Tag: Kitchen

The Dyke Kitchen: Defining Taste With Karen Tongson

The Dyke Kitchen: Defining Taste With Karen Tongson

he Dyke Kitchen written over a drippy yellow shape that has checkerboard at the ends

The Dyke Kitchen is a bi-weekly series about how queerness, identity, culture and love are expressed through food and cooking.

Before the pandemic, my friend Sarah Williams heard that I was doing a cooking series on Autostraddle and suggested that we cook together with Karen Tongson. I was thrilled, because not only had I heard that Tongson is an entertaining LA dyke-about-town, but she’s a brilliant cultural critic & music writer, a Professor of English, Gender & Sexuality Studies and American Studies & Ethnicity at USC, co-host of the podcast Waiting to X-Hale AND a thoughtful and knowledgeable food enthusiast.

So for my last installment of this series, which is about the cooking and eating styles that have come to define my own dyke kitchen, I set up a Zoom chat with Tongson. From opposite sides of Echo Park Lake, we did, indeed, have an entertaining conversation about the ideas and experiences that define her dyke kitchen, what new food quests she’s begun in quarantine, and the qualities of genuinely good taste.

Developing Taste, Actual Taste

Personal style is such a huge factor in who intrigues and interests me. I like originality and irreverence, but even more, I favor ease. I like when someone’s grace is the common factor that ties together seemingly disparate pieces. And while I’ve spent hours contemplating the way outfits and hair, language and visual aesthetic can convey the confidence and openness that compose that sense of ease, somehow I missed that cooking and eating are an integral part of personal style — one that’s so central to my life, I don’t even see it. I’m not close to anyone who doesn’t share my personal cooking and eating style — what would we even do?

Of course, all of this was brought to my attention immediately when talking to Karen Tongson. I asked her what the through line across her work is, and how it ties into food. “It’s about how I’ve experienced intimacy and how it’s been forged in my family and how food is a way of mediating closeness, even if you have difficulty communicating otherwise,” she replied. “But the answer that is both intellectually true and also physically true, is simply the question of taste, and what taste means. Taste is a set of aesthetic proclivities and judgements that distinguish us and how we form ourselves in many respects, along the axis of race, class, location, identity. And my own taste is eclectic, to say the least, it’s very much about high and low, and ‘Give me as much as I can to taste.’”

“Give me as much as I can to taste” is a lifestyle with which I’m familiar. Tongson goes on to point out that in all of her work, what she’s aiming to do is challenge the notion that what defines “good” taste is a narrow sense of refinement or elevation, that this limited scope prevents us from accessing real pleasure or from exploring a wide range of experiences in the world. It feels like a queer way to approach taste. It’s not about learning to like anything in particular, it’s about appreciating the things that, as Tongson puts it, “aren’t dignified on the surface” and pulling from the vast range of memories and experiences that move you. It’s about looking for connection in the unexpected.

Variety Is The Spice of Life

Much of Tongson’s eclectic taste comes from her childhood, growing up in a family of musicians. In Manila, her grandmother had people over every day to play mahjong and there was always pulatan, lots of food to graze on. After her family finished performing at shows, they gathered around to eat. “Musicians would come over and my uncle would grill at midnight, like mussels with a little soy and butter.”

Those gatherings were one piece of her formative taste memories, but then Tongson moved to the U.S. when she was five years old, after her mother got married to her stepfather. “I can recall with clarity the first time I had KFC…We were in Honolulu…and I’d never had that kind of crispy fried chicken before. And I was like ‘what the heck is this?’ I’d never had mac n cheese, I’d never had mashed potatoes with gravy, and I remember distinctly how obsessed I became with those things. I’d had Filipino fried chicken, but it didn’t have a batter like that.”

So Tongson added fast food — she was also enamored of McDonald’s and Long John Silver’s — to the repertoire of her delicious experiences, which stood in stark contrast to another new kind of American food: the ‘70s health foods that her parents generally preferred. “My parents were young, they were hippies and they were doing yoga…There were alfalfa sprouts in my sandwich when I was six and I hated it!” she exclaims.

Tongson also travelled with her parents — her mom was a singer and her dad was a pianist. “We stayed in Singapore for six months when I was eight years old and lived at a hotel because they had a gig there.” They had a per diem at the hotel restaurant and could eat whatever they wanted. “That’s where I had my first Belgian waffle, my first steak with Maître d’Hôtel, that herb butter — I was like ‘waaahhhhh!’— and my first steak frite was there.”

But there was also the commissary where the hotel workers ate local food. “So there would be spicy-ass prawns with the head-on, curries — I tasted mutton for the first time in Singapore…So that’s what we’d do when my parents weren’t performing, we’d go around and eat at all times of night. It was a crazy and fun, but weird childhood. It was very much feast or famine.” When her family wasn’t living large on on hotel per diems, Tongson recalls the simple meals of picadillo and chicken livers that they had over and over again, that she got so sick of. “Those logs of 75% ground beef, like a Duraflame,” she says shaking her head.

Cooking In Her Own Style

This gave me such a beautiful picture of how Tongson developed her own sense of taste. So I wanted to know what, as an adult, she was doing in her own kitchen with this arsenal of diverse flavors and dining experiences still very present in her memory. I, for one, do not remember the first time I tasted KFC, but I’m positive it was with my mom, when my dad was not present, I have simply always known it to be delicious.

Tongson and her wife, Sarah Rebecca Kessler, have been together for 10 years, and Tongson tells me, “Early on we established that she’ll have her ‘Western’ breakfast and I’ll have my Asian breakfast.” Tongson tells me that in addition to silog — a type of Filipino breakfast with rice, a fried egg and meat or fish — instant ramen is a big comfort food for her. “You know all the different varieties you can get at Ranch 99 or Seafood City, and sort of gussying it up. I get up first thing in the morning and cut up some greens, bok choy, boil an egg, and if I have any leftover protein, slice that up and put it in there. It’s a humble ramen, but by the time I’m done with it, it looks like a version someone would pay $15 for.” I laugh, because I’m reminded of a post I wrote on exactly this method of adding frills to instant noodles — only I hadn’t thought that of this as breakfast before. Tongson adds that, her favorite flavors are ones that are notably less popular among Americans, “like gamjatang, Korean pork neck stew, that’s the best!”

Other quarantine staples for Tongson involve German breakfast, which tend to feature the wide variety of mustard tubes that she’s brought back from Germany; Niçoise salad; her quest to improve her thai crab omelet technique; and the tinned fish she’s been hoarding from when she and Kessler were in Spain last summer — like mussels in escabeche from Espinaler and Ventresca tuna belly. Tongson tells me a story about a glass jar of anchovies that wasn’t strong enough to survive the journey home, and left her soaked in anchovy oil.

What I love hearing most, are the clever ways that Tongson pulls together whatever ingredients she has, to arrive at a creatively tasty, but unpretentious dish. “So we defrosted some chicken breasts, a humble chicken breast,” she starts to explain. The everyday cooking Tongson does now, she learned in grad school, in heavy part from Jamie Oliver’s show The Naked Chef. So she tells me about a riff she’s planning on a dish he makes with chicken and chorizo in a lemon sauce, but instead of chorizo, she’ll cook down pepperoni with mushrooms, add the chicken and throw some lemon and nice gravy from Kismet (frozen from thanksgiving) over the top — though on another day, it’s just as likely to be little containers of Jollibee gravy from the freezer.

What can be said about Tongson’s personal cooking style is that it relies on saving the ingredients or parts that traditionally, institutionally have less value — “something that you think is burdened by indignity, cheapness and trash” — and finding her own kind of perfect application for them that proves otherwise. “Sometimes it is relevant to bring in the conversation that Nietzsche started, in relation to Britney Spears,” she says with a laugh. “Maybe it wasn’t meant for that, but actually there’s something [when they meet] that would enhance both.” When I ask her how she came to know that this was a skill she has, her answer is frank: “From years in institutions of having to justify myself and the way I do things — that’s why I’m so good at articulating this — because it’s not just taken as mad genius, I have to justify myself.”

I very much understand this frustration. I consider how I have made an entire art practice of justifying my existence by writing fiction about my life, because even if I wanted to write something else, this justification is expected of me first. As Tongson talks about people finally understanding that LA is a great food city — not because of the fancy restaurants in beautiful locales, but because of the level of excellence being reached in the seemingly soulless strip malls, where immigrants and people with less money are forced to make do — I understand that what we’re talking about, when we talk about taste, is intuitively trusting the value of people, cultures, identities, histories, flavors and ideas, that are barred from having institutional worth, that are not celebrated or renowned by people in power, for no other reason than prejudice. That if you aren’t accounting for that imbalance, you don’t truly have any taste. Which is not to say that some expensive stuff isn’t great too, it’s just one kind of experience that can stand to be enhanced.

