Smoked Salmon Tartare for Holiday Entertaining


Tartare (“à la tartare," in culinary French) means “in the Tatar (or Tartar) manner.” The original Tartare was finely chopped raw beef, typically mixed with raw egg, onion, and capers. Serving raw chopped beef was picked up by the Russians in past centuries from their nomadic Mongol-Turkic Tatar neighbors. “Steak tartare” is now a well-established European, especially French, dish.


My “tartare” leaves out the beef but, rather, contains quasi-raw smoked salmon. But like the beef original it includes capers and onion. Hard-boiled egg, optionally, can be used as a toping.


I’m noticing at the stores that smoked salmon is increasingly showing up with special flavorings, like black pepper, “Cajun,” “Pastrami,” or even Siracha. This recipe is for the simple smoked salmon that was, and to me still is, special enough.


The dish makes an elegant appetizer for a holiday buffet or a fancy appetizer for dinner. The recipe serves six or more as an appetizer with crackers or melba toast.


1/2 pound smoked salmon (cold-smoked, from Scotland or Norway, or hot-smoked, as from Alaska)

2 tablespoons finely minced red onion

1 tablespoon drained capers, coarsely chopped if larger than peppercorns

1 tablespoon snipped or coarsely chopped fresh dill, plus dill sprigs for garnish

6 hearty grinds of black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 hardboiled egg, white party only, finely minced, for garnish (optional)


On a cutting board, using a chef’s knife, finely chop the salmon (minus any skin). Mix well in a bowl with minced onion, seasonings and capers. Taste, and add salt only if needed (smoked salmon is salted). Refrigerate, covered, at least half an hour -- preferably overnight.


Serve in a decorative bowl or heaped up on an attractive small platter. Garnish, if desired, by sprinkling with minced hard-cooked egg whites. Top with dill sprigs.


Accompany with crackers, a plain, low salt variety, like water crackers, preferred,





Succotash – Old Fashioned Butter Beans with Fresh Corn


A country dish I remember from my childhood in southern New England is succotash, a combination of baby lima beans or butter beans simmered with fresh corn kernels. It turns out the combination of corn and beans goes back much further, to the indigenous peoples of the New England region. It was adopted into the earliest cuisine of the European colonists, and showed up at many Thanksgiving dinners. Its name derives from a word in the language of the Narragansett people, who once inhabited what’s now Rhode Island. 

I was reminded of succotash recently when writing an article about Brunswick Stew, a Southern dish in which the two succotash vegetables, cooked together, show up prominently. And then I had occasion to actually make succotash after all these decades when I was tasked with cooking butter beans (which are in fact small lima beans) for a family gathering and thought about adding corn off the cob. It was a big hit with several in the family, and gave me a twinge of nostalgia. Though it’s no longer familiar to a lot of people, especially outside New England, succotash is still a good dish.

Here’s a recipe that will serve six as a side vegetable.


1 (12-ounce) bag frozen butter beans or baby lima beans

1/2 cup water, plus more as needed

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 large ears fresh corn on the cob

2 tablespoons butter

Heat a small pot with 1/2 cup water. When it boils, add the frozen beans, salt and pepper. Stir well. When the pot comes a boil again, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer/steam the beans. Stir frequently and add a little water as needed to keep 1/4 inch or so in the bottom of the pot. Cook until beans are tender, 10 minutes or more. 

While the beans are simmering, shuck the corn and remove as much corn silk as possible. With a sharp knife slice off the kernels, holding each cob upright in a shallow bowl to catch the corn as it’s cut off.

When the beans are tender, add the corn kernels and bring back just to a boil, adding a little water if needed to keep 1/4 inch or so in the bottom of the pot. The corn should simmer 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Taste a few kernels to check that the corn is done. Do not over cook.

Remove from the heat. Holding the lid on the pot, tip the pot above the sink to drain off most of the cooking water. Add butter to the beans and corn, mix well, and taste. If salt is needed, mix it in.

Serve now, or after cooling, reheat it in a casserole bowl in the microwave before serving.



