Month of Watermelon!

Yes, it’s almost here! August is National Watermelon Month. We’ve been enjoying this luscious, rich, vibrant fruit all summer, but August is the month to celebrate it every day.

Did you know that there are more varieties of watermelon than what we usually eat? White, yellow, and red are just a few of the options you can choose. Watermelon has been domesticated for as long as humans have been eating it, but where did this vine originate?

Portrait of a watermelonWatermelon can still be found wild in the heart of Africa. It has been used as a hydrating system for traveling in the desert for thousands of years. There are even hieroglyphs from ancient Egypt depicting growing, harvesting and eating watermelon.

Watermelon came to North America by way of European explorers, and some reports say that it was the slaves that first imported the fruit. However it migrated, it was adopted and grown rapidly by the Native Americans.

Watermelon is best eaten by cutting it open and munching on it.

In the culinary world there are many ways to present the sweet, tasty melon. The most common that I saw during my years cooking professionally is to cut the melon into squares and infuse it with balsamic vinegar reduction. This is usually served with some kind of sharp, strong cheese like Stilton blue cheese, or a smoky aged gouda cheese. You can also serve it in salads. One of my favorites is with jicama and mango. One new trend involves Grilling watermelon .

One more thing about watermelons: you can pickle them. Pickling the rind is a tradition that comes from the South. Probably imported with knowledge passed from India. I’ll be trying this   in the next week or two, just to see how it turns out. Watch my Instagram to see the results.

Culinary artists long ago discovered that watermelon makes great art. Searching the internet reveals thousands upon thousands of sculptures created from this fabulous food: baskets, sharks, demons and angels. Or use it as a vessel for other food stuffs. When done right, a watermelon sculpture or vessel serves as a stunning center piece to your summer celebrations.

However you choose to serve or carve your watermelon, please share your recipes & carving pictures with us on @Kitchenshaman or Facebook. We’d love to see your creations and we will pass them on to our followers.

Let’s make this August a mouth-watering, month-long watermelon celebration.


August Food Observances

Rootbeer FloatLooking towards August, there are several food observance days approaching that you may want to, well, observe. July is nearly over and it was National Ice Cream Month, but did you know that there is a National Root Beer Float Day? That’s right, August 6th. And if you don’t eat conventional ice cream don’t worry. I’m sure if you go to the grocery store, they’ll have a soy or coconut based ice cream to plop into your root beer. As a kid I could never get enough of these cool summertime treats. I get nostalgic just thinking about A & W Root Beer and the afternoons we would spend outside at the tables sucking on floats and pretending that it wasn’t 110 degrees. If we were lucky, we would watch the monsoons build up and crack open right above our heads.

Another national food observance day is National Zucchini Day. Why? Squash is prolific in the summer months. Grows almost like a weed. It is how Calabacitas were born. Zucchini is a flavorful and vitamin packed vegetable that tastes good in almost everything. If you haven’t yet tried zucchini bread from the PPK, or this recipe found on veg web for baked squash, August 8th  is your chance to impress your friends with great squash-wielding power.

My next favorite is National Waffle Day on August 24th. How does a plant-based, healthy eating human being eat waffles on this day? Try quinoa waffles. They are delicious, loaded with good stuff, and will disappear as fast as you make them. Try them for Sunday brunch or just because you love waffles. And since it is also National Peach Month and August 22nd is Eat a Peach Day, make a peach compote  to serve with the waffles. Quinoa and peaches? You bet. I’ll be posting recipes for both next month, so check back for those.

B.L.T.C SammieAugust is also National Sandwich Month, so get cracking on your favorite veganized sandwich and share it with us. Here’s mine : a T.B.L.T.C.A. (tempeh or tofu bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, avocado). Construct it on your favorite sandwich bread. If you stick frilly toothpicks into it, you can cut it like traditional sandwiches and serve them as appetizers..

One last note, August 31st is both National Trail Mix Day, and Eat Outside Day. So plan a hike, take your favorite trail mix, and eat outside. Perfect for the weekend before the big holiday.