“It’s about not being afraid!” Tongson says at the end of our time together, of the driving force behind all of her life. “‘Bahala na’ is the phrase in Tagalog, ‘whatever happens, happens’.” Which I do think is the simplified ethos of my own dyke kitchen and the trust I have in my instincts, yes, around making delicious food, but also in the rest of my life too.

Five of the best kitchen appliances to add to your wedding registry

Five of the best kitchen appliances to add to your wedding registry

Creating the wedding registry of your dreams can be great fun or a daunting challenge, depending on the available time in your schedule and your personality. But if you divy it up into sections of your house and focus on each of those one at a time, you’ll have an easier time of it. Be sure, too, to choose items of varying prices—not everyone who’s coming to your wedding can afford a $300 price tag, or is close enough to you to warrant the expense. Consider also adding to your wedding registry lower-priced choices for coworkers, showers, distant relatives and younger gift-givers newer to the workforce. Here are five of the best kitchen appliances to add to your wedding registry—or to gift to yourself right now!


Vitamix A2500 Ascent Series Smart Blender

The Vitamix is no ordinary blender. I love the Ascent 2500 Ascent Series Smart Blender model for my and my wife’s morning smoothies. It helps us get in many of our daily nutrients and it’s so easy to use. Unlike other blenders I’ve tried, it whips any ingredient I put in it, from nuts to fruits to leafy greens, into creamy, drinkable goodness in 50 seconds. And it’s so easy to clean! However, it does way more than just blending smoothies. There’s a heated setting so you can make instant hot soup from fresh ingredients, and a cold setting to make frozen desserts. You can make nut butters, dressings and more. Every kitchen needs one of these. $599.95



Instant Pot Duo Nova Pressure Cooker 7 in 1, 6 Qt 

The Instant Pot trend has taken over our country in all the best ways possible. Who doesn’t need an appliance that can be all these things in one? Pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, saute pan, food warmer and yogurt maker. I like the 6-quart size. It’s the most popular, gives you the capacity to cook for up to six people (hello, dinner parties post-pandemic!), and is beginner-friendly. $99.95


Instant Pod Milk Frother

What spells love better than bringing your new spouse a frothy mug of coffee in bed or an iced latte on the patio? It’s easy to be your own barista with this hot and cold frother for coffee shop quality foam at home. Yes, you can now make cold foam at home! I’ve made frothy milk for my espresso drinks with the Instant Pod milk frother with cow’s milk, coconut milk and cashew milk, and have loved the results every time. $29



LEVO II - Herbal Oil and Butter Infusion Machine

Love rosemary-infused olive oil? Truffle-infused butter? Move over, Ina Garten. We’ve got some infusing to do. This time-saving kitchen appliance allows you to get ultra fancy and creative in the kitchen without the master chef skills. With the LEVO II, you can easily infuse oilsbutterhoneymilk or even beeswax with a variety of botanicals, as well as create salves, soaps, smoothie bowls and salad dressing. $249





Kitchen Knife Sharpener with Sharpening Stone

The chances are high that you’re going to receive a set of knives for a wedding gift, even if you don’t register for them. Kitchen knives are essential to every kitchen. But those knives will dull over the years. So plan ahead and register for a knife sharpener to keep those blades ready to cut, chop and dice your way through any food item. The brilliant combination of tungsten steel, diamond sand wheel and aviation ceramic helps to sharpen most any knife and scissors. $18.99

All of our product choices are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy something we link to on our site, Equally Wed may earn commission.

The Dyke Kitchen: Golden Chicken Korma Pot Pies

The Dyke Kitchen: Golden Chicken Korma Pot Pies

he Dyke Kitchen written over a drippy yellow shape that has checkerboard at the ends

The Dyke Kitchen is a bi-weekly series about how queerness, identity, culture and love are expressed through food and cooking.

It’s officially celebration-style comfort food season, and that’s exactly what today’s recipe is about! If you enjoyed my previous biriyani collaboration with Sarah, I think you’re gonna love this one too. Our chicken korma pot pies came about because, as always, we had a long list of foods we wanted to make together, including pie and a korma. So we decided to mix them together! It’s not like the traditional filling of a chicken pot pie is generally knocking anyone’s socks off as it is, and I thought flaky pie crust would be a nice thing to dip into a spicy sauce. For those unfamiliar with a pot pie, it’s basically a stew in a small pot with a crust that covers the top.

So we tried it out and I’m here to report that chicken korma pot pie was the best food we’ve made together! Sarah kept repeating that it was “fucked up” which is her highest food rating. The chicken korma is lightly spicy and that specific kind of creamy that comes from blending cashews. The pie crust is flaky and adds a crunch. We also topped the pies with some fried herbs, seeds and nuts (recommended by the recipe we followed), which added even more texture. It’s without a doubt, a very rich dish, but it was also a delicious way to eat vegetables, which Sarah needs to be enticed into eating. You could easily make the korma vegetarian with paneer, using the same method as we did for the biriyani, or with just veggies.

One of the best parts of these chicken korma pot pies are that if you’re someone who is going to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, little separate pot pies are a nice way to have individual servings that not everyone needs to touch, that you can drop off to people, and that reheat easily if you’re dining solo. We ended up making three pies in the glass bottoms of two-cup pyrex storage containers. That used up all of our korma and one disc of pie crust, which is what the recipe below makes. In practice, we doubled the pie crust recipe and Sarah made a honey pie with the other crust, which was a fun sweet and savory pie time! When we make the chicken korma pot pies again, which we’re planning to do to try to impress my parents, I would make four pies with a little less korma in each dish, and make the pie crust top a little thinner. Everything else I’d do the same!

korma chicken pot pies fresh out of the oven

How To Make The Pie Crust

Sarah made this crust first and then put it in the fridge to chill, while we made the korma. After it was done, we assembled the chicken korma pot pies. Since this was Sarah’s job, she will tell you what she did:

This was only my second time making crust, but because I have so many crust daddies in my life, I was not worried. I floated the need for a crust recipe and, of course, Cee Webster — former tech extraordinare of this very website, Capricorn, baker of many things — came through. Their crust is simple and straightforward.


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (sift it!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup frozen butter
3 tablespoons ice water
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder

The Dough

Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the frozen butter into a bowl and put it back into the freezer.

Whisk flour, turmeric and salt in a bowl. (We didn’t add the turmeric until later, but it afterward we realized this was probably the best place to do it.)

Mix frozen butter gently and briefly until it’s crumbly, where you can see chunks of butter (this is important!). I like to use my hands but you could also use a pastry cutter or cut it up with crisscrossed butter knives. You want to see chunks of butter still.

Add just enough very cold water to make the dough come together into a ball.

Pat it into a small disc and smooth out any cracks at the edges. This will make for a smooth experience when you roll it out later! Wrap it in some plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge to keep it cold while you make the other elements!

The Rollout

Flour a surface and your dough disc.

Roll the dough out into a relatively circular shape that you can cut 3-4 circular shapes from.

If you’re making these pies in ramekins, use the lip of your container as a stamp, and then roll out the dough so it’s a bit larger.

hands rolling out circles of yellow pie dough

After you fill your containers with chicken korma, gently lift your dough circle(s) and drape them so they cover the filling completely.

If you wanna get fancy you can crimp the edges of your pie — I highly recommend it! Something about seeing the crimped pie-edge was so satisfying. I spent 1 minute watching a YouTube video before I became a pro, and you can too.

sarah in a purple t-shirt pointing to a well-crimped pie crust

Beat an egg and brush it over the tops of your crusts. Put all the little pot pies on a baking sheet and cook them in a 400 degree oven for 30 min, or until the crust is golden and you can see the korma bubbling inside or up out of the dishes.

three chicken korma pot pies on a baking sheet

How To Make The Chicken Korma

We made a few small changes to the Navratan Korma recipe by our fave, Dassana Amit, but mostly did what she suggested. It looks really involved, but getting all of the ingredients together and into pastes is the most involved part. You will need a food processor or blender to make these pates. After that you just cook it all together!

