O is for Oaxacan Roasted Fish

Oaxaca is the south western region of Mexico, bordering on the Pacific Ocean. And home to a food culture that sets it apart from the rest of Mexico, or for that matter, any other part of the world. What is noteworthy about Oaxacan cuisine is that it has more or less stuck true to its roots and origins, despite the outside influences. It is not surprising that many indigenous people here take pride in the fact that they never have been conquered by any European power and their food ways are untouched by European ingredients or cooking methods. In many parts of Oaxaca, wood stoves earthenware pots are still the norm. Still, maybe due to exactly for the same reasons, Oaxaca today has become a global foodie travel destination, with an increasing number of luxurious restaurants opening up, catering to global tastes.

Known as the home of the seven moles (or the thousand, according to some), Oaxaca makes the best of the diverse varieties of chiles cultivated locally. Ancho, poblano, pasilla, chilaca, chile negro are just a few examples. Ingredients are matched and paired with the chilies to produce complex dishes which sometimes take hours to make.

Though concentrating on ingredients like corn, beans, chocolate, wild herbs, and local cheese, Oaxacan cuisine has its share of meat, poultry and fish. The fish we are focusing on today, is roasted in the oven, but it can also be grilled.

The mole like marinade is cooked first which gives it an amazing complexity and depth of flavor. The marinade is slathered on the fish, inside and out, before roasting it in a high heat oven.

I selected a red branzino to make this dish. Any fish that is fairly firm fleshed and of medium size can be used. Also, selecting a fish with not too many bones will be good.

Having decided to clean and prepare the fish myself, I opted to cut the fish head off. It can be kept on, if you prefer with only the insides removed.

Remember to be careful with the salt, as the fish sauce used in the marinade contains a fair amount of salt already. Letting the fish marinate for 20 minutes greatly enhances the flavor. 

I have not tried this recipe for anything other than a whole fish so far. Maybe one of these days, I’ll try the recipe for a large piece of boneless fish.

You can combine this fish with anything from a pasta salad or a green salad to a bowl of cooked rice. 

O is for Oaxacan Roasted Fish

Difficulty:IntermediateServings:4 servings



  1. Place the ancho chilies in a bowl and add the fish sauce and apple cider vinegar to the bowl. Soak for 20 minutes.
  2. Pre-heat over to 400 F.
  3. Powder the black pepper, cumin, cloves, and oregano together.
  4. In a food processor or blender, grind together all marinade ingredients except the salt: the soaked ancho chilies with the soaking liquid, garlic, the powdered spices, and sugar. Form a smooth paste, adding a little extra water if required.
  5. Transfer this paste to a sauce pan and bring to a boil on medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes.
  6. Taste for seasoning and add salt if required.
  7. Prepare the fish by cleaning, washing and drying it with paper towels.
  8. Slather this paste on the cleaned fish inside and outside. Let sit for 20 minutes.
  9. Prepare a baking sheet with aluminum foil on is and place the fish on the baking sheet.
  10. Roast on the middle rack of the oven, for 8 to 10 minutes per side, turning the fish over half way through the process.
  11. Serve immediately with a salad on the side.
Keywords:Dinner, Fish, Oaxaca, Spicy

J is for Jollof Rice

Jollof rice is a spicy aromatic rice preparation popular in many parts of West Africa. The dish takes its name from the Jolof empire that ruled around the Senegal region, in the 14th century. 

From West Africa, its fame has spread everywhere. Jollof food festivals have been held in cities like Washington DC and Toronto. 22 August is World Jollof Day, celebrated since 2015, evidenced by the huge number of posts on social media.

