keito potato

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

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.

Julia Child’s Mediterranean Tomato Rice Soup with Basil and Leeks
August 19, 2011, 3:04 pm
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My mom has been making this classic Julia Child soup for ages, so I have nostalgic summer memories of it.  My friend and I made it last week alongside a quiche, and I made another batch last night to welcome my parents home from  a long trip.  My mom was astonished, saying she had been craving this particular soup during her travels and had planned to make it once she got home.  This recipe comes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol 2. (the one with the blue cover).  On the first page I see my Grandma Erna’s handwritten note to my dad: “for Rick, to add to your knowledge of the good things in life – Love, Mom.”  What a treasure.

It’s a simple peasant soup, a breeze to make with basic ingredients.  Since I am finally experimenting with growing herbs, I was delighted to use basil and parsley from my backyard.

Julia tells us to chop the tomatoes to make a chunky soup, but my mom always purees the tomatoes smooth before adding them to the kettle.  I’m including both versions here.  If you don’t have a cheesecloth for the herbs, you can simply stir the herbs into the soup and let them be.  Chop the parsley and basil first, if you’re not using a cheesecloth.




3/4 cup leeks, or a combination of leeks and onions

3 tablespoons olive oil

1  1/2 lb tomatoes (fresh or good-quality canned whole plum tomatoes)

4 large garlic cloves

5 cups light vegetable broth

1/4 Cup raw white rice

The following tied in a cheesecloth:

6 parsley sprigs

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon thyme

4 fennel seeds

6 large basil leaves

a large pinch of saffron threads

salt and pepper

few pinches of sugar

1 teaspoon or more tomato paste

salt and pepper

2 or more tablespoons fresh basil, minced or sliced


Thinly slice the leeks.  Heat the oil slowly in a large heavy-bottomed pot.  Cook the leeks slowly in the olive oil until the leeks are tender but not browned. 

Meanwhile, either chop the tomatoes or puree them in a medium bowl with a hand-held immersion blender.  Mince or mash the garlic.  When the leeks are tender, add the tomatoes and garlic and stir over moderate heat for 3 minutes.

Then add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, and then add the rice.  Add the herbs and saffron.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Carefully taste for seasoning, adding pinches of sugar to bring out flavor and counteract acidity, and small amounts of tomato paste if needed for color and taste.  Remove the herb bouquet if using a cheesecloth.

Julia recommends serving the soup either hot or chilled (I’ve only had it hot), sprinkled with fresh basil.

Summer Eggplant Parmesan
July 24, 2010, 9:25 am
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A light and delicate take on eggplant parmesan for summer suppers. This is worlds away from your typical casserole, nothing like those bricks of heavy breaded eggplant.

This concept comes from Deborah Madison, who layers broiled eggplant slices with basil leaves, fresh mozzarella, and a light tomato sauce. I typically make this with slices of regular globe eggplants, but my local Arab market is currently selling tiny baby eggplants, truly as small as eggs. I thought I’d throw a version of this together with these baby eggplants. It turned out to be one of the cutest baked dishes.

The photos document my baby eggplant version, but the instructions cover both versions.


  • 1.5 pounds eggplant
  • olive oil
  • tomato sauce ( I like to use mine, but feel free to use another fresh tomato sauce recipe)
  • basil leaves
  • 4 oz. fresh mozzarella ( I have also had good results substituting goat cheese, if you want to go in that direction)
  • grated Parmesan


I usually start the assembly by starting to simmer the tomato sauce.

Trim the stems and slice the baby eggplants in half lengthwise. Sprinkle with salt and let stand 30 minutes. Then blot dry with a paper towel. I confess that I forgot this step. I remembered when I bit into one, and it was slightly bitter. The salting step removes the bitterness.

Fry the baby eggplant halves in a skillet on each side until golden, and soft when poked with a fork. Season lightly with salt and pepper. When I use the globe eggplants, I broil the slices in the oven, but since the baby eggplant slices were thicker, I guessed they would cook slowly and more evenly in a skillet.

If you are using globe eggplants, slice them into rounds 1/3 inch thick. Salt and blot them, as described above. Brush each with olive oil, and broil in the oven. Let them broil 5-6 minutes per side, until golden brown and soft. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

At this point, I finish my tomato sauce, removing the onions, whirring it with a stick blender. For this dish, I also add a handful of torn basil leaves to the sauce at the very end.

For assembly, coat the bottom of your baking dish with tomato sauce. Arrange the baby eggplant halves. Top each with a slice of fresh mozzarella, a small basil leaf on each, then another eggplant-half to create a sort of sandwich.

Gently top each “eggplant-sandwich” with tomato sauce to lightly cover, then about a teaspoon each of grated Parmesan.

If you were using globe eggplant slices, you would overlap the slices in a layer, and proceed in the same assembly order.

Bake in a 375F oven for 25-35 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.

Lemony Potato Stew
May 19, 2010, 6:38 pm
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This Mediterranean stew helped me earn a reputation in college as a cook. Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking was one of my 2 cookbooks in college, and was formative in shaping my sensibility as I experimented in my tiny college apartment kitchen. This stew became a favorite, and I made it so often that my roommates affectionately called it “The Red Stuff.”

It’s a simple, earthy stew, but the simplicity is far from boring. The clean flavors have kept my friends happy over the years, and it is a great addition to a potluck. This recipe feels like an old friend, and I can’t believe I didn’t share it will all of you sooner.

I usually serve the stew over rice or bulgar pilaf, but today I poured it over a piece of toast from a rustic loaf. That made the stew seem even more homey, almost like an Italian bread soup.

I have strayed from Madhur Jaffrey’s original recipe in increasing the amounts of garlic and lemon juice.


