Category: What to Cook

The Best Oven Baked Salmon Recipe to Convert Any Salmon-Hater

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Growing up, there were very few foods that I refused to eat. They were: mushrooms, guacamole, and—the very worst of them all—salmon. I don’t know what it was exactly about the fatty, bright-pink fish, but seeing it on a plate instantly transformed me into a picky eater.

While my distaste for mushrooms and guacamole quietly vanished over the years (I’m sorry I ever turned you away, I was a different person then), my aversion to salmon persisted—until I met this roasted salmon with crispy kale and coconut rice.

But first, a little backstory: It was a few days post-New Years Eve and I had just come home from a five-day eating and drinking marathon with my parents in New Orleans—so many beignets, a few muffulettas, and endless cocktails. By the time I hobbled up the five flights of stairs to my apartment, the smell of gumbo and fried oysters was seeping out of my pores. I still felt stuffed, even though my last meal had been much earlier that morning. My body craved something fresh and comforting that wasn’t fried or doused in butter (even though I love both of those things). Which led me to salmon.

Everyone knows about the near-mythical properties of salmon—its potassium, its protein, its omega-3 fatty acids. If there was anything that would help me reset, it would be salmon, right? Luckily, I stumbled upon a popular 2014 recipe from Food52 community member, Ashley Couse in my search.

Despite its inherent salmon-ness, the dish promised many delicious things: fluffy white rice steamed with coconut milk, cubed sweet potatoes roasted in a drizzle of coconut oil and paprika, and oven-baked kale and coconut flakes coated in a spicy-savory dressing of sesame oil, tamari, and Sriracha. Factor in that the whole dish would only take me an hour and I was sold.

I prepped the vegetables and let the salmon come up to room temperature for about 15 or 30 minutes before I got started on the rice. Aside from that, I let the oven do the majority of the work. In a little under an hour, the whole dish was ready. Aromatic and lightly sweetened from the coconut, yet punchy thanks to the Sriracha, it tasted as beautiful as it looked—especially the salmon, which was soft and buttery on the inside, crisp and flaky on the outside. Maybe my tastebuds had changed, or maybe it was just this recipe, but the whole thing was perfect.

If you told me that I’d be eating salmon regularly even a few months ago, I probably would’ve laughed. But this recipe has somehow made it into my near-weekly dinner rotation. I’ve even tried mixing it up with variations here and there: swapping in brown rice, mixing in other leafy greens like Swiss chard or even broccoli, replacing sweet potato with butternut squash, or trying out different spices, like chili powder or harissa.

After all the experimenting, I’ve realized there’s really no wrong way to make it, but—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—you always need the salmon.

In partnership with FreshDirect, we’re celebrating the season’s best produce by whipping up recipes where the ingredients take center stage, like in this roasted salmon with crispy kale and coconut rice. This wholesome, weeknight-friendly recipe comes together with ease when you’ve got everything stocked from FreshDirect, where you can find quality cuts of salmon, pantry staples like coconut milk and paprika, fresh produce like kale and sweet potatoes, and so much more.

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A Comforting One-Pot Chicken Pasta, by Way of Peru

If I want to get my husband John excited about dinner, all I have to do is mention the word carapulcra. This rich, homey stew is made from pieces of sun-dried potatoes that are rehydrated and simmered with chunks of pork in a spicy broth. The sauce is perfumed with cloves, white wine, and Port. Thickened with ground peanuts, it gets an added touch of lusciousness from a very unusual (at least in Peruvian cuisine) secret ingredient: a bar of chocolate.

Carapulcra rarely makes an appearance at Peruvian restaurants in the United States, so it’s a real treat whenever I announce to John that I’m preparing it. I blame its absence on restaurant menus to the fact that it looks like dog food. It’s a member of that special society of dishes that objectively don’t photograph well, but taste heavenly.

I frequently browse Peruvian recipes, YouTube videos, and blogs to learn about different ways to make some of my favorite dishes, or even to discover new ones I’ve never heard of. I once saw a recipe for carapulcra in my feed and decided to take a look to see how the author made what has become one of my signature dishes. As with most online recipes, I scrolled to the bottom of the page to see what readers had to say.

Reading this comments section threw open the doors to a side of Peruvian cuisine that was entirely new to me. The number one complaint from most of the readers was that the author suggested serving carapulcra with rice. Apparently, this was entirely wrong. Some readers almost saw this to be a patriotic transgression. (We have strong nationalistic attachments to our food in Peru.) This was alarming to me: I had always eaten carapulcra with white rice. I didn’t know that there was another way to eat it.

