Friday, March 23, 2018

Himalayan Cuisine Series: Bhutanese-Inspired Spicy Chicken Stew (Inspired by Jasha Maroo)

Bhutanese Spicy Chicken Stew
Christmas Eve 2017. It was a cold rainy winter night. Not only was it miserable outside, but we were equally miserable. Both Hubby and I were both sick with a bad cold. Not a happy household… I was recovering, but I gave the cold to my husband.

Fortunately, I was well enough to go to the store and get provisions. I was just thinking chicken noodle soup, but then I remembered the recipe for Bhutanese Chicken Stew. I saw that recipe when I was collecting recipes for Thanksgiving. The recipe was easy enough that I can prepare it for the night. Being a stew, I imagine the prep was not too bad, esp. for a recovering sick person.

We also still have onions, tomatoes, ginger and garlic – perhaps because Hubby made chicken soup the other day for me when I was at my worst. I just bought chicken, chilis, cilantro and more chicken stock to add to the dish. I believe this dish was not meant to be brothy, but hey… I need soup too.

Since I was more a dish that I prepared almost “on the fly” and when I was recovering, I really do not have much intro… I just wanted soup and had inspiration. So, here’s what I have for now. Let me know what you think.

Bhutanese-Inspired Spicy Chicken Stew
Inspired by Jasha Maroo

  • 1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium-size leek, cut into slices
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1/2 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlics, peeled finely minced
  • 2 Tbsp of ginger, finely minced
  • 4 chili peppers, seeded if you like and cut into small pieces
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 cups chicken stock (use less, if you don’t need that much broth)
  • 2 Tbsp of oil
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro leaves, for garnish
  • lime or lemon slices (optional, for garnish)

  1. Preheat pot and add in oil. Add in the garlic, ginger, onion, chili, and leeks. Stir-fry until the vegetables are soft (I add a bit salt and pepper at this point to sweat the vegetables).
  2. Tip in the chicken and tomatoes and continue to stir-fry until the chicken started to turn opaque in color (I add a bit of seasoning here too).
  3. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cover with the lid and let it gently simmer until the chicken is cooked through.
  4. Serve warm with a bowl of steamed rice. Garnish the stew with cilantro leaves. Add a squeeze of lime or lemon for a touch of freshness.


I love this dish, love the simplicity and spiciness of the stew. It is very characteristic of the cuisine of Bhutan.

I could not call it Jasha Maroo because Jasha Maroo usually uses red peppers (I found out after looking at Instagram – doh!). I used green because those red peppers looked threatening. I also made this stew extra brothy on purpose because of the cold night. Traditionally, the recipe only uses 1 cup of broth. I think I stopped myself from pouring the entire container.

In subsequent servings, I did my “thing” of adding lemon or lime during serving. This really adds a touch of freshness and citrus note to soups or stews, since they usually cook for a while (I think this took about an hour, maybe a touch more).  I think of it as the “Asian” gremolata (without the mincing). Adding lime did add some Southeast Asian notes to it… but hey, it’s one big world.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Our Himalayan-themed Holidays: Phaksha Paa

Bhutanese Spicy Pork Stew
Well, we just got done with another Holiday season and another cooking adventure. Hubby and I usually take advantage of the holidays to enjoy time together and experiment on cooking.

This year, since we enjoyed a great trip to the Himalayas over the spring, we decided on a Bhutanese themed holiday. Our Thanksgiving menu was composed of dishes from Bhutan and India with influences from Nepal.

Since its Thanksgiving, I did want to add an American flair to some of the dishes. So, I decided to add some traditional Thanksgiving ingredients to these Himalayan dishes. I added butternut squash to the Kewa Dashi, a potato and cheese stew. I also wanted to find a turkey drumette or leg for the tandoori, but good luck with that around Thanksgiving. I ended up with homemade Tandoori Chicken... another first for me.
The only one close to the original is the recipe below: Phaksha Paa or Spicy Pork Stew. It’s actually the reason that I am starting with this one since the flavors are pretty good. The other dishes were good, but still in progress. The one ingredient that I had trouble with is dried pork. Since neither my Hubby nor I tasted Bhutanese dried pork in our travels, I’m not sure what it tastes like. Reason is (nfortunately or fortunately) I am primarily vegetarian when we travel, due to health reasons.

Bhutanese Chili
The only substitute to dried pork that I can think of is good ole jerky. With gourmet jerky now available, I have many options for meat. I can even can use tofu jerky. However, I decided to stick to pork jerky which I thought would be very appropriate. Also, since jerky can be considered native to the American continent, I think this would be a good American touch (Although I think it originated from the Quechans in South America where my other favorite cuisine comes from).

