Caribbean Smooth Creates Rum Liqueur Ou-Oui! With the Female Consumer in Mind

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. October 2018.

The founder of Caribbean Smooth, a new brand of tropical spiced rum liqueur, shakes an unusually shaped black-colored bottle and pours me a taste of his guava-pineapple and passion fruit blends as we chat sitting at the bar of a Mexican restaurant near his home in Atlanta. “This is an instant rum punch,” he says mixing the two flavors and adding a splash of ginger ale. It is Ou-Oui!

Walwyn uses fresh pink guavas and pineapples from Central and South America and blends them with spices from the Caribbean to create a smooth liqueur that is easy to drink straight from the bottle. There’s no burn from the alcohol, just a little heat and a slight buzz. With 20 percent alcohol and all natural ingredients, there’s nothing else like this on the market.

Growing up on the island of St. Kitts, Walwyn picked mangoes, bananas, coconuts, sugarcane and guavas from his backyard, eating them fresh and juicing them for a sweet treat. “Even as a kid, I created my own juices, spiked them up with my dad’s brandy, not for a buzz, but because I enjoyed how it changed the flavor profile,” he recalls of his first experiments.

After his father migrated to neighboring St. Croix in 2010, Walwyn would make a passion fruit cocktail for his friends and family, which was fondly named ‘Nigel’s Punch.’ It was inspired by a rum punch he had tried at a beach bar (formerly Ziggy’s) in St. Kitts, that he considered the best in the world. Word spread and before he knew it, people were asking him to make this special recipe for their events. He made three gallons for the St. Kitts Music Festival’s VIP tent and the crowd demanded more. “The people of St. Kitts are the harshest critics of rum drinks, and that’s when I knew I was on to something,” says Walwyn.

Creating the Consumer Demand for Something New

Soon requests poured in from colleagues at CNN in Atlanta where Walwyn worked at the time. With the encouragement of friends, he said goodbye to his 25-year-long career in TV news to become a beverage entrepreneur.

It took three and a half years of research, product development and getting certifications to bring the taste of the islands to the market. “I hit many roadblocks while I was going through the process by myself. It was frustrating at times, but I knew I was learning and doing something new and exciting,” he adds.

When Walwyn was testing out his recipes, people would taste test and say, “Oh yea!” It was an expression he repeatedly heard,  so he decided to call the product Ou-Oui!

Bottles of Ou-Oui! Rum Liqueur
Photo: Caribbean Smooth

I asked Walwyn about the unusual shape of the curved black bottle with a lipstick mark on the logo, colorful round bottle caps and picture of a couple on a sunset beach. “Ou-Oui! is designed for women. Women like romantic, flavorful, smooth alcoholic drinks. They are put off by strong burning spirits like scotch, whiskey and tequila. It comes in an easy to hold, curved feminine glass bottle. The dark bottle is functional, preserving the freshness of the fruit by blocking UV light,” he explains. The bottle can also be recycled and used as a vase, lamp or candle holder.

Walwyn recommends using Ou-Oui! as a base to enhance any cocktail recipe. You can add it to cognac or whiskey, margarita or mojitos – it doesn’t matter. Create an instant rum punch by mixing two parts passion fruit, one part guava-pineapple and a splash of ginger beer or ginger ale and pour it over ice. Add to Champagne and make a healthier mimosa. Each Ou-Oui! bottle has 14 ingredients already, so there are enough flavors and complexity to boost your cocktail. Shake the bottle well as the real fruit tends to settle at the bottom, refrigerate once opened.

Ou-Oui! is manufactured in Florida and currently available at 200+ stores in Alabama and Georgia. It is available during select food festivals and Caribbean events.

With only a year after the release of the brand, Walwyn is already working on creating new flavors (mango is expected to launch in 2020) and raising additional capital to expand the brand nationally.

To see where Ou-Oui! is available, visit www.caribbeansmooth.com and also follow Walwyn on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine

A day of thanks. Gratitude is the attitude wherever you’re from

For Creative Loafing Atlanta. November 2018 print issue. 

Before I moved to Atlanta in 1997, I had a picture-postcard image of Thanksgiving — a Caucasian family wearing plaid shirts gathered around a big table covered with a dozen delectable dishes. There was always a whole pumpkin and orange tones to signify autumn. I knew there was a cooked turkey at the center of the festive spread (though I had never seen or tasted turkey growing up in India), but that was all I knew about Thanksgiving.

It wasn’t until I was a college freshman, when an elderly couple invited me to their home on Howell Mill Road for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, that I got the full picture. They roasted a whole stuffed turkey and served creamy mashed potatoes, green beans with mushrooms, whipped sweet potatoes, tart cranberry dressing, and pumpkin pie. Then they told me the story of Thanksgiving — in the 1600s, the Wampanoag Indians taught the Pilgrims, who had sailed to the eastern coast of United States on the Mayflower, how to cultivate the land, and in appreciation, the Pilgrims cooked a “thank you” dinner. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared “Thanksgiving” a national holiday, and ever since, Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November each year, when families and friends gather for dinner. What we ate at my first Thanksgiving dinner in Atlanta are some of the dishes typically prepared (most of which I had never tasted before). My hosts asked me to say aloud what I was thankful for, and the three of us dived into my first Thanksgiving meal.

