Hey, internet, hey, I’ve been away. Four years ago - four! - I had a baby, and while there are people who can have a baby and still blog every day, I am apparently not one of those people. Code Name: Little Nettle is four now, and we moved from Oakland to the Pacific Northwest last month so she could go to preschool in the forest. New city, new state, new kitchen, new tiny sous-chef: hopefully I’ll be around these parts a little more. So, how the heck are you?

Vegan Ethiopian test kitchen

Happy New Year, everyone! I know things have been quiet around here lately, but behind the scenes things have been busy-busy. For one thing, I've been recipe testing for the awesome and adorable Kittee Berns - if you remember the fearsome pirana dish I made during VeganMoFo2013, the chickpea fish are her very own invention! She's coming out with a vegan Ethiopian cookbook, and it is going to be amazing. Here's a little sneak preview of some of the delicious dishes I've tested so far.

This is a life-changing recipe. I can't tell you what it is yet but I promise you won't be disappointed.

I'm pretty sure there's nothing vegans love more than mac and cheese.

Look at these colors! Just as tasty as they are vibrant.

And who doesn't love a dumpling? Someone who isn't invited for dinner, that's who.

field trip: Oaktown Spice Shop

Oaktown Spice Shop chalkboard

My sweetheart, W., presented me with a charming salt grinder for my birthday a few weeks ago and a promise to visit the Oaktown Spice Shop  to pick up a fancy salt and a mystery ingredient. Before I learned how to cook the prospect of a mystery ingredient would have been alarming and paralyzing, but now that I'm more comfortable in the kitchen I was pretty excited.

so many salts

I was a little overwhelmed when we got there - so many jars! So many different spellings! - but managed to stay mostly on task. All the staff is incredibly nice and helpful, and I'm sure you can imagine my delight when one of them turned out to be an undercover PPK fan! They let you smell and taste the spices, which is wonderful. I tried the Kala Namak since I've had my eye on the omelette recipe from Vegan Brunch; my hands smelled ridiculously eggy for quite a while afterwards. 

row upon row of neatly labeled jars

There aren't as many organic spices as I would like, but that's purely a matter of personal preference and there are spices I have a hard time finding an organic supplier of anyways. And so, along with some good-natured teasing from W., I selected several items for my basket.

the final selection: Cyprus Wild Mushroom Sea Salt, Kala Namak, Baharat, Barberries (Zereshk)

I went home with Cyprus Wild Mushroom Sea Salt, Kala Namak, Baharat, and Barberries (Zereshk). This is obviously more than one fancy salt and one mystery ingredient, but I do have a sweetheart who spoils me. I had a really lovely time wandering about this tiny delight of a store and taking it all in. I love living and cooking in Oakland  -and I love supporting local businesses so I'll be back for sure. I don't want to give anything away, but I've got my eye on some Jamaican Curry Powder.

batch cooking for H. & J.

playing tetris with frozen portions of batch cooking in the freezer

My friends H. and J. are having a baby this month, and I offered to make a few meals to ease a bit of the strain of the first few days of brand-new parenting.  Neither of them are vegans but they're both adventurous eaters and I've made dinner for them a few times before. I cooked up a few things and then - thanks to the folks over at the PPK forums - learned a few things about the things I should be cooking, too!

frozen dal makhani

I wanted to make them things that would freeze, keep and reheat easily and be warm and nourishing. They both really like dals and curries, so I made up a batch of dal makhani - I use coconut milk instead of ghee, yoghurt and cream - and aloo saag with beet greens, spinach and kale.

frozen NOLA red beans in a thick gravy

I also cooked up a batch of NOLA red beans in a thick gravy. I froze everything in 1 cup portions in storage containers and unmolded them by placing the containers in a bowl of cold water until the contents just released from the sides. Once all the different dishes were unmolded, I put the 1 cup portions in individual bags labelled with all the ingredients (in case of looking out for baby allergies) and with reheating instructions (for easy reference).   

molasses cornbread, cooling

I made some molasses cornbread as well, a house favorite, let it cool and then cut into single servings to freeze.

What hadn't occurred to me was this: things that can be eaten with one hand are a serious boon for new parents. So thank you, PPKers, I'll be baking off some empanadas later this week as well. Hopefully this will at least be a small help for H. and J. and their new little person - I can't wait to see what they look like as a bigger family!