Though there are versions of Jollof rice popular in almost all countries in West Africa, they differ considerably from each other. The versions in Ghana and Nigeria, prominent Jollof rice consumers, use a different type of rice to start with. While the Ghanaian version uses the fragrant basmati rice, the Nigerians use long grain rice. Also, while eastern spices like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon are used in Ghana, the Nigerian version relies on tomato paste, habanero and red peppers, and thyme for flavor. I personally cannot imagine using basmati rice, which has a flavor of its own, for such a flavorful dish, and prefer long grain rice for Jollof rice. Oh my, with that have I joined the Jollof Wars? I’m not kidding… there is a Jollof war going on (#jollofwars) between Ghana and Nigeria fought all over social media, which has been joined by celebrities on both sides. Seemingly, it was started in 2014 when a Twitter user used the hashtag to compare the versions prepared by his mother and girlfriend. Read all about the fun controversy here on BBC – Jollof Wars: Who does West Africa’s iconic rice dish best?

The main flavor base of the Nigerian Jollof rice is the obe ata (pepper sauce), with the signature ingredient habanero (also called scotch bonnet) pepper. I’ve discovered that this is a handy sauce to flavor many other vegetables or meat as well.

The bright orange color of the Jollof rice comes from the red palm oil, made from the fruit of the African oil palm, commonly used in West Africa. 

Traditionally, Jollof rice is cooked on the stove top; this version (adapted from NY Times Cooking) finishes the cooking in the oven for a perfectly cooked non-sticky rice. 

Jollof rice is usually served with a side of meat or fish and fried plantains. You can also serve it by itself, accompanied by a salad and potato chips.

J is for Jollof Rice

Difficulty:IntermediateServings:6 servings


    For Obe Ata

  • For Jollof Rice


  1. Grind together all the ingredients for the obe ata (if required, in batches), except the cooking oil.
  2. Heat the cooking oil in a pan and add the ground spices to the pan.
  3. Cook over medium heat till the sauce has thickened and reduced to almost half, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. In a large oven proof pot, heat the cooking oil.
  6. Add half of the thinly sliced onions to the pot and fry till golden. Drain and set aside.
  7. Add the remaining onions to the pot and sauté till transparent.
  8. Add the minced garlic and continue to sauté for a minute.
  9. Add the tomato paste, turmeric and paprika and continue to cook.
  10. Add the drained rice to the pot and stir to coat, for a minute or two.
  11. Add the obe ata, thyme and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper.
  12. Pour in the stock and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil.
  13. Cover with a lid and place on the middle rack of the pre-heated oven. Cook for 35 minutes.
  14. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Open the pot and fluff the rice with a fork.
  15. Serve with a side dish of meat or fish and fried plantains. Or just with a salad.
Keywords:Jollof Rice, Obe Ata, Rice, Spicy

G is for Gaeng Massaman

Gaeng Massaman (massaman curry) comes from Thailand, unique among the varieties of Thai curries we are all familiar with. What makes this dish unique is the spice mix which consists of ingredients like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, mace, and nutmeg, none of them native to Thailand. 

Historically, gaeng massaman was introduced to Thailand by traders from the Middle East, in the 18th century. The name massaman has its origin in the word ‘musalman’ referring to the traders who were muslims. As part of their travels for trade, some of them settled in Thailand and gaeng massaman became popular there.

The distinctive component of this recipe is the massaman paste. Though you can buy bottled massaman paste in eastern grocery stores, I decided to make my own. It is not a difficult process; getting all the ingredients together might be the hardest part.

Garlic and shallots are roasted before they are ground into the paste. You can do this roasting over the grill, in the oven or on the stove top. I used a grill on the stove top to roast them.

The roasted garlic and shallots are ground together with the dry toasted whole spices, ginger, and lemongrass. It is recommended that these be ground in a stone mortar and pestle, but believe me, you can do an equally good job with a Cuisinart. 

Even with the very spicy paste, gaeng massaman has an overall creamy texture due to the addition of coconut milk and crushed peanuts.

Gaeng massaman can be made with chicken, beef, lamb, or mutton, chicken being the most common. I have opted to make this version with beef.

Once the gaeng is put together, the rest is easy as the long slow cooking is done in the oven. 

You can serve gaeng massaman with cooked rice or rotis (flat bread).