There are five parts of the this korma so I’ve divided the ingredients by step:
1) You fry the onions and first batch of whole spices
2) You make a paste of garlic and ginger
3) You make a paste of nuts and seeds
4) You add the pastes, ground spices and dairy to the pan, followed by veggies and/or meat
5) You fry up the toppings that we ate on top of the pies

Ingredients for Part 1

1 onion sliced thinly
2 tablespoon ghee or butter
2 to 3 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod
3 cloves
1 inch stick of cinnamon
1 tej patta or Indian bay leaf
2 single strands of mace

Ingredients for Part 2

5 garlic cloves
1 inch of ginger root

Ingredients for Part 3

1 tablespoon white poppy seeds or khus khus
10 -12 almonds
10 -12 cashews
1 tablespoon bittermelon seeds or magaz
¼ cup water for blending

Ingredients for Part 4

2 hot green chilies chopped, depending on how spicy you like it, remove some seeds
1 pound of chicken thighs, cubed and salted
1 1/2 cups chopped cauliflower florets
2 small yellow potatoes, about a cup chopped up
1 very small Delicata squash, or about a cup of cubed up
½ cup plain yogurt
½ cup whipping cream
½ teaspoon garam masala powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder

Ingredients for Part 5

1 tablespoon ghee or butter
7 almonds, blanched and peeled
10 pistachios
10 cashews
1 tablespoon golden raisins
½ tablespoon magaz seeds
1 tablespoon mint leaves
2 teaspoon ginger julienne


First things first, you need to soak the nuts and seeds for Part 3 and the almonds and raisins for Part 5 for 30 min. So we put ours in a glass measuring cup and then filled it with hot water.

a glass measuring cup full of water with nuts and seeds floating in it

Next, I’d suggest chopping up your chicken thighs into one-inch chunks and tossing them with salt in a bowl, be generous with it. I also suggest dancing around with the bowl of chicken so it gets evenly salted.

kamala shakes a bowl of chicken around and dances

Also slice your onion thinly, and chop up the rest of your vegetables into smaller cubes.

Then in, a big high-walled frying pan, on medium-low heat, add ghee, the whole spices in Part 1. Let the spices start crackling and then add the onions and let them caramelize. Salt them with a few pinches.

a pan full of herbs, spices and onions cooking

Meanwhile, peel the garlic and ginger, chop it and pound it in a mortar, or blend it up in a food processor or blender. Either way you want it to become pretty smashed up. Put this aside in a bowl.

mortar and pestle with ginger and garlic getting pounded

At this point, hopefully the nuts and seeds for Part 3 have softened. Remove the skin on the almonds, then add them (save 5-6 almonds for the Part 5 topping), the cashews, the white khus khus seeds and magaz seeds into a food processor or blender with 1/4 cup of water. Blend them until they’re a smooth paste.

a shot into a food processor of blended nuts, seeds and water

Now, add the ginger and garlic paste and green chilies to the onions and mix it in.

Then add the paste of nuts and seeds and mix that in. It might look like a thick glob in the pan at this point, which is actually fine.

a glob of spices, nut paste, onions frying in a pan

Mix up the yogurt so there are no clumps, and then add it to the pan with the turmeric and red chili powder to the pan. Stir it up and then add 1 cup of water.

Now add the chicken to the pan first, and let it simmer in a low heat for about 15 min. Then it’s time to add the vegetables. Stir them up and taste the sauce to see if it needs more salt.

a pan with a yellow korma simmering around cauliflower, potatoes, chicken and squash

Let everything simmer on low heat together for another 20 minutes or until the potatoes and cauliflower are tender. When they’re cooked through, you’ll add the garam masala and pour in the whipping cream. You can take the pan off the heat, but let everything sit together in the pan.

Guess what? You’ve made chicken korma! And If you didn’t want to put these into a chicken korma pot pie, you could also eat it over rice or just by itself. If you do want them in pot pies, go back up to the pie crust section to figure out how to assemble them.

BUT for the final touch, no matter how you eat it: the toppings.

Get out a small frying pan and put it over medium high heat with ghee. When the pan is hot, add all of the components of Part 5 into the pan and stir them around until they start giving off a nice aroma. Take them off of the heat and sprinkle them over the top of your baked pot pies, or over a bowl. Then dig in! It will taste like a special event.

The Dyke Kitchen: That Meat Sauce So Delicious

The Dyke Kitchen: That Meat Sauce So Delicious

The Dyke Kitchen written over a drippy yellow shape that has checkerboard at the ends

The Dyke Kitchen is a bi-weekly series about how queerness, identity, culture and love are expressed through food and cooking.

This election week has been exhausting and I have been looking for comfort in my food — something warm, reliable and simple that also makes me happy when I eat it. I began what I knew would be a trying week with homemade nachos smothered in a gooey cheese sauce made by my friend Phoebe. Then, to make sure I had something substantial waiting for me in the fridge, I made one of my classic Kamala dinner dishes: That Meat Sauce So Delicious.

This sauce is based on a distinct pasta memory I have — not from the selection of excellent meals in Italy I’ve enjoyed — but from what should have been a really below-average lunch, at a nondescript restaurant not far from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. I was studying abroad at the time, and we, as a group of 35 very closely bonded women and five men from liberal arts and women’s colleges, were always ill-prepared to make the most of our cultural program excursions, because they were too early and we had always just finished partying. So while the particular trip to this museum is not one I can recall, I do remember, afterward, the hemming and hawing I did with my friend Rosa about where to have lunch in this obvious cluster of tourist traps. The Italian place we chose had also been selected by at least 10 other members of our program, who we sat with. Everyone took a quiet moment to look at the menu, but it was clear what to order. All the items on it were generic Italian dishes written about in Spanish, and then in bold, at the top was one item called Spaghetti With That Meat Sauce So Delicious. It conveyed what I needed to know.

“When the restaurant makes it easy, only idiots say no,” I said to Rosa and closed my menu.

“I don’t know. You don’t think that’s just a trap for the idiots? For the one’s who can’t think for themselves?” Rosa asked me skeptically. “I’m not falling for that shit!” she declared.

So when the waiter came around to take our order, everyone at the table got That Meat Sauce So Delicious, and Rosa, the genius, ordered pesto. And when the food came, and all of our hungover, 20-year-old faces were stuffed with the overwhelmingly satisfying That Meat Sauce So Delicious, I watched Rosa dig into her pesto and then look silently into her lap.

“It tastes like a front yard!” she cried and dropped her head onto the table. “I’m the idiot. I knew it. I’ve always known.” Which was and is not true, but it is something I bring up with Rosa, to this day, when we’re trying to make a decision and she’s really pushing for the option that seems bad, only because the good option seems too good to be true.

Anyway, the truth about the meat sauce is that it’s just a good tomato sauce at the right time in the right place, and you don’t have to make it with meat — I’ve often made it with minced shitakes and it turns out great. But for my version, this week, I wanted to use the Italian sausages I had and decided to ladle it over potato gnocchi. I will say, the sausages added great flavor, but didn’t create the same silky texture that I’ve gotten when using mixes of fattier meats, like bacon, ground pork and ground beef. But that is just not what was in my fridge this time and I was not mad about it! There are a million hot tips that people have for what makes their own tomato sauce pop, so please share yours too, I could always use some new tricks try out.

a brown hand holds a bowl of gnocchi mixed up in a red meat sauce

How To Make That Meat Sauce So Delicious


Half a large white onion
1 leek
3 cloves garlic grated
1 carrot
2 celery stalks
1/3 cup fresh sage chopped (Many people prefer these herbs dried because they’re more powerful and you can just use a few teaspoons, but I like the taste of fresh. That’s just me.)
1/3 cup fresh basil chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano chopped
4 hot Italian sausages out of their casing
28 oz can of San Marzano or plum tomatoes crushed
Tomato paste
1/4 cup of red wine
Maple syrup
Fish sauce or dashi (When I don’t have high quality anchovies, this is my solution.)
Red pepper flakes
Fennel seeds


The hardest work of this meat sauce, is the chopping and prepping of your aromatics and herbs, everything else is a cinch. So start by chopping the onion, leek, celery and carrot into small cubes. The smaller they are, the more easily they will melt into a sauce. I also like to keep things a little chunky for bite, so as always, make the choice that’s right for you or figure it out over time!

a read cutting board with piles of chopped carrots, leek, celery and onion

When I’m making sauces like this, I like to grate my garlic on a microplane or cheese grater — if you’re fancy, you might have a garlic press — because I think it lets out a different flavor and I like the way it melds with the tomato.

Chop up your herbs! I once bought this pair of herb cutting scissors at Target while I was stoned, because they have like 5 blades that go all at once and it looked really cool. It doesn’t work any better than a knife and I highly recommend never getting any. I still forget this nearly every time I chop herbs, however, and pull them out just to see. Anyway, I like to put half of the herbs in at the start and save the other half for later into the simmer.

My tomatoes were not crushed when I bought them, so I opened the can, poured them into the bowl and tore them apart with my bare hands!! It’s fun and it feels really nice. My friend Michael, who excels at cooking Italian cuisine, showed me this trick and I like it. It gives your tomato pieces way more character than when they get diced by a machine, though a cold, calculated cut is something I enjoy like too — there is a canned tomato for every mood,

a hand half-submerged in a red bowl, squishing a tomato

Next, I peeled the casings off of my sausages. Because I had made a pizza a couple days before this pasta, I had one sausage that was already de-cased and browned that I just tossed into the meat sauce.

a thumb and forefinger pinching the thin skin of a sausage casing to remove it

Because, for me, sauces are all about timing, I like to get everything ready and lined up on the counter behind me, so I can make quick decisions and execute!