I kept scrolling through the comments and found one, in particular, that offered an explanation. The reader was from Chincha, a town just south of Lima in a region called the Sur Chico (the “Little South”). This reader explained that in his hometown, people never ate carapulcra with rice. They ate it with something called sopa seca, which literally translates to “dry soup.”

Sopa seca consists of spaghetti, pureed basil, chicken, and broth simmered together in a clay pot until the pasta absorbs all the liquid and becomes tender. The dish received its name because it really does look like a dried up, herbaceous chicken noodle soup.

You may notice that two elements in this dish are common in Italian cuisine: spaghetti and basil. This isn’t mere coincidence. In the 1800s, Italian immigrants settled in the areas around Chincha to work in agriculture or guano harvesting. These Italian immigrants, who mainly hailed from Liguria (the birthplace of pesto), brought their food customs with them.

The legend holds that local Afro-Peruvian chinchanos saw their new neighbors consuming pasta with pesto and tried to recreate it themselves. However, they were a little perplexed as to how to actually cook the noodles, so they decided to cook it like rice—everything together in the same pot. Little by little, the dish evolved into its present incarnation.

While researching sopa seca, I discovered something important about carapulcra as well. In Chincha, it is always made with fresh potatoes. While it also features ground peanuts, it doesn’t have all of the fancy extras like Port, wine, and chocolate. The type of carapulcra I made and ate was the limeño variety.

Besides discovering that not all Peruvians ate the same kind of carapulcra, I also learned that in Chincha there is no such thing as carapulcra without sopa seca. They are as inseparable as a pizza to its crust. The combination is such an iconic part of the local cuisine that it even has its own name: mancha pechos, or “chest stainer.” You can probably guess why.

This combination of dishes is particularly popular at important gatherings like baptisms, birthdays, and weddings. In fact, it’s the last of these types of events that is said to have been the birthplace of this dish. According to local lore, when a couple got married, each side of the family brought its own signature dish. One side brought carapulcra, the other brought sopa seca, and just as the young couple exchanged vows, both of these dishes became perpetually bound in culinary matrimony.

While most Peruvians from the Sur Chico region, which includes Chincha, agree that carapulcra is made with fresh potatoes and that it is never complete without a side of sopa seca, there is some controversy as to the precise preparation of the noodles. As I was comparing recipes online, I encountered the same types of arguments that surrounded the proper presentation of carapulcra. There were those who insisted that sopa seca had no ají (Peruvian chiles) and needed to be mild because the carapulcra was already spicy. There were those who proclaimed that sopa seca included carrots and those who thought such an inclusion to be blasphemous. There were even arguments as to what to do with the chicken, with some advocating for shredded poached chicken while others claimed that this dish required bone-in chicken quarters.

The more I researched, the more confusing things became. Apparently, there are different micro-regional versions of sopa seca that can include such things as dry botija olives, raisins, hard-boiled eggs, and wine. I read comment threads where individuals from the town of Cañete would battle those from Lunahuaná on how to authentically prepare this “dry soup,” which also goes by the names of sopa bruta (“stupid soup”) and sopa chola (“Indian soup”).

I decided to develop a recipe that reflects the version of this dish you’d find in Chincha. I call for bite-size pieces of chicken, eliminating the extra step of poached chicken while also making it easier to serve and eat. I like carrots in many Peruvian stews and think it adds a sprinkle of color against the green background of these noodles. I include ají panca in the recipe, which adds a smoldering heat. However, feel free to omit it, especially if you want to eat this the way chinchanos do (with a side of carapulcra).

Just be sure to wear a bib so that this “chest stainer” doesn’t end up on your shirt.

Have you ever had sopa seca? Tell, tell in the comments below.

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A ‘Why Didn’t I Think of That?’ Trick for Better Salads

We all know how to make a salad, right? Start with some leaves, add a few bonuses (chopped vegetables, roasted nuts, crispy croutons, you name it), drizzle with dressing, toss. That’s the everyday way.

And then there’s the Estela way.

Estela is a restaurant in New York City by Chef Ignacio Mattos. In 2013, the year it opened, The New York Times gave it two stars. Currently, it holds a spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Which is to say, if you go to Estela, you’re going to get good food.

Think: spiced almonds and Iberico ham. Burrata with salsa verde and charred bread. Lamb ribs with charmoula and honey. Oh, and the most Why didn’t I think of that? salad you’ve ever had in your life.

