keito potato

Congolese Romaine-Lettuce Stew with Peanut Sauce
July 28, 2012, 7:07 pm
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I recently spent an afternoon cooking with some Congolese friends Florimond and Gisele, and this lettuce and peanut stew blew me away.  When I took the first bite, I almost got tears in my eyes because I was so overwhelmed by the fantastic flavor.

I had never heard of stewing romaine lettuce.  They explained to me that while spinach and other dark greens are often used in DR Congo, romaine lettuce is imported as a delicacy, and is revered for the delicate flavor and texture.

The recipe calls for cherry tomatoes, but you can substitute large tomatoes.


3 heads of romaine lettuce

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 of a head of celery (several stalks)

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

1 bunch of scallions

10 cherry tomatoes (or 2 large tomatoes)

1 can of tomato paste

3/4 cup to 1 cup of natural peanut butter

garlic salt to taste


Wash the romaine lettuce leaves.  Slice the leaves cross-wise, then wash them again.  Place the lettuce in a large pot with 3-4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Continue simmering for about 20 minutes. 

In the meantime, prepare the rest of the vegetables.  Slice the onion.  Mince the garlic cloves.  Chop the celery.  Slice the scallions in 1/2-inch pieces.  Chop the cherry tomatoes.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet.  When hot, add the onions, garlic, celery, scallions, and cherry tomatoes.  Let it sit a few minutes before stirring.  Then stir, and add the can of tomato paste.  

Add the peanut butter and stir again.  The peanut butter is stiff, so you will need to stir with some pressure.  

Add 1-can of water, using the tomato paste can to measure.  Cook a few minutes in the skillet, then add the sauce to the lettuce.  Stir, add a few shakes of garlic salt.  Don’t cover the pot, so that the lettuce will keep its color.  

Let it simmer about another 30 minutes.  Taste for salt at the end.  Serve with rice or fufu.

Spinach, Neon Rice, and Black Bean Casserole to use as a Filling for Burritos or Soft Tacos
June 26, 2012, 2:07 pm
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My mom found this recipe over 10 years ago in the LA Times Food Section, and my family often makes this for casual summer meals with guests.  She actually altered the recipe and submitted it to the Simply in Season cookbook in the Mennonite community, and got it published in the cookbook under her name.  This is a casserole built from contrasting layers of garlicky spinach, neon-yellow rice pilaf, and spicy black beans.  The casserole is used as a filling for vegetarian burritos or soft tacos.  The components of the casserole come together in a snap.  While it’s in the oven, you can prep the toppings which can include avocado, cotija cheese, lime wedges, salsa, fresh herbs.


For the Rice:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion

1 garlic clove

3/4 cup rice

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

1  1/2 cup vegetable broth

1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Spinach:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

20 ounces fresh spinach

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For the Black Beans:

2  15-ounce cans of black beans

1 tablespoon chili powder

For assembly:

1 cup grated jack cheese


Optional toppings:

lime wedges

cotija cheese

sour cream or Mexican crema

avocado or guacamole

salsa or hot sauce

cilantro leaves


For the rice:

Mince the onion and garlic.  Heat the olive oil in a saucepan.  Add the onion and garlic to the saucepan and saute until soft.  Meanwhile rinse and drain the rice in several changes of water.  Add the rice to the saucepan, along with the turmeric, vegetable broth, and salt.  Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, covered, until the liquid is absorbed, around 15-18 minutes.

For the spinach:

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet.  When hot, add the garlic.  After a few seconds, add the spinach a few handfuls at a time.  When the spinach wilts and reduces in size, add another handful, and repeat until all of the spinach fits into the skillet.  Cook, stirring often, until all of the spinach is wilted.  Add the salt and pepper.

For the beans:

Rinse and drain the canned beans very well in a colander.  Combine the black beans and chili powder in a medium mixing bowl.  Mix well.

For the assembly:

Spoon half of the garlicky spinach in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish.  Layer the neon rice pilaf on top, then the beans, then the remaining spinach.  Top with the jack cheese.  At this point, the casserole could be made in advance and refrigerated overnight.

Bake at 375F for about 45 minutes, covered with a lid.

Meanwhile, heat the tortillas on a griddle or skillet on the stove.  You can also use this time to prep the various garnishes in small bowls to be served at the table.

Greek Potatoes Stewed with Kalamata Olives
June 3, 2012, 11:21 am
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When you slowly simmer good olives into a stew, they infuse the stew with a saltiness that is more complex than simple salt.  This dish is simple, delicious, and possibly addictive.  My vegetarian cooking group put together a huge Greek meal last night, and ate a long extended table in the backyard.  This was one of the favorite dishes, and the serving dish was practically licked clean.

