Kabocha squash may not be as familiar as other varieties of squash, but well worth trying if they are available where you live. They are plentiful here in Asia where they are known as Japanese winter squash variety. Kabocha squash was brought into Japan from Cambodia by Portuguese sailors in the mid 1500’s. Kabocha squash is now widely available here in South East Asia as well as New Zealand, Hawaii, parts of the US, Jamaica, Mexico, and Chile.
Kabocha squash has a thick deep bluish green knobbly skin with celadon streaks. The flesh is a brilliant yellow orange with a pronounced sweet flavor, not unlike the sweet potatoes, when roasted. Kabocha squash is rich in beta carotene, iron, vitamins B and C, potassium, calcium, and folic acid.
kabocha squash’s appearance might be perceived as unattractive, but you can’t always judge a book by its cover. The shape and color of a kabocha squash reminds me a bit of the Japanese Mingei style in pottery that emerged in Japan in the 1920’s. The uneven surface and muddled coloration of a kabocha squash is not unlike the shapes of pots and the color palettes for glazes favored by potters at the time. The Mingei movement was based on bringing common, imperfect, and utilitarian objects into the realm of what was considered art. The idea that ordinary and utilitarian objects existed beyond a realm of beauty or ugliness was a radical idea that redefined what was art in a rapidly evolving modern Japan.
That said,the inner beauty of this squash is ravishingly revealed in the kitchen! Roasting squash is so easy it almost makes itself and the results are brilliantly colorful, comfortingly flavorful, and abundantly healthful to boot!
I particularly like to enlist roasted squash as as an alternative for sweet potatoes for holiday meals. The brilliant color alone should be persuasive enough for you to give it a try. A flourish of pomegranate syrup drizzled over the squash makes this a spectacular side dish for any holiday spread. I like to serve the squash with a lemony tabbouleh which compliments the sweetness of the squash beautifully.
Roasting Pumpkin and Squash: For recipe (click Here)
As mentioned, drizzling the roasted squash with pomegranate syrup adds a lovely sweet sour note to the squash. Pomegranate syrup is available at Greek and Middle Eastern shops and online.
Or make your own Pomegranate syrup. Simply slowly boil pomegranate juice in a non-reactive saucepan until reduced to a syrup. Be careful towards the end of the reduction. Once the syrup begins to bubble up begin swirling the pan. You do not want to syrup to caramelize which would make it bitter rather than tart and crisp.
When the squash is a beautiful golden color remove from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with Pomegranate syrup and serve along with a small bowl of the syrup placed on the table.
Tabbouleh: For recipe (click here)
Watching Christina Martinez making barbacoa in her South Philly Barbacoa restaurant (Chef’s Table, Se 5 Eps 1, Netflix) was, for me, the next best thing to being back in Mexico where food celebrates the very heart and soul of the country and its people.
Barbacoa originates from the central plains east of Mexico City where traditionally a lamb or a goat is slowly steamed in a deep pit lined with rocks preheated by a wood fire. The meat is marinated and wrapped in maguey (agave) leaves and steamed underground overnight. Cooking a barbacoa in Mexico is all about having a special meal for large family gatherings on weekends and for special holidays and fiestas.
A deeply flavored succulent Barbacoa is built around using a variety of locally grown sun dried chiles, traditional herbs and spices, and a seasoned cook’s attention to the nuances of slow cookery and taste. Most Ingredients can be found in Mexican shops and markets, in some super markets, or online. Once you have your sourcing resolved, you will find yourself making barbacoa on a regular basis. This is the kind of authentic Mexican food everyone loves to eat!
That said, home cooks can replicate a traditional barbacoa with a few adaptations in their own kitchen oven. No pit required.
I would suggest using beef in lieu of lamb or goat unless you and your friends and family are seasoned regional Mexican food enthusiasts. Goat in particular is definitely an acquired taste and best cooked outside.
Making a barbacoa requires both time and effort, but you will will be abundantly rewarded with a truly authentic taste of Mexico. If time is a real issue you may want to speed up the cooking time using a pressure cooker or instant pot. Another tip, barbacoa freezes beautifully so you may want to double or triple the recipe and have barbacoa nearly ready on demand.