Old New World: tortillas, a love story

tortillas, folded in a clean kitchen towel to steam

I've made an awful lot of tortillas this month for Vegan MoFo, but when I was a novice tortilla maker a few years ago I had no idea what I was doing. I'd eaten my fair share, but that's a different matter.

Tortillas in the pre-contact Americas were always made of corn, so that's what I've been making as wheat did not make it's way to the New World until the early 16th century when the Spanish brought it over. The Maya sometimes added in pumpkin or squash seeds to the masa, but most common was a plain tortilla, called wah and its thicker relative, pim. Tortillas came in many forms for the Aztecs; there are passages in the Florentine Codex that refer to tortillas made of a "white flour" or "white and hot tortillas" but these were made of corn, not wheat. Finely ground corn is much paler than coarsely ground, and there were many colors of maize - including white. According to the Franciscan friar Bernardo de Sahagún: 

"The tortillas which the lords ate every day were called tononqui tlaxcali tlacuelpacholli, meaning white and hot tortillas...ueitlaxcalli, meaning large tortillas; these are very white and very thin, and wide, and very soft...other tortillas called quauhtlaqualli; they are very white, and thick, and large and rough. They also ate some buns that were not round, but long, which they called tlaxcalmimilli...Another kind of tortillas they ate were called tlacepoalli tlaxcalli, which were in layers, and they were dainty food...there were also many kinds of tortillas for the commoners."

I feel like it's a pretty huge omission to not detail the "tortillas for the commoners," but I'm glad that Sahagún was so enthusiastic and mostly encyclopedic. I haven't made most of the kinds he describes, but I get by. If you're nervous about making tortillas, there are a few things I've picked up along the way; to start, here's the basic recipe I use for reference - you've seen it a few times this month.


makes 12

  • 2 cup masa harina
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup water plus more if necessary

Place the masa harina in a large bowl and stir in the salt. Add water and knead until the dough is firm but pliable. Form 12 balls of dough and cover them in the bowl with a damp  towel for 1 hour. 

Heat a flat pan over medium heat until drops of water dance and evaporate when flicked. Press between wax paper on a tortilla press or roll out into circles, then cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Fold stack of tortillas in a clean towel to steam for about 10 minutes.

homemade tortillas, imperfect and bumpy and tasty


If your dough is too crumbly, add water. If it's too sticky, add more masa. Do both a tablespoon at a time until you have a dough that is pliant, only slightly tacky, and does not crack. 

Make sure you form spheres, not ovals and not the somewhat "spinning top" shape used to make dumplings with thicker bellies. Your tortillas will roll out more evenly.

If your tortillas crack when they are rolled or pressed out, you need to add more water. Remove the cracked tortilla and add it back to the rest of the masa before you add more water to the entire batch. 

If your tortillas stick and pull apart on the wax paper when they are rolled or pressed out, you need to add more masa. Remove the sticky tortilla and add it back to the rest of the masa before you add more masa to the entire batch. 

I use a well-seasoned flat cast iron pan to cook tortillas. You can use a well-seasoned larger cast iron griddle if you have one to cook more than one at a time.

Patience is important; if you flip the tortilla too soon, bits of masa will stick to the pan and will eventually burn if you don't gently scrape them up quickly. 

Try, if you can without too much calamity, to burn the heck out of at least one tortilla so you get a feel for how hot is too hot, and how long is too long. You'll also learn when to turn the heat up or down with experience - I usually turn the heat down a bit for the last few tortillas as the pan gets very hot. I habitually undercooked my tortillas so they were still raw in the center before I accidentally burned one.

Cooked tortillas aren't perfectly smooth; in fact, you can tell when the first side is done by the small bumps that form. 

You'll soon get a sense for when to flip the tortilla, by the way it smells and the way the color changes. I tend to flip it the first time when the edges just start to curl up and remove it from the heat to steam after it has puffed up a bit, slightly inflated with air.  The tortilla will deflate when it is removed from heat. If you flip the tortilla too early, it's okay to flip it back.

Make sure you leave some time before serving to steam the tortillas in a clean kitchen towel. This helps the tortillas become flexible and soft. I do at least 10 minutes. I also turn the stack upside down when I finish the last one so that the hottest tortilla is on the bottom, steaming upward.

There's really nothing like a fresh, warm, homemade tortilla - and, once you get the hang of it, you can make more than a dozen in less time than it takes to pick up takeout!

a stack of tortillas