Shef’s (Mostly) Food Favorites

I am one of those people: a sharer. I want to tell the whole world about the things I love that I think might benefit their lives! I’ve written a few of these “my favorite things” lists, but now it will be on a tab of its own, so you can always refer back to my favorite products. And I love reading other people’s curated lists like this, so if you’ve got one please leave it in the comments below.

These are my latest favorite things, still all food-related:

  1. Rancho Gordo popcorn kernels. I love popcorn and movie night with my family. We always use good kernels and the girls have so much fun waiting for the first pop and then drizzling melted butter over it. These kernels are the best: very clean tasting and a pure kernel texture I can’t describe. Here’s Mark Bittman’s popcorn recipe (for ideas and inspiration) if you need it. IMG_5868
  2. Boggy Creek Farm’s smoke-dried tomatoes. I have actually been using these for over a decade. I discovered them watching Food Network when I was living in Seattle around 2002 and learning to experiment in the kitchen. I ordered them from this Austin farm, and several years later, I transplanted here and got to become a regular at Boggy Creek. These tomatoes can be purchased online and last forever refrigerated. I chop a couple up in tiny “bacon” bits for that ultra-smoky flavor when I don’t want to use meat or bacon. I used them last in my Roasted Butternut Squash recipe recently.
  3. The Austin Food Bloggers Alliance. I just love this organization and being part of it. I’m now the Education Chair as of 2015 and I am already benefitting from the relationships I’m forming—from the supportive community of food bloggers to the chefs, restaurants, farmers and more with whom we have alliances. I am especially proud (still!) of our cookbook, formed to illustrate what our community cooks in this little sub-era.IMG_4808
  4. Camille Styles Entertaining. This book is a beautiful little entertaining gem! I leafed through it one day on my back porch on a lazy beautiful Austin winter day. I already throw lots of parties, but this book made me want to decorate and style BETTER. And have you seen the blog? Most Austinites have, but if you aren’t local, you should be checking it out anyway. And a huge shoutout to my blogger buddy Katie of Butterlust Blog who now has a featured column on Camille Styles. Talk about some FINE photography, styling, and be forewarned: you will want to bake everything when you see her work!
  5. Baking Sheet sized parchment sheets. I am pretty late to this phenomenon! I was buying parchment from Costco and cutting each sheet every time (PITA!). Now I just buy the pre-sized sheets and baking is a GO! My kids have an easier time whipping up a batch of cookies too if they don’t have to mess with scissors and cutting perfect rectangles.IMG_3646
  6. Progressive Dinners. You gotta put one of these together at some point in your life. Fun fun fun. A lot like a potluck, but you get to travel and be at 4 different set tables in one night! I have been a part of two or three dinners like this and we are going on our next one in a couple of months. This time, there’s a theme! It’s an Aphrodisiac Party (no emoticon for my expression here).
  7. Blue Hill yogurt. Finally, a company that understands that there is a place for savory yogurt in the food world. These taste spot on, especially with an Indian or Persian or Turkish meal. I’d love some homemade raita instead, but in a pinch these would suffice! By the way, if you’re into yogurt, you should check out Team Yogurt! Get on the list for the launching of a site wholly devoted to all things yogurt.IMG_3986
  8. Alton Brown’s pretzel recipe. I had never made pretzels before trying this recipe. It is actually one of the easier bread-baking recipes! I will definitely be making them again.IMG_5673
  9. Chef’n Butter Maker. I saw this mentioned in the recent Saveur issue for cooks where they highlight their favorites too. I got one and made a little butter in a jiffy with some leftover whipping cream I had that would have spoiled soon. I have made butter and buttermilk before in my stand mixer but it sure is messy that way, so I am using this from now on for small amounts of real, fresh, churned butter!IMG_6035
  10. Just Between Us journals. So—not food related, but I just had to share this journal. I have used it with my older daughter for 2 years now and we trade it back and forth. It holds secrets and conversations that aren’t even allowed to be discussed outside the journal, and has an assortment of pages with questions to answer and plenty of free space too.  Now my younger daughter got one too and she is so excited about it that she’s been writing in it daily!IMG_6039

I’d love it if you shared below one thing you have found this week that has been useful, delightful, or simply made you smile!