The recipe comes from Diane Kochilas’ cookbook The Greek Vegetarian, which has become one of my most favorite and beat-up cookbooks.  Kochilas says that this dish is inspired by a classic dish from Zakintohos.  I’ve made this stew a few times over the years, and I plan to make it several times over the summer before I move to China, since olives will be harder to find there!

photo by Joyce Hiendarto


2  1/2 pounds medium-sized potatoes

1/3 cup olive oil

2 garlic cloves

1  1/2 cups kalamata olives

2-3 cups canned plum tomatoes, with their juices

1 teaspoon dried oregano

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Peel and finely chop the garlic.  Peel and wash the potatoes.  Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, and cut each half into four slices, each about 1/2-inch thick.  Drain the olives and pit them.

In a stewing pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the potatoes and stir to coat.  Toss in the garlic and stir. Add the olives, and stir and saute for 2-3 minutes.  The olives will break apart a little and the dish will change color and darken.

photo by Joyce Hiendarto

To break up the canned tomatoes, grate them with a large-tooth cheese grated.  Add the tomatoes to the pot and stir.

photo by Joyce Hiendarto

Lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer the potatoes for 25-30 minutes, until they are very tender and the sauce is thick.  In my experience, it may take a little longer than this for the potatoes to become completely soft.  Add a little water during cooking if it seems as though the potatoes are in danger of burning.  

Just before removing the pot from the heat, add the oregano and season to taste with salt and pepper.  This stew would be good with some feta as a garnish.  Here you can see the potato and kalamata stew served at my vegetarian cooking group alongside a slice of spanakopita, or “Spartacus” as my friends were calling it, as well as an arugula, orange, and wrinkled olive salad.

photo by Joyce Hiendarto

Belgian Endive Tart
May 2, 2012, 12:01 pm
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This tart is in the same family as quiche, but more exquisite.  Puff pastry is topped with caramelized Belgian endives, quiche-style egg custard, gruyere cheese, and parsley.  It was the main dish at my vegetarian cooking group’s Belgian meal this weekend.  Belgian endives are slightly bitter in a refreshing way.  When they are caramelized they are still slightly bitter, which is immensely pleasing and complex in combination with the buttery puff pastry and nutty gruyere cheese.

photo by Joel Weaver

I’ve adapted the recipe from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook by Ruth Van Waerebeek.  I’ve made the tart vegetarian by eliminating the ham, and have replaced the pie crust with a puff pastry crust, which makes it more special.  You can buy puff pastry in the frozen section of most grocery stores.

photo by Joyce Hiendarto


1 sheet puff pastry

2 tablespoon unsalted butter

4-5 Belgian endives

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

2 large eggs

1 cup half-and-half

freshly ground nutmeg

2 ounces Gruyere cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


Defrost the puff pastry for about an hour.

Cut off the core end of the endives.  Thinly slice them into slivers. 

Melt the butter in a large heave skillet.  Add endives, salt, pepper, and powdered sugar.  Sprinkle with the lemon juice.  Cook, covered, over medium heat until the endives are soft and slightly caramelized, about 30 minutes.  Stir from time to time to make sure they do not burn.

In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Then beat in the half-and-half.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a generous grating of nutmeg.

While the endives are caramelizing, you can pre-bake the puff pastry.  Your puff pastry will most likely come in a long rectangular shape.  If you are using a large round tart pan, you will need to use a rolling pin to roll the pastry into a square that will fit in the pan.  Place in the tart pan, and tuck the ends under the edges. 

photo by Joel Weaver

photo by Joel Weaver

 Pre-bake the puff pastry in a medium-heat oven for around 10 minutes, until it is starting to puff even in the middle a little.  If you won’t pre-bake the puff pastry, the custard will make it soggy.  Remove the puff pastry from the oven.  If the middle has puffed up, it will collapse a little when you pour the filling in.  You also might want to think about baking it with “weights.”  Arrange the caramelized endives over the bottom of the crust.  Pour the egg mixture over.  Grate the gruyere cheese, and sprinkle it over the egg mixture.  Top with the chopped parsley.

photo by Joel Weaver

photo by Joyce Hiendarto

Bake at 350F until the custard is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 18-25 minutes.

Let the tart set for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.  Cut into wedges and serve while still warm.  It is still wonderful at room temperature, if you are thinking of bringing it to a picnic.

photo by Joel Weaver

Baingan ka Shahi Bharta — Indian Creamy Mashed Eggplant with Peas
February 13, 2012, 11:39 am
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This is one of my favorite Indian recipes, and is in regular rotation at my house.  The luscious texture comes from roasting the eggplant whole.  It’s simple to pull together for a weeknight, and I made a triple-batch yesterday for a church potluck.   I tend to make it on the spicier side, but the recipe has a sliding scale for the chilies.