Here are just a few of the food observances in August:

  • National Watermelon Month
  • National Brownies At Brunch Month
  • National Peach Month
  • Eat Dessert First Month
  • National Apple Week - Second week of August
  • National Mustard Day - first Saturday
  • National Watermelon Day – Aug 3rd
  • National Chocolate Chip Day – Aug 4th
  • National Root Beer Float Day – Aug 6th
  • National Zucchini Day – Aug 8th
  • National S’Mores Day – Aug 10th
  • National Soft Ice Cream Day – Aug 18th
  • Hot & Spicy Food Day – Aug 19th
  • Lemonade Day – Aug 20th
  • Eat a Peach Day – Aug 22nd
  • National Peach Pie Day – Aug 24th
  • National Waffle Day – Aug 24th
  • Banana Lover’s Day – Aug 27th
  • National Toasted Marshmallow Day – Aug 30th
  • National Trail Mix Day – Aug 31st
  • National Eat Outside Day – Aug 31st

Now get outside and do something fun while it’s still summer!

Fried Yuca Root

fried yuca plateIn the spirit of cooking with foods from South America and Mexico, I decided to give yuca root (cassava) a try.  There are several ways to prepare this popular food, but since I love to deep fry food I decided to use this method.

The two-step process starts with par-boiling the yuca, then frying it. Cutting the yuca is a daunting task, but with a cleaver and a very sharp knife you will be rewarded with crispy, yet creamy yuca fries that are worth the effort. Try serving these instead of french fries as a snack and see what your friends think.

Fried Yuca Root


Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 10 to 12 Fries

Serving Size: 5 Fries


  • 1 yuca root, cut into 1 by ½ inch sticks
  • Oil for frying


Cut the ends off the yuca root. Cut yuca in half. Strip off the outer skin. Cut the root down the middle, then cut into sticks.

In a sturdy pot, heat water to a boil. Drop in the yuca sticks. Boil for 8-10 minutes. The yuca will split and fray. This is normal. Drop the yuca into ice water to cool them down. Drain on a sheet tray lined with paper towels.

In a heavy-bottomed pot heat up the frying oil to 350 degrees. When the oil is hot, drop in the yuca sticks. Fry until they turn golden brown. Drain again.

Serve with Tamarind Chutney, or Cilantro Chutney.

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Experimenting with Yuca Root

cut yuca rootBecause I like to do things the hard way, I figured I would attempt to make my own cassava flour. I purchased the yuca root at my local grocers, brought it home, and followed the recipe. Grate, boil, oil, knead, mash, and make empanadas . My first attempt at making tapioca flour turned out to be a disaster, but I’ll make another attempt. I’m a determined chef.

I made my own tofu, once. I made my own tamarind paste, once. And now I’ve made my own tapioca flour. All in the search for food knowledge. How easy or hard it is to duplicate something that I can find at the market? Tapioca flour is now available from several companies. Tamarind paste is prevalent in local Asian and Indian markets. And tofu I can buy in abundance. But making the food from the start gives me an understanding of how the recipes developed and how other people who don’t have access to pre-made foods cook.

It is an experience. One I will continue to pursue and document in this blog. Having the ability to make my own food is a good survival skill. The cook is the least likely target in a hostile situation.

What exactly is yuca root (not to be confused with yucca, which is a different plant)? It is known by different names in different parts of the world. Cassava, tapioca, manioc, mandioca, kappa, and mogo. Here’s a little of the history.

yuca rootCassava originated in South America. Archeological evidence shows that it dates back to over 10,000 years ago in Central Brazil. It migrated its way through the continent, up into Central America and Mexico. Eventually it took root in the Caribbean.

Enter the Spanish Conquistadors, and the Portuguese, who then brought the crop back to Europe, and into Africa and Asia where it quickly became a staple food in many areas of these continents.

The cassava or yuca root can grow in harsh conditions, making it an ideal food for drought-ridden areas. It is prolific in the tropics and has a high yield. You cannot survive on this root by itself, as it is loaded with carbohydrates, but not protein. It can be ground into flour, but has to be soaked and rinsed in order to remove the trace amounts of cyanide found in the root.

Cassava is the root that produces tapioca. It also has many commercial applications. Here in the Southwest, we like to fry it, mash it, roast it, and put it into stews and soups. As a thickening agent, it’s a great alternative to the potato.

Yuca may not have lots of protein, but it does have qualitative amounts of calcium and vitamin C and contains significant quantities of thiamine and riboflavin.

Does this mean you should run out and buy all the yuca root you can possibly find? Maybe not. Should you try it? Yes. Or at least find a local Latin or Dominican restaurant that carries Yuca Fries, or Yuca Fritters, traditionally served with pink sauce. I served mine with tamarind chutney. Come back on Wednesday for a look at how to fry yuca.

