As a first note, I do not yet have the words to write coherently about the current conflict. Anything I would have said has been written already. Be kind to one another, and remember that people have a right to life and to be safe in their homes.
This warming, piquant drink has been very comforting for the past few weeks. It is based on a series of ginger drinks common across West Africa, called gnamakoudji, tangawizi, emudro, among other things. I initially encountered this drink in a book by Jessica B. Harris, the doyenne of African and African-American cooking here in the US. I strongly recommend taking a look at her work.
Here is a nice, fun recipe that I have made often recently. I enjoy this recipe because while the gnocchi, tiny Brussels sprouts, and beans all are of similar sizes, the textures and tastes vary in a pleasant and joyous way.
I now often use the pressure cooker – which I discussed in my modernism and climate change cooking post – to cook beans for later use in other recipes. I like doing so because then I get to use beans that are not too frequently canned – for example, scarlet runner beans or Royal Corona beans. These beans are delicious – and many of them have been part of Jewish kitchens for centuries or millennia. Canned beans, however, work well too for this and, honestly, most recipes. I used large Lima beans in the rendition pictured, but this recipe works with scarlet runner beans, great Northern beans, or any other big bean. The Lima beans add a starchy sauciness that I enjoy.
Longtime readers may remember that I have posted other gnocchi recipes on the blog as well. For the rendition pictured, I used purple sweet potato gnocchi that I found in the frozen aisle at my local supermarket. Feel free to use any color you want – it adds to the pop of the dish.
Gnocchi, Brussels Sprouts, and Beans
Makes 3 servings
2 ½ cups petite Brussel sprouts
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (more for roasting method)
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 cups cooked large beans, such as Lima beans, scarlet runner beans or great northern beans (1 15.5oz/428g can) – see note below for cooking the beans from scratch in a pressure cooker
1 pound/454g gnocchi
Parmesan cheese, grated, for serving
Prepare the Brussel sprouts. There are two ways you can do this, and both work equally well:
Roasting – coat the whole petite sprouts in oil and bake for 20 minutes at 400F/200C on a lined cookie sheet.
While the pot of water is heating, put the olive oil, garlic, salt, red pepper, and oregano in a large skillet and set on medium heat. When the garlic begins to bubble or you can smell the aroma, add the vinegar. Immediately add the cooked sprouts and the beans, and mix thoroughly. Turn off the heat, and set aside.
When the pot is at a rolling boil, add the gnocchi and cook according to package or recipe directions. Generally speaking, gnocchi take about 2 minutes to cook and float when they’re ready.
Drain the gnocchi and add to the skillet with the sprouts and beans. Mix until everything is thoroughly combined. Serve immediately, with Parmesan cheese to taste.
Leftovers keep in a sealed container for 3-4 days. Note that the textures will change slightly.
After a year and a half of work, I am excited to introduce my new project: Safe and Neurospicy. This is a food safety website aimed for neurodivergent people – folks like me with cognitive disabilities like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, Tourette’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, and other “brain spiciness.” I aim to make this a comprehensive, friendly resource on all things safety in the kitchen.
Food safety is not taught well. Neurodivergent people suffer disproportionately from this problem – as do other disabled people. Many aspects of our disabilities make it harder to do things that keep food safe. Some neurodivergent people have trouble with “executive function.” Some, like me, have sensory integration issues. Some are not sure what to do. Some have all three issues. A frequent response is to use “common sense” – which is neither “common,” nor always “sense,” and not always understood by us! In addition, many neurotypical people do not understand this either – so there is always a market for more information and better resources on food safety. My aim with this site is to have a friendly resource that does not fall into these traps.
Please provide feedback and input! This site is very much a work in progress, and your insight helps – especially if you are neurodivergent. Over the next few months, I am hoping to add more pictures as well – if you have any, please feel free to contribute. And don’t worry – I will still keep posting here on Flavors of Diaspora. This site will continue to be my main site – the content on Safe and Neurospicy is designed to be a little more “static” (though it has kept me from blogging as frequently on this site over the past year and a half). In addition, if you reached this site through the multiple points I refer to it on Safe and Neurospicy – welcome!
This post has two parts, but both are about resources to help neurodivergent people in the kitchen. One is a very exciting new cookbook coming out, and the other is a list of other beneficial cookbooks.
As a refresher – neurodivergent refers to a series of disabilities that comprise differences in brain structure. Neurodivergent people think and process differently from others. Some types of neurodivergence include autism, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, bipolar disorder, intellectual disabilities, and Tourette’s syndrome – among others. (I often use “neurodivergent” or the slang “neurospicy” to describe myself, since “I am autistic and have OCD” is a bit of a mouthful.) Neurodivergence is not always a disability – but it usually is, and like other disabilities, affects cooking.