The Bhutanese are also known for using a lot of chilis in their cooking. I read that chilis are considered a spice and a vegetable. I have seen our driver have chilis and rice for lunch and he was enjoying it. If it were me, my tongue would be on fire at first bite.

Because I did not know what would best match Bhutanese chili, I used three different chilis on each dish for variety. For the pork stew, I opted for fresh serrano peppers. For the other dishes, I used the lovely Merken Spice (from Chile) for the Cheesy Potatoes to give it that smoky spicy feel and cayenne for the Tandoori Chicken.

Sample of Vegetables in BhutanSince Bhutan had the advantage of having an abundance of farms and the availability of fresh vegetables, I also used a lot of vegetables in my pork stew. I figured that this would be appropriate and could double as our veggie dish as well.

Lastly, I took advantage of fresh meat we get here. I realized that in Bhutan, they may not the same quality of meat like here in the US. Bhutan is a Buddhist country so they do not kill their meat, and meat is usually shipped from India or Nepal probably. Such distance would require good storage and possibly freezing and preservation. Perhaps that is why dried pork is a delicacy in Bhutan.

Here's the first installment. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Phaksha Paa (Bhutani Pork with Radish and Bok Choy)
Based on recipe from
Recipe documented by Susanne Waugh from conversations with the Queen mother and the royal chef.
Makes 6 servings

  • 1 pound boneless pork shoulder, cubed 1” by 1”
  • 2 cups of chicken broth or water
  • 4 T unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1 medium onion (about 4 ounces), peeled and diced
  • 1 medium daikon or white radish (about 3 1/2 ounces), peeled, sliced into disks.
  • 1 1/2 serrano peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 3 heads bok choy (about 3 pounds total), stems removed and leaves cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 6 ounces pork jerky, julliened (I used Krave)
  • Fresh ginger, peeled and minced (or crushed in a pestle and mortar)
  • 1 large fresh pepper, seeded and cut into julienne strips (original recipe called for green pepper, I selected red for color)

  1. Season the pork with salt and pepper.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Brown the pork cubes. Set aside.
  3. Sweat the onion, serrano pepper, and daikon.
  4. Add pork, onions, serrano peppers and daikon in the slow cooker. Add chicken broth and simmer over low heat until the pork is just tender.
  5. Add the red peppers and bok choy (You can add the peppers first, then the bok choy).
  6. Add the ginger and dried pork to the stew and simmer over low heat until heated through, about 5 to 10 minutes.


I love this dish. The flavors are excellent. I turned the spice level down a couple of notches, so my husband can enjoy the dish. He did say that I can turn it up a little bit (maybe add one more serrano or keep some of the seeds).

The author of the recipe, Susanne Waugh, was right. The addition of the pork jerky gave this dish an addicting sweetness. I even topped it with more jerky for texture. 

This dish is also easy enough to prepare that we can add it to our weekly rotation, especially when the slow cooker is used. I think this one will find its way into our menus this year. Yum!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Can You Granita This?

Cold Brew Granita
Cold Brew Granita
We’re currently having a heatwave… no, not a tropical heatwave (Oh gee, I just dated myself). Tropical heatwaves might be more welcome because in that situation, I am envisioning that there is a beach and tropical cocktails involved. 

That is not the case here... we have this dry desert heat in this place that we call Northern California. AAAARGH! I am treating this as an emergency situation and opting to mostly stay inside – similar to house arrest. In this sweltering heat, I find myself thinking about cool things to keep myself from mental heat exhaustion. Things like shaved ice, winter ski trips, Jokulsarlon Lagoon in Iceland, or even watching Game of Thrones when they go North of the Wall (oh wait, that's Iceland too).

I also found myself looking back to my summer of granita and sorbets, more specifically – making my own granitas. I never made granitas before this year -- maybe because I had some free time last summer or just time to rest my mind, expand my horizons and had a chance apply what I have read.

It all began with a Strawberry Lemonade Granita. I had some left-over Strawberry Lemonade from Sauced BBQ.  After my free refill, I felt full so I opted to bring the rest home (along with half of that yummy baked sweet potato, but I digress). I intended to enjoy it through the rest of the day, but looking at the cold beverage and its gorgeous pinkish color, I remembered reading about how to make granita: put the selected beverage (preferably very sweet) in the freezer and “agitate” occasionally. The lemonade was indeed very sweet and that is why there are some left-overs. Seems easy enough... since I was home for the rest of the afternoon, I decided to give that a try. Also, it was a different way to use leftover juice.

I loved the results. I was hooked.