Beef Barbacoa serves 6
- 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo beef brisket or chuck roast, cut into 3 equal size pieces, trimming off excess fat and skin
- juice of 1 orange
- juice of 2 limes
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
- ¼ cup cider or white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a non-reactive bowl just large enough to hold the meat. Stir the marinade and add the meat, pressing the meat firmly down into the marinade to cover.
Cover the bowl with cling film and marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- 8 dried New Mexico Red or Mexican Guajillo chiles
- 3 dried ancho chiles
- 2 dried smoked chipotle chiles
- 4 large garlic cloves, dry roasted and peeled
- 1 small onion, peeled, chopped
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt or to taste
Heat a skillet over medium heat. When hot place some of the dried chiles in the skillet without crowding. Using a spatula, press the chiles against the bottom of the skillet and toast them for 30 to 45 seconds. Turn the chiles and repeat, remove them, and set aside. This dry toasting intensifies the flavor of the chiles.
When the dry toasted chiles are cool enough to handle remove the stems, slit them open lengthwise, remove all the seeds and discard. Then tear the chiles into pieces and place them in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover and bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes and then set aside to cool. Drain the chiles, discard the cooking water, and set the chiles aside.
Using a blender, add the prepared softened dried chiles, sauteed onions, cumin, marjoram, black pepper, clove, sugar, cider vinegar, and salt. Blend all the ingredients together, scraping down the sides of the blender jar as needed, adding water as needed, until the sauce is very smooth. This may take several minutes.
Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and, using a silicon spatula, press the pureed sauce through the strainer until all the liquid has been extracted, Be sure to scrape off the residual sauce on the underside of the mesh strainer into the sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed.
Transfer the adobo sauce to a container, cover, and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 325f/ 170 c
- 1 small onion, peeled, quartered and separated
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 6 bay leaves
- 6 whole cloves
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tomato quartered, core removed
- 2 jalapeno chiles, quartered and seeds removed
Select a Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid or a roasting pan. Place a shallow rack in the bottom of the pan of choice.
Remove the beef from the marinade and place it on the rack in the pan and discard the marinade. Add water to the pan to just below the bottom of the meat sitting on the rack..
Distribute the onions over the meat and tuck in garlic, bay leaves, and cloves. Season with salt and pepper, and top with tomatoes and jalapeno slices.
Cover the pan with a lid or tightly secured foil and transfer to the oven. Set the timer for 1 hour. Check to see if there is still water in the bottom of pan and replenish if needed. Repeat this each hour until the beef is very tender and easily separated with a fork.
Cooking times will vary, but after 2 ½ hours check for the beef for tenderness. I would say about 3 hours should do it.
When the beef is fully cooked, carefully transfer to an ovenproof dish or bowl and cover with foil.
You will find there is a lot of rendered fat floating over the pan juices in the Dutch oven or roasting pan. Remove the fat and discard or save for another purpose, like frying beans.
Transfer the pan juices to a sauce pan and add the vegetables that topped the beef. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, again using a silicone spatula to press all the liquid out of the solids. Discard the solids.
Before serving pull the beef apart using a fork and add some of the reserved pan juices to moisten it.
Then warm the reserved adobo sauce. The adobo should be the consistency of cream. If needed thin with pan juices. Generously add adobo sauce to the pulled beef, distributing it evenly before serving. The remaining adobo sauce can be served with the barbacoa once tucked into tortillas.
- corn and flour tortillas, warmed in a hot dry skillet (or comal, pictured)
- Salsa fresca
- salsa verde
- quesso fresca or mild feta
Place the Barbacoa on the table along with corn and flour tortillas, various salsas and Mexican queso fresca. If queso fresca is not available a mild feta is a very good substitute.
Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, crispy, sticky, tender succulent, and aromatic….
These Thai baby back ribs explode with all the elements that make Thai food so popular the world over.
