender, puree the mushroom mixture to your desired consistency. 
  • Add the cream, if using, and adjust the seasoning. 
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

L for Lamb

Lost lamb, lamb to the slaughter, wolf in sheep’s clothing, black sheep of the family… references to lamb and sheep abound in our languages. 

Lamb is, most likely, the earliest meat that humans consumed. The oldest find of domesticated sheep’s bones was made in Iraq, dated from 9,000 B.C. Similar finds have been made later in Mesopotamia, Greece, and northeastern Africa.

Lamb is the most often sacrificed animal in religions. The bible and the khuran have many many stories about sacrifices being offered and made, for various gods. In china, the ‘Book of Songs’ from 600 B.C contains a description of the spring sacrifice of a lamb. Even today, lamb is associated with the observation of Easter in many regions. In Greece suckling lamb, roasted whole, is the traditional dish of Easter. Similarly sacrificing lamb is a ritual for many Islamic festivals.

Sheep had a major economic role in the society of the middle ages. Growing sheep was one of the most profitable activities… they provided milk, meat, as well as clothing from wool and sheepskin. 

Currently, Australia and New Zealand are the world’s leading producers and exporters of lamb and mutton.

Meat from sheep is referred to as lamb when the animals are up to a year old and mutton after that. 

Every part of the lamb is cooked and eaten in some part of the world or other. In addition to the usual meatballs, kababs and curries, there are some unusual items like the Scottish haggis made from sheep entrails (liver, lungs and heart) cooked inside a sheep’s stomach. And the whole head of sheep (and its cousin goat) is eaten in lots of regions. Read somewhere that lamb fries (not what you think) are popular in Kentucky.

Lamb is not a popular meat in the US. The early establishment of the beef industry could be one of the reasons for this. 

We are making a lamb meatball soup as today’s recipe. You can use veal or beef in this recipe with similar results.

Lamb Meatball Soup


  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 whole serrano or jalapeno chili, slit lengthwise without separating from the stalk
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • In a large mixing bowl, mix together the ground lamb, cilantro, salt, pepper and egg, until well combined. Form them into balls of uniform size and set aside.
  • In a heavy saucepan, heat the vegetable oil on medium-high heat. Add the onions and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the onions are softened and the tomato paste is cooked into the onions, about 3 minutes. 
  • Add the celery, corn and carrots. Sauté until soft, about 2 minutes. 
  • Add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, and lower the heat to a simmer. 
  • Add the lamb meatballs into the broth, taking care not to break them. Cover and let the meatballs settle and firm up for 5 minutes..
  • Add the bay leaf and the chili to the broth. Cover and cook in a steady simmer for 35 minutes.
  • When the meatballs are fully done, adjust the seasoning and ladle into bowls and serve hot.

K for Kale

Every now and then, a food item that has been around for a long time, sometimes even centuries, is raised up to the position of superfood. In the last decade, it has been Kale’s fortune to be declared a superfood. And so far, the reputation has held.

BTW, have you read ‘Fifty Shades of Kale’?

Though there is no scientific definition of a superfood, usually it is when it contains high levels of nutrients, offers major health benefits, or has some specific advantages like inducing weight loss or curing some disease. Or it could be when some PR agency takes on the case and goes into a propaganda drive to increase the popularity of a food item. There is an interesting story about kale. Originally it was believed that the American Kale Association hired a PR agent to boost it in the markets of NYC. However, it turned out that a PR agent who loved kale created the whole project, including the existence of an imaginary kale association, on their own. 

Stories apart, kale’s claim to fame as being highly nutritious is all true.

Kale has been cultivated for food in the Mediterranean beginning 2000 BC. And it has been popular in Europe for a long time as well. Kale was introduced into the United States in the 19th century. Initially kale was used for decorative purposes – think lining salad platters – in the US, but its popularity as an edible vegetable grew as its nutritional value began to be recognized.