From that time on, I started playing “Can you granita this?”. Cold Brew Coffee was my next victim (first picture above). I found a recipe for coffee granita from Martha Stewart and started with those proportions. I typically cut the sugar by a third: so instead of 1/2 cup of sugar, I used about 6 Tablespoons for 3 cups or 2 T per cup. I still thought that it was a bit excessive, so I ended up using less (Please sweeten to your liking. I was tasting it, i.e. caffeinating, as I add sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time).

Martha’s recipe also used homemade whipped cream. Although I was initially resisting making my own, an older lady at the store convinced me to do so. She said it was so easy to make it with the mixer (She has a manual handheld one) and once you do it, you’ll never come back to pre-made whipped cream in a can (or tub).

After reading what was in ready-made whipped cream, I was convinced. There is so much extra stuff in there that I'd rather know what is in it - cream, sugar and vanilla extract. I bought heavy whipping cream and the results blew my mind. Another twist was I ran out of vanilla extract. I ended up using almond extract. If you have not tried that – give it a try. It will immediately transport you to Italy.

My next challenge was how to get rid of all the watermelon we bought for the potluck. Can I granita watermelon juice? Well, even better – This watermelon sorbet recipe from said I can sorbet it. No Maddifications this time – although I considered adding a mint simple syrup instead of using sugar. But that means I have to figure out to make simple syrup (not that there is anything wrong with that). Adding sugar so much easier. I did garnish it with mint.

Chai Tea Granita
Chai Tea! Yes, chai tea was definitely something I’ve always wanted to granita. This is actually perfect because it’s a great way to freeze the extra chai tea that I have when I buy the Tazo Chai concentrates. It was also an awesome way to end an Indian-inspired meal. The chai granita really worked although I am still working on the whipped cream combination, though. Regular whipped cream or even almond whipped cream does not do the trick.

Strawberry Sorbet
Strawberries were obviously not safe to the “Can you Granita this challenge?” I was going to meet my sister at the farmer’s market and deliberately overbought strawberries for my nieces. However, she texted me and said that something came up – bummer. However, the next day as I was munching on strawberries, visions of strawberry sorbet came to my mind. This strawberry sorbet recipe I used was from King Arthur Flour. This time I did make simple syrup (and was wondering how to make basil simple syrup).

The sorbet turned out to be too sweet even though I cut down on the sugar. Perhaps the strawberries were sweet as it was. The sorbet itself was somewhat more difficult to keep scoop-perfect… But really, who cares – it's strawberry sorbet.

I did end up with an excellent solution to solve the sweetness: Get some sparkling water and some of strawberry’s friends like blueberries and blackberries. Put a scoop in a glass, pour some sparkly and pop some berries. Refreshing!!! (I wish I had some of that sorbet right now.)

It was an great way to spend the summer. I learned new techniques and have something to add to my repertoire.  This was a cool (yes, pun intended) way of making your own frozen desserts without an ice cream maker.

I do need to find better ways of photographing them. I tried different angles and this side view makes the best profile, for now.

That said, no lemonade, cold brew, or chai is safe from the freezer… at least during the summer. Also, Peet’s now knows why I get that extra order of cold brew -- Mwahahahaha!

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Non-Dairy" Avocado Ice Cream (or "How I Spent My Summer Vacation")

avocado ice cream with slivered almonds
Serving 1: With slivered honey almonds
It has been an interesting summer. I took a break from my dance class to rest my knees, get much needed recovery time, and get a chance to clean up around the house. It really felt I had a vacation, even though I was still working. I loved the extra free time that I had to take walks, window shop and even read! I miss that.

An interesting side effect was I also ended up spending extra time in the kitchen. It is one of my creative outlets, although it is mostly due to the necessity of nourishment. Regardless, it gave me a chance to play with ingredients and be inspired. 

One of these experiments was making my own frozen desserts. I guess it started when I made Avocado “Ice Cream”. I’ve always wanted to make Avocado Ice Cream like my Dad did every summer. Avocado was one of his favorites (and still is) so he would take one or two avocados, mash them and mix them up with condensed milk and put it in the freezer and enjoy it for a week. Dad would be back at the fridge once or twice a day getting avocado ice cream while I had my normal Magnolia Chocolate Marble (Yeah!) or Mocha. Back then, I did not like avocado and preferred chocolate (well, I still do), so Dad enjoyed it all by himself.

bananas and avocado in blender
Frozen fruit in the (Ninja) Blender
Now, I love avocado. During the season, I may have an avocado or three every week – on toast, tacos, tamales, omelets, you name it. I am a “Californian” anyway, so I think its a law to have avocado (along with Kale). There was a time when I bought mini avocados. My Hubby was wondering why I bought them – but it was the perfect size for one serving.