The next step is getting a big pot of very salted water on high heat on the back burner so I can throw my gnocchi or pasta in, when I’m ready.

I put my dutch oven on medium heat, glazed it with a heavy pour of olive oil, and began by cooking my onions with a big pinch of salt, until they were translucent. Next I added, the leeks. I waited until those were cooked down before adding the celery and carrots together.

When the celery and carrots were soft and everything is a kind of mush in the pan, I scooped my garlic into the pot and added the sausage. Sometimes I like to break the meat up evenly, sometime I like when it cooks in chunks. This time I went for chunks. Stir all of this up, so they’re all coated in each other.

And then before the meat is doing too much sizzling, I like to add in my tomato paste. In addition to a thick texture, the tomato paste can add an important sweeter flavor if you give it some time to cook. So I put in about two tablespoons of tomato paste, but you can put in more if you want a stickier sauce — I’d just suggest cooking the paste longer, if you add more.

At this point, I like to salt again, add a teaspoon of red chili flakes and fennel seeds, and also add in half of all the herbs, and then mix it all together.

shot into a pot of a bunch of cooked down vegetables and aromatics into a paste-like texture

So when everything is a little stuck together, now is when I’ll start adding in the liquids. I’ll start with the wine, and let that cook down a little. And then I add a few healthy glugs of fish sauce — I also sometimes use a 1/4 cup of dashi along with the wine if I want a smokier sauce — and then drizzle in a few tablespoons of maple syrup. Depending on your taste and the acidity of your tomatoes, you may want more or less sweetness, and you can also just use sugar, though I like the way maple and tomatoes taste together.

Then, finally, I add my tomatoes! I stir it up a bunch and bring it up to a boil. Then, I turn down the heat to as low as it will go. I cook it with a lid partway on but with enough room to let steam out of the side for about 30 min.

a look into the top of a pot that's filled with a simmering meat sauce

After 30 min, I have to taste and assess. Does it need more liquid, is it starting to get a little dry? If yes, add some broth, stock or just water, just a splash. How does the tomato taste? If it’s still a little flat you might need more salt and more sweet — the acid in the tomato should start out with a bite, but finish in a rounded sort of way that’s soft. How is the sauce texture? If it’s too watery, you can leave the lid off to let the steam leave, but you might need to give yourself a little more tomato paste and more olive oil or even some butter. Does the red pepper bite? Does the fennel come through?

I like to adjust the flavor and then add the rest of my herbs and let it go for at least another 30 min. When I have a good simmer going, the vegetables have sort of melted, and I feel like the flavors are coming together as one whole, not just a series that follow each other, this is when That Meat Sauce So Delicious is ready. Now, and only now, is when I will cook and drain the pasta or gnocchi. And I always finish it off with cheese, cheese is everything.

The Dyke Kitchen: Butter Me Up, Blondies

The Dyke Kitchen: Butter Me Up, Blondies

The Dyke Kitchen written over a drippy yellow shape that has checkerboard at the ends

The Dyke Kitchen is a bi-weekly series about how queerness, identity, culture and love are expressed through food and cooking.

I didn’t know I was going to be presenting you with a blondie this week. When I’m feeling stressed — and lately, I’ve been ELECTRIFIED with both excitement and anxiety about the fact that my first novel is coming out in 10 days — I like to take an afternoon break, where I take deep breaths while I pull an espresso from my machine, shake it up in a jar with milk, ice and mint, and eat a little dessert. Recently, I had a hankering for a chewy dessert bar, and I didn’t have enough chocolate to make brownies, so I was like “Duh, blondies!”

I went searching for a blondie recipe that would really capture the chewiness I was after and ran into this gem. What I was most intrigued by was that there is a smushy layer of browned butter that gets baked into the middle of the blondies. And looking at it reminded me of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — which I thought would be a great flavor addition to the blondie!

My truth is that I don’t like peanuts thaaaat much, and jelly felt like overkill. So what I ended up with was a blondie with a ribbon of blackberry-miso-browned butter in the middle, and I’m here to report that it’s really, really good. Whether it’s breakfast, a stress break treat or a stoned midnight snack, it’s excellent. The miso (as you might already be aware since I add it to everything, like these cookies) adds a salty, nutty dimension and the blackberries add a tartness brings a nice contrast to a big tray of butter and sugar.

two ceramic plates with rectangles of pecan-covered blondie bars, with small forks sticking off of the sides.

How To Make Blackberry Miso Browned Butter Blondies


For the browned butter ribbon:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten in a small bowl
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
12-15 blackberries
2 tablespoons miso

For 24 blondies:
1 cup unsalted butter at room temp, and a little more for greasing the pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup toasted pecans


Okay, so first things first: you gotta take care of the pan. In a world that is not mine, you could grab your 13 x 9 pan and set your oven to 350 F.

However, I have a strangely dimensioned ceramic casserole dish from my mom that is 12 x 7 with a pretty high wall, and I ended up going with this dish. I buttered it and dusted it in flour and set it aside. Then I set the oven to 365 F to accommodate for my extra depth.

Then, I got started on my browned butter mixture. I have to tell you that making browned butter over a hot oven during a late-summer heatwave is the closest I’ve been to a sauna in months. Prepare for both a pore cleanse and blondies. Get out a medium saucepan, plop in your butter, room temp or cold, and cook it over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it bubbles and then you start to see little flecks in the bottom of the pan. These flecks will brown very quickly, so keep your eye on them. and when they start to get a little tan, I keep stirring and take the pan off of the stove to see how far they’re gonna go. Butter is one of the few things, in my opinion, that isn’t great burned, even in a blondie.

a pot with butter browning and a whisk stirring it up

Once the butter is done, pour it into a small mixing bowl. It’s time to blend the miso and the blackberries. I used the mini food processor that is powered by my hand blender, but you could also use a blender, or you could muddle them — however you want to smash the blackberries and mix them with the miso, go for it!

the bottom half of a mini food processor, the S-shaped blade, with blended blackberries and miso as a paste. a little 1/3 cup of flour sites beside the food processor.

I will say that the blackberry seeds might bother you. If that’s the case, you could blend them, strain the juice and then add it to the miso and browned butter. I personally found the texture of the seeds in the blondies strange in a good way.

Once you’ve managed to combine the blackberries, miso and browned butter, add the egg and 1/3 flour and whisk it together. You want all of the flour combine, and it should form little ribbons that cascade, like a set of stairs into the foyer of a mansion. Set that bowl aside.

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl: flour, baking powder, salt.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together until they get fluffy and combined. I did this by handing my friend Vinh;Paul (who you might remember is good with kitchen gadgets) my electric hand mixer and telling him to do it. But you could also use a stand mixer or even freehand it with a whisk. And tbh, if you don’t get it fluffy, but it’s fully combined, that’s okay.

Next add your eggs one at a time, and then add the vanilla and get them mixed all up. This is the point where things should start to get a little fluffy and creamy.

overhead shot of a mixing bowl with a creamy mixture of butter, sugar and eggs, hanging on the end of of the mixers

Then I mixed the dry ingredients into this large bowl, mixed it at low speed and then added half of the toasted pecans.

Now you’re ready to pour the blondies-to-be into your baking dish!

I eyeballed about half of the batter and poured the first layer in the pan. It looked admittedly like a really thin layer, but it will rise, so don’t worry.

my mom's casserole pan with a plop of blondie batter in the bottom, getting spread out by a spatula

Then I got the browned butter mixture and poured it all in, in as even a layer as I could, across the top of the batter. I used a spatula to smooth it out where it seemed uneven. Then we poured the rest of the batter on top. Vinh;Paul was very helpful in getting this top layer to cover the blackberry-miso-butter layer. There were places at the edges that were iffy, but we learned that this is totally fine.

a full casserole pan with a pale blondie batter on top, and a darker layer of browned butter seeping up from beneath

Then I popped the whole tray into the oven to bake. I set a timer for 20 min. When the tray was still jiggly on top, I sprinkled the rest of the toasted pecans on top of the blondies. I put the tray back in the oven for about another 20 min, and pulled them out again when the edges were browned and when a wooden skewer came out mostly clean — there were distinct crumbs, but also some moisture from the browned butter layer.

My friends and I have been eating these blondies wildly, the tray was half gone the same day I made them! I’m eating one now, as I write this. They’re just really satisfying, and you know what else they’re good for? Eating while you watch the Great British Baking Show. Because I always feel left out when they have a dessert to eat and I don’t. And that, friends, is just one small way that I’m easing my stress.

a half-eaten pan of blondies with a pile of pecans scattered on top and in the bottom of the pan

The Dyke Kitchen: Classic Air-Fried Cornish Game Hen & Waffles

The Dyke Kitchen: Classic Air-Fried Cornish Game Hen & Waffles

The Dyke Kitchen written over a drippy yellow shape that has checkerboard at the ends

The Dyke Kitchen is a bi-weekly series about how queerness, identity, culture and love are expressed through food and cooking.