Over the next few years, I discovered a group of international orphans (that’s what we called ourselves, those who were transplants from other countries) who had a potluck dinner party on Thanksgiving Day. Most of us were single students and young professionals. Each one would bring a dish representing their country. We had a globally-inspired feast!

Once I started working a corporate job, I discovered Thanksgiving was also a long weekend and a great time to travel (except you must deal with the crowds). My friends who had moved to Atlanta from elsewhere in the U.S. were always planning a trip home over the Thanksgiving holidays. Since my husband and I had no other home in the states, we started using this opportunity to take vacations. This is when I also realized you could get a Thanksgiving turkey dinner practically anywhere in the U.S., even if you were unable to cook it yourself. I remember having “turkey and fixings” at the Universal Studios cafeteria, at a diner in Gatlinburg, even 30,000 feet in the air onboard a Delta flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta.

I also discovered people would get up very early in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving to stand in line at Walmart, Best Buy, and shopping malls for “Black Friday” deals on electronics and clothing. I didn’t see the point in waking up at 5 a.m. to go shopping, but my friends informed me they got very good deals! I didn’t quite get the concept at first. You have just finished being grateful for everything you have but feel the urgent need to go buy more stuff. The only time I indulged in this custom was when Nordstrom gave out free pumpkin pies with every purchase (and you didn’t need to come early for that, or spend a lot).

Now that I have spent more of my life in the U.S., Thanksgiving has become an important part of my American life. I have hosted dinners at my home, cooking turkeys and dozens of sides myself, and invited international students and friends who find themselves alone. The holiday is more of a reminder to be grateful, than to overindulge in food or retail therapy.

Commemorating a bountiful harvest is not a concept unique to the Pilgrims, as some version of it can be found in other parts of the world. People across Germany, Grenada, Korea, Japan, Liberia, and Norfolk Island have been known to celebrate some version of a day of remembrance — of giving gratitude for a good harvest, of counting one’s blessings or thanking the labor force — by enjoying a feast with family and friends. Many cultures have parades, carnivals, music, and dancing to celebrate abundant food with appreciation.

Other transplanted Atlantans have brought their own perspective to this holiday of giving thanks.

An English Canadian who grew up in Toronto, Fairyal Halim was accustomed to celebrating Thanksgiving as a day to give gratitude, rather than in the context of a historical event. Our northern neighbor has been celebrating the holiday long before us and has similar cooking traditions, though they celebrate it in on the second Monday in October. A U.S. resident for almost three decades, Halim now celebrates two Thanksgivings with her family — a Canadian one in October, and an American version in November.

Says Halim, “To this day, Thanksgiving remains grounded in the recognition of our immense blessings of family, friends, and gratitude for it all. It is really a time to focus on all that we are blessed with and to not take it for granted. I make a point of reaching out to family and/or friends who may find themselves alone on Thanksgiving.” She remembers hosting turkey dinners for her son’s college friends who were unable to make it home for Thanksgiving. The turkey came from a halal (slaughtered according to the principals of Islam) butcher, as Halim’s family is Muslim.

For Halim, Thanksgiving emphasizes the coming together of different people and being aware of the abundance in one’s life. “As a Muslim, I find great resonance of values that are important to me in the celebration of Thanksgiving. It is the perfect synthesis of our North American culture and religion. The concept of gratitude and thankfulness to God is foremost for Muslims. They are to be ever mindful of their blessings, to not take anything for granted, and to give thanks by saying ‘Alhamdulillah,’ meaning ‘all praise is for God.’ Thanksgiving is not limited to just one day for Muslims,” she says. “It’s is an attitude of gratitude.”

Cali, Colombia, native Cesar Restrepo came to Cleveland, Georgia, to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music. “I knew that my brothers and family living in Miami celebrated Thanksgiving, but I thought it was just a break they had before Christmas. I also knew about the special prices on pretty much everything. For me it was just a mere shopping holiday,” he recalls of his first brush with the holiday.

PREPPING: Cooking the paella. courtesy of Cesar Restreppo

PREPPING: Cooking the paella. courtesy of Cesar Restreppo

For his first turkey dinner, Restrepo was invited by a Colombian family who served him a typical American Thanksgiving dinner along with tamales, a customary dish at every Colombian holiday. He remembers taking a moment before the meal to express what each of them was thankful for, especially for the blessings this country had given them. Twenty years later, Restrepo continues the tradition with his wife and kids, cooking all day, inviting friends over, and reflecting on the good fortune they have in their lives.

“For me, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to gather with other immigrants and make them feel welcome in a country that is not ours but is kind enough to host us. It’s also an act of kindness and peace,” says Restrepo. Having grown up in a relatively poor country, he doesn’t like the extravagant feasts where a lot of food is wasted.

Content writer and blogger Lakshmi Devi Jagad moved from Mumbai to Atlanta in 2003. She, too, had no knowledge of the historic significance of Thanksgiving before arriving in the U.S., but she had heard about the incredible sales the holiday brought with it. “I believe Thanksgiving has been monetized for many years now!” she observes.

Over the years, it has become a day when she and her husband catch up with friends over a good meal and conversation, a quiet and peaceful time, Jagad says, for “a social gathering, a fun get-together, an opportunity to relax.”