For what it’s worth, it doesn’t look like a salad. It looks like a pile of endive leaves—maybe even a pile you recognize, considering that the dish is also the cover of Estela’s recently released, namesake cookbook.

“People associate us with this salad,” Chef Mattos told me.

After one or two bites, it’s easy to see why: If you dig your fork beneath the leaves, you’ll find all sorts of crunchy, cheesy clusters. Mattos calls it “granola,” but where you’d expect oats, there are actually sourdough croutons, toasted walnuts, and Ubriaco Rosso (an Italian cow’s milk cheese with a purplish rind), all dressed with a peppery anchovy vinaigrette.

It sounds good and tastes even better, which makes it all the more curious that Estela hides the granola at the bottom of the bowl. But to Mattos, that’s all part of the fun.

“It creates a surprise element and makes a statement by keeping the food simple yet bold,” he said. “The salad eats better when its plated this way—each bite is different.”

In the cookbook’s recipe headnote, he encourages readers:

The way to start is by eating a few of the top leaves, little endive cups holding orange juice and oil, and then begin filling the rest of them with the absurdly delicious crouton-and-cheese mixture hidden below, sort of like making your own taco.

And with respect to those hard-to-find ingredients? Mattos encourages substitutions, too. The Ubriaco Ross, he told me, can be replaced with blue cheese. The garnacha vinegar can make way for a red wine counterpart. And even the iconic endive can be swapped out for “radicchio or chicory,” he said, “anything that is fresh and alive to balance the granola’s richness.”

In other words? This dish is about as famous as a restaurant salad can get. But it’s also a template for salad assembly at home. Instead of tossing your mix-ins with the leaves, hide them beneath like buried treasure, and be sure to dress each component separately—either with the same vinaigrette, or take a cue from Mattos and mix and match.

Below is the recipe for Estela’s version. But I can’t wait to hear what upside-down salad you come up with on your own.

What’s your favorite way to make salads? Spill in the comments!

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The Best Use for Salted Butter Isn’t a Cookie

It was a Friday, and I was procrastinating. I had been working long hours for a couple weeks, but I was finally working from home, so my to-do list was shorter than it had been in months.

I woke up naturally, took the dog for an extra-long walk, and cooked myself a leisurely breakfast. I even called a girlfriend and played catch-up, gabbing for long enough that I finally had to force myself to hang up, telling her: “I really need to do some work.”

Photo by Julia Gartland

I sat down at my computer, took a sip of my second cup of coffee, and started to type. I’d barely finished a sentence when my phone rang again.

The voice on the other end was an old friend, and I knew immediately something was wrong—his voice shook. It was a moment I’d never experienced up to this point in my life: I was receiving news that someone close to me had passed away unexpectedly.

I’d experienced loss, but never out of the blue like this, never without a source or illness I was aware of, never without having a chance to say some sort of goodbye.

Andrew was one of my oldest friends. We met when I was 14 at a summer theater camp and eventually ended up at the same high school in the same group of friends. We stayed close when I moved away for culinary school, because he became increasingly interested in the food world, specifically studying beer and wine in his spare time. We shared goals, and spoke a similar language, as we each delved further into all things gastronomic.

I’d send him my writing, and he’d give me notes and encouragement. I’d mail him discounted beverage books I found on sale in the campus bookstore. He ultimately became a successful sommelier in Chicago. He had that natural flair for hospitality—I’d once heard someone describe him as “everyone’s best friend”—because he was among many things, a fabulous listener.

As a diner, he’d make you feel like the most special guest in the restaurant. As a friend, he’d make you feel…important, and undeniably cared for. He was smart, and so funny. I always told people I felt lucky to know him. Inside, I felt even luckier to have known him for so long: to have watched his journey from gawky teenage theater nerd, to high schooler with a garage band, to college student with a burgeoning wine collection, to well-coiffed man behind an impressive wooden bar, expertly reciting the recent additions to his menu.

He had that natural flair for hospitality—I’d once heard someone describe him as “everyone’s best friend”—because he was among many things, a fabulous listener.

It’s been a few months since I received that phone call. The grieving process has been decidedly different than I expected. I feel like I’m asking lots of questions, as if getting tiny details relayed to me will give me some sort of bigger answers.

Sometimes, I find myself tracking time. The numerical day he passed brings a painful twinge each month, as I mentally add another tick to the amount of time he’s been gone. The weeks leading up to his February birthday felt particularly uneasy. Even when I’m not able to be with people on their special days, I’ve always felt like I should make something for them. I’ll make people’s favorites from across the country to celebrate them, in my mind, even from afar.