Kamala & The Waffle Maker

Back in February, before we had a full view of what was in store for us in 2020, my mom texted me frantically one evening to say that her favorite waffle iron was on sale, and did I want a version of my own. I said yes, of course.

I love waffles. The are perfect for toppings. I also really like that while, yes, there are traditional types of waffles, the waffle iron, as a tool, is an invitation to make whatever kind of waffle you want! When I lived in Oakland, I spent a lot of weekends hauling my mom’s 4-slice All-Clad stainless steel waffle maker — it’s very heavy, so that’s just one of the reasons I wanted my own — to my own apartment to make bacon & chive waffles, cornmeal waffles to eat with salsa, waffles made from dosa batter, regular sweet ones smothered in butter and truffle honey.

Long story short, I didn’t know in February that I wouldn’t be seeming my mom again until August. So on my last trip home, after six months of built-up anticipation, spending every brunch-ish moment of quarantine thinking about the waffles I would not be making, I did finally receive the gift of my very own waffle iron! It’s a 2-slice, but it’s just as amazing as my mom’s. And I knew I wanted to break it in with something special.

When my close friend Vinh;Paul told me that he was bringing his air fryer back from his mom’s house (this great story is below!), it seemed like the perfect reason to put our new kitchen tools together for our own style — always-original, always-sorta-Asian — of chicken and waffles. So here you have our menu for a night we spent making a tiny hen and waffles, and guzzling really great watermelon cocktails made by Sarah — those are also below! For texture and freshness, I also made a very similar cabbage salad to the one I made with these scallion pancakes, though this time, with the addition of peaches.

an overhead view of a table setting with a large bowl of purple cabbage salad, a tray of waffles, a pitcher of gravy, a small bowl with a little round fried hen nestled inside

Vinh;Paul & The Air Fryer

Mother and I love TJ Maxx HomeGoods. We take great pleasure in buying fun gadgets at discount prices, loading up the house with conveniences that we only use once or twice before shelving it in the laundry room. If there’s a gadget, Mother definitely has it. From a yoghurt maker to three different kinds of high-speed blenders, a food dehydrator, garlic presses, a dedicated almond chopper, and my personal favorite: the Yonana Classic, a contraption that turns frozen bananas into soft serve.

Some may find Mother’s penchant for these conveniences excessive. And though we’ve gotten into some arguments about her laundry room being too cluttered to wash clothes, she’ll have it no other way. Mother grew up in the countryside of Việt Nam, during an extra tumultuous time in Việtnamese history: post-French colonialism but still in high tensions due to the American occupation. When she had to suddenly flee in ‘75, or else risk persecution, she lost everything: keepsakes, photos, and a link to her parents and eight siblings, all of whom were too far away to leave with her.

But don’t feel sad for Mother. She’s done wonderfully — if this wall of gadgets could talk, it’d probably say, “She has soft hands because she doesn’t believe in exerting effort when a machine can do the work for her.”

And what better machine than an air fryer! No more heavy cast irons filled with hot oil greasing up the kitchen. “You can have fresh eggrolls anytime,” Mother said, “without wasting good oil.” She grew up with so few things, only to still lose everything. I don’t think she ever imagined a life of such ease. Since I moved to LA, our trips to TJ Maxx HomeGoods have become a thing of the past, but the spirit of convenience still lives on. During this pandemic, while everyone has been sheltering in place, Mother donned two layers of masks and went right back to shopping the minute the discount doors of the Maxx reopened.

It may seem silly to some, but Mother and I certainly have a deep care for each other, even if it’s gone mostly unspoken. As her youngest child and also her queer little baby, I know that helping me live a life that is filled with ease is her way of saying, I love you. And I feel very lucky about this. Despite our differences, she has always opened her arms wider to show me tenderness, the intuitive nature, and How can I anticipate your needs before you know you even need it?

The last one is my favorite. Anticipating someone’s wants before they want it is so fun to me. When Kamala told me her mom was giving her a waffle maker, I thought, What better way to honor our moms then by using these gadgets together! Fried chicken and waffles was an obvious choice, but knowing Kamala so well — and Kamala knowing me so well — a regular chicken just wouldn’t do. I like food to be fun, delicious, offbeat — a touch of my weirdness in every bite — a kind of performance piece conceptualizing flavors. I’ll admit that frying a cornish game hen isn’t that weird, but what it lacks in novelty it makes up in being damn tiny and super cute — sometimes eating up cuties is my favorite thing.

Vinh;Paul in a cute apron with floral frills, stirring a pot of gravy

How To Make Savory Cheddar Waffles

cripsy waffles being pulled hot out of a waffle iron with chopsticks

I wanted to make a waffle that would be a good match for the air-fried hen that Vinh;Paul was making. In my dreams it would be light and crispy, and I wanted it to have a savory flavor. I ended up adding some shredded cheddar for the sharpness, and also because I love how cheese melts in something very hot, like a waffle iron. I also added some dashi and yogurt to the batter. Lastly, I employed my mom’s greatest trick for a fluffy waffle, which is separating the eggs and whipping the whites into stiff peaks.


This made about 10 waffles in my iron.

2 cups of all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
A few grinds of black pepper
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites whipped so they are very stiff (you should be able to hold the bowl upside down)
1 ½ cups warm whole milk
2 tablespoons of plain whole fat yogurt
⅓ of liquified, browned butter
1 tablespoon of concentrated dashi
½ cup of sharp shredded cheddar


Get out your waffle iron and set it to the desired setting so it starts heating up.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and black pepper.

In a small or medium bowl, add the egg yolks and the dashi and mix them together.

In a liquid measuring cup, warm your milk (I did mine the microwave for 2 minutes) and then add the yogurt to the milk and stir it up so it’s more or less combined. Add this to the bowl with the egg yolks and dashi and stir to combine.

Brown the butter, and when it’s ready, add it directly to the flour mixture and stir them together.

Now add the bowl of warm milk and egg yolks into the large bowl of flour + butter and stir to combine.

Now that you have one bowl of batter, toss in your cheddar (I really just grabbed a big handful and added it) and stir to get them evenly distributed.

Whip your egg whites into stiff peaks and then gently fold them to your batter until they are fully combined. They’re going to lose some air as you combine them, but if you’re slow and methodical, you’ll still get a lift.

There was enough butter in this batter that I did not need to grease the waffle iron. So I put about a third of a cup of batter into each waffle square and cooked them to crisp level 6 on my iron. My iron beeps when it’s ready to cook and when it’s time for me to take out the waffles, so the actual cooking I can’t say I put much effort into.

an open waffle iron and two clumpy batches of wet waffle dough on the bottom part of the press. in the foreground crispy cooked waffles stand in a tray

In the end, they were light and fluffy, success! They cheese was delicious and the dashi is hardly detectable, but does add a savory undertone to the waffle itself, so it has a depth of flavor that makes it enjoyable to eat on its own.

a bright green plate with a thick pool of gravy, a pile of purple cabbage salad w peach chunks, and a waffle and pieces of fried hen on top

How To Make The Cornish Game Hen

When I originally cooked this hen, I soaked, dredged, air fried it whole. The flavor was right, but as one side crisped up, the other side would go soggy. The extra step of cutting the hen in half will solve this soggy bottom problem by giving it enough space to breathe and get super crunchy. In honor of our moms, and their love of gadgets, I hope you enjoy this recipe and make it into a delight that you will also share with those you love.


Hen prep:
1 cornish game hen weighing approximately 2 lbs
2 cups buttermilk
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
½ tbsp turmeric powder
½ tbsp garlic powder

2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 ½ tsp oregano
1 ½ Italian seasoning
1 ½ dry rosemary
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp aleppo pepper powder**
1 tsp Korean gochugaru**
½ tsp nutmeg (optional)

*Buttermilk substitution: combine 2 cups whole milk + 2 tbsp white vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes to sour.

**Flavor is personal! And we don’t always have some of these ingredients on hand. We just happen to prefer a spicier fried hen and have these spices around the house, but feel free to add or omit herbs and spices to taste.

Dredge Station:
1 cup flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 eggs
2 tbsp Frank’s Red Hot or other vinegar based hot sauce of choice (optional)
2-3 tbsp of olive oil or any other cooking oil on hand


The night before: Using a sharp knife, cut cornish game hen half lengthwise, from center of breast bone, for two even pieces. Discard gizzards or save to make stock.

Combine 2 cups buttermilk, salt, pepper, turmeric powder, and garlic powder in a large bowl. Marinate cornish game hen in refrigerator for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. Marinating the hen before frying allows the acids in the buttermilk to tenderize the meat, resulting in a succulent and tender bite.

Day of air fry: Remove cornish game hen from the buttermilk and set on a rack for 30 minutes, allowing the hen to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, combine seasonings in a small bowl.