Being vegetarian, Jagad must forgo the indispensable turkey and opt for an elaborate vegetable biryani, a layered Indian rice dish with saffron and nuts that is served with a side of cucumber and yogurt raita. “We prepare a huge pot of it as our version of the turkey,” she says.

Father George Mahklouf, an Orthodox priest from the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank, has also integrated Thanksgiving into his annual rituals. “Whether Palestinians, Arabs, or other immigrants from overseas coming to America, many try to follow the traditions of the country they choose to live in. I lived in Yonkers, NY, then Long Island, and finally Atlanta. Wherever I went, Arabs celebrated Thanksgiving. Why? I don’t know, though most probably see it as a gathering of family and friends.”

Mahklouf says the story of the Native Americans and the Pilgrims is familiar to him. “It reminds me of our similar Palestinian story as native indigenous people of the land of Canaan who were displaced by Ashkenazi Jews coming from Poland, Russia, and other places in the world to live in our own homes and take over our businesses and orchards.” Mahklouf, who breaks his own Nativity Fast “in order to please people (at Thanksgiving)” for a feast he never celebrated in Palestine, says his thankfulness, like Halim’s, is not limited to the holiday. “We thank God and all who do us favors, without having a special day to thank God and others.”

Thanksgiving in the U.S. has traditionally been a historic celebration, with religious overtones for many, but today it is celebrated by immigrants from around the world, regardless of their religious or cultural beliefs or ethnic backgrounds, who have chosen to make the United States their home. The holiday may have evolved from a day of giving thanks around the dinner table to include watching afternoon football games and starting the holiday shopping season, but its essence — celebrating an abundance of food after a fall harvest, breaking bread together with others, and appreciating one’s blessings — has endured over time.

~ Written for Creative Loafing Atlanta

London’s Walks That Trace History, Food and Culture

For Cuisine Noir. September 2018. 

London is one of the largest cosmopolitan cities in the world, where different races are not only welcomed but celebrated. The influences of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean are felt throughout the city’s food, fashion, music and art.

Here are some ways to get a feel for the global influences in London in just a weekend.

Eclectic Music and Food

London’s premier neighborhood is filled with pubs, cafes and restaurants. And what better way to learn about the oldest multicultural neighborhood than through its food? When immigrants moved into the area, up until the late 1600s, Soho was known as London’s “French Quarter,” and cheap eateries, small theaters, brothels and music halls crept in. It is also where the bohemian arts scene took off.
Photo: Black History Walks

London Food Lovers offers 3–4-hour-long walking tours filled with colorful stories of Soho’s writers, poets, artists and historical figures. Along the way, you will stop to taste some of the best bites in town. From smoked bacon sandwiches grilled on lava at Kua’Aina; tender and juicy jerk chicken accompanied by crisp hush puppies at the Rum Kitchen; to the best chocolate drinks and desserts made with cacao sourced from Cuba, Tanzania and Ghana at Italian chocolatier SAID – you will go home with a content belly.

Return in the evening to Kinoly Court for blues, jazz, afrobeat or salsa. You can see fire eaters and fortune tellers at the circus-themed nightclub Cirque Le Soir, or transport yourself to a postwar 1940s underground tube station at Cahoots.

Banned Books, Movies and Walks

Black History Walks offers guided walking tours of 2,000 years of London’s black history. Historian Tony Warner has identified nine neighborhoods and spaces integral to the city’s black culture, including the Nelson Mandela Statue, African and Caribbean War Memorial and the Mangrove Restaurant, which was a meeting place for the Black Panthers. The tour lasts 2.5 hours and the information spans hundreds of years of history.

Photo: Black History Walks

They also host screenings of banned movies and talks on banned books through their African Odysseys series. Upcoming features include Best of Nigeria short films and African Superheroes Day. Hear from filmmakers, actors and leaders and get a behind-the-scenes look at the city that most travelers often miss.

International Bites and Architecture

You can’t come to London and not taste real English cuisine! Eating Europetakes you back in time to savor the best bread and butter pudding, fried fish and chips with homemade peas, and British hard cider at old-fashioned neighborhood pubs.

Photos: Sucheta Rawal/Go Eat Give

Wander the streets of London’s eclectic East End neighborhood to discover ancient Roman burial grounds, Georgian-style mansions built from the French silk trade, hidden synagogues and the most vibrant street art in the world. Stop at Old Spitalfields Market for global fashions and vintage arts and crafts. Lastly, settle on one of the 56 South Asian restaurants on Brick Lane for the national dish of the UK: chicken tikka masala.

East End is also home to many black writers, including former slaves brought from Nigeria — James Albert (aka Ukawsaw Gronniosaw) and Olaudah Equiano (aka Gustavus Vassa) — and is the backdrop of the Sidney Poitier movie “To Sir with Love.” It is said that the area of Tower Hamlets in East End was also known as the “Harlem of London” because of its black settlement and rich cultural identity.

Read the original story on Cuisine Noir

St. Croix: Open for Business and Thriving

For Cuisine Noir. July 2018. 