Friday Favorites

Loving writing these lists! I’m hoping to write them more often, maybe two Fridays a month. If you like these types of lists and know of any I should have in my radar, please let me know in the comments below!

Here are my recent favorites, mostly food-related this time again.

  1. Pumpkin Tiramisu. I posted a pic of this on Instagram and Facebook and got many requests for the recipe, which I did not create myself. HERE IT IS! It’s unbelievably easy and a great autumn make-ahead favorite. I didn’t change a thing from the recipe other than needing double the amount of coffee to soak the ladyfingers.
  2. Smoked Paprika. I have this little red spice jar, shaped like a rectangle, in my pantry shelf and use it not often. But when I use it, it lends a profoundly unique flavor to ANY savory dish. Think of it as vegetarian bacon flavoring; even carnie-husband likes it! It is excellent in vinaigrettes for grain salads and I recently used it for our Meal Share Plan in this Seafood Fideo.
  3. Deschutes Brewery mustard. With a really really good pretzel (I’ve got to try Alton Brown’s recipe), and a beer flight or two, this is lip-smackin’ stuff.
  4. Chicken pot pie, with BISCUIT topping. I know most of you have had this, but I usually make this with a pie crust topping. I was always resistant to the breadiness that I thought a biscuit topping would lend but if the pot pie filling is nice and dense without too much creaminess or juices then the biscuit gets just a touch moist. NO SOGGY PIE MESS IN YOUR MOUTH!
  5. Bananas with messages inscribed onto the peel. My sis gave me the idea for this; she actually does this for HER HUSBAND. Who does that? I don’t have make time for romantic messages on food, since I have to  want to prepare 4 meals and 2 snacks before 7am. Instead, I have been writing notes, jokes, riddles, and sweet nothings onto bananas for the non-banana hating kid for morning snack. She loves it…..for now. But 4th grade may prove to be the phase of being embarassed by everything your cool cook of a mom does.IMG_4824
  6. A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg. I read this in just under 2 hours. It’s one of the fastest reading food/cooking related non-fiction out there. What I liked about this book is that it made me feel that I still could be me, writing like I talk, about food, and actually successfully publish a book. Because Molly did that. You should read it. She’s funny, normal, and makes tons of mistakes in the kitchen. She’s not embarassed by her lack of knowledge, nor is she pressured by not having to know EVERYTHING in the cooking world. We are all learning.
  7. Fried Pies. Enough said. I bought this book because of my obsession. Well-organized by different styles of hand pies and the appropriate crusts for them. IMG_8592
  8. Real Southern Stone Ground Grits. White grits. True to the South. I found this brand at Central Market. Beautiful. Creamy. White. Pure.
  9. Alphonso Mango Lassi, by Dahlicious. This is a very exciting find considering we can’t get Alphonso mangoes in Austin, and most of the country. Truly you have to eat an Alphonso raw with the juices drippy and the heady aroma seeping your senses. But this store-bought lassi? Loaded with sugar but also really good yogurt and other ingredients. In other words, pretty darn good.IMG_7749
  10. My GelPro Mats. This is not new to me, but I haven’t mentioned these mats in my Friday Fave lists yet. I’ve had one mat for a couple of years that I bought at Bed Bath and Beyond. Then, recently, the company sent me their newest release version to have me test out. Wow. I didn’t think there was much room for improvement on the mat, but it’s even thicker and more non-skid than it was before! It comes in a variety of colors and patterns but the old ones came in even more colors. Hopefully they’ll make more colors of the new one soon. These mats are expensive yes, but luxurious on the feet when you’re standing in the kitchen for hours and probably good for your back mechanics. I’m pretty certain there will be a giveaway soon on my blog for one, so keep your eyes open!