Health benefits of kale include Vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K, as well as Folate, a B vitamin. Kale also has alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid), lutein and zeaxanthin (nutrients that give kale its deep, dark green color), and minerals including phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and zinc.

There are several types of kale available in the market today, with more varieties being available in Farmers’ Markets. The flavors vary slightly based on the type.

The types include:

  • Curly kale: bright green ruffled leaves, the most common type of kale
  • Dinosaur kale: narrow, wrinkly green leaves attached to a thick stem
  • Redbor kale: ruffled leaves that vary in color from deep red to purple
  • Russian kale: less common, and has flat leaves with a fringe that range from green to red to purple

Kale belongs to the brassica family which includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. It can be eaten raw or cooked. 

Boiled, baked, steamed, or sautéed, kale can be cooked many ways. (Here is a great recipe for kale with coconut and garbanzo.) Kale chips are an easy snack, easy to make… tear destemmed leaves into pieces, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Tada, a crispy snack is ready!

Germans have a festival dedicated to kale, called Grünkohlfahrt, where a lot of beer is drunk and kale is eaten. And the person who ate the most kale is crowned Kohlkönig (Kale King). 

Today we are using kale in a soup fortifies with sausage and potatoes. Very hearty!

Kale Soup With Potatoes and Sausage


  • 1 pound uncured Spanish chorizo, cut across into -¼ inch-thick slices
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 large baking potato, peeled and cut into ¼ inch cubes
  • 1 bunch of kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped, about 4 cups
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 plum tomatoes, cored and cut into ½-inch dice


  • Smear the bottom of a largish pot with oil and heat the pot over medium heat. 
  • Add the sausage pieces and cook till they start to brown.
  • Add the onion and cook till onion turns soft.
  • Add the garlic and potatoes and cook for 2 minutes. 
  • Add the kale and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes longer.
  • Add the chicken broth and vinegar. 
  • Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour. 
  • Add the tomatoes and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes more. 
  • Ladle into bowls and serve hot.

J for Jackfruit

Jackfruit is having its day in the limelight! Recently it has started appearing everywhere… burger and steak menus, produce section of grocery stores, food magazine pages, cooking videos… they are everywhere. 

The reason for the jackfruit’s sudden popularity is the meat like texture of it when unripe. It provides a great option for vegans as it can be used in place of meat in everything from hotdogs to burgers to pulled pork. As jackfruit has a mild flavor, it is easily adaptable for any recipe. 

Jackfruit, the biggest tree fruit of them all, grows in tropical Asia, Africa and South America. In these regions, it is a seasonal fruit most often ripening during the peak summer, just before the rainy season. Jackfruits come in many varieties and some of the bigger ones can grow up to 3 feet long and 20 inches wide.

The part of the fruit that is eaten when ripe is the fleshy pods that hold the seeds. These are arranged around a central core, surrounded by dense fibers protecting the pods.

Jackfruit can be used in any stage of its life. Very young ones are cooked as a vegetable dish, tender seeds and fiber and all, after peeling only the outer thick thorny skin. When it is grown yet unripe, the fleshy parts are cooked, without the seeds and the encasing fiber. When fully ripe, jackfruit is either eaten raw or used to make sweet dishes and preserves. And the seeds, either from ripe or unripe fruits, are cooked as a vegetable as well. 

While Jackfruit has a relatively low calorie count, it is richer in micronutrients and phytonutrients than many other fruits. Its seeds and flesh contain more calcium and iron than other tropical fruits and it is a useful source of potassium and B vitamins including B1, B3, B6 and folate. Carotenoids, the pigments that give jackfruit its yellow color, are high in vitamin A.

Jackfruit, ripe and unripe, can sometimes be bought fresh at Asian groceries. It is also available canned, mainly exported from Thailand. 

I have chosen a very flavorful recipe as today’s dish as the jackfruit absorbs all the flavor, and produces a delicious alternative to the beef in the original classic recipe from the Burgundy region of France. 