Though much of the Caribbean has seen its fair share of devastation with hurricanes Irma and Maria, the U.S. island of St. Croix has bounced back a lot faster than its neighbors. One of the reasons for the quick recovery, as stated by native Sharon Rosario, is, “We don’t wait around for others to come help us. We get out and help each other out!” While insurance claims take months to settle, most of the highways on the island were cleaned out within days and reconstruction started almost immediately.

The kinfolk spirit of the island is rather infectious. In a matter of days, I was running into familiar faces at cafes and restaurants and introduced as “a cousin” from the mainland.

St. Croix’s local and expat community comes together each year to host the annual St. Croix Food and Wine Experience, a series of culinary events to benefit the 27-year-old St. Croix Foundation for Community Development. However, this year was exceptional as the needs of the community were pressing. Executive director Deanna James told attendees, “Natural disasters can exacerbate existing challenges and socio-economic disparities economies are facing. This hurricane highlighted how incredibly resilient this community is.”

Sommelier Patrick Kralik runs Balter restaurant in downtown Christiansted that was the scene of the opening party that welcomed sponsors and organizers. Kralik highlighted local ingredients in modern creative passed dishes including shrimp po’boy and vegetarian dolma paired with Sonoma wine; speaking to global resiliency in action from California’s coasts to St Croix’s shores.

Photo: Sucheta Rawal

An intimate dinner called the Giving Table Dinner at Catherine’s Hope was held at a private mansion boasting 360-degree views of the island. About three dozen guests enjoyed a five-course dinner prepared by celebrity chefs Julius Jackson, Michael Ferraro, Negust Kaza, and Robyn Almodovar with fine wines and the tunes of live jazz music. All funds raised through the charity dinner and auction went on to benefit the foundation’s recovery efforts on the island for community revitalization, public education and fiscal grantmaking.

The event ended at a warehouse by the airport’s hangar where local chefs and wine wholesalers from all over the world offered nibbles against the backdrop of private and rescue airplanes. Even small businesses such as Da Cake Man, Fusions, Blue Water Terrace and Bayside Kitchen took great pride in doing their share to support the cause, offering tastes of lobster Rangoon, fried chicken and red velvet cupcakes.

Photo: Sucheta Rawal

The closing of the third largest oil refinery in the western hemisphere in 2012 led to a steep downturn in St. Croix’s economy and many locals turned to opening their own businesses. Some include Uptown Eatery in Christiansted, a 15-seater healthy international- inspired café run by Jane and Dave Kendrick. Across the street is BES Craft Cocktail Lounge, a popular watering hole where mixologist Frank Robinson handcrafts each cocktail from scratch, grating ginger and squeezing limes before turning them into works of art. Tucked away in the middle of the forest is food truck-style Nidulari Bakery and Mahogany Road Chocolate, selling artisanal breads, homemade cookies and fresh samosas. Savant is one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the Caribbean serving Asian-Caribbean-inspired dishes in a romantic Italian grotto setting.

Located on expansive land with rolling hills and a private beach, the family-run The Buccaneer Hotel is the largest hotel on the island and has hosted celebrity guests as well as filming of the reality show, “The Bachelor.” They also provided space to the Army, FEMA and relief workers after the hurricanes and helped with the clean-up. As things begin to look up for the island, The Fred is the newest hotel to open in 31 years. This boutique property in the cruise town of Frederiksted offers a trendy setting overlooking some of the best white sand beaches.

Photo: Sucheta Rawal

While the people of St. Croix will surely capture your heart with their friendly smiles and welcoming attitude, there are a few other reasons to visit this U.S. Virgin Island. Picturesque volcanic hills, pristine beaches and colorful historical towns set against lots of sunny days and cool nights make St. Croix the perfect place to vacation any time of the year. Frederiksted or “Freedom City” is also a good place to learn the history of St. Croix, which holds roots in Dutch ownership, sugarcane mills, Alexander Hamilton, American annexation and the emancipation of slaves. Here you can see Mocko Jumbie dancers welcome cruisers wearing colorful garbs and carnival masks and Afro-Cruzan pottery. Snorkel or kayak at the Buck Island Reef National Monument’s warm turquoise waters and get up close to the well-conserved coral and marine life. Shop for handmade silver jewelry at one of the many galleries and don’t forget to bring back locally distilled Cruzan® Rum.

St. Croix is open for business and now more than ever is the best time to go.  For more planning ideas and tips, visit https://www.visitusvi.comand http://www.stcroixtourism.com.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir. July 2018. 

Conversation with Pro Boxer and Caribbean Chef Julius Jackson

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. June 2018

At age of 30, Julius Jackson is a professional boxer, chef, cookbook author, model, and actor. He is a light-heavyweight Olympic qualifier and plays a boxer on the Telemundo series El Cesar based on the life of Julio Cesar Chavez. Born and raised on the beautiful island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jackson maintains a delicate balance between his professional life, his passion, family and serving the community.

I met Jackson at the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience’s “The Giving Table,” a community-centric private gourmet dinner prepared by celebrity chefs to raise funds for the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development and rebuilding St. Croix after the destruction from two hurricanes in 2017. Jackson carefully plated about 40 servings of pumpkin fritter with a salmon croquette and micro-blended creole sauce, topped with a thyme and parsley garnish. It was an instant crowd pleaser.

How did you get involved with St. Croix Food and Wine Experience?