A Book for Neurodivergent Folks by a Neurodivergent Author!
Good news: there is finally a cookbook coming out by a neurodivergent person, for neurodivergent people! Matthew Broberg-Moffitt is an autistic author who has written Color, Taste, Texture– a cookbook designed for neurodivergent and other cooks with food or texture aversions. These sensitivities are more than a dislike, and few cookbooks for adults effectively address this aspect. The recipes are varied, and meet various common aversions and sensory sensitivities. The book comes out in August; I urge you to pre-order it.
We neurodivergent folks often cook differently, as I have discussed in the past on this site. We experience the senses differently – and aversions and sensitivities often have a greater impact on us. In addition, we often cook with this sensory experience as front-and-center as taste, health, or craving. Yet few books and blogs address this reality – so Broberg-Moffitt’s book is very exciting. It will also be good to see both the way the recipes are presented, and what recipes are in the book. I am looking forward to seeing the book, and I expect to learn myself from this work.
Other Neurodivergent-Friendly Cookbooks
In addition, I wanted to highlight some additional cookbooks that I find to be particularly friendly for neurodivergent folks. Though they are not necessarily designed specifically for someone who is neurodivergent, they do offer things that are helpful – such as substitutions, clear directions, and recipes that do not depend on doing a certain thing a certain way. Note that you will need to read carefully to figure out what things you need for recipes.
Many of the recipes in these books are personal favorites. I hope you enjoy.
Ruby Tandoh’s Cook As You Areis one of the most neurodivergent-friendly cookbooks out there. She includes very detailed, clear directions and offers options if you have trouble with chopping, or standing, or a host of other things. She actively consulted neurodivergent people while creating the book. Her chili-stewed greens with black eyed peas are now a regular thing for me.
Leanne Brown’s Good Enoughis a really good book on imperfect, do what you can cooking with some great ideas and suggestions – including a really great “assembly” bit that guides you through making food out of whatever you find around. I love the “TL;DR” summaries of recipes – but I recommend only using those if you have prior cooking experience.
Gwyn Novak’s How to Cook for Beginnersis an excellent book for those of you just starting out in the kitchen. Even though I’ve been cooking almost my whole life, I myself found the book to have some good recipes.
Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything: The Basicshas lots of really wonderful, direct illustrations and directions and some good recipes as well. This book is a good resource, especially if you eat a lot of vegetables.
Woks of Lifeis a lovely site run by a Chinese-American family that has many delicious recipes, and teaches you the basic “building blocks” of traditional Chinese cooking. If you want detailed instructions on how to prepare a new ingredient, this site is a good place to check.
Just One Cookbook, by Namiko Chen, is an excellent and simple resource for all things Japanese cooking. The directions are straightforward, and she provides excellent advice on techniques – especially for basic things. I use this site all the time.
Jessica in the Kitchen, by Jessica Hylton,is an excellent vegan food blog with excellently explained recipes. This blog has some really wonderful recipes.
My Forking Lifeis an excellent blog with many quick recipes, including those that use air fryers and pressure cookers. Tanya, the author, also includes many of the Jamaican recipes she grew up with.
Laura Mauldin, a professor at the University of Connecticut, has a great website called Disability at Homethat catalogues all sorts of things disabled folks, including neurodivergent people, do to make life more accessible at home. Many of the kitchen things may help you – they have helped me!
Here is a recipe for honey rose cookies with cardamom. I based the recipe for these floral, spiced cookies on my maple spice cookies, but the change to honey and the addition of roses adds a very different feeling. The cookies also have little specks from the ground roses that add color and pizzazz.
Roses have been used in Jewish cooking for many centuries, but primarily in the form of rose water, which tends to be quite concentrated. Rose flavors are often associated with Shabbat and Shavuot. Beyond a floral note, rose often complements and cuts the sweetness in many desserts. In this recipe, I used dried edible roses – which you can find easily online, especially because they are often used for tea. Be sure you are using food-grade dried roses.
Honey Rose Cookies with Cardamom
Makes 24-30 cookies
1 stick unsalted butter or butter substitute, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whole milk (or plant-based milk)
2 cups white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons dried rose petals, crushed (I use a mortar and pestle)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon table salt
Preheat your oven to 350F/175C. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, using the method of your choice (electric mixer, hand mixer, or by hand).
Add the honey, vanilla extract, and milk and blend together until combined.
Sift the flour together with the baking powder, crushed rose petals, cardamom, and salt.
Mix the flour mixture into the honey butter mixture until combined. You should have a pliable dough.
With your hands or two spoons, roll balls of dough about 1 ½ inches/2 centimeters in diameter and place on the cookie sheet. Then use your finger to squash each ball into an oval-ish shape. You should get between 24 and 30 cookies.