Photo by Julia Gartland

I still make birthday cakes each year for my grandma, who passed more than 6 years ago. It’s been sort of my own version of the offerings on the altar for those who celebrate the Day of the Dead. The thought is that, if I bake something with a person in mind, then maybe I can reach them in some way. I don’t know if it ever really works, but it always makes me feel a little better.

Photo by Julia Gartland

I ate lots of meals with Andrew—everything from tasting menus in Manhattan, to fried food at dives in Chicago, to 1:00 p.m. “breakfasts” on my kitchen floor.

During a stint when I was working in a bread bakery, he once asked me my favorite bread to make or to eat. I told him, “Whichever one is still warm—slathered with salted butter.”

The memory of the crooked side smile he cracked upon hearing my response was what ultimately inspired this loaf. Salted butter, eggs, milk, and a little sugar enrich this soft brioche loaf, which I bake until it’s deeply brown (the kind of deep color from baking he’d once told me “everyone but the French were afraid of”).

The thought is that, if I bake something with a person in mind, then maybe I can reach them in some way. I don’t know if it ever really works, but it always makes me feel a little better.

That was the recipe I baked for his birthday this year—the year he would have been 33. I ate the loaf warm, with plenty of butter, on my kitchen floor. I’m not sure if he got the message, but I like to think he was leaning on the still-warm oven door listening to me ramble about what a difference the salted butter makes…making me feel, among many things, undeniably cared for.

Have you ever cooked to honor a loved one? Share in the comments below.

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9 Recipes to Cook in March · i am a food blog i am a food blog

It’s almost Spring and that means all the green things! If you’re looking for what’s in season in March, here it is: avocado, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. There are a bunch more too – winter citrus is still prime time and peas and radishes are starting to pop up too. I focused on the extra green guys to keep in line with St. Patrick’s Day 🙂 Anyway, here are 9 recipes to cook in March!


japanese avocado toast -

1. Japanese Inspired Avocado Toast – Give me ALL the avocados because I am a hardcore avocado toast fan and it doesn’t matter how much you make fun of me, I’ll still love it. These little guys have seaweed and arugula and salmon roe and sesame seeds!

salmon avocado summer rolls recipe -

2. Smoked Salmon and Avocado Summer Rolls – Smoked salmon and avocados go hand in hand, especially when tucked into a soft and chewy rice paper burrito. I love these rolls and can eat 8 of them in one sitting.

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3. Super Simple Avocado Pasta – All you need is an avocado, some cilantro, garlic, lime, and pasta for a quick and easy creamy without using cream pasta. Fun, fresh, and fast.

4. Crispy Air Fryer Broccoli – I’m an air fryer convert! Broccoli comes out crisp and charred, just like oven roasted but somehow better.

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5. Broccoli and Soba Bowl – A spicy soy and vinegar dressing, oodles of soba noodles, and broccoli all in a bowl so you can eat on the couch.

broccoli cheddar tots recipe -

6. Oven Baked Cheddar Cheese and Broccoli Tots – I love all tots and these guys are full of broccoli for health and cheddar cheese for, well, cheese. I’m going to be making these for St. Patrick’s Day for sure!

7. Air Fryer Brussels Sprouts – Air fry ALL THE VEGETABLES. They air fryer really does make that roasted vegetable taste quick and easy. I was a skeptic, but now I believe 🙂

honey garlic sprouts recipe -

8. Pan Seared Honey Garlic Brussels Sprouts – Brussels sprouts are are even more delicious when tossed in an addictive honey garlic sauce. Pan seared for optimum char!

9. Cacio e Pepe Cauliflower Gnocchi – This one is kind of cheating, since you can buy califlower gnocchi at Trader Joe’s year round, but it’s still one of my favorite recipes, so I popped it in just for fun. Four ingredients, no draining, maximum flavor!

Alright, that’s it! Hope you guys are cooking some fun things in March!

salmon avocado summer rolls recipe -

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The Best, Easiest Salad Dressing Recipe

What can you do with just five minutes? Actually, way more than you think! Introducing Food52 in 5: your cheat sheet for speedy, delicious recipes, fun mini projects, and more.

I have a secret sauce. It’s not the one you’re thinking of—though I do love a good Thousand Island riff.