Tamarind? The tamarind tree originates from Africa, but now found across the tropics including South and Southeast Asia. India is now the largest producer of tamarind. Tamarind is used in many Thai dishes and available fresh or in paste form. Here in Thailand tamarind is available in fresh clusters of pods or in blocks of the sticky contents of the pods that include the seeds. The flesh and seeds from the pods are boiled until vary soft. The seeds are then removed and sticky flesh is passed through a fine mesh strainer. The resulting tamarind paste has a unique tart, sweet, and slightly fruity flavor.
The methods used for this recipe are adapted for the home kitchen. Some of the ingredients may be somewhat unfamiliar, but most can be found in Asian markets or in the Asian foods section of you local supermarket.
Keep in mind that cooking is always an adventure! Discovering new and unfamiliar ingredients and flavors are all part of the fun and open up new windows of possibilities. Tamarind is a subtle flavor enhancer you will find yourself using again and again when cooking Thai or other Asian dishes.
Thai Tamarind Baby Back Pork Ribs Serves 4 to 6
- 1 kilo/ 2.2 pounds baby back pork ribs
Separate the ribs and remove the silver skin membrane from the underside of each rib using a very sharp knife. Rinse the ribs and pat dry with paper towels, and transfer the ribs to a bowl.
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon back peppercorns
- 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
Place all the rub ingredients in a spice mill and pulse until finely ground.
Then sprinkle the seasoning rub over the ribs. Using your hands, rub the seasonings evenly over all the ribs. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside.
Basting sauce: makes 1 ½ cups
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 2 inch knob ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 medium size shallot, finely minced
- 1 bunch of coriander, leaves and roots chopped
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon dark sweet soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 4 tablespoons tamarind paste (available at Asian markets)
- 3 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons rum or brandy
- ½ teaspoon red Thai chile powder, or ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon cold pressed peanut oil
- 6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)
Using a mini processor or mortar and pestle, combine the grated garlic, grated ginger, minced shallot, and coriander leaves and roots and pulse or grind into a coarse paste.
Transfer the paste to a non reactive bowl. Add the soy sauce, sweet dark soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind paste, palm sugar (or light brown sugar), rum or brandy, Thai chile powder, and the peanut oil and mix until well combined.
Select a rectangular baking pan and fit the pan with a shallow baking rack. Lightly oil the bottom of the pan as well as the rack.
Preheat the oven to 325 f/170 c
Place the seasoned ribs on the rack, bone side down and flesh side upward in a single layer, tucking the kaffir lime leaves here and there between ribs. Pour about an inch of water into the baking pan, generously brush the ribs with the basting sauce, seal the pan tightly with foil, and transfer to the preheated oven.
Total cooking time will be about 1 ½ to 2 hours. At 20 minute intervals brush the ribs with more basting sauce. Add water to the bottom of the pan if needed, re-seal the pan, and return the pan to the oven front to back to insure even cooking.
After 1 hour check the meat for tenderness. The finished meat should be very soft, but just short of falling off the bone. So continue checking and roasting the meat until tender as described.
Once the meat is sufficiently tender you want to raise the heat to 400 F/ 200 c.
Remove the foil and brush the ribs generously with more basting sauce. Pour the remaining basting sauce into the bottom of the pan and add more water as needed. Move the oven rack to the upper position, return the ribs to the oven uncovered and cook until the tops of the ribs are deeply colored, sizzling, and crisp on the top surface.
Promptly remove the pan from the oven and, using tongs, transfer the ribs to a platter and cover lightly with foil. Remove the roasting rack and skim the fat off the surface of the pan juices and pour the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer into a saucepan.
Place the saucepan over medium flame, bring to a boil, and if the juices are looking very thin boil until reduced to the consistency of a thin sauce.
Alternatively, mix a couple of teaspoons of corn starch mixed with an equal part of cold water, and stir it into the simmering pan juices while stirring until the sauce thickens to a thin sauce.
- 3 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced green onion
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced coriander leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red hot chile flakes
Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir. Chill until ready to serve.