The St. Croix Food and Wine Experience works with a lot of nonprofits in the USVI, one of which I am closely involved with. I am the head chef and manager of the charitable café/ bakery called My Brothers Workshop which focuses on mentoring and job placement for at-risk youth. We help kids get diplomas online, provide job skills, counseling and mentoring and give them hope to overcome their situations and become better citizens of the island. I also spend a lot of time volunteering at schools and summer camps to talk about boxing and cooking.

What’s your history with boxing?

My dad, Julian “the Hawk” Jackson, was a 3-time world champion boxer and Boxing Hall of Fame recipient. Boxing was huge for our family, but I did not care much for it. I saw my dad get injured and go for surgeries towards the end of his career, which turned me away from the sport. I liked baseball better.

My brothers, on the other hand, did box and would come home and teased me for being fat and lazy. So, I decided to just go to the gym with my dad to get in shape, but I didn’t want to punch or fight anyone. When my brothers started competing in tournaments and needed a sparring mate, my dad asked me to do it. They would beat me up but I couldn’t hit them back, so decided to box. Soon enough, I realized that I was a natural at it and started liking it. I began my amateur boxing career at the age of 13, competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China and won the title of WBC (USNBC) Super Middleweight Champion in 2012. I am currently fighting with a professional record of 20-2 with 17 KOs (knockouts).

How did you get into cooking?

When I was a kid, I hated being hungry. I would stay in the kitchen to help my mom cook mostly because I wanted to be the tester and take the first bite. One day, when I was about 10, I was home and hungry, so I decided to cook myself fried chicken. It turned out nice but I remember putting too much Goya adobo! All my brothers wanted some, so I started cooking for everyone. I watched them enjoying what I prepared and it made me feel good. Then on, I would make pancakes, scrambled eggs and Johnny Cakes on the weekends for everyone.

Until high school, I never perceived a career in culinary arts. My counselor advised me to take home economic courses in 8th grade and after graduation, I went to Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach. I worked with a catering company, hotel, restaurant and did some pop-up dinners while maintaining my pro boxing career.

What’s your cookbook about?

Whenever I get a chance to talk with the women in my family, I am always learning how they cook certain Caribbean dishes. Keeping true to my roots, I wrote my Caribbean fusion cookbook focusing on traditional Caribbean recipes across the different islands, with classic French and Italian twists I learned through my training. Some of the recipes include Caribbean quesadillas with fresh mangoes and focaccia bread with avocados. I am Caribbean by blood but I love mixing with other people and cultures.

I wrote “My Modern Caribbean Kitchen” (releasing July 2018) through the two hurricanes Maria and Irma. It was dark everywhere and I had to look for light and internet. I dedicated the book to the victims, while I was also working through the time feeding people at the bakery.

To learn more about Jackson, visit  http://juliusthechef.com and follow him on Twitter.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine

 

Where Did Hummus Really Originate?

~ For Chowhound. April 2018.

The brownish paste has become a staple appetizer on most menus, often served as a dip with a side of pita and veggies. It can now be found at American, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern restaurants, but do you know where hummus really comes from?

The Invention of Hummus

Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptian Arabs, Greeks, and other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries all claim hummus as “their” dish. Some historians say hummus can be dated to 13th century Egypt, others identify it as hometz from the Hebrew Bible written 3,500 years ago. The truth is, chickpeas have been growing in Turkey and surrounding areas for 10,000 years, which most likely gave way to some form of this dip.

Hummus Wars

Naturally, ownership of the popular chickpea dip started a war between Lebanon and Israel in 2008. Lebanese Industrialists and the government petitioned to recognize Lebanon, not Israel, as the appropriator of hummus, and waged an unconventional war of lawsuits, cook-offs, and competitions. According to CNN, in 2010, Lebanon set the record for the largest plate of hummus at 11.5 tons!

Chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author, Yotam Ottolenghi, writes about the hummus wars in his book “Jerusalem: A Cookbook.” “The arguments never cease. And even if the question of authorship is somehow set aside, you are still left with who makes the best hummus?…It is like the English fish-and-chips shop, a savored local treasure.”

What’s the Difference?

Most recipes for hummus contain the same basic ingredients: chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Yet a hummus aficionado has preferences of consistency—smooth and fluffy vs. chunky and spicy; temperature—warm, cold, or room temperature; and which condiments to serve alongside—cooked whole chickpeas, rehydrated dried fava beans, spice paste, chilisauce, or just plain. “It’s sort of like Minestrone soup,” says Paul Nirens, founder of GalilEat that runs culinary tours in Galilee. “Every cook has his/ her own recipe. I personally like it not too heavy, with a good amount of tehina, no garlic, and with very little lemon,” following a family recipe of a Christian-Arab grandma of 17 kids in the village of Dir Hanna in Israel.

Turkish, Greek, Israeli, or Lebanese—each culture has their own twist on the recipe. The Turkish chef and owner of Sivas Turkish Restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia adds ice cold water while blending the chickpeas and a little white pepper to flavor his hummus. Sometimes small amounts of Greek yogurt, cumin, and hot peppers can be added, and toppings range from foul (fava beans), to eggs and minced lamb. Hummus has even surfaced to dessert menus. New York-based franchise The Hummus & Pita Co. serves chocolate hummus, cookie dough humus, and cake batter hummus with cinnamon toast pita chips, while Delighted by Hummus’ Snickerdoodle hummus has become all the rave after appearing on the hit TV show Shark Tank.