Back to ice cream… With my making dairy-free banana “ice cream” last year, I was inspired to make a healthier and perhaps dairy free version of my Dad’s summer favorite. I am trying to minimize my dairy and condensed milk has tons of sugar, so that was my motivation. I had a vision of combining avocado with frozen bananas and getting the perfect scoop.

Freezing the avocado was also in my vision because I usually end up with half of an avocado after lunch. That was the other rationale for freezing. I thought freezing it will preserve the lovely green color.

Here’s what I have so far…

Mad Gourmet’s Healthier Dairy-free Avocado “Ice Cream”
Inspired by my childhood summers with Dad
Makes 2 servings


  • 1/2 avocado (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 banana (about 1/2 cup)
  • (Up to) 1/4 cup of coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp of agave syrup (add more to taste)
  • Almond slivers or coconut shavings for toppings.


  1. Peel and cut banana and avocado into one inch slices.
  2. Freeze (I usually do this overnight).
  3. Put avocado chunks and banana in a blender.
  4. Add coconut milk as needed (consistency should be like ice cream not a smoothie)
  5. Top with almonds or coconut shavings and enjoy.


avocado ice cream with coconut shavings
Serving 2: With Coconut Shavings
I love the combination of avocado and bananas. The bananas provide the creaminess that you usually get with ice cream. The addition of coconut milk adds to the creaminess and makes it closer to the ice cream that Dad loved. It also makes for a delicious but healthy tropical treat.

As blended, it is a yummy dessert, but tricky to make a perfect scoop. It usually has a yogurt-like (or shall I say guacamole?) texture that may be a bit runny for the scooper. I find that putting the mixture in the freezer until it firms up (about 20-30 minutes) does the trick. As I am writing this, I am thinking that a quenelle may be a good alternative presentation.

After that experiment, I became encouraged to make my other frozen treats. (Hmmm... I feel another blog post coming). Think granitas and sorbets... some with summer fruit. I never thought that these would be so easy to make.

So, here’s my summer tribute to Dad. By the way, he loved Durian too… but I don’t think I’ll acquire a taste for that.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Small batch No-bake Date and Tahini Balls

date-tahini energy ballsIt’s in the middle of summer and it's been very hot! I really do not have any desire to turn on the oven, but I have a lingering to make something quick, relatively healthy and even a quick energy boost.

I figured it may be time to make no-bake something. I’ve been seeing these in Pinterest and Instagram and was waiting for an opportunity to make them. I guess these hot summers are the best time to make them.

Most of the recipes that I found have a lot of protein through nuts and sugar through honey. I wanted a better balance of carbs and protein since I often need the quick energy from carbs (and sugar) but need the long lasting replenishment that protein provides.

Enter oatmeal. Oatmeal is usually my go-to breakfast. I love the fiber content and I usually have it in our pantry.

Now, what to mix it with.

Date spread and tahini
This looks like trouble... good trouble.

I happen to have Date Spread and Tahini handy. The date spread is from my “Try the World” subscription. I have not worked with date spread before and I think this would be a good recipe to try it on.

I usually have tahini during the summer because I love making tahini sauce and using it in my tuna salads since (I think) tahini lasts a bit longer than mayo in the summer heat. I have also been thinking about making cookies, but again, it’s been too hot. I guess this would be a good substitute.

I started with a small batch because I am not sure if Hubby or I will enjoy them. I have not envisioned myself getting satisfied with a couple of energy balls. In fact, I am afraid that I may end up eating all of it. Also, I want to save some of that date spread for other stuff. That said, since a number of folks seem to love these no-bake balls, I am willing to give them a try and see if I like them.

Here's what I have so far...

Mad Gourmet's No-Bake Date and Tahini Balls

  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 Tbsp date spread
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cocoa nibs

  1. Toast oats on a pan (Optional - to give it some additional texture)
  2. Combine tahini and date spread in a bowl until it is thoroughly mixed.
  3. Add oats and cocoa nibs. (I added them gradually to ensure an even mix)
  4. Roll into balls about an inch in diameter.
  5. Cover and put dough in the freezer or refrigerator until firm.


I love this recipe. With the combination of dates and tahini, each bite can transport you to Turkey or somewhere in the Middle East.

This is the perfect snack after my martial arts class. Two balls are surprisingly filling for a snack. The blend of carbs and protein are a great post-workout recovery snack. The addition of the date sauce give it a natural sweetness and cocoa nibs the additional crunch. I am not sure if toasting the oats is needed, since it softens once its mixed in.

I love that its quick and relatively easy to make. I think it took me about 20 minutes to make the first batch, because I was thinking of what to do next. I can imagine that this will take me half that time once I get the recipe down.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. My next step – try it with Peanut Butter. Oh my!