Indian-Inspired Salad

Indian-Inspired Fennel, Chick Pea, and Cucumber Salad

Children grow fast, we all know that.

But to watch a picky eater transform into a fennel-crunching, masala-musing child is bewitching, and it really makes one wonder where the years went.

It also allows one to feel that her job as chief cook of the household has been validated. :)

Today I prepared the ever so comforting chicken noodle soup, though chickenless, for my ill 7-year-old. We have plenty of comfort foods in our repertoire such as indulgently creamy mac and cheese, simple and homey rajma and chaaval (kidney bean curry and rice), hearty khichri (lentil and rice porridge), fragrant harira (Moroccan spiced lentil + pasta stew), and perfectly grilled cheese sandwiches. But to save some time tonight I bought a pre-prepped kit for an herbed chicken noodle soup from Central Market.

Having received some fennel from Frieda’s Specialty Produce company (which you can find at Central Market), and staring at a bag of thawed chick peas in the fridge, my nagging motherly mind begged me to get protein in my vegetarian child tonight. (It’s always a struggle, but we seem to manage).

I decided to celebrate the warm weather here with a refreshing crunchy and cool salad to accompany the soup. Here’s the winning recipe, the judge being that girl formerly known as pickiest eater. She devoured 2 bowls of the salad, and sipped meager spoonfuls of her soup. Go figure.


Indian-Inspired Fennel, Chick Pea, and Cucumber Salad

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Serves: 2-3


  • Salad Dressing:
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon ground roasted cumin (info HERE)
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional) or Indian chili powder such as Kashmiri
  • Salad:
  • ½ cup cooked chick peas
  • 2 small cucumbers, chopped in ¼ inch dice
  • ½ large fennel bulb, chopped in ¼ inch dice
  • ¼ teaspoon roasted cumin powder
  • ½ teaspoon chaat masala powder (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro (optional)


  1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small airtight jar with a lid (canning or Mason jars work well). Alternately, thoroughly whisk all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. If using the jar method, close jar tightly and shake to blend dressing. Set aside. Can make dressing up to 2 days ahead.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine chick peas, cucumbers, and fennel.
  4. Sprinkle in the roasted cumin powder and the chaat masala if using.
  5. Mix well with a large spatula or spoon.
  6. Stir in the cilantro.
  7. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the dressing.
  8. Taste for salt and dress further if desired.
  9. Serve cold.

Imli Chutney


Imli Chutney (Tamarind-Date Chutney)

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 Cups


  • 1 packed cup tamarind pulp (don’t worry if there are seeds)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped pitted dates (approx 20 dates)
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar


  1. Heat water in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add tamarind pulp to hot water. Lower heat and cook for 10 minutes, breaking pulp with wooden spoon. Turn off heat.
  3. Strain into a cup and discard pulp and seeds if there are seeds. You will be left with about 1 cup of tamarind water.
  4. Place tamarind water back into saucepan. Turn heat to medium-low. Add chopped dates.
  5. Add chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, and salt. Stir well, slightly mashing dates with wooden spoon.
  6. Cook 10 minutes. The mixture will slowly reduce and begin to look like a chutney.
  7. Turn off heat. Pour mixture into blender or mini food processor and blend, adding water as needed, up to 1 cup.
  8. Add brown sugar to taste. (The addition of this depends on the sweetness and variety of your dates).
  9. Serve with roasted papadums, samosas, chaat, or pakoras, or in a peanut-butter sandwich!

This chutney is traditionally made with jaggery instead of brown sugar. Jaggery is a wonderful mellow-tasting raw unrefined sugar made directly from sugarcane. Dark brown sugar is a good substitution.

Tamarind concentrate could be substituted for the pulp to save time, but the flavor won’t be as fruity and pure as it is with using the pulp. Tamarind pulp can be purchased at Asian or Indian grocery stores.

For a very short shortcut, you could use 2 tablespoons of tamarind concentrate dissolved in 1 cup warm water. Blend this with a 16 oz. jar of apple butter (yes apple butter!). Add the above listed chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, and salt and you have a fairly good and tasty substitute!