Cake batter hummus, The Hummus & Pita Co.

The Best Way to Eat Hummus

At the famous Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, you will find a row of hummusias, dedicated hummus cafes open for breakfast until late afternoon, typically run by Mizrahi Jews and Arab-Israelis. These are packed with locals starting at breakfast and crowded out by tourists. Masabacha (or hot hummus) is a full hummus-based meal eaten for breakfast or lunch. A huge portion of hummus is served individually, topped with shakshouka, chickpeas, cumin, paprika, chopped fresh parsley, and a whole brownish looking egg which is boiled in black tea. Custom dictates using raw onion scales to scoop the hummus and biting into long green peppers that are served on the side.

One thing to note is that hummus is traditionally served in a red clay bowl with raised edges, allowing for convenience of scooping. Also, for proper eating etiquette, twist your wrist in a clockwise motion instead of dipping right in.

Make it at Home

No matter where hummus comes from, the important part is using good quality ingredients and making it from scratch. Soak dried chickpeas or garbanzo beans with baking soda overnight to soften them instead of using canned preserved ones. Squeeze fresh lemon juice, mince whole garlic cloves, blend in tahini paste, extra virgin olive oil, and kosher salt. Balance the measure of each of the ingredients based on your personal preference. The result will be wholesome hummus that is rich in protein, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B6, fiber, and potassium.

~ Written for Chowhound. April 2018.

An Official Guide to the Unofficial Starbucks Secret Menu

For Chowhound. March 2018. 

Tired of ordering the same few drinks each time you visit Starbucks? What if you could invent your own pick-me-up at your favorite coffee shop? What if all your favorite desserts were made into beverages?

No need for a magic wand to grant this wish! Starbucks has a secret menu, unofficially created by consumers, that gives you a choice of ordering thousands of drinks you probably never even heard of. The next time you enter a Starbucks coffee shop, order your own secret recipe and sip away.

According to Starbucks’ Media Relations, “Starbucks does not have an official ‘secret menu.’ However, in addition to the beverage options listed on our menu boards, there are more than 170,000 ways baristas can customize beverages at Starbucks, including selecting from a variety of milks, syrups, coffee/espresso options, and toppings. If customers would like to order a beverage that is not listed on our menu boards, we recommend they know the recipe so that their barista can handcraft the beverage perfectly for them.”

Many secret recipes have become popular through Instagram feeds and Starbucks has even incorporated them into their “official menus” for limited times. For example, the Christmas Tree Frappuccino spread holiday cheer for a few days in December, while the Zombie Frappuccino played a tribute to the goriness of Halloween.

Check out some of the under-the-radar creations from Starbucks’ Secret Menu.

Colored for Spring

Pink Drink, via Starbucks

Referred to simply as the Pink Drink or Purple Drink, these strawberry acai refreshers with coconut milk and scoops of berries will get you in the mood for spring.

If you have seen people walking out with drinks that have pink and blue swirls or topped with glitter, that is a Unicorn Frappuccino, a jazzier version of the Dragon Frappuccino made with green tea Frappuccino, vanilla bean powder, and berry swirls.

The baby pink Raspberry Caramel Macchiato tastes as good as it looks. Have it with raspberry syrup, ice, milk, espresso, and caramel.

Drink Your Candy Bar

Twix Frappuccino, via Starbucks Secret Menu

The possibilities are endless when it comes to having your favorite candy created into a blended beverage. The candy bar-inspired Twix Frappuccino is a scrumptious mix of caramel Frappuccino, caramel syrup, hazelnut syrup, java chips, and a drizzle of mocha.

Chocolate connoisseurs will love the Ferrero Rocher Frappuccinowith double chocolate chip Frappuccino, mocha syrup, hazelnut syrup, and hazelnut drizzle.

Even if you can’t eat the real thing, this lactose-free Caramel Snickerdoodle Macchiato will surely perk you up. Ask for an iced soy caramel macchiato and add vanilla syrup and cinnamon dolce syrup.

Pick up an after-dinner indulgence in a Thin Mint Frappuccino, made with chocolate syrup, mint syrup, java chips, and honey mixed into a Tazo Green Tea Frappuccino.

Character Rich

Butterbeer Latte, via Starbucks Secret Menu

The Pokemon-Go inspired Pokeball Frappuccino was so popular that some Starbucks locations put it on the specials board. Made with vanilla Frappuccino, strawberries and crème Frappuccino, and topped with strawberry whipped cream, this pink-white and creamy drink is made to look like the ball’s opening.

Harry Potter fans invented the Butter Beer Latte, a milk steamer with caramel syrup, toffee nut syrup, cinnamon dolce syrup, whipped cream, and salted caramel bits. There’s also an iced version of it.

Sweeten the Deal

Banana Cream Pie Frappuccino, via The Odyssey

No need to bake your favorite dessert recipes. Just ask your barista to add sweet ingredients of your choice to a cup and drink away. Order a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino with a pump or two of vanilla and hazelnut syrups, plus a whole banana to make a Banana Cream Pie Frappuccino.

