Brazilian Feast Part II

brazilian mandioca

For Part II of this Brazilian Feast, I’m handing over my favorite mandioca goodness.  Have you ever spied a weird waxy, bark-like covered root at the grocery store and wondered what in the world it is and what in the world to do with it?  It’ll be labeled Yucca Root in your grocery store, but it’ll always be mandioca (mahn-gee-yolk-uh) to me.  This is the root of the Yucca, or Cassava plant.  You want to pick a root that is hard and doesn’t have any obvious dry splitting or mushy parts.  It’s kind of impossible to know what it’ll be like on the inside until you get it home and it’s at the mercy of your cutting board.  You only want to keep and prepare the white parts; discard any discolored (brown, green, yellow, etc.) pieces.

Once you cut away the tough exterior you’ll expose its white flesh, which is hard and solid–you don’t want to eat it raw, that’s for sure.  It’s a starch, so cooking it is very much like a potato–it can be mashed, stewed, fried, boiled–and has a very mild, almost sweet flavor.  My two favorite preparations are frying, of course {think a mildly sweet french fry}, and gently boiling it into a stew {think potato soup-ish} to pour over rice.  Starch on starch?  Well, that’s how the Brazilians did it, and that’s how I love it!

Regardless of the preparation, you’ll need to use a very sharp knife to cut the root into manageable pieces and remove the waxy-barky exterior.  FYI:  Throw the scraps in the trash, not your garbage disposal!  I was constantly warned by Brazilians to remove the fibrous string that runs down the center of the root, because it contains cyanide, but I’ve never read anything verifying the cyanide claim…So maybe they were all poking fun at this blonde American?  Whether or not there’s cyanide, it’s still too tough to eat, so cut it out and discard it.  I usually do this step the same way I cut out the core of a pineapple.

brazilian mandioca 1brazilian mandioca 2

brazilian mandioca 4

{The section below is the part I discard}

brazilian mandioca 3

To fry, I cut up equal-sized “sticks”.  You can make them smaller, if you’d like it to be more like a french fry, but I like the thicker cuts because the flesh has such a different flavor.  To make the Mandioca Stew, I chop it into large chunks.

brazilian mandioca 5

brazilian feast 2

MANDIOCA FRITA {Yucca Root Fries}

  • Servings: 1 large root will make 1 large batch of fries, serving 2-4 adults
  • Difficulty: pretty, easy, although there are a few steps
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  • 1 large yucca root
  • oil, deep enough in the pot to cover and fry the fries
  • salt to taste


  1. Prepare the yucca root by first cutting into thirds.  Cut the waxy bark off and throw away.  One at a time, core each third like coring a pineapple and discard the center core with the fibrous strand.  Cut into equal-sized thick strips for fries.
  2. Place the fries in a large pot and cover with an inch of cold water.  Add 2 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil.  Boil the fries until they are soft–a knife or fork will easily poke them.  Drain and let cool.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large pot of vegetable oil, at least 2-3 inches deep, over medium to medium-high heat.  If you have a candy thermometer keep it on the side of the pot and when the oil reaches 375F, you can start frying.  If you don’t have a thermometer, the oil will be ready when you stick the end of a wooden spoon in the oil and bubbles form around the spoon.  Fry in batches so the oil temperature doesn’t drop too low.  Fry until golden brown and scoop out with a spider or slotted spoon onto a cooling rack with paper towels underneath (this will keep the fries crispier than placing them on just a paper towel).  Sprinkle with salt to taste.

SOPA DE MANDIOCA {Yucca Root Soup}

  • Servings: 1 large root will yield about 4 cups of soup, so 2-4 servings total
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 large yucca root
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Prepare the yucca root by first cutting into thirds.  Cut the waxy bark off and throw away.  One at a time, core each third like coring a pineapple and discard the center core with he fibrous strand.  Dice into equal-sized large chunks.
  2. Coat the bottom of a medium sized pot with olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Saute the onion with salt and pepper to taste until translucent.  Add the yucca root chunks and quickly saute for a few minutes, until all the yucca root is covered and mixed well with the onion.
  3. Add 4 cups water and let come to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and let the soup simmer and reduce, stirring occasionally.  The yucca root will thicken the soup while cooking; you may need to add more water during the cooking process to get the consistency you want.  Ideally, it’ll be a thick stew-like soup to pour over rice.
  4. To serve, you can pour it over rice, or treat it like a potato soup and add your favorite “potato soup toppings”.



