Jerk Chicken is a savory Jamaican favorite

What could be more Jamaican than Jerk Chicken? Actually it dates only from the 1960s. As a student in the mid-60s, I spent two 3-month summers based at the University of the West Indies in Mona (Kingston), Jamaica. I didn’t encounter jerk and I didn’t hear Bob Marley or Reggae. These cultural phenomena were, in retrospect, already there, but not yet widely recognized. 

Jerk cooking, or “jerking,” evolved from the slow fire-roasting of meat practiced by Jamaica’s indigenous Taíno Indians. In its modern form, jerk emerged in rural Jamaica, where roadside vendors would rub meats, especially goat and pork, with spices and peppers, and grill them over smoldering wood or charcoal in halved oil drums. 

Allspice, the dried berry of the Jamaican “Bay” tree, is the only true spice native to the Western Hemisphere. It is nearly invariable as a jerk seasoning . The other constant is the fiery “Scotch Bonnet” pepper. I use cayenne for convenience. 

While whole chicken is traditional, I use leg quarters or just thighs. For moistness, the chicken should have the bones in. Removing the skin is optional, but healthier. The rub should be applied 12 to 24 hours before cooking. I roast in the oven rather than on the grill. 

The recipe serves six or more. 

Season chicken one day ahead:
6 large chicken leg quarters or 12 large thighs with skin and bone
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground celery seed (not celery salt)
3/8 to 3/4 teaspoon (or more) cayenne
1-1/2 tablespoons vinegar or lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Remove skin from chicken and trim off excess fat. Cut thighs from drumsticks if using leg quarters. Rinse chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towels. Slash flesh in a few places. Mix remaining ingredients other than the oil. Rub well into chicken on all surfaces.

Finally, rub everything with oil. Place chicken in zip-lock plastic bag and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours, squeezing bag from time to time to baste with the accumulated juices.

Set oven for 360 degrees. Arrange a “cake” rack on a sheet pan. Place chicken pieces upside down on rack. Discard marinade. Roast 20 minutes on upper shelf of oven.

Turn pieces over. Roast an additional 20-30 minutes, turning occasionally. The chicken should be well cooked, and show no pinkness when a knife tip is inserted and twisted.

Serve with a seasoned rice dish, and a slightly sweet shredded cabbage salad.



Gazpacho Andaluz -- cold Spanish summer soup

The origins of gazpacho go back to the Arab-Moorish period in Spain, long before tomatoes and peppers were introduced to Europe from the Americas. It appears to have been a cold soup made from cucumbers and onion, olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, plus ground almonds and stale bread to give it body. The recipe here retains much of the original, but includes the tomato and pepper that now seem to make gazpacho gazpacho. This recipe serves six generously.

1 medium-small red (preferred) or green sweet bell pepper

2 small pickling cucumbers or 1/2 of a regular cucumber

1 small onion or 3 scallions (green onions)

4-inch piece of celery

1 small clove garlic

3 large slices stale white bread, such as baguette

1 1/2 cups water

1 large (28-ounce) can whole or diced tomatoes in puree (without basil)

1/4 cup ground almonds or almond butter

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce or to taste, or a large pinch of cayenne

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup ice cubes

Freshly diced tomato and minced parsley, and olive oil for garnish

Core and remove pith from pepper; cut flesh into coarse pieces. Peel cucumber if skin is tough or waxed, quarter it lengthwise and remove seeds if large. Cut flesh into chunks. Peel onion and cut it into chunks, or remove roots from scallions and cut white and green parts into roughly 1-inch lengths.

Place celery, cut in several pieces, and the garlic, peeled, in the food processor. Pulse on and off to chop. Scraping down inside of processor bowl from time to time. Add onion or scallion, cucumber, and red or green pepper. Pulse to chop finely. Tear bread in small pieces and add it and the water to the processor and run it briefly to puree the bread. Transfer to a mixing bowl. 

Add tomatoes, ground almonds, pepper sauce or cayenne, lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil to the processor. Run processor to make a coarse soupy mixture. Add ice and process again. Add this mixture to the bowl with the previous ingredients, and mix well. Taste and adjust salt and lemon juice and other seasonings to taste. If mixture is too thick, dilute with water to a creamy consistency. Refrigerate at least 1/2 hour (or up to 3 days). 

Before serving, stir well, taste again and adjust salt and lemon juice if necessary. Serve in individual bowls (or wine glasses) garnished with a little diced tomato and parsley, plus a drizzle of olive oil.



Watermelon and Feta for a refreshing summer salad

Fresh, cool, watermelon dotted with salty feta cheese sets up taste sensations that stimulate even the heat-jaded palate. Drizzle it all with lemon- and jalapeño-infused dressing and add a little arugula, and all the tastes are covered: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and chili hot. Even better, it’s beautiful!

