Tag Archives: recipes

One’s Waste, Another’s Potential


There is a certain sense of satisfaction that comes from overtaking a motorized vehicle.   On a dusty road in central Cambodia, the game of catch-up continues down an expansive stretch.  Ourselves on bicycle and our challenger being a heavily laden motor-cart, we smile and wave each kilometer or so as the vehicle creeps slowly along, boasting a variety of fine ceramic goods. Amongst the rust-colored selection, the glint of sun on metal highlights one particular product for sale: the New-Laos Stove.


Across Cambodia, carts such as these make their way through communities – stopping and starting down the highway to make sales to local consumers.  Operated by distributors of ceramics from the Kampong Chhnang region, they sell their wares off one-by-one and then return home to reload and set off once again.  Seemingly straight-forward, it is the cooperation with stove producers and distributors such as these that has led to the success of GERES’ Improved Cook Stove initiative with over 2 million stoves sold to date.

Begun in 1994, the Improved Cook Stove initiative was a response to the stress being placed on Cambodia’s precious natural resources.  The program brings change home, quite literally, with the introduction of new technologies to the long-standing stove design.  Traditionally a self-contained device allowing for fire or charcoal to apply direct heat to a pan nestled on top, GERES partnered with the producers of the region to implement slight design modifications for greater efficiency.


Research dictated that by increasing the number of holes in an internal grate allowing for oxygen flow and by controlling the amount of heat loss with insulation and the narrowing of gaps, it was possible to increase the stove’s efficiency by 22%.  Producers embraced the new design seeing a promise for greater sales and the stoves hit the market.

Intrigued by the success of this program, my riding partner and I decided to stop and see the results in action, hoping to learn a thing or two about Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine in the process.  We made our way to the project center, Kampong Chhnang, about 80 km northwest of Phnom Penh.  There, we were met by Mr. Makara Srey, one of GERES’ 80 employees working in the region.


First, our new friend escorted us to see the production.  We arrived at what seemed to be a typical cluster of houses lifted up from the earth on stilts.  Makara explained that the lofted home design allows for the families to do their living up above, while also having a sheltered space underneath from which to run their business.  In the community where we arrived, the trade of choice was stoves.

We were introduced to Ms. Sakun Tes and her family.  Ms. Tes is the matron behind a production facility of New Laos Stoves.  Working independently from GERES, this facility is part of a nationwide cooperative of stove producers that is reaping the benefits of the demand for modified stoves.  Made with materials such as locally sourced clay and rye ash as insulation, each stove takes about 7 people and 14 days to complete – depending upon the season.  After a tour of the assembly, we settled in to observe Ms. Tes’s daughter, Soy Savy, as she prepared the family’s meal on a tandem of New Laos Stoves.

Working in the corner of a cinder-block structure, Savy lit the charcoal in one of her stoves.  Able to be used interchangeably with charcoal or wood, Savy rationalized her preference for charcoal in that it left her cooking pans clean while wood tends to blacken the surface.  While she waited for the briquettes to burn down in order to cook, she began her preparations on the menu of the day: fish head soup.


Savy chopped and pounded away with little Sovanphanha tugging at her pants, scurrying in and out to make sure her father didn’t need anything and her baby was still sleeping soundly in the hammock.  When the briquettes were glowing at temperature, she set a pan with rice on the stove to simmer away.  Once confirmed as done, she removed the pan, shuffled a few of the warm briquettes over to her second stove to warm the rice, and set to work on the soup.


Savy relied on a common selection of Khmer ingredients to develop her flavors.  Simple and straight-forward, she made a stock of sorts by simmering the fish heads in water.  Later, she tossed in salt, palm sugar and kaffir lime leaves. A crispness was added to the dish when Savy finished each bowl with a julienne of green mango.

Eyeing up our supper nose-to-nose, a taste confirmed that a harnessing of often wasted resources can lead to great things.  The depth of flavor the heads imparted the soup was simply divine. Myself included, squirming at the thought of heads for dinner, it goes to show that when we open our minds to a new way of thinking, as was the case when GERES consulted with the local stove producers, what we find in the end may be better than before.


Fish Head Soup

Serves 3-4

3 cups water

4 fish heads, butterflied and pounded to allow for flavor release

1 teaspoon salt

2-3 kaffir lime leaves, torn

1 teaspoon palm sugar

1 green mango, julienned

Rice, to serve

Bring water to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Toss in fish heads and allow to simmer, about 5 minutes.  Add salt, lime leaves and palm sugar and stir to combine.  Simmer another 5 minutes and then remove from heat.  Garnish with green mango and serve with rice. 


For more on GERES and to support their work with families such as Savy’s, click here.

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PB & C

All the main food groups

Peanut butter and jelly is one combination that America has stamped its name on.  A sustenant combination of non-perishable spreads, it’s the poor man’s wonder and the picnicker’s joy.  