The recipe comes from Neelam Matra’s cookbook 1,000 Indian Recipes.  It was considered to be the best recipe in the cookbook by Food and Wine.  Instead of chopping the onions, I puree the onions in a food processor with the garlic and chilies to make a smooth paste before sauteeing.  Making a paste with the aromatics in this way is a common technique with other Indian recipes, and it allows you to focus on the texture of the soft eggplant, without pieces of onion getting in the way.  I also puree the tomatoes as well.


1 large oval-shaped eggplant (about 1 pound)

1 large onion

1 large clove garlic

1-3 fresh green chilies

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

1 large tomato, or the equivalent of canned tomatoes

1 cup frozen peas

1/4 cup heavy or light cream (half-and-half)


Poke a hole in the eggplant with a fork or knife.  Place it on a small baking sheet, and roast the eggplant under the broiler in the oven.  Broil it for about 10 minutes on 2 sides.  Pull it out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes until it’s cool enough to handle.  Cut a long vertical slit down the side, and scoop out all of the eggplant flesh with a spoon.  Discard the purple skin, but be sure to save all of the roasting juices.

Slice the onion, garlic, and chilies.  Puree them in a food processor until finely minced, or in a a smooth paste.  This will make the final dish smoother.

Heat the oil in a heavy pan.  When hot, add the onion mixture, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Mix in the coriander, cumin, garam masala, cayenne, paprika, and salt.  Stir for 1 minute.

Chop or puree the tomato.  I generally puree it with a hand blender until smooth.  You may want to grate the tomato with a large-hole cheese grater for a more rustic texture.  Add the tomato to the pot, and cook for 5-7 minutes.  Mix in the mashed eggplant and the peas.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

Mix in the cream, and cook 1 minute.

Eggplant and Fennel Stew Braised in Red Wine
February 9, 2012, 5:20 pm
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This became a favorite stew this year.  I made it several times over the fall and winter, brought it to potlucks, and served it for extended family over the holidays.  I’m finally posting it to share.  It’s a richly flavored stew that perfumes the kitchen with fennel and red wine.  In contrast to the eggplant stew I posted last fall, in which you briefly saute all of the ingredients together on the stove, and then roast the whole stew in the oven for 2 hours, this stew has the opposite procedure.  You cook the vegetables separately and uniquely, then bring them together in a boozy red wine and herb stew.

The procedure for roasting the fennel was new to me.  You braise quarters of fennel on the stove with olive oil and broth for 5 minutes, then put the pan in the oven to roast for an hour, covered in parchment paper.  This does something magical to the fennel, and is more interesting than simply roasting slices of fennel in olive oil and salt (which was my previous method for roasting fennel).  Now I want to use this braising/roasting method on fennel at other times as a side dish, or a base for other stews as well.  And wouldn’t it be nice on a salad?

This recipe is inspired by Denis Cotter’s fantastic cookbook Cafe Paradiso Seasons.  I think that Julie/Julia gal is pretty OCD, but if I would ever decide to cook my way through a cookbook, it might just be this one.  My two changes are that I’ve cut the eggplants into slightly smaller pieces, and have also salted and rested the cut eggplant cubes before cooking them.  This step draws out liquid from the spongy eggplant cubes, and removes possible bitterness.  Since you have the fennel roasting for an hour, I think you might as well have the eggplant draining during this time.

You can serve this stew with any kind of starchy side.  Today I’m pairing it with thick slices of pan-seared polenta, but it’s also good with rice, couscous, or crusty bread.   Alternatively, it’s a great stew for composing a vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie (to do so, arrange the stew in the bottom of a casserole pan, top it with mashed potatoes, and then bake until the mashed potatoes are golden).   Since a shepherd’s pie is topped with mashed potatoes, I replace the potatoes in the stew with green beans.

A fruity red wine is preferred.  The author Denis Cotter says the first time he made this stew, he drank the rest of the bottle while the stew simmered, “but that’s not always necessary.”

I used chilies and thyme from the garden.  If you’re afraid of the heat, leave the chilies out.