Bake for 12-13 minutes. The cookies should become golden and expand.
Remove from oven and let sit on the cookie sheet for ten minutes.
Thanks to David Ouziel, Hannah Cook, and Douglas Graebner for conducting User Acceptance Testing on this recipe.
I have been trying to improve my repertoire of vegan, gluten-free desserts for a while now – partly to have more dairy-free and gluten-free desserts in my back pocket, and partly because it seems like a good idea.
I added walnuts, which I crushed with a rolling pin. The walnuts not only complement the chocolate and temper the sweetness, but also add oil and density to the brownie. You could probably use any tree nut; a nut-free version would probably require some additional tweaks.
Vegan and Gluten-Free Walnut Brownies
Based on a recipe by Arman Liew
Makes 24 brownies
4 tablespoons ground flaxseed
¾ cup water
2 scant cups vegan chocolate chips – semi-sweet or dark chocolate
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) vegan butter – Earth Balance works well
Ever since my visit to Owamni last June, I have dreamt of one dish in particular: cedar-braised teparies. That dish is woody, sweet, and savory at the same time – and thus almost magical. Since then, I have come to very much appreciate not just that recipe, but all of the wonderful things one can do with tepary beans.
Tepary beans are an indigenous type of bean from Arizona, New Mexico, and Sonora – in the traditional lands of the Tohono O’odham. This area is one of the driest in the world, and the tepary bean has been bred to withstand some extreme drought conditions. It grows in many climates and is water resistant – and is absolutely delicious. The beans are nutty but savory, and have a toothsome bite even when fully cooked and soft. I briefly mentioned teparies in my piece about climate mitigation – and now am providing a recipe here. Most teparies come from native producers on traditional lands – I recommend Ramona Farms as one, O’odham-owned and -run source.
Teparies take a long time to cook – and this is where culinary modernism and a pressure cooker come in handy. Over a typical heat, teparies can take several hours to cook – which is great for the weekend, but can sometimes be quite difficult to fit into the normal week. And though tradition matters, we should also remember that these kinds of cooking times historically ate into the lives of those who cooked (mostly women) in ways they did not exactly choose. With a pressure cooker, the cooking time reduces to just an hour of largely hands-off cooking time. In addition, with refrigeration, we can now cook beans in advance – and keep them, knowing that they will be safe to eat, for the next day or day after. Between technology and their climate potential, teparies have a lot to offer.
For this recipe, I melded two other recipes for teparies: one by Owamni’s chef and cookbook author Sean Sherman, and the other by Kusuma Rao – a food blogger with some truly excellent work. I decided to add some of my other favorite flavors, including red onion and the very much not-indigenous butter. I’m quite happy with the result, which is reminiscent of both Sherman’s dish and an old-time, but less soupy, Boston baked beans. You can serve this dish with many things – but I recommend also trying Sherman’s sweet potatoes with maple chili crisp with these beans, or a nice short pasta. I also recommend trying both Sherman and Rao’s recipes too – they’re excellent.
1 cup tepary beans, soaked in 2 inches water for at least 4 hours or overnight
3 ½ cups water
1 red onion, peeled and cut in half
5 bay leaves
2 tbsp neutral flavored oil (I use sunflower or canola)
½ cup maple syrup, divided in two ¼ cup portions
2 tsp salt, divided into two 1 tsp portions
1 tsp dried sage, divided into two ½ tsp portions
3 tablespoons butter or neutral-flavored vegetable oil*
3 scallions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
¾ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Drain the beans, then place into a pressure cooker with the water, red onion, bay leaves, neutral oil, ¼ cup of the maple syrup, 1 tsp of salt, and ½ tsp dried sage.
Seal the pressure cooker. Place the pressure cooker on the heat as per the manufacturer’s directions. When the pressure cooker begins hissing or whistling, turn the heat to medium-low and cook for one hour. (Follow a similar pattern for an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker.)
Remove the pressure cooker from the heat. Let the pot depressurize, then remove the cover. Take out and discard the onion and bay leaf.
Drain the beans. You can save the liquid if you like to use in a soup or stew. You can go up to this step in advance, and then cook the beans within the following three days.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and then add the oil or butter.
Add the scallions and garlic and sauté for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the garlic begins to change in texture, smell, and color.
Add the remaining salt and sage, along with the paprika, and stir in.
Add the beans and mix thoroughly with the other ingredients in the pan.
Add the remaining maple syrup and the vinegar and mix thoroughly with the beans.
Cook, stirring frequently, until any liquid in the pan is mostly reduced, about 5-10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and serve.
Store leftovers in a sealed container for up to five days in the refrigerator.
*Variation: you can also use coconut oil, but if you do so, add another ¼ tsp paprika and an extra teaspoon of maple syrup when you sauté the beans to balance the flavors.
