Marinated Sweet and Sour Fish


The words “sweet and sour” have a special place in my heart. Sweet and sour chicken was one of the first Chinese dishes I ever tasted. It was when I was a kid and my parents splurged one night to take us to the only Chinese restaurant in our town. It was an upscale place, with lazy suzan tables that my sister and I couldn’t get enough of.

The combination of sweet and sour is not found in Greek savory dishes. So, for us, sweet and sour chicken was incredibly exotic. It was a main dish and a dessert all in one! Eventually, my mom found a recipe for a version of it and she would make it often enough that it became a little less exotic, though it still remained a favorite.DSC04044

When I came to the U.S. to study, there were several food trucks on campus, and one of them was Chinese. At least once a week, I would pay them $5 and they would hand me a white styrofoam clamshell container, heavy and warm. I would open it as soon as I could find a place to sit. Inside it, waiting for me, was some white rice, topped with battered and deep fried nuggets of chicken, and smothered with that golden syrup, of sweet and sour fame. It was divine.

So, when Steve and I were going through the Jerusalem cookbook for a recipe to try out a couple of weeks ago, we were intrigued when we saw the name of this particular one. The colorful photo didn’t hurt either. So we gave it a try and, as with everything in this cookbook, we were not disappointed. The dish really is better after it sits in the fridge for a day or two, and is best eaten at room temperature. I did make one change though. I reduced the amount of coriander. It overpowered the dish and took away from that perfect combination: sweet and sour.DSC04039Marinated Sweet and Sour Fish – Slightly adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook


4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2 inch slices (350 g)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed in mortar and pestle
2 bell peppers (one red and one yellow or orange), cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch strips (300 g)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or grated on microplane
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
2 cups (320 g) of dice tomatoes in juice (from two 14.5 oz cans, some will be left over)
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons cider vinegar (or sherry vinegar)
1 lb (500 g) white fish fillets (such as cod, halibut, pollock, etc.)
all purpose flour for dusting
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 375º F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large ovenproof deep pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and crushed coriander seeds. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add peppers and cook for another 10 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaves, curry powder, and tomatoes and cook for another 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar, vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and some black pepper and cook for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a separate frying pan over medium high heat. Sprinkle fish with some salt, dip in the flour, then in the eggs, and fry for about 3 minutes, turning once. Transfer fish to paper towels to absorb excess oil. When all fish is cooked, add to pan with the peppers and onions, pushing the vegetables aside so that the fish is at the bottom of pan. Add enough water just to immerse the fish in the liquid.

Place the pan in the oven for 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked. Remove from oven and let it cool to room temperature. The fish can be served now or put in the fridge, covered, for a day or two to let the flavors combine. Before service add salt and pepper, if needed.

Savory Tomato Jam


We spent New Year’s eve in Corsica with a group of friends. Given that we were in a house situated in a tiny village of 40 inhabitants, and considering that around the holidays everything is pretty much closed in France, I have nothing to report in terms of food discoveries. We pretty much bought a bunch of groceries on our first day, and we cooked simple meals every day.


Corsica, or at least the small part we saw, is a beautiful island, with rugged mountains that come down straight into the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean. There are fig trees and citrus trees everywhere, as well as rosemary and laurel and a strange, edible fruit-bearing tree we had never seen before called Arbutus or Strawberry trees (Arbousier in French). The mountain side on which our house was located was covered with paddle cactuses, though the delicious, red prickly pears they produce had all been picked clean by now.


The weather was beautiful. Sunny and high 50s everyday. Very different than the weather back in New York where we are getting ready to return to. With a high of 17º F, it’s a veritable Arctic landscape in the Northeast. So, if you are trying to survive the first snow blizzard of 2014 and want something that provides some spicy warmth, I give you this recipe for a savory tomato jam. It’s a delicious combination of tomatoes and spices, cooked slowly together until they form a thick sauce that is a perfect accompaniment to seafood. Though I would guess that it would also pair well with chicken or pork.

Enjoy, and stay warm out there.


Savory Tomato Jam – Slightly adapted from

Makes about 3 cups


1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped peeled ginger
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh mint, chopped


Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, coriander, and cardamom and cook, stirring often, until mustard seeds begin to pop, about 1 minute. Add shallots, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add fish sauce, sugar, turmeric, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.

Add diced tomatoes with their juices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, until tomatoes are softened and mixture thickens, 35–45 minutes. Mix in lime juice; season with salt and pepper.

Serve over cooked fish or chicken and top with chopped fresh mint.