Yellow Squash Chutney

I’ve talked about chutneys here before, right? I’m always talking about chutneys (not to be confused with Indian pickled condiments like aachaars) in class, telling my students that in Indian cooking they are not always chunky, nor even always cooked. They can be raw or cooked, and usually are highly-seasoned with a smooth consistency, unlike the fruity chunky chutneys I see served on roast meats here in the West (though this one looks GREAT!) Westerners tend to use my chutney recipes for anything and everything: as dipping sauces for vegetables or chips and as all-purpose condiments in lieu of say- ketchup. But a very traditional way is to have some chutney just on your plate next to the rest of your food. And have your ketchup too, if you must. This chutney recipe came about since I shopped at my regular grocery store this week, the Wheatsville Co-op, and was surprised to see an overabundance of local produce. The crops must have just exploded with these colorful edibles since I was just there a couple of weeks ago and saw very little. I picked up some sunshine yellow squash and thought I’d make a chutney out of them since they’re a water-laden vegetable and could blend up nicely after a quick saute. DSC_0014 You only need a dollop of this South Indian style condiment for your whole dinner. Use it to add a dimension of flavor to your already flavorful curries. By that I don’t mean mix it into your curries. Set it on the side of your plate (it does look ugly, but then so does a lot of Indian food!), next to your chhole, kheema, chappattis or rice, raita, and whatever else you might be lucky to enjoy today. With each forkful or handful of starch plus curry, scoop up a spoonful of yogurt or raita and a bit of the chutney. Another way to use these chutneys is to mix it into some khichri, a satiating porridge of overcooked lightly spiced lentils and rice (the British transformed this dish into kedgeree).  Or simply mix chutney into steaming plain basmati rice with a bit of ghee and some homemade yogurt. That’s how the South Indians do it! Save the rest of the chutney for dosas or idlis the next day, should you be so lucky to have them in your meal plan. I might even use this condiment as a base on bruschetta or pizza. If you make this, I’d love to know how you used the chutney!


Yellow Squash Chutney

Yield: 1/3 cup

Serves: 6-8


  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or any high-smoke point cooking oil
  • ¼ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 Thai chilies, sliced and quartered lengthwise
  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 10-15 fresh curry leaves (not curry powder)
  • ½ medium onion, thinly sliced crosswise into half-moons
  • 1 medium-sized yellow squash, cut into a ¼ inch dice
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 quarter-size pieces of dried seedless tamarind pulp, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 3-4 green onions, chopped (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat, then finely ground to a powder


  1. Begin the tempering of spices (known as tadka/chowk/thalimpu): heat oil to medium-high in a small saucepan or skillet until shimmering and very hot, but not smoking.
  2. Add mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, which should be within a few seconds if the oil is hot enough, add cumin seeds (which should sizzle around the pan) and immediately lower heat.
  3. Immediately add the sliced chilies, sliced garlic, and curry leaves. The leaves can cause oil splash so keep a lid nearby. Stir constantly to avoid burning the garlic. Lower heat as necessary.
  4. Add onions and stir well. Cook for a few minutes, until the onions are beginning to sweat and turn translucent.
  5. Stir in the squash pieces.
  6. Add turmeric and salt. Mix well.
  7. Put in the tamarind pieces without their soaking water into the skillet. Keep the soaking liquid for later.
  8. Cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the squash softens and the tamarind pieces soften.
  9. Turn off heat and cool slightly.
  10. Scoop the skillet contents into a food processor, adding 1 tablespoon of the soaking tamarind water and additional water, up to 2 tablespoons, to achieve desired consistency (like a paste, or thick dipping sauce).
  11. Blend in the ground toasted sesame powder.
  12. Taste for salt and for sourness. Add more tamarind water as desired.
  13. Serve at room temperature with curries, dosas, idlis, chips, or pita bread.

Being Me

Hi there y’all.

I am ready to be me in this blog.