4 medium size potatoes
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 medium size onions
14 oz whole canned plum tomatoes
14 oz canned chickpeas
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice


Boil the potatoes in their jackets. Drain. When they are cool enough to touch, peel and roughly chop them.

Roughly chop the onions. Mince the garlic.

Grate the canned tomatoes with a cheese grater into a bowl. This is a trick that will given them a rough and rustic texture You will use both the tomatoes and their canning juice. Rinse and drain the canned chickpeas well in a colander.

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. When hot, put in the garlic and onions. Stir and fry until onions are translucent, turning the heat down if necessary. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

Add all the remaining ingredients (potatoes, chickpeas, salt, pepper, lemon juice) plus 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Cover. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Indian Cream of Tomato Soup
February 11, 2010, 12:50 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been making this soup for years, an Indian adaption of the British classic. It’s steeped in spices, savory and lemony. My version is inspired by Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking. My departure from her method lies in increasing the spices and aromatics, and from time to time swapping half-and-half instead of her heavy cream. You can make your own decision regarding milk-fat-percentage.

I consider the lemongrass optional, since I’ve lived in places where it’s tricky to find. In that situation I simply add more lemon juice at the end. Lemongrass infuses a more subtle fragrance than lemon itself, but please don’t feel like its absence makes the recipe prohibitive. In fact, half the time I throw together an all-lemon version.

However you really should try your best to procure some curry leaves. They make the soup distinctive. Fresh leaves are best, but dried will do. They look a bit like bay leaves, and have a deep, earthy savoriness. These days even sweet ol’ Bakersfield has some serious Indian delis, so I’ll just bet you can find curry leaves if you look for them.

This is truly one of my favorite soups, and that’s a serious statement coming from me. I remember a conversation with my friend Katy last summer in which we discussed why we would never get tattoos. One of my top reasons was that my favorite things in life would look silly as tattoos… like a bowl of soup. I don’t think you want to imagine a bowl of soup tattoo on my ankle.

Which is to say that I’m serious about soup, and this is one of the best. Even my tomato-hating mother now adores it. The curry leaves and the cumin won her over.


28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon sliced lemongrass (optional)
1 tablespoon curry leaves
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
2 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2-4 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste

Combine the tomatoes, lemon grass, curry leaves, ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Uncover, turn heat up to medium, and simmer another 15 minutes.

Remove the ginger and lemon grass slices. I like to count my slices going in, so I know I catch them all at the end. I’m smitten with the curry leaves, so I let them stay in the soup (whilst Madhur Jaffrey removes hers). Puree with an immersion stick blender. Keep the tomato mixture on a soft simmer.

Meanwhile toast the cumin seeds in a small skillet on medium-low heat. When they darken and smell lovely, mash them lightly with a mortar and pestle.

In a second saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour. Stir and cook the flour on low heat for 2-3 minutes. You don’t want the flour to taste raw, but you also don’t want the other extreme of letting it turn brown. So keep an eye on it.

Now pour in the hot tomato juice, stirring all the while. Add the cream or half-and-half and the remaining 3/4 salt. Stir to mix and bring to a simmer. Add the milk, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne, and raise the heat to medium. When it is almost to a boil, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Make sure the soup is hot before you add the lemon juice, or the soup will curdle, which is less than cute.

Simple Tomato Sauce
June 3, 2009, 7:50 pm
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This tomato sauce is easy enough for those who can’t cook, precisely because of its unusual method.

Most other tomato sauces begin with chopping onions and garlic, and sauteing them awhile before adding tomatoes, wine, red peppers, etc, etc, etc.  My simple method has absolutely no sauteing.  And the only chopping is one big slice to hack an onion in half.  If you can cut an onion in half, you can make this sauce.

You simply throw canned tomatoes into a saucepan with a hunk of butter and an onion cut into 2 halves.  You practically poach the onion in the tomatoes, while the butter slowly smooths everything out.  At the end, you remove the onion halves and throw them away, leaving a tomato sauce that has a gentle savory onion edge, but no actual onion.

Not only is this recipe the easiest, it’s actually the most delicious tomato sauce I’ve made.  The flavor is savory and delicate.  I’ve been making this tomato sauce for the last 2 years, and use it for everything from pasta and pizza, to casseroles like eggplant parmesan and polenta lasagna.

This recipe is also perfect for my friends who have food-texture issues about small bits of onion.  Everything here is smooth and clean.

Please don’t be tempted to substitute olive oil for the butter.  I tried that once, but the olive oil was just the wrong kind of fat for this sauce.  It actually made the sauce slimy and oily.  Stick to the butter on this one.  It keeps the sauce soft, luscious, and flavorful.

I prefer to use canned whole plum tomatoes.  I think they have a better quality than just diced tomatoes.  Plus, diced tomatoes remain rubbery with their geometric right angles even after cooking, which creeps me out a little.  I like that whole canned tomatoes get naturally soft when cooked.  Then right before serving, I just whir it a bit with an immersion blender to smooth it out.


28-ounce can tomatoes

5 tablespoons butter

1 onion

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

torn basil leaves (optional)

grated parmesan (optional)

tomato sauce 006.1


Empty the canned tomatoes into a saucepan.  Peel the onion and cut it in half.  Add the onion halves, butter and salt to the tomatoes.

Simmer 40 minutes.  Stir from time to time, keeping the onion wedges immersed so that they can effectively flavor the sauce.  Remove the onion pieces with chopsticks or tongs.  Throw the onion pieces away.

tomato sauce 007.1

Puree with a hand-held immersion blender.  Add the torn fresh basil leaves or parmesan if desired.