Red Wine Braised Octopus / Χταπόδι κρασάτο


I had been in the U.S. for probably a couple of months. I was a freshman in college and on that particular night, my new American friends and I were sitting around the lounge of our college dorm talking about the kinds of things only freshmen can find interesting. At some point, the discussion turned to food and more specifically, food people found disgusting. Liver, intestines, tongue, brains, anything with a head on it, anything with tentacles, all were things tossed around by everyone in their attempt to out-disgust each other.

Everyone but me, that is. Because, as I explained to my increasingly horrified audience, these were all things I grew up eating. As I described a few occasions when my family sat down for a special Sunday lunch and my sister and I each got a whole, roasted baby lamb’s head in our plates, how we used to spread the soft-like-butter brains on our piece of bread — “to get smarter” our dad told us with a wink while he ate the eyeballs, because even we had limits and wouldn’t eat the squishy orbs — and how we used our forks to scrape the melt-in-your-mouth cheeks off the lamb skull, I realized that a couple of people were ready to pass out.

So I kept going and described the traditional Easter dish of kokoretsi: liver, heart, lung, kidneys, and other organs wrapped in intestines and cooked on a skewer over hot coals.


I soon learned to accept the squeamishness of most Americans when it comes to a lot of food I have no problem eating. But there’s one case I still find baffling: those who don’t like to eat “things with tentacles.” That means octopus (or squid). How could you not love octopus? Nothing compares when it comes to texture and taste. If cooked properly, it’s tender with a tiny bit of chewiness, with the taste of the ocean along with a distinct meaty flavor that pairs so well with red wine or vinegar.

This recipe comes from my mom. It’s the way I always ate octopus growing up. Braised in red wine and vinegar for a long time, until it melts in your mouth. The toughest part about this recipe is cutting the octopus, which can be a little slippery, but once that is done, the rest is a piece of cake. Try it, even if you are not a fan of “things with tentacles.” I bet you’ll change your mind.


Red Wine Braised Octopus

Makes 3-4 servings

Note: I usually buy whole octopus frozen and defrost it in the fridge. It’s preferable to buy frozen octopus. In fact, freezing freshly caught octopus and then defrosting it is a good way to tenderize it. Do not add salt to the octopus when cooking it. It is naturally salty. In fact, most of the octopus is salt water that will evaporate in the first part of the recipe.


3 lbs octopus, cleaned and cut into 1.5″-2″ pieces
1 cup red wine
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2-3/4 cup water
1 bay leaf
black pepper


Place cut octopus in a large pot. Do not add anything else in the pot. Turn the heat on medium and cook octopus until almost all of its water has evaporated (or as my mom always says “until it drinks its water”). The octopus pieces will turn deep pink and shrink considerably.

When only a little bit of liquid remains in the pot, add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil and then simmer with a lid loosely covering the pot until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened (1.5-2 hours). Taste and season with black pepper if necessary.

Serve with rice or pasta.

Swordfish with Aji Panca Paste


“There are worms in the fish!”

I turned to Steve with a look of horror and sadness. Horror because, well, there were worms in the fish. And sadness because I was so hungry and ready to eat something that the thought of throwing away the fish, just as I was ready to cook it was really dispiriting.


Let me start from the beginning. I had prepared a marinade using Aji Panca paste, made with a peruvian pepper that is immensely packed with flavor, combining sweetness, heat, and smoke. I bought two super fresh swordfish steaks and marinated them in it for two hours. I had just taken them out of the fridge and was ready to place them in a pan coated with hot oil when I noticed something white and and squirmy on the surface of the fish. Then I saw another one in the marinade.



After the initial shock and overcoming the instinctive reaction of throwing everything out, we went to Google for some more information. Turns out, worms called roundworms are commonly found in fish flesh. In fact, there is a standard process for removing them in seafood processing facilities called candling. The fish fillets are examined under strong light which the worms are attracted to. This only gets rid of the ones on the surface though, leaving those buried deeper in the flesh. We also learned that they are generally harmless to humans, especially if the fish is cooked to 140 degrees or more.

So, feeling a little calmer and happy we didn’t just throw everything out, we removed the worms we could see, we cooked the swordfish (a little more than we would have usually), and enjoyed it with some zucchini fries. And probably some marinated worms to go along with it.


Swordfish with Aji Panca Paste Adapted from


1/2 cup aji panca paste
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 (6-oz) steaks swordfish
2 tablespoons vegetable oil


1. Combine all marinade ingredients (from aji panca paste to garlic). Add swordfish and marinade in refrigerator, covered, for 2 hours, turning once or twice.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in large non-stick pan and cook swordfish on both sides until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the steaks.