Vietnamese Pork or Chicken in Caramel Sauce with Turnip


This delightful Vietnamese stewed dish is something I encountered virtually every day at a student cafeteria in Hanoi, Vietnam during a 2-week pubic health course I helped teach in the mid-1990s. It was made with either chicken or pork, usually contained a vegetable, and was slightly different every day.


The local economy was such in those days that small portions of meat, with plentuful sauce, were served, basically to flavor the rice. American style allows for larger meat portions. Accompanying this dish was always a stir-fried green vegetable, often containing a little oyster sauce plus fish sauce and garlic for seasoning. The food provided to the course participants was modest and econimical, but I found it wonderfully flavorful.


I was surprized to encounter turnips in the cooking in Vietnam. They are otherwise uncommon in East and Southeast Asia. They may have been a Western introduction during the French colonial period, as were baguette bread, kohkrabi and artichokes.


Pork tenderloin and chicken cook reasonably quickly. Pork butt (shoulder) is tough, though very tasty, and takes longer to cook. The vegetable is added at the end because its cooking time is short.


The recipe serves six to eight with unsalted white rice. A stir-fried green vegetable dish would be a typical side.


2 pounds pork tenderloin or boneless pork butt; or boneless, skinless chicken thigh

3/4 pound purple-top turnip (1 medium-large)

A little vegetable oil, if necessary

6 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 cups water, plus more as needed

3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

2 teaspoons Chinese oyster sauce

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and bruised

1 small-medium onion, quartered

1 inch fresh ginger, unpeeled, sliced thinly

2 small segments star anise (not the whole star piece)

2 slices hot chili pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Salt, if needed

2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons water

Cilantro or sliced green onion for garnish


If using pork, cut tough and fatty parts off the meat (save the trimmings). Cut meat into 1 1/2 inch pieces. If using chicken thigh, trim off fatty or tough parts (save the trimmings). Cut each thigh across into 3 or four pieces depending on the size of the thigh. Peel turnip and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Set both aside.


In heavy pot, fry the pork or chicken trimmings over mediun-low heat to render some grease. Remove fried bits (they make great pet treats). If there is not 2-3 tablespoons of grease, add a little vegetable oil. Heat the pot to medium hot and add the sugar. Let it caramelize, without stirring, through dark red to brownish (it’s fairly quick). Then add the water to stop the browing. Add the seasoning sauces, garlic, onion, ginger, star anise and chili or cayenne and bring to a boil.


For pork: Add the pork to the boiling sauce, 4-5 pieces at a time, stirring, so that the meat surface changes color before adding the next batch. When all is in, let boil lightly for several minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn down heat and cover. Cook,stirring occasionally, until tender (about 10 minutes for tenderloin, 30-40 minutes or more for butt). Add the turnip. Simmer until it is tender, about 10 minutes, tasting the broth and adding some salt,if needed.


For chicken: Add the chicken pieces pork to the boiling broth, 4-5 pieces at a time, stirring, so that the surface changes color before adding the next batch. When all is in, let boil lightly for several minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn down heat and cover. Cook until tender (about five minutes). Add the turnip. Simmer until it is tender, about 10 minutes, tasting the broth and adding some salt, if needed.


For either pork or chicken: When the meat and turnip are tender, stir the cornstarch-water mixture into the simmering broth. Stir as the broth thickens, for several minutes. Taste and add salt if needed, and a little sugar if the sauce isn’t faintly sweet. Take out the ginger slices and star anise pieces as you see them. If the garlic and onion are still intact, remove them also.


The dish can be served now, but the flavor is enhanced if cooled, refrigerated and reheated to serve.


Sprinkle with coarsely chopped cilantro leaves or thinly sliced green onion tops.. Accompany with unsalted white rice.




Chili-Garlic Sauce, Malaysian Style



When we lived for those seven and a half years in Malaysia in the 1970s, we enjoyed many different styles of hot chili sauce, from Chinese, to Indian, to Malay (“sambal api”), to various commercial sauces that had flourished during British colonial period not many years before then. Many sauces represented fusions of the various culinary traditions that the immigrants and native people followed.