My first experience of watermelon paired with tangy cheese was Hugh Acheson’s summer salad of local watermelon wedges interspersed with locally made goat cheese at the Five and Ten, here in Athens, Georgia. I later learned that watermelon with feta cheese is an established Greek specialty, as is feta paired with fresh figs.

But whether an “unlikely” food pairing was already thought of is beside the point. What makes a particular chef’s dish unique is the sourcing and quality of the ingredients, the subtle extra touches and the presentation.

The availability of “seedless” watermelon makes dishes with the fruit simpler to prepare and easier to eat than in the old days. I find pure olive oil heavy for dressing this salad, and use predominantly sunflower or canola oil with a little olive oil. Lemon zest and a little hot pepper infused briefly into the oil add subtlety. Either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar can supply the tartness.

The recipe serves six, either using separate salad plates or a larger platter.

3 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

3 lengthwise strips lemon zest, cut from lemon with vegetable peeler

8 thin slices jalapeño pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice or balsamic vinegar

1/8 teaspoon salt

Approximately 3 pounds “seedless” watermelon (half of a medium-small one)

Approximately 1 1/2 cups arugula, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese


In a bowl, make dressing by combining oils, zest and pepper slices. Bruise zest and pepper with back of a spoon. Stir in lemon juice or balsamic plus salt. After 20 minutes, lift out zest and pepper with fork.

Cut off rind and slice watermelon to desired thickness: 1/4 inch for triangles, 3/4 inch for chunks. Cut either into 2-by-3 inch triangles or 3/4-inch chunks.

Place bed of arugula on salad plates or serving platter. Stack up watermelon attractively on arugula. Sprinkle crumbled feta over and between watermelon pieces. Drizzle dressing evenly over the top.


 Pesto with Pasta – The Classic Dish from Genoa

The region of Genoa, on the northwestern coast of Italy, is home to that great basil, garlic, cheese and pine nut sauce, “pesto,” called “pesto alla genovese” in Italian.

Fettuccini al Pesto alla genovese
Genoa was also home to the navigator Christopher Columbus, who sailed for the Spanish Crown. We don’t know his food preferences. Less auspiciously, Genoa is also the ancestral home of the Donderos, including my great-grandfather, Joseph Francis Dondero, who sailed from there to America in the mid-19th century. His pesto recipe – if he had one – was not handed down through the family.

The name “pesto” comes from the Latin for “pounded” or “crushed,” since the ingredients were originally pounded together in a marble mortar and pestle. The word “pestle” has the same linguistic origin.

Despite variations, including a delicious Sicilian red “pesto rosso,” made from dried tomatoes and almonds, and an arugula pesto, basil-based pesto remains the classic. A milder but still authentic version, which I prefer, replaces 1/4 of that herb with fresh parsley. There is also a relative of pesto, “pistou,” in Provence, on the French Mediterranean coast near to Genoa. French pistou does not use pine nuts and may or may not contain cheese.

Genovese Basil in our garden
Ideally the basil for pesto should be young and of the large-leaved “Genovese” variety. Now in early June in Georgia, that basil is at its peak. As pine nuts (“pignoli”) are expensive, walnuts are sometimes substituted. (I also get a reaction to at least some pine nuts, which I used to love, with my taste being distorted to bitter for a week or two afterwards.) The cheese for pesto is traditionally either Pecorino Romano, Pecorino Sardo, or Parmesan.

Though better when freshly made, pesto can be refrigerated for up to a week. An added layer of olive oil over the surface slows the color from browning. If freezing pesto for later use, omit the cheese and add it just before serving.

A traditional pasta for pesto is “trenette,” long flat noodles often made with eggs. Fettuccini is an available substitute. In the region of Genoa, potato and green beans are sometimes cooked in with the pasta. Pesto is also served with potato gnocchi, which are little fork-scored dumplings, and sometimes with that charmingly named pasta, “strozza preti” -- priest stranglers.

Traditionally, just before use, pesto is diluted with a little boiling water from the cooking pasta. The pasta is drained then tossed with the pesto in large serving bowl and topped with additional grated cheese.

The recipe makes enough dressed pasta for six people.

Pesto with Pasta

1-1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1/2 cup parsley leaves, flat “Italian” type preferred, lightly packed
3 tablespoons pine nuts, or walnuts (lightly toasted – see below)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
5/8 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, or a mixture, plus extra for garnish
Salt for boiling the pasta
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 pound green beans (optional), cut in 1-inch lengths
1 pound fresh pasta, if available, or 12 ounces dry

Put basil, parsley, pine nuts or walnuts (toast walnuts about 3 minutes on a plate in the microwave), garlic, oil, and salt in a blender or food processor. Pulse it a number of times, scraping down the container with a spatula. Do not purée the herbs, but chop them until they are tiny specks. Remove the mixture to a bowl. Stir in the cheese.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt. If using fresh pasta, which cooks more quickly, add potatoes and green beans if used, and bring water back to a boil. Add the fresh pasta and stir immediately so it does not stick together. If using dry pasta, add it, the potatoes and green beans, if used, together to the boiling water and stir immediately so pasta doesn’t stick together. Either way, let boil, stirring frequently. While pasta is cooking, remove 1/2 cup of the pasta-boiling water and stir it into the pesto.