It’s a little big spicier, a little bit sharper, and a good deal more garlicky. And I physically can’t stop drizzling it over everything:

Warm grain bowls, packed with a combination of roasted and raw, sliced vegetables. Seared salmon. Crispy chicken thighs. Sautéed greens that need a little extra somethin’. Great, hulking sandwiches. Broiler nachos. Salads of all shapes and sizes. And since takes less than a minute and only three ingredients to pull together, it makes the perfect companion most weeknights.

If my secret sauce were giving an Oscar acceptance speech, it’d have to start by thanking Huy Fong, a California-based company that makes and sells chile-based products. Huy Fong is perhaps best known for its Sriracha—the one sold in a tall bottle with a bright green squeeze-tip—but I go through its jars of chili garlic sauce like they’re water. The main ingredients listed on the condiment’s label offer some clues to its deliciousness (chiles, salt, garlic, vinegar), though the specifics (Are the chiles roasted? Raw? Anything special happening to the garlic?) remain the stuff of my wildest wonderings. “It was quoted by someone that it was easier to get into the Pentagon than into Huy Fong,” says the company’s website.

Next up, it’d give a shout-out to mayonnaise (haters, look away!), whose composition of emulsified oil, egg yolks, and some sort of acid make it a dreamy base for most any quick dressing. Hat tip to a dash of apple cider vinegar, for the perfect amount of tang.

“It was quoted by someone that it was easier to get into the Pentagon than into Huy Fong.”

And that—plus a little salt—is it. Really. My secret sauce is so simple, the Oscars wouldn’t even have to play it off the stage:

Do you have your own “secret sauce”? Let me know in the comments!

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Creamy Chicken Chowder Is Cold-weather Comfort at Its Best

We’ve all got that one sweater in the back of the closet that only comes out when it’s too frigid to function. It’s not particularly cute or trendy or even flattering, but it’s big and cozy and, most importantly, warm. And when the temperature drops to the lowest of the season, it’s the sweater you always reach for, the ultimate cold-weather companion.

Well, I like to think of this soup recipe as my cold-weather companion too.

Simplest Chicken Soup

This stick-to-your-ribs chicken chowder is meant for those days when the only thing that matters is defrosting. In my opinion, shaking off the chills and satisfying your soul with a hearty supper is just as revitalizing as a green juice or a face mask. (Those things can wait for spring or summer.)

And this chowder is comfort at it’s quickest. A more traditional chowder recipe tends to be a bit laborious. But I’ve saved a little time in this recipe by using store-bought rotisserie chicken rather than poaching one. It cuts the cooking time in half and get’s dinner on the table in under an hour.

Whenever I have a chowder of any kind, I always top it off with two things: a handful of oyster crackers and a few dashes of Tabasco sauce. This chowder is no different. But instead of plain oyster crackers, and since we’re throwing caution to the very, very cold wind, I’ve decided to make them even more comforting by bathing them in garlic butter and tossing them with parmesan. It’s basically like topping your chowder with warm, cheesy garlic bread.

What might be the greatest thing about this soup is that it makes plenty and freezes beautifully. I’d suggest putting a few containers aside in the freezer for a snowy day. I’m no weather forecaster but, I predict that there are still some days to come when you’ll need to eat this creamy chicken chowder just as much as you’ll need to wear that big, cozy sweater.

What’s your ultimate cold-weather companion? Tell us in the comments!

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Best Potato Recipes – Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Potatoes, Scalloped Potatoes

Let’s play a game—you name a dish, I’ll name a potato recipe to go with. Meatloaf? Mashed potatoes. Roast chicken? Roasted potatoes. Cheeseburger? French fries. Scrambled eggs? Home fries.

We could be here all day.

That’s why we’ve rounded up the best of the best of the big wide world of spuds (russet, fingerling, Yukon Gold, love you all). Whatever you’re making for dinner, odds are that one of these potato recipes will be the perfect thing to serve alongside.

1. Garlicky Roasted Potato Salad

Why pick between potato salad and roasted potatoes when you could have both? Food52er MySocialChef developed his own A+ spin on Spanish patatas bravas, and our tables are happier for it.

2. Molly Yeh’s Roasted Potatoes With Paprika Mayo

This recent addition to the Genius Recipes family comes from Food Network star Molly Yeh, who describes it as: “This is really kind of just a bowl of salty enough fries with mayo that you can eat with a spoon.”

3. Hasselback Potato Skillet Bake

Hasselback potatoes have a lot going for ’em: crispy nooks and crannies, wow factor, plus they look pretty as can be. These earn bonus points for the addition of Parmesan, garlic, and herbs.