I tried the flowery food writing me, then the technical recipe writing me, then the measly attempts to be funny me. But now I’m just gonna be me. Basically, I’m tired of NOT writing simply because I don’t have a perfect recipe or a gorgeous photo. I’m just gonna write. I have lots to say and have had lots to say and it seems to be kept bottled in because of the need to LOOK good. Yes, my blog needs a better design and I haven’t gotten there yet. Yes, I need to give you more recipes, I hear you. And I’ll do that when I can and when I get to it. But in the meantime, I’m just gonna write. And I’m gonna write like I talk, for the most part. (I mean, I guess i don’t go around socializing with people saying “Vigorously whisk in one tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil until it emulsifies” or “Chiffonade the basil and garnish the soup”).

You know what I mean. I just am going to be me!


If I lose readers, I’ll be sad. But I’ll be happy to just be writing. If I gain readers, I’ll be happy. And I’ll wonder why? and who? would want to read ME?

Wish me luck!!

Favorite Foods Friday

This is my 2nd post on a list of my favorite things. So just to repeat here in case you missed it last time, for my Type A self, it’s always fun to write lists. I do so almost everyday, either on paper or on Evernote, or even on my electronic post-it note app. Yes, it’s noted. I’m confused about my note-taking devices.

I also love to read lists on blogs, on Amazon, in magazines and brochures. My friends used to make fun of me for gathering pamphlets everywhere I go. I collect lists!

So, here are a few of my favorite things right now. They include the gamut of everything I find that is enjoyable, interesting, or beneficial to me right now:  in food, music, websites, books, and moments.

Today, it just all happened to be about food :)

Here you go!

  1. Texas Olive Oil. We try to be as locavorous as possible for many reasons. But truly this is high quality olive oil, which I believe to be pure and unadulterated, unlike the rapport some other “imported” olive oils are getting. We love the lemon olive oil from Texas Olive Ranch and for my daughter’s 8th birthday present, we gave her a bottle of their basil olive oil as part of her birthday package. She gawked at it for a whole minute in front of all her little 7 and 8 year old friends. IMG_4747
  2. Cultured Cream Cheese. It’s hard to go back to Philadelphia after this. Cultured cream cheese has a faintly tart taste that falls back so it’s almost unnoticed. Great with bagels.IMG_4748
  3. Scotch. I started enjoying the fine flavor of good scotch. But then it gave me heartburn. And I realized I’m not an Indian uncle. I really must be aging!! It’s still on my favorites list right now, but may disappear later.
  4. Butter. This is most certainly not a new favorite thing of mine but since this is a new column for me, I need to put a few brands I like in here, such as Plugra or Lurpak for baking, softened Amul for spreading, Kerrygold’s garlic herb compound butter (they’ve done all the hard work for us!), Vermont Creamery’s excellent cultured butter with sea salt crystals, so enticing in its cute little basket and adored by all last Thanksgiving on our dinner rolls. My everyday butter is Double Devon salted butter (for buttered peas, buttered toast, buttered veggies, etc..). At this point on this list, you are probably realizing I spend a lot on food. I learned that from my parents who taught me to spend money on food, not clothes. Unfortunately, I do both.IMG_4825
  5. Harmless Harvest’s 100% raw coconut water. Again, it’s hard to go back to those other brands. But with that crazy price, despite my efforts to try to realize that good food costs money, I may have to go back :(
  6. Qia Chia Seed brand cereal. It’s not really cereal in the cold milk and cold sweet flakes in a bowl sense. But on the rare occasion that we do Breakfast for Dinner, I tried soaking some of this in cold milk and the kids lapped it up, like good little obedient puppies…I mean children.
  7. Lattes at Hillside Farmacy. Yes a few good coffee and espresso shops abound in Austin now (check out the Austin Food Blogger City Guide list here). And my husband is his own barista and roasts his own beans, etc.. but I do like their lattes here. I like the size of the latte, the foam is perfect, and the beans are topnotch. Size and mug of latte is strangely important to me. If it’s a large cup, like a teacup, the latte gets cold too fast for my liking. Besides the foam tends to dissipate faster. And I just can’t drink 12 ounces of latte, so right now, Hillside has my favorite latte. I’ve loved Cafe Medici’s, Houndstooth’s, and JP Java’s before.
  8. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson. Reads like a novel. He’s an inspiration.
  9. Blog communities. We have a really great one in Austin. I didn’t realize it’s rather uniqueness until recently. We published our very own gorgeous cookbook, which I blogged about earlier.IMG_4808
  10. Grocery co-ops. I would drive by Wheatsville Co-op in college wondering who on Earth would shop there. Such a teeny store, no parking, and HEB had everything, and cheaper! (or so I thought at the time) Well, that is truly the thoughts of a college kid. Boy how I’ve grown up. As mentioned before here on my blog, I almost exclusively shop there now for the last couple of years, and a little bit at Whole Foods and Central Market. But we can get virtually everything we need at the co-op and much of it is local so I actually still don’t even belong to a CSA. Last Fall, I was hired to shoot some cooking videos for the National Grocery Co-op Association. They were finally produced and went online recently. Those videos will be available here on my site very very soon!