Ripe jackfruit is a favorite of elephants… a big fruit for a big animal! Wild elephants, attracted by the smell of ripe jackfruit, sometimes come down to villages to steal the fruit!

Jackfruit Bourguignon


  • 1 lb unripe canned jackfruit
  • 4 rashers of bacon, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cup of red wine
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 1 cup pearl onions, peeled
  • 4 ounces mushrooms (cremini, shiitake, or bella), quartered
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Cut the jackfruit it into 2 inch chunks. If using canned jackfruit, drain, cut into large pieces and set aside.
  • In a largish pan, cook the bacon until crisp, over medium-low heat. Drain and set aside.
  • Heat oil in a largish pot. Add onion and carrot and cook until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add garlic and tomato paste, and cook for 1 minute. 
  • Add the flour, cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the wine, bay leaf and thyme, and deglaze scraping up brown bits at bottom of pot. 
  • Add the jackfruit and half the cooked bacon. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
  • Add the pearl onions and mushrooms to the pot. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes.
  • Add the remaining bacon. Adjust seasoning and serve hot.

I for Iceberg Lettuce

In praise of iceberg lettuce, tongue firmly in cheek! By the way, doesn’t it look like a picture of a brain? Yay, brain food indeed! 🙂

Lettuce and other leafy greens make up an important part of a healthy diet. However, when it comes to nutritional content, iceberg lettuce does not have a great reputation. Still, there are good things to be said about it.

First of all, it is very difficult to dislike an iceberg lettuce. Unlike many other leafy greens, it is very mild with a gentle sweet flavor. And it is so crisp, adding a crunchy texture to many a salad while other greens might have got wilted! No wonder it is also called ‘crisphead’ lettuce!

This lovely pale green vegetable is so full of water content that on a hot summer’s day it is as refreshing as a glass of water!

It makes a great starter salad for children before you can actually introduce them to the arugulas and frisees of the world. Once they accept an iceberg, it is easy to move on to other lettuces.

And why children alone? With its sweet flavor and  pleasant crunch it is a great bridge food for people who don’t eat enough other vegetables.

But wait, there is more… iceberg lettuce is a powerhouse of Vitamin A, Vitamin K, and folate!

And talk about health benefits! People who have issues with blood clotting may benefit from a diet high in Vitamin K, in other words iceberg lettuce.

People who have a history of bleeding disorders or liver disease, may want to check with their doctor whether iceberg lettuce is right for them. Good thing is, there are no side effects and no small print!

And above all, it starts with the letter ‘I’! It the only ingredient I could think of, for this series. If you can think of something else, please mention it in the comments… I dare you!

And the recipe is for a cold soup, in the lines of a gazpacho. Actually it is a kinda cross between a soup and a salad. No need to answer that eternal question in many Chinese restaurants: soup or salad?  🙂

Iceberg Lettuce soup


  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 2 small shallots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 slices bacon (thicker slices are better)
  • 2 ounces blue cheese crumbled 
  • 4 Cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice 
  • 1 large head iceberg lettuce, the outer leaves removed
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced chives for garnishing 
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)


  • Prepare the bacon as you usually do (in a pan, in the oven, or in the microwave). Keep aside.
  • Cut the iceberg lettuce into four wedges. Slice one of the wedges into thin strips and keep aside. Rough chop the remaining three wedges of lettuce.
  • In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil.
  • Add half the chopped shallots. Sauté for two minutes.
  • Add half the sliced cherry tomatoes. 
  • Add the stock and bring to a boil. 
  • Add the rough chopped lettuce leaves, with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for five minutes.
  • When cold, blend thoroughly using an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender. Chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of two hours.
  • To serve, ladle the soup into a flat soup bowl. Sprinkle some of the kept aside lettuce strips on one half of the soup. Follow with sliced shallots, chives and tomatoes. Crumble the blue cheese and bacon on top. 
  • Serve immediately, with wedges of lemon, and hot sauce, if using.