4. Potato Stack (Scalloped Potatoes)

These small-but-mighty scalloped potato stacks are ready to accompany pan-seared steaks, breaded chicken breasts, juicy pork chops, and more. The trick is using two kinds of potatoes—russet and red—and leaving them unpeeled, so their colors look like pinstripes.

5. Mashed Potatoes With Caramelized Onions & Goat Cheese

Mashed potatoes: plain, no more. This batch pulls out all of the stops: fresh goat cheese, garlic, black pepper, and lots of jammy caramelized onions.

6. Broccoli Rabe, Potato & Rosemary Pizza

Potatoes may just be the most underrated pizza topping. Here, we’ve also got wintry broccoli rabe, mozzarella and Pecorino Romano, plus lots of rosemary, potato’s favorite herb.

7. Homemade Potato Chips

Better lunches, right this way. Potato chips love hanging out with sandwiches, from tuna salad to turkey-Swiss. But my favorite hack: piling them on the sandwich itself.

8. The Best Pan-Roasted Potatoes

“I wanted something in between oven-roasted and some kind of fried potatoes,” Gretchen @ Backyardnotes writes. We’re down! The trick is to take these until they’re almost burnt, so they’re extra-crispy outside, creamy inside.

9. The WFP: Greek Mahogany Potatoes

Creamtea’s daughter dubbed these “World Famous Potatoes” (that’s the WFP)—and who are we to disagree? Heads up that they’ll take upwards of an hour in the oven, but it’s worth it.

10. Mashed Potato Cakes With Broccoli & Cheese

These cakes are a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes (but we’ve been known to make mashed potatoes specifically for these cakes!). They’re full of broccoli and cheddar—add a runny egg on top and call it dinner.

What’s your go-to potato recipe? And what do you serve it with? Tell us in the comments!

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The West African Dish That Formed the Heart of Our Sunday Lunches

Good food is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. In My Family Recipe, a writer shares the story of a single dish that’s meaningful to them and their loved ones.

In the islands, Sunday lunch is an institution. The typical spread consisted of Kingfish steaks, steamed with burst tomatoes and herbs; stewed chicken, which produced a tangy-sweet, lacquered gravy; colorful potato salad served warm; cheesy macaroni pie; fried rice; and callaloo, a leafy green stew. For reasons that warrant pardon, while I outwardly devalued the significance of the week’s big meal, inwardly, I loved the tradition and took great pleasure in eating, well, most of it. When our family sat down to lunch at around 1 p.m. on Sundays, every dish made it onto my plate—every dish except one, the callaloo.

Callaloo, a native West African dish, came to the Caribbean during the triangular slave trade along along the Middle Passage. Its key ingredient—the heart-shaped leaves of the taro plant, known as Xanthosoma on the continent—continues to exert unparalleled influence on the Caribbean diet. It forever connects the region to the reach and realities of slavery, centuries later. Sometimes a stew, sometimes a soup, callaloo is an ode to the masterful and resourceful way that enslaved Africans repurposed indigenous plant life and accessible aromatics into a deeply nourishing staple. The process of making it seethes with a simplicity that defined slave cooking: quick and straightforward with little margin for indulgence. Even today, in callaloo’s postcolonial adaptation—where ingredients like fresh crab and chopped pumpkin sometimes bulk up the dish’s vegetal base—its minimalist preparation persists.

That preparation was something I avoided as a kid. That is, up until an arthritis flare-up in my mother’s left knee determined otherwise one Sunday morning. “I’m going to need you to be my legs in the kitchen today,” she said to me, with a pain in her voice that dismantled my teenage ambivalence to cooking.

Sunday after Sunday, for as long as I could remember, my mother would gently cajole me to help her with Sunday lunch. I always found a way to skirt the issue, never truly acknowledging that it was my own fear of causing a catastrophic kitchen hap that kept me out. This meal was central to our functioning as a family. When we sat down at our large, well-worn dining table, everyone’s emotional clock got reset and readjusted. We never talked about the coming week’s plans or deadlines; rather, we ate together in that moment, thankful for God’s providence that made that meal and our lives possible. I wanted no part in disturbing the delicate, yet powerful, balance of our Sunday lunch. So I took myself out of the cooking game, at least until my mother’s arthritic knee benched her, as well.