Quite honestly, I don’t care too much for peanut butter, but when mellowed out with just the right sweetness it certainly strikes my fancy. Jelly works, but chocolate is my preferred match.  Something about the salty peanut butter with sweet chocolate is clearly addictive.  So much so, that without Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, my life is devoid of all purpose.  Motivation dwindles and the threshold of enjoyment is pushed to an unacceptable level.

Since moving to Korea, I have sought to get my PB & C satisfaction wherever I can – stocking up on visits to the army base and relying on imports from my dearest friends.  I can’t deny the fact, however, that it’s still not enough.   

Last spring, we made a somewhat groundbreaking discovery.  It was that if you put granulated sugar into a blender and pulse, you actually end up with a blender full of powdered sugar (a rarity here).  This lent itself wickedly to cream cheese frosting, and now is making a return appearance.

Best. Discovery. Ever.

With this little kitchen trick, it’s 100% possible to make your own version of  peanut butter cups in Korea. And, in under 15 minutes.  Known at home as “buckeyes,” I’m afraid to say it, but they may even be tastier than Reese’s.  Super soft and creamy, you can even freeze a batch to keep around for later.

Note: The recipe calls for the peanut butter mixture to be balled and individually dipped into chocolate for the full effect.  I’m lazy and operate typically in a craving-fueled frenzy, so I just slapped mine in a dish as layers.  Either way suffices. 

The intended end product. Fancy.

JIF Buckeyes  from allrecipes.com

Makes 5 dozen

1 1/2 cups peanut butter

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups powdered sugar

1 12-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips / 6 bars Ghana chocolate

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening / butter or margarine

1. Combine peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt in large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on LOW until blended (I mixed with a fork) . Add 2 cups powdered sugar, beating until blended (Wear out your arm muscle with that fork). Beat in additional powdered sugar until mixture, when shaped into a ball, will stay on a toothpick. Shape into 1-inch balls (Or, spread in an even layer in a dish of some sort – I used a large Tupperware). Refrigerate.

 2. Place chocolate chips and shortening in microwave-safe bowl (Break Ghana bars into chunks, place in microwave-safe bowl along with butter or margarine). Microwave on MEDIUM for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat until mixture is smooth. Reheat as needed while coating peanut butter balls.

3. Insert toothpick in peanut butter ball. Dip 3/4 of ball into chocolate, leaving top uncovered to resemble a buckeye. Remove excess. Place on wax paper-lined tray. Remove toothpick. Smooth over holes. Refrigerate until firm.


3. Smear that chocolate goodness all over the layer of peanut butter, refrigerate until firm, then cut into squares. 

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Bali Bali Bhaji

Bali, bali!  It was probably the first expression I learned in Korean.  Meaning “hurry,” the exclamation is indicative of the Korean mentality: hurry up and wait. Not really grasping the concept of cohesive planning, this country seems to make many decisions at the last possible second. This almost always culminates in a mad rush, followed by an inevitable lull during which the consecutive decision waits to be made.  Followed, of course, by another hasty dash.

18 months ago, with my life carefully stacked into storage pods in Denver, I still had no idea where I’d be moving.   After a scramble to meet the application deadline, I waited for an interview.  Weeks passed before one was requested.  When the time was selected, without advance warning, I was to be available within 8 hours.  Following the chat, I waited.  

When word finally reached my email, it was that I should prepare to sign and return documents on their way to my house immediately.  Documents detailing where I’d live and the level I’d be teaching?  Oh no, no, that decision hadn’t been made.  I’d find that out 8 days after my arrival in Korea, on the day before I moved in.  I had to learn to go with the flow (and breathe deeply).

This ability came in handy during my time in India this past winter. On more than one bus ride, without warning, small windows of time were allowed to “take care of business.”  During one such window, hunger plagued me.  Unsure of just how long our bus would remain in the station, I frantically located the nearest castle of fried treats. 

The crowds didn’t ease the rush

Noting some fresh round patties in contrast to the fly ridden stocks, I said I’d take two.  Not really sure what I’d purchased, I bowed my head and streamlined it to the bus.  I was happily surprised by the sweet onion flavor when I dug in on board.  Turned out I’d grabbed a bhaji, and the craving was logged in my psyche.

This week, I decided to try my hand at homemade.  The recipe seemed straightforward enough, and I’ve never known fried onions to turn out bad.  Turns out I was right; simple and delicious.  One recommendation, however, is to be sure you slice the onion thinly.  Mine were a bit too chunky.

To compliment the little fritters, I simmered up some mango chutney.  Canned mango is available rather readily, and I had some spices on reserve from my trip.

All in all, the snack was ready in under an hour.  Next time you’re surprised with company, they’ll be just the thing.  

Onion Bhaji – From BBC Food

Serves 4-6

2 free-range eggs

onions, sliced

120g/4oz plain flour (1/2 cup for the imperialists out there)

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp cumin seeds

3 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra if required

1. Beat the eggs in a bowl.

2. Add the onion rings and mix well.

3. Add the flour, ground coriander and cumin seeds and stir well to combine.

4. Heat the oil in a deep-sided frying pan over a medium heat. When hot add a large spoonful of the bhaji mixture and fry for 30-45 seconds, until golden-brown.