Happy Holiday Treats

I debated posting these recipes, as they have nothing to do with a plant-based diet, and are only slightly vegetarian…but they have everything to do with holiday treats!  That and I’ve been asked for the recipes enough times I figure the blog is the place they should be, so everyone can share the magic!  I make these treats every year for the holidays–they mail well, share well, and are always loved and devoured!

hot chocolate mix


  • Servings: makes 8 cups mix
  • Difficulty: super easy
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I usually double the recipe and keep this mix in a tupperware container on my shelf all year long.  This also makes a great mix to share with neighbors for the holidays!  Adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.


  • 3 cups dry milk powder
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups cocoa powder
  • 2 cups Special Dark Cocoa (I’ve only found this in Hershey’s Brand, in 16oz containers)
  • 1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips or finely chopped white chocolate
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Whisk together all ingredients in a large bowl.  Working in batches, pulse the ingredients in a food processor or blender until the chocolate is finely ground.  Store in an airtight container.
  2. For hot chocolate, stir 3 tablespoons of the mix in a mug of hot milk.

sweet potato ice cream



  • Servings: makes 1 quart
  • Difficulty: medium, due to time and multiple phases to make ice cream. But it's your very own gourmet homemade ice cream!
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Adapted from Spicy Southern Kitchen


  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 cup pureed sweet potato, chilled
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup marshmallow fluff
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4-1/2 cup granulated sugar


  1. Prepare sweet potato puree by baking one large sweet potato.  Pull off the potato skin and puree the potato flesh in the blender.  This step is best done the day before making the ice cream so the potato will cool in the fridge overnight.
  2. Separate the eggs, putting the egg yolks in a medium heatproof bowl.  You can freeze the egg yolks for another use, or simply discard.
  3. Place a candy thermometer on the side of a medium pot.  Put both sugars, cream, half and half, salt and cinnamon in a the pot and heat until the mix just scalds and there are tiny bubbles around the perimeter of the pot (it’ll be roughly 100F).
  4. Using a handheld mixer, whisk the egg yolks and gradually ladle the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks while whisking.  This will temper the egg yolks and avoid having scrambled eggs for ice cream.  Keep whisking the eggs while adding 5-6 ladlefuls of the heated cream mix.  Once it looks soupy and the eggs are well-tempered, add the entire mixture into the cream mixture in the pot.  Continue to whisk the mixture while cooking to 180 degrees.  Remove from heat and pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl.  Fill another large bowl with ice and the bowl with the ice cream mixture to cool on the ice.  Once room temperature, place in the fridge and cool at least two hours or overnight.
  5. Once cooled, pour 4 cups ice cream mixture in the blender, one cup chilled sweet potato puree, and 3 teaspoons vanilla in the blender and mix until smooth.
  6. Freeze mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.
  7. While ice cream is freezing, make the candied pecans.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan and add the pecans.  Stir while pecans are toasting, and gradually add the sugar, spoonful at a time, until it no longer melts into the butter and remains crystallized on the pecans.  Once completely “sugared”, pour the pecans into a bowl and wait until ice cream is made.
  8. Once ice cream is ready, scoop some ice cream into your ice cream container, then add a couple small spoonfuls of marshmallow fluff, then sprinkle pecans.  Continue layering ice cream, fluff, and pecans so when you scoop some ice cream to serve, it’ll be nicely swirled throughout.

pecan bars


  • Servings: makes about 3 dozen
  • Difficulty: pretty easy, but there are a few steps
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From Martha Stewart’s Cookies.  To make even more delectable, dip the bars in chocolate.


  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus two tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (8 oz) pecan halves
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 375F.  Make crust: Put butter and brown sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Mix in salt.  Add flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until fully incorporated after each addition.  Continue mixing until dough begins to come together in large clumps.
  2. Press dough about 1/4 inch thick unto a 9×13-inch baking pan.  Pierce the dough with a fork.  Chill until firm, about 20 minutes.  Bake until golden brown, 18-20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Reduce oven to 325F.
  3. Make filling:  Place butter, brown sugar, honey, granulated sugar, and heavy cream in a saucepan over high heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 1 minute.  Remove pan from heat; stir in salt, nuts, and vanilla.  Pour filling into the cooled crust.
  4. Bake until filling bubbles, 15-20 minutes.  Carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Run a paring knife around edges of the pan and invert onto a cooling rack.  Invert again onto a cutting board.  Use a sharp knife to cut into 1×3-inch bars.  Bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

peanut brittle 1


  • Servings: about 2 1/2 pounds
  • Difficulty: medium
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Adapted from The Complete Guide to Country Cooking.  I have made this with peanuts as well as mixed nuts, and the results are always gourmet.  To make them even more special, dip them in chocolate.  Note: I have used rice syrup with great results, but I’ve never tried a vegan butter substitute.  