“Brigid, I’m going to sit here and walk you through the entire process, step-by-step. If you can listen to me, you can make Sunday lunch,” my mother said with scant confidence, trying to assuage her obvious reservations. Try as I did to convince her that her otherwise sound judgment was compromised by her joint pain, Mum would have none of my protests. She dismissed my objections as quickly as they came. I recall turning around to find her sitting at the entrance of our galley kitchen, rubbing her knee with an ointment, ready to relinquish her role as head chef to a pimple-faced newbie who could barely hold a knife.

“We’ll start with the starches and carbs first,” Mum ordered, “Then we’ll do the proteins and finish with callaloo.”

“There’s no way we’re going to pull this off,” I quipped. And then, under my breath: “There’s no way I’m making that vegetarian green glop.”

As the morning progressed, potatoes got scrubbed and cooked. Macaroni was boiled. Rice was simmered. I chopped more carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and red bell pepper than I thought was possible. My knife cuts were abysmal. Heaping amounts of rosemary, thyme, parsley, and scallions were minced, and fresh coconut was grated. All of the requisites of Sunday lunch meal-prep went without a hitch—albeit at snail’s pace. I suspect this irritated my mother, who was accustomed to moving at the speed of light as she managed a household of four every day without skipping a beat.

Before I knew it, the fish was steaming and the chicken was stewing. Mum looked at me with a knowing smile, proud of the eleventh-hour cook she created out of thin air. I was exhausted, but my fatigue was no match for the task that was entrusted to me.

It was a little after twelve when my big brother, Reynold, popped his head in to see if this Freaky Friday of an endeavor was a disappointment. “All I recognize are the smells,” he said. Mum and I both knew what he meant.

“The callaloo is all that’s left,” Mum said excitedly.

Frustrated, I pleaded that this Sunday we should skip that side. She shot me the type of glance that could scare anyone into immediate compliance. And then she spoke. With a reverence that I had never witnessed from Mum regarding any type of food, she expounded on the history of callaloo; particularly, how it remains inextricably linked to the carefree realities of my all-girl Catholic high school existence. She challenged me to see beyond the ingredients and to imagine a time back when our ancestors crossed the Middle Passage, bound, beaten, and branded; a time when choice wasn’t an option. She reminded me of callaloo’s civic prestige—as Trinidad and Tobago’s national dish—duly designated by emancipated slaves-turned-citizens-turned-statesmen, acquainted with its place in the nation’s history.

“There’s a reason we eat callaloo on Sunday,” she said. “It’s the only day that slaves didn’t have to work on the sugar plantations.” And with that, the side I once shunned became a significant part of my identity. I felt small under the weight of a history I blithely knew and never acknowledged. But for the first time, I felt destined to be in the kitchen. My trepidation and fatigue gave way to resolve. My mother, for the first time that day, stood up on both legs and walked shakily towards me. Those were the sure steps of resilience and love.

We started by stripping the stems of the taro leaves. This was followed by finely chopping the stems along with the heart-shaped leaves. Mum shifted a part of her weight to the kitchen counter. She then added water to a bowl of grated coconut and squeezed the pulp until pure coconut milk flowed through her fingers. I chopped okra and crushed allspice berries. I’d caught glimpses of Mum engaged in this process every Sunday, but on this Sunday, I saw clearly the symbolism behind this unassuming vegetable dish.

She reminded me of callaloo’s civic prestige—as Trinidad and Tobago’s national dish—duly designated by emancipated slaves-turned-citizens-turned-statesmen, acquainted with its place in the nation’s history.

When we sat down to eat that day, my family lauded my efforts and remarked that they couldn’t differentiate between Mum’s cooking and mine. Even though I was showered with praise and initiated into a new tradition, I was noticeably quiet at the table. Alone with my thoughts, I reflected on what cooking these foods meant for my mother, my family, and now me.

I should mention that on that Sunday, and on every Sunday lunch after, callaloo was the first thing on my plate.

When I zoom out, looking at my now thirty-something life in the United States—married to a Jamaican man and raising two small children of my own—I cherish this edible dimension of the past embodied in callaloo. It continues to facilitate a connection to a long, complex history that I otherwise would not have felt an heir to.

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5-Minute Peanut Butter & Jelly Mug Cake

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms. This week, a pantry dessert that capitalizes on the power of 5 minutes.

In my opinion, one of life’s greatest pleasures is collecting mugs. I wouldn’t say that this is the most interesting thing about me (but it’s pretty high on the list). When I travel anywhere, I always come home with a new mug. The cheesier the lettering, the tackier the coloring, the better. They’re reminders of my trips but also of the people I’ve met, and of the delicious coffee I’ve had in them.