5. Turn the bhaji over and fry for a further 30 seconds, until crisp and golden-brown all over. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

6. Repeat with the remaining bhaji mixture, replenishing the oil in the pan if it runs low and allowing it to heat up again after a new addition.

Mango Chutney – From Rasa Malaysia

Yields about 1 cup

1 ripe but firm green mango (450 -500 g)
1 sticks cinnamon (about 2 inch)
2 whole cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 cardamom pods, cracked
1 tsp ginger, grated
2-3 whole dry red chilies
1 clove garlic, crushed
3/4 cup brown sugar (if you have access to Indian jaggery use 3/4 cup- 1 cup powdered jaggery depending on the sweetness)
1/2 cup vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 tsp salt

Cut the mango into 1 inch cubes and for chunky chutney, keep some pieces about 2 inch.  If you are looking for smooth, cut them all in same size.

Using a piece of thin muslin cloth, tie up the spices into a bundle. Cook the mango, spices (in the muslin cloth), water, ginger and garlic until the mango is tender. Some pieces will disintegrate into the water. Takes about 10 minutes.

Add the vinegar, sugar, salt and dry chilies. I like to break 1 red chilly into flakes and keep 1 whole. If you want and are feeling adventurous you can go up on the chilies. The sugar requirement may also vary depending on the sweetness of your mango and personal preference. Feel free to reduce or add as per your liking.

Cook for about 30 -35 minutes until the chutney is thickened. Squeeze every bit you can from the cloth and discard it. Transfer to sterilized jars while still hot. Don’t put the lid, until the chutney cools. It keeps well for 4 weeks in the refrigerator.

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Beard Free Sounds Alright to Me

Before Korea, I lived in Colorado.  Ground zero for the hairy and unwashed.  Let’s be clear, I am neither discriminating against those who tend to small mammals under their arms, nor ruling out that I may have given up on shampoo for a short while myself.  Just telling it like it is.

Conducting field research. That’s a lot of hair.

When my grandmother came to town for my brother’s graduation, she was a little confused by the presence of turbans.  Turbans, yes Grandma, let’s just go along with that.  The explanation of dreadlocks may take a while.  You totally wouldn’t appreciate the cool factor that explodes when they’re done up in a lofty nest.  Not to mention the bonus points if the head wrap happens to be red, yellow and green (black accents and african motifs also acceptable).

Example A: Head wrap may not fall in the designated category, but the radiant luster earns plenty of party time credit.

Beards were par for the course and everyone who was anyone rocked one.  To be honest, I can’t disagree with the trend.  I envy beards during brisk rides up the ski lift. They are the face warmer to trump all others.  They’re a perfect tool to ensure you’re able to savor the last bite of every meal.  And also…beards are totally dead sexy!  They work like gravitational force with the ladies.  Well, some ladies.  You know who you are.

Notice how subject A is insuppressibly drawn to the beard. Subject B notes this quality, and wants a beard for himself.

While we know the consensus in Colorado, I’m not so sure of the beard verdict when it comes to clams.  A bit foreign to me, I’m not even entirely sure what a clam beard looks like.  I picture it as a scraggly little tuft, similar to the growth on an unsightly mole.  Either way, I don’t think it’s favored for consumption.  Since I am obviously in no position to identify a clam beard, let alone remove one, I was stoked on a find at NongHyup the other day.  In the cooler section, they had a shelf full of fresh, cleaned clams, seemingly ready to go. I’d been wanting to recreate a clam sauce recipe my friend’s mom let me in on, and it seemed the time had arrived.


I established a healthy 1:1 clam to clove ratio for the garlic, and the rest was smooth sailing.  The best part is that this was on the table in about 15 minutes.  This is key for finding the time to pursue bearded bliss, be it disposing of sharp edges or trailing your local Mufasa.

Dig in

Clam Sauce

Serves 2-3

5-6 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup olive oil (extra virgin if available, extra generic if living in Korea)

1/4 pound shucked, cleaned, debearded clams, lightly chopped and juices reserved

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

pinch of salt

fresh ground pepper

1/2 pound spaghetti/linguine, cooked

Heat oil in a shallow skillet over medium head.  When oil is hot, toss in the garlic.  Cook, gently stirring, for about 3-5 minutes or until garlic just begins to turn lightly golden.  Be careful not to burn the garlic as it will turn the dish bitter.  Just when garlic is starting to brown, turn off the heat.  Toss in clams, reserved juice, and parsley.  Stir to lightly cook the clams.  Season with salt and pepper.  To serve, spoon over hot pasta.

I’d like to give a special shout-out to my man Don Wooden, new recruit to the Bearded Gentleman’s Club (BGC).  He went for the gold with this one!

I tip my hat, good sir.

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