H for Halibut

Halibut, like all fish, is a high-quality source of protein and selenium, a powerful antioxidant that helps your body repair damaged cells and aids in decreasing inflammation. It is especially good because it also includes omega-3 fatty acids, niacin and magnesium, helping to fight heart disease.

Halibut is the largest flatfish in the ocean, and lives on the seabeds of the North Pacific, North Atlantic, and Arctic oceans. It can grow up to more than ten feet long. Members of the flatfish family are flattened laterally, and swim sideways, with one side facing down and the other facing up. The upper side is typically gray to brown, or nearly black, with mottling and numerous spots to blend in with a sandy or muddy bottom. The underside is typically white. Virtually all halibut are right-eyed, meaning both eyes are found on the upper, dark side of the body. The mouth extends to the middle of the lower eye or beyond, and is nearly symmetrical. The scales are quite small and buried in the skin, making the skin appear smooth.

All flounder species also belong to the flatfish family.

Fish these days are either farm-raised or caught in the wild and flash-frozen while still on the boat.

Atlantic halibut, once considered a superior fish because of its higher fat content has almost disappeared from the market as there are severe restrictions on its fishing. As per the Greater Atlantic Fisheries Office (GARFO) for New England and the Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic halibut was only allowed as a bycatch, with limits imposed on the number and size of the ones that can be kept per fishing expedition. If Atlantic halibut were to be considered endangered under the American Endangered Species Act, then fishing would be completely prohibited.

With Atlantic halibut virtually unavailable the Pacific halibut has seen higher demand, sending its prices way up. Fortunately for now, Pacific halibut is likely to be available in the market.

Currently the Atlantic halibut is ‘in a rebuilding plan’ with a target date of 2055 for the stock to be completely rebuilt. Both Atlantic and Pacific halibut are huge fish, weighing up to hundreds of pounds. They also each have very long lives, living up to 50 years (Atlantic) or more (Pacific). On average, the fish take about 10 years to reach reproducing age, so any fish caught before it’s at least that old means the end of future population contribution from that fish. This slow timeline calls for the long term rebuilding plan.

With so many factors affecting its supply and availability, surely the prices will go up. New York City’s Fulton Fish Market, for example, sells the Atlantic variety for more than $45 per pound1

A lean fish, halibut has a mild, sweet tasting white flesh. It’s thicker and firmer than cod. Because the flavor is so gentle, halibut pairs well with bolder seasonings like pesto, lemon juice and basil.

Halibut can be cooked in many ways, including baking, broiling, grilling, sautéing, poaching or steaming. Here we are making a delicious Bullinada, a creamy Catalonian seafood stew infused with saffron. (You can also prepare a great Bullinada with any other firm white fleshed fish like striped sea bass, flounder, haddock, or cod.)

As halibut is a lean meat fish, it is especially suited for soups, as there is no fear of the fish drying out.



  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 8 garlic cloves, finely minced 
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 8 cups fish or vegetable stock
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1¾ pounds new potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch-thick slices
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1¾ pounds skinless fish fillets, such as hake or monkfish
  • ¾ cup prepared mayonnaise
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, plus more for serving
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Cilantro leaves for garnish


  • In a largish pot, heat oil over medium. Add onions, and cook until they begin to soften. 
  • Add half the minced garlic and cook until fragrant and lightly golden.
  • Add the saffron, stock and wine. 
  • Add potatoes, fennel seeds, a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
  • Season fish with salt and pepper and add to the stock.
  • Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until fish is opaque and flaky, 4 to 6 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, remaining garlic and Aleppo pepper. 
  • Slowly stir in a ladle of hot stock into mayonnaise mixture. Gently stir mayonnaise mixture into the simmering soup. 
  • Heat through, without reaching a boil as the mayonnaise will curdle when boiled. 
  • Serve garnished with cilantro leaves.