Is My Vegan Diet Healthy?

onion and mushroom sauteIt is no secret that I cook and (mostly) eat vegan food. The reason is due to my partner’s diet. She has been a vegetarian for over 20 years, and 100% vegan and gluten-free for the last five years. As the cook in the house I have adapted my cooking style to meet her dietary requirements. At the same time I was working in commercial kitchens, which meant cooking with animal products. I honed techniques in these kitchens that made me a better chef. I gained a large knowledge base which I now share on this blog. I learned to cook specialty diets like gluten-free and vegan while at these jobs.

Cooking and eating vegan does not necessarily mean that what I am eating is healthy. We have, over the years, lived off of Amy’s microwaved meals and canned chili and soups. I have a deep love affair with fried foods that I cannot seem to shake. I make french fries and potato chips on a regular basis. I am also an avid bread eater, unlike the gluten-free partner. I do avoid breads that are over-processed, but a good boule or focaccia makes my mouth water.

“Healthy” diets tell you not to use oil. Cook with coconut water and coconut oil. Don’t eat fried foods. Don’t eat foods that are over cooked. Only eat organic, non-GMO foods, only eat raw. Only, only, only.

I have incorporated the idea that fresher is better into our daily eating. I plan the weekly menu and buy only enough to cook for the week. That way food is not sitting around the refrigerator and it’s not rotting away. I transform the raw ingredients into savory, mouth pleasing, belly filling dishes that we nosh on all week.

One of the go to meals we eat is brown rice spaghetti with jarred pasta sauce enhanced by garlic and crimini mushrooms sautéed in a bit of sunflower oil and margarine, then added to the sauce and served with steamed broccoli and cauliflower. Yes, it’s mostly processed foods. But it is a satisfying and complete meal as well. And the mushrooms impart their earthy goodness into the pasta sauce.

Our friends are constantly commenting that they know when they come over to eat it will be “healthy.” I don’t cheat and make animal protein for those that visit. But I’m not going to guarantee the “healthy” part. I’ll provide the flavor party and a protein-packed, nutrient-rich dinner, but healthy? I’ve also heard “I’m trying to eat healthier so I’m eating more tofu.” Tofu is not the be all and end all of a healthy diet. It is actually on the GMO no-no list. Soybeans have been genetically modified to the point of not being exactly good for you. Do you know where your favorite restaurant is sourcing their tofu? Do you know if it is organic and non-GMO? How is tofu any more healthy than a 3-bean salad (which has as much protein), or a lentil loaf? Tofu is just a more readily available meat substitute in many restaurants.

I like to incorporate different proteins into our diet, tofu being just one of them. Legumes play a large part in our diet, so do mushrooms, and salads – which might include falafel or some other bit of yummy, delicious, tasty fried food bits. One of my favorite all time snacks is onion pakoras.

So when you hear that your friends are converting to veganism, just remember: there are so many ways to be vegan, and so many different diets to follow, not all of them healthy. And there is at least one, if not several, blogs dedicated to the vegan junk food addict.

Cilantro Pesto on Pizza? You bet!

Cilantro pesto pizza with toppingsHere is one of my favorite recipes: Cilantro Pesto. It works well in rice, in wraps, with red chili tofu, and is a great condiment for dipping vegetables. Combined with pepitas (pumpkin seeds) this pesto packs a great punch for both your immune system and your tongue! One of our favorite uses for this pesto is as the base sauce for pizza. It is a flavorful alternative to red or white sauce and a great conversation starter for guests who are used to more traditional pizzas. Once it’s made, you can eep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. 

Cilantro Pesto

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 8 ounces

Serving Size: 2 ounces

Cilantro Pesto


  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • ½ cup pepitas, toasted (pumpkin seeds)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1/8 cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Water for blending
  • 1 tsp salt


Place all ingredients in a blender. Pulse until the ingredients come together but are still a little rough. This is a pesto, not a sauce. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with Chili Powdered Croutons, Red Chili Tofu, or just use your imagination.

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Here’s another tasty Cilantro recipe, Lime Cilantro Dressing. Use it on salads, and in rice.

The Power of Cilantro

Cilantro in a glassI’ve been using cilantro in cooking for years. Growing up in the Southwest, it is easily accessible. I’ve always enjoyed the flavor, the smell, and the taste. What I did not know was the considerable health benefits linked to this one plant used as both herb and spice.

Cilantro, also known as fresh coriander and Chinese parsley, has been used in medicine and cuisines around the world for over 5,000 years. Thought to be one of the oldest cooking herbs, traces of the plant have been discovered in tombs in Egypt and an ancient cave in Israel. Cilantro provides a healthy dose of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and E. Reported health benefits include aiding digestive health and relieving anxiety. There is some research that indicates it can alleviate the food poisoning known as Salmonella. It can act as a preservative that helps prepared foods last longer. Combine it with citrus and the shelf life of salsa and other foods increase by 3-4 days.