G is for Gaeng Massaman

Difficulty:IntermediateServings:4 servings


    Massaman paste

  • Gaeng


    Massaman paste

  1. In a medium hot pan, lightly toast the dry spices, adding them one by one based on size. You will start with chilis and end with cumin. When cooled, powder them using a grinder.
  2. Roast the head of garlic and the shallots on a hot grill or in the oven, till char marks appear on them. When cooled peel them.
  3. In a food processor, add the lemon grass and ginger pieces and process till smooth. Add the spice powder, garlic and shallots, with salt to taste, and continue processing till a smooth paste is formed.
  4. Gaeng

  5. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. Keep a large pot on the stove and add the top creamy part of the coconut milk to the pot. Heat the pot on medium heat.
  7. Add the massaman paste to the pot and mix with the coconut milk and keep stirring.
  8. When the mix starts to turn dry, add the beef pieces to the pot, coating the beef with the paste.
  9. Cook stirring, till the beef is browned, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  10. Add to the pot: remaining coconut milk, potatoes, onion, cinnamon, tamarind paste, fish sauce, all but 1 tbsp of crushed peanuts and 2 cups of water.
  11. Season with salt, and bring to a boil.
  12. Cover the pot with a fitting lid and place in the pre-heated oven.
  13. Cook in the oven for 1 and 1/2 hours. Check for doneness, and if the beef is not yet tender, cook for another 30 minutes.
  14. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tbsp of crushed peanuts on top and serve with cooked rice or rotis.
Keywords:Curry, Massaman, Spicy, Thai

Green Apple and Potato Salad with Arugula and Goat Cheese

The name says it all… potato, green apple, arugula, goat cheese… what more could you ask for, in a salad? But there is still more… roasted walnuts and a tangy, spicy dressing to top it all! Honestly, this is one of the easiest and tastiest of salads that I have ever made or eaten!

Though any variety of potatoes can be used in this salad, red potatoes have proved to be the best choice. Also, crispy, tangy granny smith apples go very well with the red potatoes.

Arugula is my favourite salad leaf. Not ‘one of’, but ‘the’! Sometimes I keep some in a dish and keep munching on the leaves as I go about my cooking. This lovely green with a peppery flavour is full of phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals!

Goat cheese is the perfect counterfoil for the sharpness of arugula. Add some walnut for crunch, and you got an absolute winner.

A simple lemon juice and olive oil dressing with a tiny bit of honey is kicked up with crushed cumin and a tiny pinch of red chili flakes. Shake together the lot, and the fabulous dressing is ready in two minutes!

This salad is assembled layer by layer starting with the boiled potato slices. After placing each layer, add some of the dressing on top the layer and continue with the next layer.

Potatoes, apple pieces, arugula, goat cheese, and walnuts at the top.

And end with a drizzle of the remaining dressing.

It’s not a good idea to keep this salad for long – in or out of the refrigerator. So you should keep all the ingredients ready – even make the dressing – and assemble it just before serving.



Green Apple and Potato Salad with Arugula and Goat Cheese
Recipe type: Salad
  • 4 medium sized red potatoes
  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 1 cup arugula leaves
  • ¾ cup goat cheese
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp red chili flakes
  1. Boil the potatoes in salted water, with the skin on and keep aside.
  2. Cut the apple into bite sized pieces.
  3. Dry roast the walnuts till they start to turn golden brown around the edges.
  4. Mix together the lemon juice, olive oil, and honey.
  5. Crush the cumin coarsely and add to the dressing mix, along with the red chili flakes and mix thoroughly.
  6. Slice the boiled potatoes thickly and place on a salad platter.
  7. Using a pastry brush, brush the dressing on the potato slices.
  8. Add the apple pieces, arugula and goat cheese bits, adding some dressing after each layer.
  9. Toss the roasted walnuts on top and drizzle the remaining dressing over them.
  10. Serve the salad at room temperature. Yum!