Stay tuned for this bi-monthly column on my blog on my favorite food finds (and more!).

What are your favorites right this second?

Favorite Things: Listomania

For my Type A self, it’s always fun to write lists. I do so almost everyday, either on paper or on Evernote, or even on my electronic post-it note app. Yes, it’s noted. I’m confused about my note-taking devices.

I also love to read lists on blogs, on Amazon, in magazines and brochures. My friends used to make fun of me for gathering pamphlets everywhere I go. I collect lists!

So, here are a few of my favorite things right now. They include the gamut of everything I find that is enjoyable, interesting, or beneficial to me right now:  in food, music, websites, books, and moments.

Here you go!

  • Baking cinnamon rolls. Who knew how easy they really are? You just have to have some time for the dough to rise, have un-expired yeast, and a good pan. Next time, I’m making them the night before and baking them first thing in the morning with my cuppa jo. Here’s the recipe I used last weekend from the blog Savory Sweet Life. A good recipe with great frosting. Next time, I’m going to up the salt a tad in the dough, but otherwise they were great.


  • The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease. It really is a treasury. I’ve had this book since my first child was a newborn. I’ve referenced it often and re-read parts of it many times, especially the research-based literature in the first half, which helps discuss in a Q & A format, the why/how/when to read-aloud.


  • Coconut Aminos. I’m loving this ingredient. So far, I’ve used it only in salad dressings. But I know it’ll be great in some Asian-flavored sauces for stir-frys. Anyone recommend any other dishes in which to use this nutrient-dense ingredient?


  • Best Coast. How can one song make you want to live in Los Angeles?
  • Hilah Cooking This successful Austinite is charismatic and fun and KNOWS how to teach cooking. Look for her new upcoming series on Cooking with Kids (featuring yours truly’s tots :)
  • Craft beer, but only the dark stouty caramelly ones. Can you tell I know my beer? I like a lot of them, but don’t know the names. Off the top of my head, I know I like Left Hand Milk Stout and 512 Pecan Porter. Ask the ladies at BitchBeer their favorites and read more about them!
  • Using jaggery (gol or gud in Gujarati/Hindi languages) in desserts. If you live in Austin, go eat at Lenoir! Pastry chef and owner Jessica Maher (with husband chef Todd Duplechan who has worked at Tabla restaurant in NYC) has creatively incorporated this mellow sugarcane gold known as jaggery into one of the restaurant’s desserts. She’s even providing me the recipe to teach in a class one day! I only wish I had taken a nice shot of that dessert. Ate too fast.


  • Goldfrapp‘s song Number 1. That’s for my hubby.
  • Crazy costumes. Enough said.


I’ll always remember your name Victoria Soto.