Serve the ribs on individual plates or on a large platter. Drizzle some pan juices over the ribs and, if serving on individual plates, add a small pool of pan sauce to each plate, or place a bowl of pan juices on the table.
Serve with a bowl of the tamarind dipping sauce and Thai jasmine rice as pictured.
Calabacitas is a traditional native squash dish that has been prepared throughout Central America and the American Southwest since ancient times. Today there are many regional variations, but the essential native ingredients that date back to pre-Columbian times include calabaza (pumpkin or squash), elote (corn), and chilies. Following the arrival of the Spanish in the 1400’s cows, sheep, and goats were imported from the old world and calabacitas evolved with the introduction of dairy by-products, including cream (crema) and cheeses.
Interestingly, Mennonite farmers who settled in Chihuahua in the late 1800’s, began producing semi soft cows milk cheeses known as queso Mennonita, which is officially recognized as an authentic Mexican cheese, and often tops calabacitas beautifully to this day.
The recipe that follows reflects various New Mexican and Mexican calabacitas I have encountered while living in Santa Fe and on frequent forays into Mexico over the years. As Mexican cheeses are not generally available outside of Mexico, alternative cheeses include a mild hard or soft goat cheese or fresh or soft mozzarella.
Calabacitas is a beautiful dish to consider for a truly traditional American holiday meal. Or, do as they do in Mexico, a calabacitas con pavo and transform your leftover turkey into a comida a la Mexicana.
Calabacitas: serves 4
- 3 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- 3 teaspoons butter
- 1 bunch fresh sage leaves, leaves only
- 3 medium size zucchini, ends trimmed, cut into ½ inch cubes
- 3 ears fresh sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob, cob scraped to extract the milk
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 onions, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 3-4 flame roasted jalapeno chilies, skin and seeds removed, cut into thin rajas (strips)
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano leaves
- ¼ cup stock as needed
- 3 ½ oz sour cream
- pinch of cinnamon
- flaked sea salt to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh Mexican cheese (or optional cheeses mentioned above)
- poached chicken or leftover turkey (optional)
Ideally I like to use a cast iron iron skillet for even browning of the vegetables, but a large heavy bottomed frying pan should work equally well.
Place the skillet on the stove top over medium flame. When the pan is hot add a tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of butter. When melted add the sage leaves and fry until crisp, 30 to 45 seconds should do it. Transfer the fried leaves to a plate and set aside to use later.
Promptly add cubed zucchini to the pan with out crowding. You may have to brown the zucchini in several batches. Turn the zucchini to be sure it browns on all sides, about 5 or 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate to use later. Continue, browning the remaining zucchini and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil and teaspoon butter to the pan and, when hot, add the whole corn kernels. Brown the corn on all sides, again about 5 or 6 minutes. Then transfer to another plate and set aside to use later
Once again, add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon butter to the pan. When melted add the onions and saute until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute until the onions just begin to color, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile place the milk in a small sauce pan and add the scrapped corn with its milk. Place the pan over low heat and warm to nearly simmering. Stir in the pinch of cinnamon and turn off the heat.
When the onions are nicely colored add the browned zucchini, browned corn, and the roasted jalapeno strips to the skillet. Add the marjoram or oregano, and half of the sage leaves, crumbled over the other ingredients. Stir all the ingredients together and add just enough stock to moisten the calabacitas, about ¼ cup at the most should do it. Heat to a mere simmer, taste, and add sea salt to your liking. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 F/170 c (if using)
Meanwhile stir the sour cream into the warm milk mixture with corn scrapings until well combined,
At this point you can place the skillet of calabacitas over very low heat on the stove top. Stir in the sour cream milk mixture, top with grated cheese if using, cover lightly with foil and warm for several minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside.
Alternately you can transfer the calabacitas to baking dish, scatter grated cheeses over the surface if using, and place in the preheated oven to warm for about 15 minutes.
You can serve the calabacitas on the stove top in the skillet, or transfer to a serving bowl, top with the remaining fried sage leaves and serve.
Or, serve the calabacitas directly out of the oven garnished with the fried sage leaves.