3 fat fennel bulbs

1/3 cup olive oil

18 ounces vegetable stock (separated as 1 cup and 1  1/4 cup)

2 large eggplants

18 ounces potatoes

28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes

6 cloves galic

2-4 fresh chilies

2-3 sprigs thyme

10 ounces (1  1/4 cup) red wine

salt, to season


Trim the greens off the top of the fennel bulbs and slice a thin sliver off the root end.  Then slice the bulbs into quarters.  Place them in a cast iron pan or skillet with tall sides (something that you an use both on the stove and in the oven), together with 1/3 cup olive oil and 1 cup vegetable broth.  Bring it to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Cover the pot loosely with parchment paper and bake in the oven at 350F for 1 hour.  Check occasionally to see if there is enough liquid, and you may need to turn some of the fennel pieces.  

Here are the before-and-after photos.

In the meantime, peel the eggplant, and cut it into 1-inch cubes.  Toss the cubes in salt, and place in a colander to drain.  After about 30 minutes of draining, pat with paper towels to dry.

During this time, prepare the ingredients for the rest of the stew.  Slice the garlic cloves and the chilies.  Heat them in a large soup pot for 30 seconds or so, and then add the tomatoes.  I crush the whole tomatoes with my hands, or use a cheese grater with large holes to roughly grate the tomatoes.  Cook the tomatoes with the garlic  and chilies for about 5 minutes.  Then add the thyme sprigs, the wine, and the remaining 1 -1/4 cup of vegetable broth.  Season with a little salt, bring to a boil, and then simmer around 20 minutes.

Peel the potatoes.  Quarter them, then cut the quarters into big wedges around 1 -1/2 inches thick.  Steam the potato cubes in a vegetable steamer until soft, around 15-20 minutes.

When the fennel comes out of the oven, it’s time to bake the eggplant.  Place the eggplant in a baking dish (I prefer cast iron), and toss with olive oil.  Bake at 375F for about 20-30 minutes, or until soft.  I usually have the eggplant baking at the same time as I have the potatoes steaming.

Add the roasted fennel and all of its oil juices to the stew.  Add the steamed potatoes and the roasted eggplant.  Bring the stew back to a boil, and simmer again on very low heat, covered, for 15 minutes.  If you have the time, turn off the heat, and let the stew sit for an hour or so to mellow.  Check the seasoning before serving.

Potato Coconut Curry
January 19, 2012, 5:31 pm
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Madhur Jaffrey says, “I love this dish with an irrational passion.”  The first time I made this potato-coconut curry I easily understood the attraction.  When coconut is cooked with garlic, cumin, and turmeric, the scent is intoxicating and unusual.

This was one of my favorite dishes to cook in college.  My roommates usually requested this curry or the Mediterranean Lemony Potato Stew.  Both recipes come from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, which was one of the two cookbooks I owned in college.  Both are still favorites of mine.

The original recipe calls for fresh coconut, but I almost always use dried, unsweetened coconut.  Fresh coconut has a fun chewy and silky texture, but it takes some time and effort to break open a coconut.  If you use dried coconut instead of fresh, check the packaging to make sure it is unsweetened, and doesn’t contain sugar.

This is an extremely simple curry to pull together.  It takes about 10 minutes to prepare (and less if you don’t peel your potatoes), and 45 minutes to simmer.  Other than the coconut, the ingredients are staples you probably have in your pantry.  Turmeric and cumin are more common in Western kitchens than, say, fenugreek or ajwain!   This is one of those dishes in which you add ingredients to the hot saucepan in a quick procession, seconds apart from each other — so be efficient by preparing and measuring the ingredients before heating the stove.


3 medium-size boiling potatoes (about 1  1/4 lb)

6 garlic cloves

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 whole dried red chili

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1  1/2 cups grated coconut (dried and unsweetened, or fresh)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds

2 teaspoons salt

1  1/4 pounds diced tomatoes, fresh or canned (16-20 ounces)

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar


Peel the potatoes (I used white potatoes with delicate skin, and didn’t peel them).  Cut into a 3/4-inch dice and put into a bowl of cold water.  Mince the garlic.  Measure the coconut and whole cumin seeds.  In a small bowl, combine the turmeric, ground cumin, and salt.

Heat the oil in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.   When hot, put in the minced garlic.  Stir for about 5 seconds.

Now put in the red pepper and the cumin seeds.  Stir for another 3 seconds.  The garlic should brown lightly, the red pepper should darken, and the cumin seeds should sizzle.

Lower the heat to medium, put in the coconut and stir around for about 15 seconds (I often stir for around 1 minute to toast the dried coconut a little).

Drain the potatoes in a colander.  Add them to the saucepan, as well as the turmeric, ground cumin, salt, tomatoes (including the juices in the can), plus 1  1/2 cups water.  

Bring to a boil.  Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  Stir gently every 7-8 minutes or so to prevent sticking.  Put in the sugar and vinegar.  Stir again and cook, uncovered, for 1 minute.