  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup (or rice syrup)
  • 1/4 cup butter (no substitutes), cubed
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups salted dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. In preparation:  Grease two large baking sheets with sides and keep warm in a 200F oven.  Combine baking soda, 1 teaspoon water and vanilla in s small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a medium pot, combine sugar, 1 cup water and corn (or rice) syrup.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until a candy thermometer reads 240F (soft-ball stage).
  3. Stir in butter, salt and peanuts; heat and stir until the mixture reaches 300F (hard-crack stage).
  4. Remove pot from the heat; vigorously stir in baking soda vanilla mixture.  Quickly pour half the mixture over each cookie sheet.  Let cool completely before breaking into pieces.



Giving Thanks Feast

When Americans celebrate the most American Holiday, Thanksgiving, my mind honestly doesn’t rest on turkey or pumpkin pie or pilgrims or Native Americans or large family gatherings with the awkward what-are-you-thankful-for go around the table {What?  It isn’t awkward for your family?…Please tell me the secret}.  I instead go back to my two International Experiences.  I look at these experiences as the two times in my life when I felt supremely grateful for all that was being given me, and the two times in my life that were the most educating, refining, clarifying, and soul-searching-humbling.

First was Italy.  I knew I wasn’t ready for college right out of high school, and long story short, I ended up in Italy.  I nannied for an Italian family; traveled; taught English; learned Italian.  I turned 18 while I was in Italy, and acutely felt all those growing pains that accompany coming of age.  It was an odd sort of existence because I felt so isolated and alone but at the same time had a tight group of American, Canadian, and Italian families that reached out to this lost girl who was trying to find herself.  I cannot express how deeply indebted I feel to the families that housed me, fed me, gave me their children to tend, their houses to sit, used their time, energy, and fuel to pick me up from a remote area where I was nannying to bring me to church and spend the rest of Sunday with their families.  I was there for only six or seven months, but how deeply those months shaped me.

Second was Brazil.  A few years later when I turned in my papers to serve a mission for the LDS Church, I was convinced I would be returning to Italy.  They ask if you speak any other languages, and places you’ve lived.  I very excitedly filled in those blanks: “I lived in Italy; I speak Italian; I teach Italian at a Community College.”  Imagine my surprise when I got my papers back, being called to serve in São Paulo, Brazil.  And so I spent 18 months speaking, living, breathing, loving Brazil.  Brazilians are so inherently and deeply loving.  Brazil, and the people of Brazil, swept me up in their arms and taught me how to love, and with that love I was finally equipped to start my journey of healing my broken parts.  I will always be thankful.

And, ironically, I was more culinarily influenced in Brazil than Italy.  Missionaries live on a strict monthly budget, and to help compensate, members of the congregation of the area volunteer to feed the missionaries.  I was so touched, moved, and humbled each lunchtime spent with these families.  There were a number of families that signed up to feed the missionaries on a weekly basis, despite the burden that placed on their budgets or food stores.  I’m sure they rationed their rice and beans all week so they could make extra portions for four or more guests {mostly tall, hungry American young men who ate way more than a Brazilian}.

Rice and beans are the staple.  Food is regional, so where I was, onions and garlic were used to flavor the rice and beans.  Every house used the same ingredients, but every bowl of rice and beans we sat down to tasted different!  I asked every mom of the house their recipe, and they all–every single time–threw back their heads and laughed at this silly blond American, “Recipe?!”

One mom made us a delicious “Tomate com quiabo e frango” {Tomato with okra and chicken}, and when I asked her for the recipe, she laughed and looked at me like I’d just asked her to lick my foot.  “There is no recipe!”  She said.  “Well, how about the ingredients?”  She shrugged, slightly bewildered by my request.  What she finally wrote for me consisted of one line: “Tomato.  Okra.  Onion.  Garlic.  Chicken.”  I have tried a number of times in the almost 14 years since being home, but I have not been able to replicate that delicious dish.  Despite having the recipe.