It’s been months since I’ve written, here or on paper. I have running thoughts, and I always want to write. But writing in peace on a table is a luxury for me right now, and I have had some other priorities in my life. But when the urge to discuss, to spill the emotions to whoever will listen, to expel the mental congestion and the whirling in the chest, the pen and paper are where I like to go.

And so, even though this is a food blog, today I’m writing about Newtown and its people. Sandy Hook and its teachers, like Lauren, whose funeral is today. The parents of those 20 kids and those precious ever-so-little children. Benjamin, Emilie, and the other ones whose names have stuck in my head. I refuse to talk about the shooter. He’s had enough coverage. I will remember Victoria Soto’s name forever. That day and this Christmas, I won’t forget. I’m also writing about the 23 year old Delhi medical student who lies in a hospital today fighting for her life, her internal organs permanently damaged from the brutality of something I can’t even bear to type the words. Therein lies more hate. Misogyny. And of course in the background is always the never-ending religious fervor in the world leading to violence. Your hate is despicable. But I won’t hate your hate. Because I won’t ever be like you.

A message for the evil-doers in this world: You have made me fear guns even more. You have made me see more hate and above all fear the hate in this world. You have made me look at the clock every day since last Friday, more and more relieved as the hands go toward the afternoon hours, eager to pick up my child at 2:45pm. But what I know is this:  you have made me have a fiercer love than ever before. And that fierce love multiplied by hundreds of thousands, no millions of people around the world have already overcome the fear. Love conquers fear. So you will never get us.

Nicoise Salad Vinaigrette

We stopped buying bottled vinaigrettes maybe 10 years ago. You may think that by that statement that I have developed a repertoire of some 30 or 40 vinaigrettes. But no, we make the same 2 or 3 over and over in our household. They are the ones our kids learned to eat salad with and the ones that our parents (yes parents!) learned to eat salad with. They are the vinaigrettes for which people ask for the recipes.

“Shefaly, can you send me a recipe of that vinaigrette you used to make when you lived here?”

“Shef, how do I make “your salad dressing”?”

I’ve never written these down unfortunately. It’s not in a Word document and it’s not on the blog and it’s not even in my mind. It’s just in my hands and my tiny vinaigrette whisk and my small stainless steel bowl.

But here’s one I wrote down for this blog post for a Nicoise Salad that is a staple in our house. Nicoise Salad is a relatively easy “meal” but it does require a moderate amount of vegetable prep and the appropriate cooking techniques for the ingredients. Who wants flaccid haricots verts or a greenish grey coloring around over-boiled egg yolks?

Here’s the recipe for the vinaigrette, and you can approximate the amount of vegetables, tuna, eggs, and of course olives!, like I do. Just throw it all together, but don’t really “throw”. Compose it layer by layer:  its beauty is alluring, and its taste tempting, even for those savoring a more “substantial” or decadent meal.

A Composed Salad

Nicoise Salad


  • ½ pound tiniest potatoes you can find, boiled and halved if desired (dress potatos in a dash of vinaigrette while warm if you can)
  • Large handful green beans, blanched, drained, placed in ice water bath and drained again (for beginners, here’s a source for how-to)
  • 4 boiled eggs, peeled and quartered (another how-to, right here)
  • 1 bulb fennel, sliced
  • Handful cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ English cucumber, cut into ½ inch dice
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper, sliced into ¼ inch thick rings
  • 1 can oil-packed tuna, flaked
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • ¼ cup Nicoise olives
  • More whole parsley leaves, if desired
  • For the Vinaigrette:
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • a teaspoon or two of minced herbs like parsley, basil, or chervil


    For the Vinaigrette:
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small Mason jar or airtight container.
  2. Shake vigorously for about one minute to emulsify the dressing.
  3. Adjust for salt and pepper.
  4. For the Salad:
  5. First layer some green leaf lettuce or preferably butter lettuce leaves on the bottom layer of a large serving bowl or platter.
  6. Then prepare ingredients and arrange gracefully on a large platter or serving bowl
  7. Then dress with the vinaigrette! Voila!

©Shefaly Ravula/Shef’s Kitchen