In my cabinet at home, above the Chemex, you’ll find a rainbow of mugs I’ve collected over my 10 years in New York City, moving from apartment to apartment to apartment. Even the ugliest, chipped mugs I’ve kept because they remind me of something or someone. I love that each cup tells a story, and in their continued usage, will gather meaning and symbolism in my life as a hermetic mug hoarder who loves having people over (so he never has to go out).

I use my mugs for things other than drinking my morning coffee. Like serving soup at dinner parties. It’s not uncommon on weekends for my friends to stare up at me from the tiny, flimsy fold-up table I’ve forced crowded them around as I open up my cabinet, smiling wide, “Pick a mug, any mug.”

You’d be surprised at how much you can tell about a person from the mug they choose. Those who choose wide-rimmed mugs are usually Aquariuses. Those who seek tall, angular mugs are confident in their professional lives, but vulnerable in their personal ones. Those who reach for the fancy-schmancy mugs think very highly of themselves—as they should, because self-love.

As for me? I love my 12-ounce mugs. They’re the perfect size for coffee—and the perfect size for cake.

One of my deepest, darkest secrets (and perhaps the greatest evidence of my self-sufficiency) is this peanut butter and jelly mug cake. I make it for myself whenever I’m in the middle of a Grey’s Anatomy episode and want something sweet to tide me over until Meredith’s closing monologue, which always makes me cry. It gives me that little boost of energy I need to really let it all out and just bawl. And if some of my tears go into the cake, all the better; the salt helps bring out the peanut butter flavor.

Your choice? It’s simple. Her or me. And I’m sure she’s really great. But Derek, I love you, in a really, really big—pretend to like your taste in music, let you eat the last piece of cheesecake, hold a radio over my head outside your window—unfortunate way that makes me hate you, love you. So pick me. Choose me. Love me.

Dr. Meredith Grey, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

For these moments and more, all I do is take a 12-ounce mug and plop a handful of ingredients into it: 1/4 cup peanut butter (that’s 4 tablespoons, by the way), 1 egg, 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and a pinch of salt. I whisk this together until smooth, then dollop in 1 tablespoon jelly, whatever flavor I have on hand. I think grape tastes great, but I’ve tried sour cherry (yum) and my colleague Ella—who helped me finesse this recipe—preferred versions with raspberry.

You’ll then want to swirl the jam—but don’t mix it in, because the joy of this cake is that it bakes up (in just 45 to 60 seconds on high) into a light and fluffy sponge, not unlike a Japanese cheesecake, and so the pockets of jelly melt and make certain cross sections a little gooey. It’s the best of both worlds, for me. But if you’re like Ella, who adores peanut butter, then I’d recommend leaving out the baking powder. You’ll end up with a fudgier, gooier cake with a more pronounced PB flavor, which can be very nice if you’re into that.

I love this mug cake because it’s the ultimate comfort dessert for one, both in the eating and in the cooking. Its small-scale nature makes it quick and easy to execute—just five minutes from start to finish, only one of which is actual cooking. Plus, cleanup is essentially nonexistent, since you’re mixing up all of the ingredients in one single cup that gets thrown into the dishwasher.

There are also so many permutations here: You could try a different kind of nut butter with your favorite flavor of jelly. I imagine almond butter with raspberry would taste great, for instance. And if it doesn’t, who cares? I’ve always felt that the greatest thing about cooking for one is that it encourages experimentation, and the risk is so low because it’s just you in the kitchen. As my editor Joanna once wrote, “a mug cake is the ultimate in whimsical, riffable desserts: You can experiment without committing to the whole shebang of a recipe.”

Oh, the final thing I should say is that this cake happens to be gluten-free: There’s no flour. Whether this matters to you or not, I think it’s an incredible thing when a recipe works even better without an ordinarily essential ingredient. There’s something about peanut butter that just bakes up into a gorgeous cake with the simple help of a single egg and sugar.

If you’re looking for more microwave cakes (for Grey’s Anatomy binges and more), I highly recommend Marie T. Smith’s Microwave Cooking for One. People can say what they will about the book’s premise, but Smith’s “Cakes and Frosting” chapter has some of the best recipes I’ve seen: from apple and blueberry streusel cakes to cornbread, banana bread, carrot cake, and even cheesecake, all adapted for the microwave. She really makes a case for self-care—after all, is there a kinder act than baking a cake just for you?

Do you watch Grey’s Anatomy and love crying, too? Let us know in the comments below.

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