So.  After my very roundabout introduction to this Giving Thanks Feast, if it were up to me, every fourth Thursday of November, I would make a feast using Brazilian-inspired ingredients.  This feast represents abundance, love, richness of life, simplicity, humility–everything a Giving Thanks Feast should represent.  I ❤ this feast.

brazilian feast ingredients

A few hours later…

brazilian feast 2

brazilian feast 1

There are a lot of things going on here, so we’re going to take a few recipes at a time.  The feast consists of: Rice and Beans, Fried Mandioca, Collards, Pão de Queijo, Mandioca Stew, Simple Salad.  We’ll start with the Rice and Beans and the Pão de Queijo.

For the Rice and Beans, I am a bit old-fashioned and soak the beans for 24 hours, and use 8-10 hours to cook the beans in a Big Pot.  If you use dry beans, soaking for at least 8 hours is recommended, but I prefer a full 24 hours; I think it makes the beans have a creamier texture.  Ok, the truth:  I am mostly a ninny when it comes to trying new things, and a pressure cooker quite frankly scares me.  A pressure cooker would obviously cut down on your cook time, but I’ve never tried one, so I can’t even begin to advise your pressure cooker bean cookery.  So the recipe reflects the time and effort into cooking beans the old-fashioned way.  Let me know if your pressure cooker speaks to you, and what it says on my behalf.

brazilian rice and beans 1brazilian rice and beans 2brazilian rice and beans 3And the Pão de Queijo {AKA:  light and fluffy bits of airiness that fell from the heavens} is so simple to pull together with this recipe.  You just blend everything together in the blender, bake, and eat straight from the oven.  A family in the first city I served in whipped these up for us every time we visited them.  The mom did not give me an odd look when I asked for the recipe, but said, “Look, Sister, it’s so easy!  Just this and that, see?”  It took a little while for me to get this recipe down with American-ingredient equivalents, but I finally got it as close as possible to how I remember them tasting.  You will love these scrumptiously edible, delectable, addict-able popover-like-roll-breads.

brazilian pao de queijo ingredients

brazilian pao de queijo 1brazilian pao de queijo 2brazilian feast 2


  • Servings: serves a party (although I have frozen the beans for two different meals, and they defrost really well)
  • Difficulty: difficult-ish, just because of the time required
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  • 2 cups beans, soaked in 8 cups water at least 8 hours, overnight/24 hours preferred (pinto are traditional, but you could also use black beans…but then it would have to turn into a feijoada…)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • Loads of water, at least 15-20 cups


  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced


  1. Coat a large pot with olive oil and heat over medium to medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and salt and pepper to taste and saute until the onion is translucent.  Drain your soaking beans and add them to the pot to saute for another 5-10 minutes.  Add enough water until the beans are covered by 1-2 inches.  Let come to a boil and lower heat to medium.
  2. Let the beans cook, uncovered, and the liquid reduce until you can see the beans, then add water to cover the beans by 1-2 inches, and continue the process, cooking, reducing, adding water, etc., stirring and talking to your beans lovingly.  This whole process will take a good 8-10 hours.  After about 6-7 hours, you will notice the liquid has magically turned from watery beans into a sort of thick almost-stew-like consistency.  This is when you’ll add your last amount of water, and let it cook down just enough until you have beans and bean “gravy” to serve with your rice.
  3. To prepare the rice, first saute the onions, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste over medium heat until the onion is translucent.  Then add rice and water and cook the rice according to package directions.

PÃO DE QUEIJO DE LIQUIDIFICADOR {Pão de Queijo in the Blender}

  • Servings: makes 24 in a mini muffin tin
  • Difficulty: super easy and super addict-able
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  • 1 cup half-and-half (makes them fluffier than just milk)
  • 3/4 cup oil (olive, vegetable, canola all work equally well)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups tapioca flour/starch (find down the gluten-free aisle in any grocery store)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup powdered parmesan cheese


  1. Mix all the ingredients in a blender in the order listed.  Blend until fully mixed.  The batter should look like thin pancake batter or crepe batter.
  2. Generously grease mini muffin tins and pour the batter until just to the top of the muffin tins.
  3. Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes until just golden brown around the edges.  Don’t overtake or they will be crunchy and tough instead of soft.  Best served hot from the oven.