I do not remember what particular condiment I was trying to imitate when I started making this sauce, probably a Malay-influenced Chinese sauce. But I made it often while we were in Malaysia, then repeatedly in the US in the decades since. My chili sauce in jars is frequently given, and happily received, as Christmas gifts to family. There is always some in our refrigerator for highlighting stir-fry dishes, rice noodle dishes, and even scrambled eggs.


The Vietnamese-origin Huy Fong Siracha (“Rooster Brand”) sauce, which became wildly popular in the US, is not extremely different from what I started making before that sauce was launched here. That one was originally developed in the former Saigon, now Ho Chi Ming City, by David Tran, an ethnic Chinese business man from Vietnam, who made and sold it there. He started making it again when he and his family migrated as refugees to southern California, and the business went on to great success. His recipe is secret, obviously, but I do know that the chilies are entirely red jalapeños because they all used to be grown by my old college roommate, Craig Underwood, a 5th-generation farmer in Ventura County, CA.


Here’s the way I have been making this sauce for well over forty years, though I’m only now writing down the quantities of the various ingredients. Typically when red chilies are available, I make multiple quantities of the sauce and pack it in clean glass jars with non-corrosive lids, such as canning jars or used jelly jars or olive or pickle jars. That way I always have some for our use plus plenty to give away. The recipe is written for one pound of red chilies, though it is easily – and usually -- multiplied.


One recipe makes about a pint and a half. It stores for years in the refrigerator. Or if good canning procedures are used, the sauce can be stored on the shelf and only needs refrigeration after opening.


1 pound red jalapeño chilies or red Fresno chilies

2 medium-large cloves garlic, peeled

6 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

6 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt


Cut the green stems off the chilies, saving as much of the red flesh and seeds as possible. As you do this, cut the chilies across into halves and put them into a food processor or large blender. Add the garlic, vinegar, sugar and salt. Run the machine until the chilies are pureed, scraping down the inside of the container with a spatula several times.


Transfer the mixture to a stainless steel or enamel pan (not aluminum or cast iron). If doing multiples of the recipe, repeat the process with each batch. Bring the pan just to a boil, stirring frequently. Turn off the heat. With a large spoon, skim off any foam that has formed.


Spoon while hot into very clean jars, to a half inch below the rim. Wipe any sauce off the edge, and put the lid on the jar. Turn the jars over so the lid gets heated by the sauce.


Allow to cool overnight. Store in a cool place, or in the refrigerator.


The sauce needs a week or so for the flavors to emerge fully.






Potato Salad, German Deli Style


I prefer potato salad tangy sweet-sour and with little mayonnaise. This contrasts with the glubby, mayonaise-laden, yet somehow bland potato salad I grew up with. When I first tasted the striking potato salad at a German deli in New York, I never turned back. I keep the potato skins on, which the original would generally not, for convenience plus food value. And although I use relatively little mayonnaise, the vinegar makes the salad moist and creamy.


These days, I would keep the parsley as a garnish rather than mix it into the salad because some of my grandkids, as well as other young diners, avoid foods with “green things” in them. But the parsley would typically be mixed into the salad. If desired, coarsely chopped dill pickles can also be mixed into this salad. The potato salad is much better flavored if made ahead of time and refrigerated, a few hours to a few days, before serving.


The recipe serves 6 as a side dish or appetizer.


2 pounds small red- or yellow-skinned potatoes

2 tablespoons minced red onion

4 tablespoons white vinegar

2 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise (“real” mayonnaise works best)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon minced parsley for mixing in or for garnish


In large, uncovered pan with plenty of unsalted water, bring unpeeled potatoes just to a simmer over medium heat. Do not boil them or cover the pan. If water begins boiling, pour in a little cold water to slow it. Swirl the pan occasionally to gently move the potatoes around. After 8-10 minutes, test a potato for doneness by piercing with a toothpick. When tender except for firmness, but no hardness, at the very center, remove from the heat. Drain and cool.


In a large mixing bowl, stir minced onion, vinegar, mayonnaise, sugar, salt and pepper until mayonnaise is thoroughly mixed in. Peel or do not peel potatoes according to your choice. Cut potatoes into quarters lengthwise then cut them across into 1/4-inch slices. Add them to the bowl as they are cut.