When pasta is tender to the bite, drain it in a colander, shaking briefly, and transfer it to a large serving bowl. Toss pasta with the diluted pesto. Sprinkle with a little more cheese.



Greek-Style Orzo Pasta Salad

This dish grew out of a momentary thought a few years ago when a local hospital ordered a buffet catering meal from us that was for a public reception. One of the tricks for serving a crowd at modest cost is a huge bowl of pasta salad, which was among the dishes the hospital ordered.

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad, without Feta Cheese
Instead of my standard sort of pesto-seasoned pasta salad I suddenly thought to use the ingredients around that I had just made a conventional Greek salad with for a different order, Kalamata olives, pickled peppers, tomatoes, red onions, wine vinegar, oregano, olive oil, feta cheese. Happily, the huge bowl of penne I dressed with all these ingredients tasted tangy and good. More important, the Administrator of the hospital loved the salad, and it was always requested as we catered more events for them. We added it as a standard item for our general catering, special orders, and the deli case.

Here is a version of the salad with an even shorter pasta than penne. Orzo, shaped like rice grains, actually means “barley” in Italian (though the pasta is sometimes called “risoni” in Italy, meaning large [grains of] rice). The result looks like a Mediterranean rice salad, at least if not covered with crumbled feta cheese.

I use the herb sumac in the dressing, which I first learned about when I cooked with Turkish chef friends in Decatur. But sumac actually originated in Greece and, reportedly, is used with meats there as well as throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. A little paprika can be substituted if sumac is not available. Feta cheese is optional, being a bit heavy for summer dining, but it enhances the nutritional value of the salad.

The recipe makes enough salad to serve 4-6 people.


1/2 pound orzo pasta (or penne pasta)

1 medium clove garlic put through a garlic press or finely minced

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon sumac (or 1/2 teaspoon paprika)

3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

3/4 teaspoon dry oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 of a small red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise (julienned)

1/2 cup small cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise

6 tablespoons pitted Kalamata olives, drained

1/4 cup sliced pickled banana peppers

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley leaves (flat “Italian” type preferred)

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, optional


Boil the pasta in plenty of lightly salted water, stirring well after adding the pasta to the water. When just tender to the bite, drain into a sieve and rinse well with cold running water. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl combine the rest of the ingredients except the feta. Mix in the drained pasta, and mix well. Let sit for ten to fifteen minutes, mix again, and taste, If desired, add vinegar or salt to taste (generally do not add salt if salty feta cheese will be added).

Serve mounded slightly on a platter. Sprinkle with crumbled feta, if used.



 Chimichurri Sauce and Choripán

This fresh green herb sauce from Argentina and Uruguay is served on beef, sausage, grilled meat, or fish, and is special as the topping for “Choripán,” street vendor grilled sausage with crusty bread. The principal herb is parsley (flat Italian type). My version has basil and cilantro as secondary herbs, though fresh (or even dried) oregano is typically used.


Having never been to Argentina, I first learned about this wonderful sauce when a young American couple whose wedding we catered asked for “Choripan” as an appetizer for their wedding celebration. They had met in the Peace Corps in South America, and while on a trip together to Buenas Aires decided to get married, while they were in a plaza enjoying this street vendor specialty.

The word comes from “chorizo” (sausage) and “pan” (bread), though the distinctive part of the dish is actually the green parsley and herb sauce “Chimichurri.” While a bit like Pesto, chimichurri, apparently, was created independent of that Italian basil sauce from Genoa.

The recipe makes enough sauce to serve 4-6 people.


1 large shallot or 1 very small onion, peeled

1 large clove garlic, peeled

1 medium-sized bunch parsley, flat type preferred, including part of stems

1/2 cup cilantro including stems, packed

6 small fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 teaspoons lemon juice, plus to taste

Large pinch black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus to taste

Place all ingredients in food processor. Pulse to chop well. Mixture should be fine but not puréed. Transfer to bowl.

Allow sauce to rest 10 minutes. Stir and taste. Add salt and/or lemon juice to taste. Allow to marinate at least an hour. Stir and taste for salt before use. The sauce is best the first day, but can be stored refrigerated for 2-3 days.

 For Choripán

Grill mild sausage such as bratwurst, or Argentinean sausage if available, and serve it with crusty bread and some chimichurri sauce.

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