Prepare the dredge by combining 1 cup flour and half of seasonings into one large bowl; 1 cup panko breadcrumbs with remaining half of seasonings in a second bowl; 2 eggs with hot sauce whisked together in a third bowl. Taste flour and panko breadcrumbs mixture. Add additional spices or herbs if desired as this will be the final taste of the air-fried hen.

Taking one-half of the bifurcated cornish hen, dredge in flour, then quickly cover in egg mixture, and cover in panko breadcrumbs. Set back on wire rack to rest for additional 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining half of game hen.

When ready to air fry, brush or spritz cornish game hen with a light and even coat of olive oil. Do not skip this step! The hen needs a little oil or else it will not crisp up.

a floured, egg-washed, and panko-covered cornish game hen awaiting her fry

The air fryer does not need to preheat. When ready, place one half of the cornish game hen — cut-side down — onto the air fryer tray, cooking in 2 batches. If using a large air fryer, both halves may be placed on the tray at once, as long as there is enough air flow.

Set air-fryer to 350° and start timer for 30-35 minutes. Brush with second coat of oil halfway through cooking (about 15-18 minutes), checking for doneness, when the internal temperature of the hen has reached 165°.

a finger pointing at the crispy, breaded outside of finished air-fried game hen

Let it rest for 10 min before carving and enjoy with country gravy (we used a packet for convenience) or any other sauce preferred.

Note from Kamala: This air-fried game hen was very tender and tasty and better than a lot of chickens that I’ve had! The brine that Vinh;Paul made added to the flavor of the meat, and all parts of it were tender, none of them got too dry — I think the small size packed in the flavor and made it easier to cook it evenly.

How To Make Sarah’s Wet Ass Watermelon Cocktail

sarah raises a blue glass jar for a toast, with a pink watermelon cocktail inside

This drink requires some prep, but once all the elements are ready you can easily make more drinks for your guests (and yourself) all night long.

For each drink you’ll need

1/2 cup of watermelon juice
1/4 cup of tequila
Juice from one half of a lime
5-6 mint leaves
1 tbsp simple syrup
1/4 tsp of smoked sea salt

an overhead shot of the open mouths of three blue glass jars, three lime halves, a bunch of mint, a glass har of thick simple syrup, and a pink jar of watermelon juice


For the watermelon juice
I think it’s funny that grocery stores call the small, juicy seedless watermelons “personal watermelons”, but I digress. Cut the rind off your personal watermelon and slice into cubes small enough to blend.

Blend all the watermelon until it’s a smooth pulpy liquid.

Then pour through a strainer into a large bowl or pitcher. If you don’t want any pulp, strain the watermelon juice through a cheesecloth. Press softly on the watermelon flesh to release the rest of the juices.

For the simple syrup
Bring 1 part sugar, 1 part water to a boil. Let cool and pour into a glass container.

To make the drink
In a glass jar with a lid, add 5-6 mint leaves, the juice of half a lime and 1 tbsp of simple syrup and muddle (a wooden spoon works just fine).

Add 1/4 cup of tequila, 1/2 cup of watermelon juice, and 1/4 tsp of smoked sea salt.

Lid the jar and shake until the mixture is frothy.

Unlid the jar and serve it to the lucky mouth that gets to drink it. Maybe it’s yours?!

The Dyke Kitchen: The Art Of Salad

The Dyke Kitchen: The Art Of Salad

The Dyke Kitchen written over a drippy yellow shape that has checkerboard at the ends

The Dyke Kitchen is a bi-weekly series about how queerness, identity, culture and love are expressed through food and cooking.

I have a lot of feelings about salads. First, it’s a nice thing to eat when it’s 90 degrees in my apartment and it feels like the world, especially on my coast, is on fire. It’s refreshing, re-invigorating, cooling. I have, while stoned and imagining new snack combinations, posed the philosophical question: what is a salad? And the core of my answer revolves around a refreshing experience that involves at least a few fresh, raw ingredients. This captures a full range of salads I love, from potato salad to cold somen noodles to a Jell-O mold with suspended fruit in it — a specialty of one of my Japanese American aunts, who made the most elegant lime Jell-O and lichee molds with a white cream layer. “Refreshing” can mean many different things to different people. I’d call halo-halo a dessert salad.

But I’m here to talk about the kinds of salads that I make, which are not the world’s most complex nor philosophically challenging, but are always built around a kind of balance that I find necessary for a great salad. I know salad is known to many people as a kind of ascetic diet food, but I grew up eating luxurious salads that my mom made. She has shown me wonderful ways to create harmony and surprise in a salad, while also showcasing the best qualities of really good produce. The way my mom does salad feels like the confluence of her being Japanese American, a Calfornian and having family roots in farming and gardening. It’s all about putting foods together that bring out the essences of each other. What I love about salads is that they’re like a live jazz solo, where you can throw together the same ingredients over and over again, and they’ll always be good, but never quite in the same way.

three salads on a table: one with avocado and orange in a small bowl in the bottom left ocrner, one on a bright blue plate with tomatoes , mozzarella and basil, and one on a bright green plate with chicken, carrots, corn kernals on top of a bed of greens

For a Sunday of salads, I ended up making a Caprese salad with nectarine; a classic lunch salad of mine with baby kale, avocado, tangelo slices, edamame and walnuts; and a salad to go with an herb and garlic yogurt marinated chicken (actually the same marinade that we used to make chicken for biriyani) that included raw corn, shaved squash, preserved lime, pickled carrot and mixed greens. I think it goes without saying that whenever you’re eating something raw, the better your produce — ripeness, freshness, variety — the better your salad will be. But these are some other things I consider for the art of salad making.

Salad Tips

Flavor & Texture Balance

Even if it’s just a quick one, because I’m starving and I’m busy and I need to shove some nutrition in my mouth with one hand and type with the other, I’m always looking for a balance of flavors and textures. I want my salad to combine savory, sweet, acidic and fatty. Sometimes I’ll go extra and get sharp or bitter greens in there or give it a spicy edge. You can also pull the flavor harder in one of these directions, but an exciting salad does all of these things for my tongue.

Texturally, I also want a contrast, but within a range. If I’m doing thick slabs of juicy tomato, I also want to cut crunchy chunks of cucumber and hunks of crumbly cheese. If I’m using a silky, fatty dressing, I want a sturdy, cruciferous green. If I have a soft ribbon of prosciutto and thinly sliced fennel root, I want an aggressively crunchy nut. If I’m slicing plums thinly, I want a tender green and shavings of parmesan. You get my point. There should be lots of different textures in every bite, and that often means that I’m thinking about how to cut my vegetables so they either fold together or hold their own.

Get Your Fruit & Herb On

Vegetables are great and I love them dearly, but they’re really amplified by eating them with herbs and fruits. I think it’s just like putting a filter on a photo, they enhance a salad. I try to keep basil, mint and cilantro around at all times, because tossing a handful of them into greens makes it exciting, or carefully placing a basil leaf onto a very well-arranged plate can bring out the nectarine-ness of a nectarine.

Dressing and Self-Dressing

I make a lot of my own dressings. One year in college, I ate in a co-op where my entire job on a lunch cooking crew was to make salad and salad dressing for 3 hours. I could not have been happier. But some of my favorites are really easy. I do one that’s two parts mayo, 1/2 part soy sauce, 1/2 part lemon, then I shake it up in a jar. Why is it so good? You can even add garlic or hot sauce to it. To make my vinaigrettes, I use two parts olive oil, 1/2 part vinegar, a dab of honey and a squeeze of mustard to help bind these sworn enemies — and then toss in whatever I want for flavor: herbs, miso, tahini. preserved limes, smoked chiles, apricot jam, fish sauce, smashed up berries, onions (I’ve never tried these all together, but now I am intrigued…)

Sometimes, when I’m lazy, I pick ingredients that I know will mix up together and form their own sort of dressing. Often, all I need to do is salt the salad, let it sit for a little bit and then toss it. This works really well with citrus, which hits both a sweet and acidic note. You can also do this on the fatty side with eggs, which can run and create a fatty base, and a very ripe avocado or a softer cheese, which will coat everything. If you’re a meat eater, I also do this with chicken and steak, and let the dripping juices dress the salad.

How To Make The Caprese Salad

a bright, light blue plate with a circle of red tomatoes, orange nectarines, green basil leaves and peeks of white mozzarella underneath


Fresh mozzarella, I like when the cheese is really fresh and jiggly
Heirloom tomato, I like to get the darker red ones with a spicer flavor and sometimes I’ll mix a yellow one in too
Ripe nectarine
Basil leaves
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper


Slice the mozzarella and tomato. I like to make them thick enough to get a satisfying bite through them, and still thin enough to really soak up the juices. I also use a serrated knife on tomatoes to get through the skin, and I like the way it cuts through fresh mozzarella too.