Stir the potatoes into the mayonnaise mixture, mixing gently with a large spoon or hands (wear plastic gloves). Let sit for 15 minutes. Mix well again and taste. If necessary, add salt, vinegar and/or sugar. The taste should be slightly salty (the potato will absorb more) and tangy sweet-sour. Refrigerate until used. If combining the parsley into the potatoes rather than garnishing with it when serving, stir it in now.


An hour before serving, stir potato mixture again. Taste and add salt, if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with minced parsley if it was not already mixed in.



Chicken and Dumplings – an Old-Fashioned Treat

This one-pot dinner goes way back. In the US, it was mentioned as early as 1836 in a cookbook from Virginia. The dish later showed up in the lyrics of the American folkloric “sing-along” or “campfire song,” “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain when She Comes” which originated in the late 1800s. There, “Chicken ‘n Dumplins” is excitedly anticipated to celebrate a welcome guest’s arrival. I had this down-home treat fairly often when I was a kid, but haven’t seen it, much less cooked it, in many years.


Here’s the way I remember Chicken and Dumplings, but modernized a little on the seasoning and without the chicken bones. Based on my grandkids’ reaction when I served it to them recently, it’s still a family-pleaser. I used the convenience of store-bought biscuit mix (“Jiffy Mix,” “Bisquick” or the store brand) rather than making the dumplings from scratch. A homemade baking-powder biscuit recipe could instead be used to make the dumplings, but that’s extra work.


The recipe serves six. The chicken part can be done ahead, refrigerated in the pot, then brought back to a low boil to add and cook the dumplings 15 minutes before serving. A salad is a nice accompaniment.


2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 tablespoons flour for the chicken

3/4 teaspoon salt for the chicken

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper for the chicken

1/8 teaspoon cayenne for the chicken

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg for the chicken

3 tablespoons rendered chicken fat plus olive oil if necessary

1 medium onion, diced

1 stick celery, split lengthwise then thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch thick discs

2 cups chicken broth

Water, as needed

1/4 cup  sour cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika


The Dumplings:

2 cups commercial biscuit mix (like Jiffy Mix, Bisquick, or store brand)

2/3 cup milk


Trim the chicken of fat and any tough parts (save the trimmings to fry for grease). Cut crosswise into 3 pieces, or 4 if the thigh is large. Mix well with the flour, salt. pepper, cayenne and nutmeg, and allow to season while preparing the other ingredients.


In a stew pot or Dutch Oven, slowly fry the chicken trimmings to render some chicken grease. Remove the browned solids (they’re great pet treats). Keep about 3 tablespoons drippings, or add some olive oil if needed to reach that amount..


When the fried chicken trimmings have been removed, turn up the heat under the pot and add the floured and seasoned chicken. Fry over high heat, scraping the bottom of the pan with a metal spatula and turning the chicken almost constantly. When all the raw color is gone, remove from the heat and lift out the chicken to a bowl, keeping any grease in the pot. Add a little more oil if all the grease is gone.


Add the onion, celery and carrot to the pot. Stir the mixture well and scrape the bottom of the pot. Fry this way 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and simmer the vegetables, covered, stirring often, until the carrots are tender when pierced with a toothpick. 


Add the sour cream, salt and paprika. Add the pre-fried chicken. Add a little water, if needed, so that the liquid reaches to near the top of the chicken and carrot pieces. Bring back to a boil and simmer 2 minutes. Taste the sauce and add a little salt if needed.


At this point the dumplings can be added, or the stew can be cooled, refrigerated and reheated later to finish and serve.


For the dumplings, place the biscuit mix in a dry bowl. Make a hole in the middle of the biscuit mix. Pour in the milk, and lightly mix with a fork till fully moistened, but do not mix further. With a spoon and a spatula, put roughly 3-tablespoon lumps of dumpling dough evenly on top of the chicken and sauce. Cover the pot tightly, reduce the heat to simmer, and allow the dumplings to cook for 14 minutes without opening the pot.


Uncover, and serve the chicken and dumplings from the pot.

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