Skip breakfast for a Nutella Frappuccino, a coffee Frappuccino with mocha syrup, hazelnut syrup, and blended whipped cream, topped with caramel drizzle.

Winter may be almost over, but you can still enjoy a Starbucks S’mores Hot Chocolate with chestnut praline syrup, whipped cream, and mocha drizzle added to a regular hot chocolate.

Add one to three pumps of raspberry syrup to a White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino to make it a Raspberry Cheesecake Mocha Frappuccino, or ask your barista to blend a biscotti into any Frappuccino for an impromptu Biscotti Frappuccino.

Drink to Your Health

Iced tea, via Starbucks

If sugary drinks are not your thing, order an Iced Matcha Latte that boasts antioxidants and has a lot less calories. Just mix matcha powder, vanilla, cinnamon, and ice.

Detox with a healthier option of blended drinks with a Superfruit Tea. The green tea with limes and strawberries packs flavor and is good for you too.

Feeling under the weather? Get the Passion Coldbuster Tea with passion tango tea, emperor cloud and mist, half steamed lemonade, half boiling water, and a bit of honey. It helps reduce inflammation, suppresses cough, boosts immunity, and relieves stress and insomnia.

There is an unofficial website dedicated to drink recipes (which is not Starbucks affiliated) where fans can post recipes and pictures of their own creations.  They recommend noting down the recipes as not all baristas will be familiar with the creative drink names.

Also, a ‘Secret Menu for Starbucks’ app available from iTunes provides a database of recipes on your fingertips. Search hot, cold, blended, and tea-based drinks, learn how to order, and rate your drinks.

~ Written for Chowhound. March 2018. 

Breakfast Casseroles from Around the World

For Chowhound. March 2018. 

You don’t need a plane ticket to enjoy food from different countries. Brighten your morning routine with these internationally inspired casserole dishes that can be made ahead. From Mexico to Nigeria, expand your breakfast culture knowledge one egg at a time.

Mexico: Huevos Rancheros

Meaning “rancher’s eggs” in Spanish, these are sunny-side up fried eggs served on lightly fried corn tortillas smothered in tomato-chilisauce, accompanied by refried beans and rice. Top with diced avocados, fresh cilantro, sour cream and salsa to make this hearty breakfast dish that will transport you to a hacienda in Mexico. Get our Huevos Rancheros recipe.

Israel: Shakshuka

Shakshuka is a staple found in the Middle East and North Africa. The name aptly means “all mixed up” as it is a blend of poached eggs, onions, bell peppers, minced meat (optional), and spicy tomato sauce flavored with smoked paprika and oregano. Melt feta cheese on top and serve the casserole with a hearty baguette or fresh warm pita bread. Get our Shakshuka recipe.

Spain: Tortilla Espanola

Fine Cooking

Found at cafes and bars across Spain and in many countries in South America, tortilla espanola can be eaten for breakfast, snack, or as tapas with a glass of wine. The vegetarian and gluten-free baked omelet is made by layering sliced potatoes with eggs, onions, and garlic. To serve, slice into pie size pieces at room temperature. Get the recipe.

Germany: Hoppel Poppel

Journal.hr

What better way to use leftovers than to toss them into a breakfast casserole? Hoppel poppel is a traditional breakfast/ supper casserole from Berlin which includes meat, potatoes, onions, and cheese, flavored with heavy cream, dill, salt, and pepper. Feel free to use whatever you have in the fridge—cooked meat, bacon, salami, or even hamburgers. Get the recipe.

Portugal: Bacalhau a Bras

Melepimenta

Travel to the Iberian Peninsula through Portuguese comfort food. Salted cod is the national dish of Portugal and it shows up at breakfast time too. Soak dried cod in cold water overnight and layer the casserole with fried shredded potatoes, onions, black olives, garlic, and beaten eggs. Get the recipe.

France: Oeufs au Plat Bressanne

Coley Cooks

Maybe you haven’t made it to the Alpine region of France yet, but you can still brag about your talents when it comes to French cooking. The countryside version of eggs benedict baked with runny eggs makes for great presentation. Fry pieces of toast in butter, add heavy cream seasoned with garlic, tarragon or chives, carefully top the eggs, and bake until the egg whites are firm. Get the recipe.

Pakistan: Khagina

Spice Spoon

Known as egg bhurji in India, tukhum-bonjam in Afghanistan, and khagina in Pakistan, the stovetop scrambled eggs are delightful if you like your breakfast spicy. Cook beaten eggs with onions, tomatoes, chilies, lentils, and turmeric. Serve with chapatti (flatbread) and cardamom-spiced chai. Get the recipe.

Italy: Frittata

Frittata meaning “fried” in Italian is a crustless quiche that is cooked in a cast iron skillet. You can use leftover ingredients, any combination of vegetables, cheese and meats—the possibilities are endless. The key to making a good frittata is beating the eggs vigorously to allow for air to incorporate, and cooking them very slowly on stove top and in the oven. Get our Kale and Roasted Red Pepper Frittata recipe.

Iraq: Makhlama Lahm

This one-pot dish will satisfy the meateater in you. Saute ground lamb with onions, tomatoes, parsley, yellow curry powder, and red chili flakes, then top with soft-baked eggs. The Iraqi breakfast dish dates to the 10th century! Get the recipe.