Cilantro regularly appears in cuisines around the world — Latin American, Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Scandinavian, to name a few. Cilantro has traveled the world. Brought to the New World by the Conquistadors, it was quickly adopted by the native populations. It is found in the modern cuisines of Mexico as well as Sonoran and Southwestern cuisines.

I use cilantro and its seed, coriander, on an almost religious basis. We always have chopped cilantro in the refrigerator and it goes in salsas, pesto, Tomatillo Sauce, and many other recipes. When I sauté, I usually add both cumin and coriander. Together they double health benefits while enhancing flavor.

Chopping herbs is easier than you may think. Take the bundle, roll it up, and put the edge of the knife close to the leaves. Using a rocking motion, slice the herb back and forth (this is called chiffonade). Once sliced, you can come back and chop it until it’s minced. Then use it at your leisure.

Wednesday I’ll be sharing a cilantro pesto pizza sauce.

Evolution of a Recipe

cookingI’m  not sure what you think about the recipes you find on the internet. Many food bloggers find recipes they like and re-share them. Some develop recipes and share them right away. Coming from the culinary industry, I have been a part of a culture that develops recipes and passes them on verbally, chef to chef. We don’t stop cooking to write something down; we tell each other. And that is how you end up with some meals on your plate when you go out to eat. The cook making that food learned it from the guy standing next to him, who learned it from a chef, and so on.

When I set out to develop a recipe, I have to stop and think about it. Cooking is instinctual, visceral. I make quick decisions. Working in commercial kitchens I’ve had everything at my fingertips. Cooking at home I have to stock up prior to cooking. In order to develop a recipe and share it with you, I have to stop and think through these steps. Do I have my camera? Do I have a notebook and pen? If not, is the computer nearby to take notes? Do I even have all the ingredients for what I am cooking? Double check shopping list. I’ve had to run out in the middle of a cooking session because I forgot that one vital ingredient. I have developed a schedule where I write down recipes that will be posted. Then I plan out a cooking session. This involves a grocery list of items I will need. Do I necessarily have the recipe? No. But I know what I want to cook.

This is the evolution of a recipe, from thought to plate. This is how it gets out of my head, into my hands, and onto this blog.

Developing an Eggplant Recipe

For this week’s recipe, I had eggplants. I wanted to do a fried eggplant steak, a riff on Eggplant Parmesan. The eggplant needs to be coated and breaded. I don’t use eggs, milk, or bread crumbs because of dietary restrictions, so I had to think about the available ingredients in my pantry to make this a successful gluten free, vegan fried eggplant steak recipe.

I sat down and sketched out a recipe, then followed it. I made a mixture of oat flour and spices. I tasted it and refined it some more, until I was happy with the result. Then I considered the traditional steps of breading: 1) flour, 2) egg wash, 3) bread the product. I skipped the first step and coated the eggplant with coconut milk, then breaded the cutlets. Don’t ask me what I was thinking. It was a crucial mistake. The flour helps the milk stick, which helps the coating stick. Usually in these recipes the ingredient used is Panko bread crumbs, a very specific type of product developed for breading. It is used in almost every kitchen I’ve ever worked in. We dredge everything from eggplant to pork chops in Panko. I chose to use oat flour, which comes close to the texture of bread crumbs.

On to the next step: Frying. I know, it is going out of fashion, but I still love fried food. I filled my pan up to just below where the eggplants would not be fully submerged, and let the oil do the work. Then I drained them. When I took them out, one was falling apart on me, so I tried it. It was not bad. Next time I’ll add more seasoning, and I won’t skip the flouring step. See above.

I realized when I took the steaks out of the pan, they are brown. I have brown lentils right now for pilaf, not red and I plan on using pesto for the sauce, not an Italian tomato sauce. So now what do I do? The colors on the plate would be brown, white, and green. Not very appealing visually. See, for me, a recipe has two steps, how you cook it, and how it looks on the plate. I may have to do just a little tomato puree, just to get the color and acidity right. Still red, green, and brown? Need to work on the color scheme. (Garnishes are important for a reason!)

While I am rethinking how it looks on the plate, I’m also thinking about the flavors and the structure of the food. Do the flavors and textures work together? Is the color palette pleasing, will my diners get excited just to have a bite of this latest creation?sliced eggplant

Why I Do the Work

I cook because I have a drive, an impetus to take a pile of raw ingredients and transform them. I enjoy feeding people. And I like sharing what I learn with others. That means writing it down. The process can be long, involved, and arduous, yet rewarding. That moment when you take a bite of my food and smile, or when you make the recipe, and get it. That’s why I cook; that’s why the recipe process is so important.