Oven Poached Fish in Olive Oil

I’ve always loved cooking for people. I rarely cook just for myself. This is partly because cooking is an activity with a very specific end result. When I cook, I create something. And that’s something I want to share. Often it’s something I want to show off. I’ll be the first to admit that humility is not an ingredient in my cooking.


So, I’ve always loved having dinner parties. Even when I lived in apartments with impossibly small kitchens, I’d have friends over for dinner. Out of a half size oven and a workspace the size of school desk, I have produced multi course meals for eight people. When Steve and I met, we found our love for food was mutual. So, the dinner parties continued and became more elaborate. We started pairing wines with every course. We printed menus.


The only problem with such extravagant affairs has been that at times we ended up spending more time in the kitchen than at the table with our friends. So, over the last few years I’ve adjusted our menus, opting for dishes that can be prepared ahead of time and served easily and quickly. This recipe is one of our favorites. It takes 15 minutes to put together but the result is delicious and impressive.


Fish is especially difficult for dinner parties. It so often requires cooking right before eaten, it smells up the kitchen, and it can easily be overcooked. By poaching it gently in the oven in olive oil, this recipe takes care of all of those problems. In fact, I’ve often left it in the oven for 30 minutes past what the recipe says and I’ve never had any problems with it. The fish always comes out tender, moist, and flavorful.

If you are worried about the amount of olive oil, don’t be. The fish absorbs almost none of it. And in the end, you can strain the olive oil and keep it in the fridge. Use it whenever you cook anything with seafood. It will have only the slightest hint of the fish, capers, and lemons.


Oven Poached Fish in Olive Oil – Slightly adapted from

Makes 4 servings


1/4 cup capers, rinsed
2 – 2 1/2 lb (1-inch-thick) skinless, firm, white flesh fish fillets (such as halibut or chilean sea bass)
1 1/2 large lemons, very thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
About 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil (enough to cover the fish)


Preheat oven to 250°F.

Chop half of capers and pat fish dry. Sprinkle fish with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and let stand 10 minutes at room temperature. Arrange half of lemon slices in 1 layer in an 8-inch square glass baking dish and arrange fish in 1 layer over lemon. Top with all of capers, remaining lemon slices, and 3 tablespoons parsley, then pour oil over fish. Bake in middle of oven, uncovered, until fish just flakes and is cooked through, about 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Serve fish with some of lemon slices, capers, and oil spooned over. Sprinkle with remaining parsley.

Seared Tuna with Olive Tapenade Relish

One of the first school field trips I remember taking as a kid was to an eleotrivio, a traditional olive oil mill. I have vague visual memories – a dark room, the circular fiber disks that are filled with olive paste and pressed to extract oil, the round millstones in the grinder – but it’s the memory of how it smelled that has stuck with me through the decades. A wet and grassy smell, pungent from the slight fermentation of the leftover olive paste, it was exciting and a little overwhelming for my young olfactory nerves. Like in a duckling seeing its mother for the first time, the smell imprinted itself in my brain, so that every time I open a jar of olive tapenade I flash back to that dark and musty eleotrivio of my younger years.


The recipe I have here calls for tuna steaks but you can substitute any fish steak (sword fish would work well, or even salmon). The real star is the olive tapenade relish. It’s thick, earthy, and a little sour, with a healthy kick from the shallots. You’ll find yourself thinking of the tuna as the supporting player, the implement you use to get the relish in your mouth, instead of the main player in the dish.


You can make more than you need and keep it covered in the fridge for several days. It’s another one of those sauces in my cooking arsenal that I can whip up quickly and dress up a weeknight meal into something special. And as an added benefit, just opening the jar of tapenade takes me on a mini time-travel trip to a time when the simple smell of crushed olives was a discovery to be cherished for years to come.


Seared Tuna with Olive Tapenade Relish – Adapted from

1/2 cup olive tapenade or olive spread (I use black olive tapenade but you can use the green kind or a mix)
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (you can also use red onion or 1/3 cup white onion)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar (or red balsamic vinegar if you can’t find white)
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from organic, unsprayed lemons; preferably grated on a Microplane zester)
salt and pepper
4 6-ounce tuna steaks (3/4 to 1 inch thick)

Mix tapenade, shallots, oil, vinegar, and lemon zest in medium bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Brush tuna on both sides with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tuna steaks and cook to desired doneness, 1-2 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Serve tuna steaks with relish on top. Accompany with a simple salad or roasted vegetables.