Lay the cheese first and then the tomato out on a plate, and salt them. I used a grey salt, and I think Maldon salt is great here too, but any salt will do the trick.

Cut up the nectarine. Because the cheese and tomato are flat, I like to cut angular pieces of the nectarine off of the pit and put them on top, so there are different shapes coming into each bite. I’ve also used plum in this too, which is really tasty.

I place basil leaves on top and then drizzle a spicy olive oil over the top, spoon about a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar around the plate, and then grind some black pepper. Sometimes I’ll also add a few drizzles of a sweet white vinegar, like this basil plum vinegar, over everything too.

Give this one at least 10 minutes to sit around. The salt will bring out the juices and marinate your cheese, and when everything is room temperature, you can really taste each element.

How To Make The Orange Avocado Salad

a shallow wide bowl with a bed of kale and fanned slices of avocado on top, slices of oranges nestled against those, a small pile of green edamame, and a small pile of walnuts


For the salad:
Baby kale
Tangelos, or any citrus that you like, I also love grapefruit in this
Edamame, or any other semi-firm bean you like
Ripe half of an avocado

For the dressing:
2 parts olive oil
1/2 part rice vinegar
squeeze of lemon
dab of tahini, which also can do the binding job of the mustard
dab of miso
dab of honey
dash of light soy sauce, I’m also fond of this cherry blossom soy sauce
sprinkle of sesame seeds

a jar with brown thick liquid inside speckled with sesame seeds


I start by finely chopping the mint and mixing it together with a coarsely chopped kale.

The way I cut the citrus is to slice the tangelo in half and then cut off off the skin with my handy serrated knife, so it’s just the tender flesh. I will also slice off any excess tough white parts and then I cut this skinless half against the grain, so in the opposite direction of the segments. This makes for a very delicate, juicy slice of citrus, and I like that. I add these to my greens.

The walnuts (I also do this with sliced almonds and it’s delicious) and edamame go on next.

And then I do the avocado. Depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll either do the avocado in thin slices that melt on the tongue, or I’ll do cubes that are like a little cloud that you hit as you’re eating the salad. You can’t go wrong.

For the dressing, I put everything into a small jar and shake it up. I only use a little dressing on this salad, since the orange and avocado put a very nice coating on the salad on its own.

How to Make The Chicken Salad

a red cutting board with two yellow-tinted chicken thighs with a browning on the outside


For the chicken:
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup of plain yogurt
a bunch of mint
a bunch of cilantro
3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric

Served with:
pickled carrots (thinly sliced carrots sitting in rice vinegar for at least 30 min)
chopped preserved lime
greens, I’ve done this with chard, mustard greens, kale, and also just butter lettuce
mint, basil and cilantro
raw corn kernals cut off the cob
yellow squash ribbons


Take all the herbs (I removed the mint leaves from their stems, but kept the cilantro stems on), yogurt, turmeric, salt and garlic cloves and combine in a food processor, so you have a thick paste. Place the chicken thighs in a tub, salt them, and then pour the marinade over the top, and let it sit over night.

The following day, bring the chicken up to temperature and then you can either broil it in the oven or, like I tend to do, just fry it in a pan with a little oil until it’s cooked inside and gets browned on both sides — okay, maybe even a little blackened. I used to try to wipe off the marine before I cooked it, but if you’re down to scrape the bits off of the pan between batches, I kinda like the flavor added by keeping the marinade on it.

If I have a tender green, I leave it whole on the plate, and if I’m working with a larger leaf, I’ll cut it up into small ribbons.

You can make the carrot pickles, right after you take the chicken out to get to room temp. I just slice the carrot up into thin sticks and place it a bowl, covered with rice vinegar.

For the squash, I like to use a vegetables peeler and just peel off slices of the the squash raw. I do this with zucchini too. It’s often light and sweet, with a little crunch, and you can roll them up, which is a fun bite to add to a bite of chicken.

The corn adds a lovely sweet crunch and I like the way the milkiness of the corn does a little self-dressing — it’s a light fresh flavor that contrasts with the depth and boldness of the chicken.

The herbs I’ll either mix into the salad or pile on top.

For a final touch, I like to add a little mound of chopped up preserved lime, which adds a savory, bright bite that’s a little less sharp than the carrot.

Sometimes, I’ll add a dab of yogurt on the plate, sometimes I’ll spray some lime and fish sauce over the top, and other times I’ll add rice to the scene and a glug of thai sweet chili sauce.

There are so many beautiful kinds of produce in season these days — melon, peaches, plums, tomatoes, corn, blackberries — I hope you make a balanced salad that surprises you in a good way!

The Dyke Kitchen: A Summer Simmer With Short Ribs And Plums

The Dyke Kitchen: A Summer Simmer With Short Ribs And

The Dyke Kitchen written over a drippy yellow shape that has checkerboard at the ends

The Dyke Kitchen is a bi-weekly series about how queerness, identity, culture and love are expressed through food and cooking.

Now, as I’m sitting in my living room sweating on my couch, it seems unimaginable that earlier this week, there was a crisp breeze whispering through my windows, begging me to braise. I understand that it’s summer and not traditional braising season, but I was feeling prematurely into the way the August light has subtly shifted and felt a shade of autumn in my heart. Some of that has to do with the long evenings I’ve been spending outdoors in order to be with the people I love, and in the parts of California where you can find me, that means nights with flannel, wool socks, beanies and a fire, even at the height of summer.

Anyway, I had a wide open evening and a bunch of plums and pluots on my counter that I had been eating over the sink. I decided I probably should DO something with them. I don’t know what exactly clicked, maybe it’s that I’ve been eating a lot of fruit in a savory context, but I decided to do beef short ribs braised with broccolini and plums in a soy sauce-based liquid. And then, I thought it would be nice to eat that with ricotta gnocchi with preserved lemon in them.

So that is what this meal turned into: a warm, hearty dish that’s simple, but has some fruity flavors mixed into the richness. This is not a light, summery meal, but you know, I’m still enjoying it after the sun goes down and there is something about it that feels excessive and satisfying.

An overhead shot of a bowl of a very brown and soft-looking braised beef and broccolini, with a side of preserved lemon gnocchi getting spooned up by a hungry hand.

How To Make A Stove-Top Braise

If you don’t eat meat, you can still braise with plums like this, just use a vegetable that’s a little more hearty. I’ve added wedges of acorn squash, whole turnips, celery root, and other sorts of structured, harder vegetables to this kind of braising liquid with great results. I cannot tell you what is happening with the broccolini, but it really adds something to the broth, and there is a beautiful way that onions and plums melt together in a sauce that I have endless affection for.


4 bone-in beef short ribs
2 bundles of broccolini
1 sweet white onion
5 plums

For the braising liquid
1/2 cup of low sodium (this is what they had at the store!) soy sauce. I will say that I like things salty and if you wanted to be more conscientious, you could do 1/4 cup soy sauce and add more as you go
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
A spoonful of honey or maple syrup
2 cups of chicken broth (mine was made with some celery so that was a component of this too)
I ended up adding in probably another ½ cup of water to the pot


Get out a dutch oven, put it on the stove over medium-high heat and brown your short ribs. Tbh, I only do this because everyone says this is what you do, I can’t say that I experience the browning in some spectacular way.

After that, take them out and take the pot off of the heat.

Cut your plums into quarters (remove the pits), cut the onion in quarters, and trim any dried ends off of your broccolini.

On a red cutting board, a white onion is quartered and two bunches of broccolini with their edges trimmed, are lying next to a knife

Then I put the ribs back in first, stuff the onion and plums around them and arrange the broccolini on top like a wreath. I don’t mind if my vegetables get super cooked down, but if you like to keep some bite, you can also do the option of waiting until the meat is basically done and then adding them in OR you can do one bunch the whole way and one bunch in at the tail end. Like I said, the broccolini does do something nice to the flavor. If you’re 100% veg, put them all in together, it’ll be fun!

In a dutch oven on top of the stove, beef short ribs are nestled together with plum edges, onion wedges and covered in a wreath of broccolini

Now mix up the braising liquid, and pour it into the dutch oven. I added chicken broth after I did the soy sauce mix, and then added a little bit of water to make sure the meat was fully submerged.

On the counter sits a pint of cloudy homemade chicken broth and a Pyrex measuring glass with has half a cup of brown soy sauce braising liquid in it

I put the dutch oven back on to the burner, put the lid on and brought everything up to a boil. Then I put it on the back burner to simmer at a very low setting, and cracked the lid so steam could escape.

I left it like this for 3 hours, checking now and then to make sure the meat was still submerged in a liquid and adding water when it seemed like it needed more.

When the ribs had fallen off the bone and were tender in my chopsticks, I considered it done and was happy with the results. At that point, I like to remove the bones and slice the short ribs into pieces so they’re easy to eat over rice, with gnocchi, with noodles, however you like.