Coconut Lime Sweet Potato Curry with Forbidden Rice and Pakora Vegetables

Do you have any sweet potatoes hanging out in your pantry that didn’t make it into any buttery-baked-marshmallow-topped-Thanksgiving casseroles?  Have you had enough leftovers and are you in the mood for something slightly…new?  Try mixing coconut, lime, sweet potato, cilantro…are you catching my drift?  You are going to love this rich-and-light-at-the-same-time Coconut Lime Sweet Potato Curry.  Serving it with forbidden (black) rice adds a perfect nuttiness to the dish.  And if you want to add an extra touch, just whip up some Pakora Vegetables on the side.  Seriously.  They’re whip-uppable.

This curry is adapted from Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries, a pretty serious Indian Encyclopedia Cookbook. This is an impressive 800+ page book filled with so many amazing curry recipes, as promised, and so, so much more–it’s a great read on Indian culture and cuisine (you read cookbooks like novels, too, right?).  If you want authentic, deep, complex Indian flavors at your fingertips, this book needs to be on your shelf.

Take note–authentic, deep, complex Indian flavors require authentic, deep, complex Indian ingredients.  Iyer also emphasizes the importance of procuring spices whole, when possible.  He devotes an entire section to educating the reader about spice blends and pastes, and how just one spice can offer at least eight different flavors, depending on the preparation used (toasted, ground, soaked, etc.).  I am lucky enough to have an Indian Specialty store within 20 minutes of where I live.  You can find most of the ingredients at local grocery stores, but there is an occasional ingredient that will be “specialty” (like asafetida in this recipe).  You can either omit it, or try and find a similar ingredient you have access to.

For example, asafetida is the ground root of an herb indigenous to India and the surrounding mountainous regions.  On its own, its odor is quite…odorous (to be nice), but when it’s mixed in with a curry or other sauce, it adds a more rounded savoriness, and a fuller flavor to a vegetarian dish (as described to me by my Indian Specialty Store Owner).  I’ve read it delivers a flavor similar to leeks, so you could in theory add some sliced and sautéed leeks to the recipe.  This recipe calls for such a small amount (1/2 teaspoon), that you would probably do better to just omit it.  You won’t miss it with the sweet potatoes, cilantro, coconut, lime…this dish is sort of an Indian-Caribbean Fusion with so much going on!

coconut lime sweet potato curry 2

coconut lime sweet potato curry


  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium, two pots will be going at the same time!
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Adapted from Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries


  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and sliced in 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds (or 2 teaspoons ground cumin)
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafetida (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2-1 jalapeño, seeded, ribbed, and finely diced (optional, depending on how much heat you want for your curry)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 15oz can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • Juice and zest of 1 large lime
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup forbidden rice, prepared according to package instructions


  1. Prepare the forbidden rice according to package directions.  While the rice is cooking, prepare the coconut lime curry.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the cumin, asafetida, and turmeric, and cook, stirring, until you can smell the spices, about 10 seconds.  Add the potatoes and jalapeño, and salt and pepper to taste, until the potatoes are coated with the spices.
  3. Pour coconut milk, shredded coconut, and 1 1/2 cups water to the pot and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to low, cover, and cook until the potatoes are velvety smooth, about 20-30 minutes.
  4. Stir in the lime juice and zest, cilantro leaves, and black beans.  Add 1/2 cup more water if you need to thin out the sauce.
  5. Serve with more chopped cilantro.


  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy, it's batter-dipped and fried veggies--yum!
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Directly from Iyer’s 660 Curries Cookbook


  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 1/4 cup rice flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons chaat masala, or just salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4-6 cups of varied sliced vegetables (vegetables that work really well are cauliflower and broccoli florets, large slices of sweet onion, large slices of green bell pepper)


  1. To make the batter, mix the two flours, cornstarch, baking soda, chaat masala/salt, cayenne, and turmeric in a medium-size bowl.  Pour in about 1/2 cup warm water, whisking the ingredients together to form a thick better.  Add more warm water, 1/4 cup at a time, whisking after each addition, to make a smooth, thick batter that coats a spoon.
  2. Pour oil to a depth of 2-3 inches into a pot.  heat the oil over medium heat until a candy or deep-frying thermometer register 350 degrees F.
  3. Prepare a cooling rack with a few sheets of paper towels underneath.  After frying, the vegetable will rest on the cooling rack and won’t get mushy.  Once the oil is ready, drop a few of the vegetables into the batter, completely coating each piece.  Carefully drop the coated vegetables in the hot oil and fry until golden brown and crisp all over.  Remove them with a slotted spoon or a spider and let them rest on the cooling rack.