One of the great things about Romanian food is that there is something for everyone. Luscious corn porridge, mamaliga, with salty curd cheese, hearty soups, elegant salads, spiced meats, and ethereal fruits. Many communities, including Jews, have lived in Romania and influenced its cuisines – and this shows up in Romanian baking. Germanic, broad-shouldered fruit pies, light shortbreads common across the former Ottoman Empire, and swirled fruit-and-nut breads reminiscent of Eastern Europe all stand side by side. Romania is an underrated baker’s paradise.
Irina Georgescu captures this fantastic diversity in her latest book on baked treats, Tava. This dessert-focused book chronicles both traditional Romanian and Balkan recipes like the plăcintă cu mere – and apple and walnut pie – and gogoşi doughnuts, and newer creations like a crepe recipe with a toffee apple and rosemary sauce. Georgescu writes in a relaxed, yet passionate style, and provides a richly illustrated journey through the diverse regions and culinary traditions of her homeland. This book follows Carpathia, an excellent and not dessert-focused compendium of traditional and modern Romanian cooking.
The recipes in the book are fantastic. One of my personal favorites is the apple and caraway seed loaf cake, which is beautifully simple and very delicious – the juice of the grated apple is what moistens the cake, so it feels luscious and light at the same time. I can also vouch for the malai dulce – sweet cornbread – recipe, and the wonderful pinwheel swirl shortbreads, which were fun to make. Something that I deeply appreciate about the recipes is that the sugar content is much reduced compared to other books, so none of the recipes I have tried are either too sweet or cloying at all. I wonder if this is common across Romanian confectionary, or simply attributable to Georgescu’s (obvious) culinary genius. I’m excited to soon try the courgette (zucchini) fritters and the various pies.
Georgescu openly celebrates the Jewish influence – and other influences – on Romanian cuisine. Some of these are in the recipes that many communities share – for example, noodle puddings or doughnuts. She also adds a well-written and very nice discussion of Jewish baking traditions in Romania at the end of the book, followed by a hamantaschen recipe with plum butter that looks absolutely divine. I appreciated also that hamantaschen were in the section on gifts – after all, they are a traditional part of mishloach manot. Along with the Jewish insert – again, appropriately placed – there are also entries on Hungarian-speaking, German-speaking, and Armenian communities in Romania, with wonderful recipes attached.
Beyond the celebration and the recipes, Georgescu’s book gives one more gift: an excellent antidote to authenticity discussions in food. Georgescu explicitly focuses on the diverse origins of Romanian food, and resists the urge to mush them into a single narrative – in fact, she rejects authenticity! She states,
“I prefer to say ‘this is how we eat in Romania’ – a kaleidoscope of old, traditional and regional recipes, relevant to who we are now.”
I hope many more authors and cookbook creators take this lesson from this excellent book.
Here is a recipe for a simple guajillo salsa that I often make for certain Mexican dishes. It is based on a number of recipes for different salsas that I have found over the years. A number of friends have asked for the recipe, so I am writing it up here.
Guajillos are the dried form of the mirasol chili pepper and one of the most common in Mexican cooking – and though the state of Zacatecas produces the most (link in Spanish), they are used all over Mexico. Cascabels are a dried version of a different form of the mirasol pepper. Both of them have a mild to medium heat – which adds perk but also a wonderful, savory richness.
When preparing dried chiles, it is best to remove the stems and seeds first. Usually, I just rip off the stem and shake out the seeds, but if a chili is being particularly annoying (it happens), you can snip with scissors as well.
Simple Guajillo Salsa
Makes about 1 ½-2 cups
8 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
4 dried cascabel chiles, stems and seeds removed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cumin
2 tbsp lime juice (I just use from the bottle)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
First, you will need to toast your chiles. You can do so in one of two ways:
(a) Lay them out on a dry skillet or comal on medium heat for about 20-30 seconds on each side. Make sure they do not burn! Then remove. I flip them over with tongs. (b) You can also microwave them on high for about 30 seconds.
Put the chiles in a bowl or container, cover with hot water, and then cover the bowl. The chiles may float on top a bit – do not fret. Let soak for about 30 minutes.
Remove the chiles from the water and put in a blender with the garlic, salt, cumin, and lime juice. Do not discard the water quite yet.
Puree the mix. Then, add a few splashes of the (colorful!) chili soaking water until you get to a smoothie-like, but still thick, consistency.
Heat a skillet over a medium low heat. Add the oil, then immediately add the puree. Stir around for about 2 minutes. If it starts to bubble, move off the heat and keep stirring.
Move to a container or bowl and let sit for at least 20 minutes.
Serve at any temperature, though I find that room temperature is best. Store in a sealed container for up to a week in the fridge.