I was continually asked if I wrote down the recipes I was cooking for my partner early in our relationship. The answer was no. I was learning in kitchens, gaining knowledge first hand, then coming home and applying that knowledge in my own kitchen. Write it down? That’s crazy talk. How can I take time to stop in the middle of the creative process and scribble down the exact amount of a coffee mug of vegetable stock or a pinch of salt or a squirt of apple cider vinegar? Then it occurred to me that writing it down could lead to making a cookbook someday, or sharing the recipe with you on this blog. It changed my perspective.

Most professional cooks do not write down their recipes. We are given recipes by chefs. They are the ones who take the time to write it down. We tell each other what we learned or saw and we duplicate it. The particular gift of a professional cook or a chef is being able to retain many recipes and many techniques in our heads, while simultaneously pulling down a hard dinner service. So I had to learn. Write it down in a format you will understand. Take a picture. That’s really important. Share it. That’s what gives a recipe life. Eat it. That’s what makes the process worth it.

roasted chayote

Roasted Chayote

roasted chayoteSo many people who live in the Desert Southwest don’t seem to understand that underneath all the spiny, sharp things that desert plants are covered in, there is edible food. I’ve been exploring foods native to this area for years, and the chayote is one of the foods you can incorporate into every day cooking, if you have a good supply of them. Chayotes are grown world-wide, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find them in the produce department at your grocery store.

Below I offer a simple recipe for roasting chayote. You can also include it in salads or savory dishes like my Calabacitas recipe, to showcase the earthy, pungent flavor of this “pear” of the desert.

Roasted Chayote


Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Serving Size: 4 or 5 slices each

Roasted Chayote


  • 2 chayotes*, cut into wedges
  • Salt
  • Chili powder
  • Lime


Slice the chayote like an apple and season with salt. Broil for about four minutes on each side. Remove, cool, give a generous sprinkle of chili powder and lime. Serve with Polenta and Portabello Mushroom Fajitas.


Chayotes come in small to medium sizes, depending on the season. They usually weigh in at 1/4 to 1/3 lb each.

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fuzzy chayote

The Earthy Goodness of Chayote

chayotesThe conquest of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations by the Spanish led to the disappearance of many native foods.  They disappeared because the priests and the conquistadors made it illegal for the natives to grow their own food. This helped conquer and humiliate an entire population. The conversion to Christianity was well on its way with the methodology employed. More importantly, the Spaniards obtained land to grow wheat, a food imported into the Americas.

After several centuries many of the foods native to Mexico and Central America have staged a comeback. They are now available in North America — foods like chayote, epazote, amaranth, and tomatillos, to name a few.  You can find them in regular grocery stores now, not just specialty stores. Most of them carry health benefits that are stunning. Chayote is reported to help dissolve kidney stones, and help in curing arteriosclerosis, and hypertension.

The chayote has been called a variety of names: Christophene, choko, chocho, merlitin. One variety of the plant has a spiny  outer cover and a firm but soft flesh underneath, the other is the more common, green skinned variety. “Chayote” is a derivative of the original name in Nahuatl, chayohtli, the language of the Aztecs.

I was introduced to this plant while working in commercial kitchens, not while growing up where you can find it in abundance. My Pop exposed me to so many different foods, but besides prickly pears and squash blossoms, I had little knowledge of the foods native to my home. I’ve been on a mission to correct that oversight, and learn everything I can about foods that are from the American Southwest, Mexico, and Central America.

While chayote is a tropical and sub-tropical plant, it is highly adaptable. It can survive the brutal conditions of desert regions. It is versatile, and can be adapted to a variety of cuisines. In many cuisines, it usually gets treated like a pear or an apple, because of the earthy taste.

The chayote plant is 100% edible, from the roots to the tops: leaves, tendrils, even the seed. However, unless you are growing chayote, you’ll fuzzy chayotehave to settle for just the fruit of the plant. It is hard to find leaves, stems and roots.What can you do with this strange vegetable that has spread from Mesoamerica throughout the world? Here in the Southwest it gets chopped up into salads, roasted, and fanned like pears on a plate.   We slice it into slaws and chop it up and cook it in stews and soups. I like to throw it into Calabacitas or serve it as a side dish.  It is also good for pickling. Add a variety of other vegetables, and serve at BBQ’s or Picnics.