Fav Red Sauce

I remember a few months ago starting to panic because I was making pizza for dinner, but had run out of red sauce from my freezer stash, and didn’t have any store-bought sauce in the pantry, and no car to go to the store.  And then I stopped dead in my tracks.  “Wait a minute!  Canned tomatoes?  Check.  Onions?  Check.  Garlic?  Check.  Herbs?  Check.  Well, then, get crackin’!”

Homemade red sauce isn’t too hard to pull together, and makes your meal so homey and warm.  It seems as though everyone has their favorite type of sauce–spicy, zippy, herby, and using their favorite herbs and spices.  This is a very basic red sauce–a great base–and if you prefer zippy or spicy, feel free to add your flare to the sauce!

If you don’t have access to fresh tomatoes, the one tip I would give is to use quality canned tomatoes.  I’ve used the on-sale-store-brand-99-cent cans, and it’s ok, but if you can splurge and get the Cento San Marzano brand, your dinner will be ah-mazing.  The Cento tomatoes are sweet and rich, not as tinny as other canned tomatoes, so your sauce will reflect that flavor.  {My husband once asked if we could just plant the San Marzano Breed of tomato in our garden.  I guess we could if we lived in Italy.  Pompeii, to be exact.  San Marzano is a region in Italy downwind from Mt. Vesuvius, so the soil has been enriched over time from volcanic eruption(s), making the tomatoes the benefiters.}   red sauce 3Let everything simmer together in the pot for 30-60 minutes, blend with an immersion blender, or a “normal” blender, and voila–everyone will think you slaved over a hot stove for ages.

red sauce 2

red sauce 1


  • Servings: makes 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from The Italian Dish Blog


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano plum tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves, or 2-3 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water


  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot and saute onions and garlic with salt and pepper to taste until the onions are soft and translucent, about 7-10 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and break up with your spoon.  Add the herbs, sugar, and half cup water, and reduce heat to low.  Let simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
  2. Puree the sauce in the pot with an immersion blender, or scoop into a blender and puree until desired consistency.


Fav Pizza Dough Recipe

Homemade pizza dough is a cinch with 6 simple ingredients and an hour of time on your hands.  The secret with any yeast dough is giving your yeast time to bloom, and not adding your salt too quickly.  Sugar lets yeast grow and bloom; salt deactivates the yeast’s chemical reaction.  If you want a fluffy, crispy, crunchy crust {yes, pizza dough can be all three at the same time!}, take your time and give it some love…like any good thing in life.

pizza dough

pizza dough helper


  • Servings: makes three 15-inch pizza pies (or lots and lots of little ones)
  • Difficulty: medium, for the time to let rise and bake
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Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking Cookbook


  • 5 teaspoons yeast
  • 2 cups very warm water (technically between 105-115 degrees Fahrenheit; too hot will kill the yeast, too cold won’t activate it)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4-5 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt


  1. Put yeast in a large mixing bowl and pour the warm water over top.  Sprinkle the sugar overtop and let it rest and “bloom”, about 5-7 minutes.  The yeast will be fully bloomed when it’s foamy and bubbly.
  2. Add the olive oil.  Add 3 cups of flour, then salt, and stir with a wooden spoon until a thick paste has formed.  Let rest for about 5 minutes, then add flour, half cup at a time, until the dough forms a rough ball.  Dump out on a floured surface, and continue adding flour, a spoonful at a time, while kneading, until a smooth, soft dough forms.  There is no exact measurement of flour to add; too much and your dough will be dry and non-pliable, too little and it’ll be too sticky.  Add just enough so the dough is soft and smooth, and slightly moist to the touch without sticking to and coming off on your fingers.  Knead the dough for about 7-10 minutes, and form into a ball.
  3. Coat your large mixing bowl with olive oil, gently place the dough ball in the bowl, and drizzle more olive oil overtop.  Cover with plastic wrap, or the lid to the bowl–just placed lightly on top, not sealed, and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled, about 45-60 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you are using a pizza stone, place it in the oven.  Divide the dough in thirds for large pizzas, or equal-sized smaller balls.  You can use a rolling pin or your hands to spread the pizza dough into a circle shape.  If you are using a pizza stone, prepare your pizza on a floured surface (semolina or all-purpose) you can use to transfer to the hot pizza stone.  Top with desired toppings and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is crispy and brown.