Nigeria: Egg Stew

Nigerian Food TV

Nigerian egg stew is a staple breakfast at every home in Nigeria, especially on the weekends. Blend red bell peppers and tomatoes to make a sauce, and season with garlic and scotch bonnet for heat. For proteins, add eggs, corned beef, and fish. Serve with boiled yam, potatoes, or chunky plantains. Get the recipe.

Eat Like a Local at Atlanta Airport

For Chowhound. February 2018. 

Airport food doesn’t always have to be greasy fast food, pre-packed sandwiches, and run-of-the-mill chain restaurants. Over 100 million passengers fly through the world’s busiest Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport each year, and they have several options where they can taste local flavors. While most travelers don’t have enough time to step outside the airport and enjoy Atlanta’s eclectic food scene, they can get a pretty good glimpse of it inside the seven terminals.

Check out these local restaurants inside Atlanta airport.

Paschal’s (Atrium, A, C)

Step back in time and visit one of Atlanta’s classic restaurants since 1947. This soul food establishment is known for award-winning fried chicken, and the city location was a meeting place for key civil rights leaders and strategists including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his lieutenants.

Papi’s Caribbean Café (T)

Established by a Cuban refugee, the Cuban grill has a takeout counter to grab a quick ropa vieja sandwich with black beans and yucca fries. Sip on a mojito at the bar, enjoy Latin music, and pick up a fedora at the adjacent shop.

Verasano’s Pizzeria (A)

Jeff Varasano traveled the world for 10 years perfecting the art of making pizza, eventually moving from the Bronx to Atlanta and taking the local gourmet pizza niche by storm. The restaurant is consistently ranked as a top pizzeria in the nation.

Grindhouse Killer Burgers (D, T)

The local chain is rated one of Atlanta’s best for burgers and brisket chili. Build your own burger with a wide selection of toppings, or order a Hillbilly Style with pimento cheese and jalapeños, along with distinctive Georgia sides—Vidalia onion rings, fried green tomatoes, and sweet potato fries.

Goldberg’s Bagel Company (T)

This family-run deli started serving New York style bagels in Atlanta in 1972 and has several locations around the city. Serving 32 varieties of bagels and homestyle Po’Boys, along with deli salads, stuffed cabbage, and steamed corned-beef pastrami, this is one of your classic neighborhood Jewish delis.

The Original El Taco (C, Mezzanine)

Who doesn’t like unpretentious good Mexican food while on the go? Atlanta’s neighborhood taco stand is always a big hit with travelers, offering simple and fresh Oaxaca-style tacos, big boss burritos, and spicy quesadillas for lunch and dinner.

Fresh to Order (B)

This Atlanta restaurant chain serves gourmet salads, sandwiches, and entrees at casual prices. Co-owner and South African immigrant Pierre Panos is behind the concept of healthy fast food at affordable prices, which is why F2O is one of the most popular lunch spots in the city.

The Varsity (C)

If you can’t go check out the biggest drive-in restaurant in the world in downtown Atlanta, you can still get a taste of its legendary burgers and chili dogs. Celebrating its 90th year, the family-owned chain still uses the same recipes for almost a century that even President Obama and President George H.W Bush can’t resist.

One Flew South Restaurant & Sushi Bar (E)

One Flew South is one of the few upscale dining establishments at Atlanta Airport. The cuisine is defined as “southernational,” inspired by world travels and using fresh, local ingredients. Find everything from chicken noodle soup and Korean style burgers to good quality sushi here.

Jekyll Island Seafood Company (F)

The Jekyll Island-inspired restaurant offers a taste of Georgia’s Atlantic coast with fried crawfish, buffalo shrimp, grits, fresh oysters, and seafood gumbo served with southern hospitality. The only thing missing is an ocean breeze!

Atlanta Chophouse & Brewery (Atrium)

A classic steakhouse with hearty sandwiches and salads in a casual setting. This is where you can get a fantastic prime rib served quickly. Also, have a business meeting over craft beer in one of their private rooms.

Atlanta Stillhouse (T)

Experience a bourbon flight (32 to choose from), cocktails, and whiskey at the Jim Beam (one of the best-selling bourbon brands in the world) co-owned restaurant. Pair it with Southern-style deviled eggs topped with crispy bacon, or a side of brisket.

TAP Airport (A)

Owned by local Concentrics Restaurants group, the gastropub showcases a taste of Atlanta with dishes such as buttermilk fried chicken, hot boiled peanuts, and shrimp and Logan Turnpike grits. Try local beers on tap, or relax with a porch swing peach punch.

Lotta Frutta (B)

Who says you can’t eat healthy on the road? What began as a website about fruit facts evolved into a Pan-Latin fruiteria serving Mexican-style fresh-cut fruit cups, South American-style smoothies, Cuban-inspired sandwiches, Mexican paletas (fruit popsicles), and Ecuadorian ice creams.

Piece of Cake (A)

If you are craving something sweet, head over to one of Atlanta’s legendary bakeries, Piece of Cake, for rich slices of coconut, banana, and pound cake. They also have cupcakes, brownies, cheese straw,s and cookies baked daily.

~ Written for Chowhound. February 2018.