I’m here to note, that you can also braise in the oven, and I’ve done a very similar recipe where you put the dutch oven in the oven at 325 degrees F with the lid on, and you can get a similar delicious and really tender meat or veggie in around the same time frame.

How To Make The Ricotta Gnocchi With Preserved Lemon

I like these little dumplings because they’re so cute, have a chew that I like, and also they taste like CHEESE, which is one of my all-time favorite things. They’re also quicker than their potato cousins, though I will admit, as a gnocchi fan, they’re not really the same. But I don’t really love spending time cooking and then ricing potatoes either.

I thought preserved lemons would bring in a bright and also bitter flavor that would cut some of the pure beef fat that was going to be prominent in the short ribs. I also like the way lemon and ricotta taste together, that seemed natural. I made these while the beef simmered!

I’ve been using this Serious Eats recipe for years, and the main difference between mine and theirs is that I’m not nearly as meticulous, and while they don’t turn out as pretty as theirs, they still taste good.


8 oz of high-quality ricotta. I use the basket of Bellwether Farms. Truly, you can still use a more processed, stabilized ricotta and you will certainly live to tell the tale, it just might have a different texture and flavor.

1 cup of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the board

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

1 egg and 1 more egg yolk

¼ wedge of preserved lemon, minced or food processed

1 teaspoon of salt


I begin by heavily salting a big pot of water and putting it on the stove to boil.

Drain your ricotta by spreading it out on a paper towel with a spatula. Does this feel strange to do? Yes. Does it work? As long as you have sturdy paper towels, that won’t disintegrate into the cheese. You can also pat it down and press it with a clean dish towel.

Scrape your drained ricotta into a large bowl and mix in your parmesan (mine was obviously microplaned, and so I put in more than ½ a cup, but I work in estimates!), flour, and eggs.

A silver bowl with a messy shaggy mix of flour, eggs, ricotta cheese, and salt just starting to get stirred up with a green silicon spatula

Mix it up with a spatula so it starts to come together into a dough. Before it’s fully integrated, but coming together, add your preserved lemon and salt. Then keep mixing so it forms a dough, a wet, sticky dough, but a dough.

I then flour a board, and get out a baking sheet and cover it with parchment paper.

Then I grab what seems like a quarter of the dough, work it into a ball and roll it out into a long snake that is about the width of my index finger. My experience of these gnocchi is that they get super puffy in the water — they can get tough if you cook them too long and they’re just kinda flat and slimy if you don’t cook them enough. So to try to make things easy for myself, I cut them pretty small, like no bigger than the first section of your fingertip.

On a flour board, a brown hand pinches at the long arced snake of gnocchi dough that has just been rolled out

I put the cut pieces of gnocchi dough on the parchment covered baking sheet where they go to await their boil.

Repeat the snake rolling and chopping activity three more times and you should have a baking sheet of cute little pillows. Mine often get pinched or look weird and wrinkly, and I do not care.

A shot of a half baking sheet, where recently cut piece of gnocchi are scattered, like little mishhapen pillows, and awaiting their boil

When the water is boiling, I take about ten to twelve gnocchi pieces and fling them into the boiling water. I have no tips for making this elegant, though I’m sure someone else does. They only need a few minutes to puff up and float to the surface (sometimes they need a nudge off the bottom of the pot) and that’s how you know they’re done.

An overhead shot of the stove top. On the top left is a blue Le Creuset, where the short ribs are simmering. On the burner in front of that is a light blue plate where cooked gnocchi are piled high. And to the right of the plate is where a boiling pot of water is cooking raw a few pieces of gnocchi. You can see them started to emerge from the cloudy water.

I lift them out with a strainer, and then put the lid of the pot on to bring it back to a boil. Then repeat the process until all of them are cooked.

I think over time you can figure out the exact texture that you like best: mine is just-cooked-through, and still pretty tender.

These are also great with a tomato sauce, a pesto, in browned butter, and all the ways you might want to eat cheese ravioli — they’re sort of like the filling and ravioli outside in one.

Anyway, this was a sort of off-the-cuff meal, but it’s bringing me joy throughout the week.

The Dyke Kitchen: My Dad’s South Indian Gunpowder

The Dyke Kitchen: My Dad's South Indian Gunpowder

The Dyke Kitchen written over a drippy yellow shape that has checkerboard at the ends

The Dyke Kitchen is a bi-weekly series about how queerness, identity, culture and love are expressed through food and cooking.

There are some tastes of home that transport me back into my parents’ kitchen immediately. I mentioned this one in my very first edition of The Dyke Kitchen because I hold it dear. It’s a South Indian condiment or accompaniment that we call gunpowder. It also goes by a few different names, including molaha podi, as Julie Sahni, the expert on Indian cooking in our home, calls it.

As a little kid, I mostly ate gunpowder on idlis and watched my dad eat it on rice, but it scared me a little. It’s made from ground up lentils and spices, and so it has a rough, gritty quality in your mouth and can be really spicy, depending on how hot your chilies are. Compared to the tame Japanese comfort foods I ate as a child, gunpowder was a little wild. Now, as with so many of my favorite flavors, I like to put it on everything from avocado toast and oatmeal to salmon, but I still primarily eat it on rice with ghee — that’s where it sings.

“When we were growing up, we always called it gunpowder because it makes you fart,” my dad, Balaram, says and cracks up. I, personally, always thought it was called gunpowder because it was spicy, and maybe possibly that the asafoetida that we put in smelled a little like farts. I have not yet had the experience that gunpowder makes me fart, but I guess you can heed my dad’s warning and continue at your own risk.

front shot of my dad, a south indian man in a baseball cap and bright green t-shirt that says Mud Hens baseball on it, holding up a finished batch of gunpowder in the blender

My dad is the one who has introduced his mom’s South Indian recipes into our family, but my mom is also just as responsible for carrying them along. I watched both of them make a batch of gunpowder this weekend, and they have just ever-so-slight differences — which chilies they use, how long they toast the ingredients — that do make each batch a little different. I like to think that one day, when I stop being a baby and make my own, mine will have its own signature twists too.

How To Make Gunpowder

Our recipe is basically a double recipe from Julie Sahni’s Classic Vegetarian and Grain Cooking with a few small changes. My dad told me that when his family was living in South Dakota, his mom had to order their Indian spices from New York and his mom would substitute split peas for chana dal in various recipes, which worked but was also pretty different. So we suggest hitting up your online or local South Asian grocery for these ingredients, and you will need a blender or spice grinder to mix them up.


4 tablespoons chana dal

4 tablespoons urad dal

15-20 dry chili pods, you can alter this based on your chilies and desired spice levels. My mom used Japanese chilies and my dad used some Diaspora Co. chilies that I gave him.

1 teaspoon Hing powder or asafoetida

4 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons brown sugar, my mom only added one to hers and my dad’s family doesn’t use any at all, but I do prefer a little sugar to bring out the nuttiness.


To make gunpowder, some people might have you fry your ingredients in oil, but we do ours straight in a hot frying pan to give it more of a char than fry. So begin by toasting the chana and urad dal, sesame seeds, chilies and asafoetida, which you can do in separate pans, like my dad does, or just have them take turns in the same pan. Stir them pretty constantly until they all have some browning on all of it, but hopefully not a burn.

overhead shot of a South Indian dad in a baseball cap stirring toasting urad dal at a stove top for his gunpowder recipe

Set these aside and let them cool.

three frying pans with charred white urad dal, yellow chana dal, and red chiilies

When you can safely handle the ingredients, start by pulsing the the chana dal and the chilies together. My dad advises that these tend to be the hardest to break down into small pieces. So get them to a chunky processed texture. My dad also advises that when you open the lid on the blender, the chili powder that gets released might make you sneeze, so be careful.

shot into a blender of chana dal and chili peppers about to get blended

Then you’ll add the rest of your ingredients. Pulse to blend these. You don’t want to a super fine powder, the idea is to leave a little bite in there.

freshly blended slightly textured, slightly orange, kinda tan gunpowder in a blender

Once you have a ground-down powder, you’re done! You can store it in a sealed jar for a very long time without it going bad. It might lose some of its spicy ferocity over time, we generally don’t make too much at one time.

one brown hands shovels gunpowder from a blender into a small ball jar with an orange spatula

A few last tips from my dad:

  • A great way to clean your blender or spice grinder is to fill it with soapy water and run it, so the soap and water get all in the blades.

blender full of sudsy water sitting on a counter, and a blue glover hand about to press the switch

  • I ate our fresh gunpowder over rice a coconut rice that my dad made too. For that dish, he cooked one cup of Basmati rice with one cup of water and one cup of coconut milk. Once it was steamed, he fluffed it with lime zest and some chopped up green onions. It was a really delicious pairing for the gunpowder!

a brown hands holds a small bowl of coconut rice covered in a heavy sprinkle of gunpowder on top